Monday, September 18, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 113: August/September 1970

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


Kubert
Our Army at War 222

"Dig In, Easy!"
Story and Art by Joe Kubert

"The Defeat of the Spanish Armada"
Story and Art by Ric Estrada

"Black Smoke"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: The men of Easy Co. follow Sgt. Rock into a town held by Nazis and, when the shooting starts, Rock is captured by a Nazi major who thinks that if he can get at what motivates Rock he can figure out how to win the war. Realizing that the sergeant's weak spot is his men, the major chains Rock to a post on a balcony and demands that his men surrender. Despite Rock's order to "Dig In, Easy!" the men throw in the towel and let themselves be brought before the major--or so it seems. Before you can say "Trojan horse," Rock realizes that some of his men are impersonating Nazis and have "captured" the rest of his men; the disguises are discarded, the Nazis are defeated, and the major is subjected to a lecture by Rock about the strength of the common soldier.

"Dig In, Easy!"
Where to begin with what's wrong with this story? Perhaps it starts to go off track during the initial attack by Nazi soldiers, where Rock tries to save the newest member of Easy Co., whom he refers to as "the kid" and who is not even given a name, much less remembered after that page. The major's plan is unclear and the heavy-handed "crucifixion" of Sgt. Rock seems rather pointless. The idea that members of Easy Co. could impersonate Nazi soldiers successfully--including Wildman, with his bushy red hair and beard--is ridiculous, and the concluding fight is so perfunctory that it might as well be the conclusion of an entry in Hunter's Hellcats or the Losers. Perhaps letting Joe Kubert write his own stories is not a great idea.

"The Defeat of the Spanish Armada"
In 1588, the British fleet manages "The Defeat of the Spanish Armada," aided by favorable winds. There's not much to this four-page entry in The Great Battles of History, but it passes pleasantly enough.

After the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Pacific during WWII, the U.S.S. Rake is sending up "Black Smoke" because the engineers below deck aren't taking good care of the engines. Chief Water Tender Harry Nugent tells them to knock it off but they laugh at him, thinking that he's old-fashioned in his concern that black smoke is like a black flag that attracts the attention of enemy ships. Little do they know that a Japanese ship twenty miles away saw their smoke and sent missiles that are about to destroy the ship!

"Black Smoke"
In this month's letter column, editor Kubert remarks that Glanzman was on a ship like the U.S.S. Stevens and many of his stories are based on true events. This one is particularly interesting, even if I still don't quite understand the cause of the black smoke.

Peter: Good rough, tough Rock this time out, but I wish that Joe had taken the bull by the horns and allowed these stories to have some carryover. There's no sense of an event in one story having an impact on the next (and, yes, I remember that Kubert has explained that the Rock stories follow no chronological order but why not a multi-parter?) so it's near-impossible for the secondary characters to become familiar and Easy fatalities leave us shrugging. "The Defeat of the Spanish Armada" tries hard but can't break through my interest barrier (and the tempo of Estrada trying to cram a full battle into a few pages comes across like a grade-school re-enactment), something "Black Smoke" does with ease. Sam Glanzman is hitting a bulls-eye with story (if not art) every time out with these little anecdotes and episodes from his military years. Glanzman died in July at age 92.


Kubert
G.I. Combat 143

"The Iron Horseman!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Taps for a Bugler-Boy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Fred Ray

Peter: Ol' Pop Peters keeps the children at the convent entertained with stories of his tank combat in World War I. Trouble is, they're only stories, as Pop was too young to see battle in the Great War and now he's too old to fight the Ratzis as Commander Jeb Stuart is kind enough to point out. But Pop sure can fix a tank and the Jeb rolls out of the convent yard as fresh as a French daisy. After the Haunted Tank is ambushed by a pair of Tigers, the Ghostly General pops up for more veiled advice and predictions, this time informing his descendant that "the past and present will fight in one battle!" Gee, thanks, General!

At least she doesn't fly
The Jeb narrowly avoids destruction but another fleet of Nazi tanks heads for the convent, its General convinced the structure hides an "artillery observation post." The Jeb manages to blow all but one tank to hell, but the remaining tin can heads into the churchyard, bent on total annihilation. It's up to Pop Peters to save the day. "The Iron Horseman!" is built around a schmaltzy script, one that climaxes with a total groaner (after Pop is wounded in the battle, we discover the only person with the same blood type is the mother superior, who thankfully does not have a guitar within reach), but I'm glad that Big Bob managed to work in a response to Pop's assertion that he couldn't be considered a man without seeing combat with Jeb's curt, "You don't have to fight to be a man, Pop!" Just one lone panel afforded to our ghostly bodyguard and the crew of the Jeb are reduced to cameos as well. Russ's art here runs hot and cold; the battle scenes are customarily excellent but the convent scenes staring Pop invite comparisons to Andru and Esposito.

Pops becomes a man

Bob Kanigher falls asleep
as he types up this script
Tommy never tires of hearing his great-granddad's stories of serving with General George Washington in the Revolutionary War as a bugler-boy. When the old man dies, Tommy picks up the bugle and heads for the Civil War but discovers that the bugle is an antiquated weapon. In the end, Tommy uses the instrument to rally a weary regiment to victory. If "The Iron Horseman!" was a bit . . . saccharine . . . then "Taps for a Bugler-Boy!" is a bowl of Cocoa Puffs drowned in a bath of syrup. It's tough to get past Fred Ray's increasingly annoying and ugly doodles but it seems like the bugler-boy angle has already been done . . . and much better.

Jack: "The Iron Horseman!" has a great opening as Pop is introduced as a storyteller and remains entertaining to the end. Maybe I'm a sap, but I enjoyed this sentimental tale more than any Haunted Tank story in quite a while. "Taps for a Bugler-Boy!" is also sentimental but it's not helped any by Fred Ray's art. Still, I welcome the connection between the Revolution and the Civil War as embodied by the old man.


Kubert
 Our Fighting Forces 126

"A Lost Town!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"1-2-3"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

"The Fall of Constantinople"
Story Uncredited
Art by by Ric Estrada

Jack: Why are the Losers being tried before a Court Martial, accused of desertion under fire and at risk for the death penalty? They had taken ammunition by jeep to a French outfit under enemy fire when a Nazi plane blew the French to bits and the dying French commander told the Losers to fall back and hold a nearby town. The Losers hop back into their jeep, bring down the plane with a blast from a bazooka, and head for the town, which turns out to be named Perdu. Can the Losers do anything to help "A Lost Town"? Not much, it seems, since it is deserted. But wait! Here come a blind old man with a blind boy and girl alongside him. Why are they the only people left in town? Who knows? The Losers stow their new blind friends in a building and go out into the streets to defeat a Nazi tank and Nazi soldiers on foot. Why are the Nazis shelling and attacking an abandoned town? Ask Bob Kanigher! Of course, the Losers quickly dispatch of the much larger Nazi force and liberate the blind trio, who run their hands over the faces of the Losers in thanks.

"A Lost Town!"

Back to the present, and the Losers stand accused of failing to deliver the ammo to the French post that was wiped out. No one believes the story abut saving the blind trio until the sightless folks appear in court and identify the Losers by feeling their faces again. Later, at a cafe, the blind old man asks the Losers to rename Perdu and Johnny Cloud suggests renaming the town, "The Losers"!

"1-2-3"
Can we take a minute to deconstruct the current DC war story, of which "A Lost Town!" is a good example?  It usually starts in the middle of the action and sets up a seemingly unlikely situation, like the Losers being Court-Martialed. Pages 4-6 go back in time to show how they got there. Page 7 begins with "Conclusion," as if a long and complicated story has already been presented and finally we're reaching the exciting climax. We then bring matters back to the present, at which point we see that the initial situation was ridiculous and someone comes along to clear everything up. It's all kind of rushed. At least Andru and Esposito's art continues last issue's trend of not being as annoying as it was in the '60s.

When a mine-sweeping ship is blown up, everyone thinks it was due to a mine, but the captain of the U.S.S. Stevens figures out that the Japanese have a gun hidden in a cave. He draws fire to locate it and then uses guns "1-2-3" to blow it up. Another story of the Stevens, another relatively interesting incident, but don't look for well-drawn humans or much (any) character development, because you won't find it.

"The Fall of Constantinople" occurred in 1453 when Sultan Mahomet II and his army laid siege to the great city, the last bastion of the Roman Empire. Justinian fought bravely but when he was killed it was all over for the Christians. I read the abridged version of Gibbons's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, so I find these stories interesting, but there's not a lot that can be done in four pages. Attack city, declare victory. The end.

"The Fall of Constantinople"
Peter: Always wiz zee peegeon Eengleze/Fronch accents . . . it makes me geegle! As a matter of fact, the story makes me giggle as well. Thank goodness Captain Storm's leg has already been replaced with wood as he takes a shot at least once an issue, it seems, and it's always in the fake drumstick. This one moves at a snail's pace and seems to hit just about every beat we've been exposed to already on our journey. Just a few installments in and this series is already out of gas. Does not bode well for the future. Though I didn't care much for Ric Estrada's history lesson this issue (and that could be down to my short attention span when it comes to 15th-Century battles), Sam Glanzman continues to drop interesting nuggets with his U.S.S. Stevens series. These are just the right length for my little brain.



Kubert
Star Spangled War Stories 152

"Instant Glory!"
Story and Art by Joe Kubert

"Rain Above--Mud Below!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

Peter: Five G.I.s stop in what they presume to be an abandoned town for a well-deserved round of ales and get a huge surprise when a band of Ratzis storm in and get the jump on our boys. Luckily, one of the Joes is the Unknown Soldier, super-secret Allied agent called in by the government to impersonate a Corporal and motivate the grunts. The G.I.s are lined up and are about to be shot when an emaciated man steps from the shadows, wearing the Star of David and identifying himself as an escapee from a nearby concentration camp. The Nazi commander orders the ex-internee to kill the American soldiers but the man, instead, levels the Commander, leaving the door open to action on the American front. The Ratzis are defeated and the Unknown Soldier returns to Washington to await his next assignment.


The Unknown Soldier could be the closest we'll get to a consistent level of excellence now that the Enemy Ace has pretty much flown his last mission. "Instant Glory!" is an exciting and well-plotted installment that could have been made so much better by a few more pages; its climax seems rushed after a nice, tension-filled build-up. The final panels, which show the Unknown Soldier holding up the tattered remains of the POW's shirt, are particularly potent. On the letters page, regular Gary Skinner (who always came up with interesting points) lauds the Enemy Ace series but bemoans the shortening of page count that occurred towards the series' end. I'd agree completely but Kubert subtly tells Skinner that, to please more readers, there needs to be more than one story.


Hans von Hammer is given orders by the pompous Colonel Schlein: send pilots into the vicious storm  for reconnaissance and come back with the information on nearby enemy trenches. Knowing he can't send fresh pups out alone on what he considers a suicide mission, the Enemy Ace informs two of his newbies they'll be accompanying him on an observation run. The trio fight the elements but manage to locate the newly-dug trenches. One of Hammer's cadets is shot down and the other is struck by lightning but the Hammer of Hell returns with the vital information, a look of disgust across his face for his disinterested Colonel. Though "Rain Above--Mud Below!" is a stellar achievement and stands with some of the best of the Enemy Ace stories, it's got a weird vibe to it. That could be because the writing chores are handed to Joe and art to Russ, a combo we've seen on other strips but not, unless I've forgotten, on this one. Joe does a little monkeying with Heath's art here and there, most evident in the very Kubert-esque fury on Hans's face in the final panel. This would prove to be the last chapter in the Enemy Ace saga until Hans pops up in SSWS 181-183 for a team-up with Steve Savage, Balloon Buster. Hans, you may have been the enemy, but I am sure going to miss you.


Jack: Overall, this is a terrific issue of SSWS! I have to reproduce the beautiful, Eisneresque splash page below--with its bent lamp post and alley cat it sets just the right tone for a story that takes place near the end of the war. The Kubert art is stellar, some of the best we've seen from Joe recently, and is this the first time we've seen someone from the camps? I question the wisdom of a Nazi officer giving a camp survivor a weapon, but it works dramatically. The Enemy Ace story is also very good, just not quite up to the Unknown Soldier story. I see Kubert's hand in several places and guess that he wanted to make sure von Hammer's face had a consistent look. I like the way that Kanigher backs off the verbiage and lets Heath tell parts of the story visually. It's a fitting sendoff for our German friend.



Kubert
Our Army at War 223

"On Time!"
Story by Joe Kubert
Art by Russ Heath

"The Kunko Warrior"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. are trying to hold a small village in occupied France where the Nazis stored food. As they await reinforcements, the Nazis attack! Rock must contend with a new recruit who soon earns the nickname "Turtle," because he seems to move slowly. Will the reinforcements arrive "On Time!" or will Easy Co. be blown to bits by the incoming fire from Nazi infantry and tanks?

Things are looking dire until Turtle takes it upon himself to rush an enemy tank, destroy one of its treads with a well-placed grenade, and drop a smoke bomb down the hatch, allowing him to march the tank's crew into Easy's hideout at gunpoint. The Nazi tank commander reveals to Rock that the house where they are hiding sits on top of a huge, hidden ammo dump, and the men of Easy Co. make good use of the newly-discovered ammunition to wipe out the attacking Nazis.

Decent art by Heath helps elevate this story above being just another tale of a new recruit with a funny nickname. Rock and Easy Co. have an amazing ability to survive despite incredible odds. At least Kubert and Co. have stopped killing off the new recruit of the issue every time.

As 1944 dawns, Allied ships attack the Marshall Islands. Suddenly, "The Kunko Warrior" appears--a Japanese soldier in traditional dress riding a white horse! Shelling of the islands continues from the ships and he disappears into the flames. Later, when the island is wiped out, he appears again and is shot to death by someone aboard ship who disobeyed orders. These stories about the U.S.S. Stevens don't feel like anything else in the DC War Comics right now and, while they lack much plot or direction, they are usually interesting.


Peter: Between the cracklin' Kubert script and the eye-poppin' Heath art, "On Time!" is just about the best Rock we've had this year. Only time will tell if new recruit "Turtle" will become one of the regular gang. Sam Glanzman delivers the best U.S.S. Stevens installment yet, a poignant tale devoid of any Rah-Rah for the war; instead, acknowledging the respect between warriors. A solid issue!

Next Week . . .
We bid a fond adieu to Weirds Science and Fantasy
and pick the best stories from 1953!



Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Hitchcock Project-Francis and Marian Cockrell Part Two: Into Thin Air [1.5]

by Jack Seabrook

The "Shouts and Murmurs" column still runs in The New Yorker. From 1929 to 1934, it was the personal, weekly column of Alexander Woollcott (1887-1943), a writer who was famous at the time for his humorous insights and curmudgeonly personality. Born in New Jersey, Woollcott helped create the Stars and Stripes newspaper while serving in WWI and became a prominent drama critic in New York City, writing for The New York Times and other newspapers. He was a member of the legendary Algonquin Roundtable, he had a radio show, and he was the inspiration for the character of Sheridan Whiteside in the play, The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939). Some of his writings were collected in a 1934 book called While Rome Burns, and it is one of those pieces, "The Vanishing Lady," that led to "Into Thin Air," the first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be filmed and the fifth to be broadcast.

Published as two sequential "Shouts and Murmurs" columns in The New Yorker (July 6 and 13, 1929), "The Vanishing Lady" tells the story of an English widow who is returning home from India with her 17-year-old daughter. They arrive in Paris at the time of the 1889 Exposition Universelle, or World's Fair, and check in at the Crillon Hotel. The mother suffers from exhaustion and is seen by the house doctor, who examines her and sends her daughter by coach to his home to procure medicine prepared by his wife.

The trip to the doctor's house takes a long time and the young woman is forced to wait even longer for the medicine before making another extended trip back to the hotel. On arrival, she is told that she is in the wrong place. No one knows her and there is no sign of her mother. Everyone denies having seen either one of them before.

She is aided by a young Englishman to whom she appeals for help. Though people at the hotel, the embassy, and the police disbelieve her story, he has faith in her. Finally, a paper hanger confesses to having worked all night to re-paper her mother's room, and the mystery begins to unravel.

It turns out that the doctor had recognized that what appeared to be her mother's exhaustion was really a sign of the black plague brought from India, and the Parisians had worked together to cover up her illness and death to avoid a general panic in the crowded city.

Woollcott writes that he was told the story years ago as if it were true, but he recently found a 1913 novel by Marie Belloc-Lowndes called The End of Her Honeymoon that featured a similar event. This discovery led him to question whether the story was what we call today an urban legend.

Geoffrey Toone as
Basil Farnham
There was a World's Fair in Paris in 1899 and the Hotel de Crillon is a real place, located by the Place de la Concorde, though it was a private home in 1889 and it did not open as a hotel until 1909. The plague was spreading throughout the world at that time, though it did not reach India until 1896 and thus the English widow could not have contracted it there seven years before. It is a husband who disappears in The End of Her Honeymoon, not a mother; the novel's author, Marie Belloc-Lowndes (1868-1947), also wrote The Lodger (1913), which was the basis for the Hitchcock film of the same name that was released in 1927, and What Really Happened (1926), which was adapted in 1963 for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

The basic story recounted in "The Vanishing Lady" was used on various occasions and was adapted for radio on Escape (February 1, 1948), for TV on a series called Sure as Fate (October 17, 1950), and on film as So Long at the Fair (1950). When it was chosen for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, it appears that Marian Cockrell, who wrote the teleplay, was looking at Woollcott's story when she sat down to write. In his introduction to the episode, Hitchcock remarks that "many people have borrowed this legend" and mentions two novels and his own film, The Lady Vanishes (1938). However, that film was adapted from The Wheel Spins, a 1936 novel by Ethel Lina White. In that story, a woman does disappear and people do deny having seen her before, but the plot otherwise is much different than that of "The Vanishing Lady."

Alan Napier as Sir Everett
Hitchcock also notes that the story was "also related by Alexander Woollcott in his book, While Rome Burns," and that he will now present "our version of that famous old tale." The show that follows adheres closely to what Woollcott wrote. The characters are not given names in the original story, but for TV they have been christened Mrs. Winthrop and her daughter, Diana. Marian Cockrell's main job in adapting the story was to take a tale that is almost completely free of dialogue and turn it into a teleplay that is driven by dialogue. As in the story, they check in to room 342 of the hotel and the furnishings include an ormolu (gilt bronze) clock and old rose wallpaper. Occasional dramatic highlights are added, such as the doctor's reaction to taking Mrs. Winthrop's temperature and his wife's sudden appearance from behind curtains with the medicine. The TV show follows the print story almost exactly for the first half or so, even borrowing a line of dialogue, and only begins to diverge from its source slightly after Diana returns to the hotel and is treated like a stranger.

Mary Forbes
In the TV version, she is given another room in the hotel in which to rest. She then gets involved with Sir Everett at the British embassy and he assigns a younger man named Basil Farnham to help her. They go back to the hotel for more investigation, then have breakfast at an outdoor cafe, where she gets the idea to examine the room to see if its furnishings match what she recalls. They go back to see the room, which looks completely different. In the hotel lobby, Basil consoles her. She notices a workman painting the lobby and suddenly announces that she wants not only to stay in the hotel but in room 342, the room from which her mother disappeared. After another visit to the room, she intentionally tears a piece of the wallpaper on her way out and reveals that the room has been freshly papered over.

Diana demands to know where her mother is and, in the final scene, she is back at the embassy, where Sir Everett learns the truth and explains to her that she cannot take the body back to England because her mother died of the bubonic plague.

Maurice Marsac as the desk clerk
The main alterations made to Woollcott's story in adapting it for television involve turning narrative into dialogue, adding dramatic crescendos, and having Diana take more of an active role in uncovering the truth: in the story, a paper hanger confesses to having re-papered the room overnight; in the TV show, Diana herself suspects what occurred and rips the paper off of the wall.

"Into Thin Air" is directed by Don Medford (1917-2012), the stage name of Donald Muller, who was a busy director of episodic TV from 1951 to 1989. In addition to two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, he directed five episodes of The Twilight Zone and also the final, two-part conclusion of The Fugitive. He was a quick worker--in an interview for the Archives of American Television, Pat Hitchcock mentions that this first episode of the series was filmed in only two days. She adds that, after that, they realized that the time was too short and subsequent episodes were given three days.

John Mylong as the doctor
Pat Hitchcock (1928- ), Alfred's daughter, stars as Diana Winthrop in the first of her 10 appearances on the half-hour show. She was on screen from 1950 to 1960, appearing in three of her father's movies; after 1960, she was seen a few times on screen in the mid- to late-'70s and then not again.

Playing Basil Farnham is Geoffrey Toone (1910-2005), an Irish actor who was on screen for 60 years, from the late 1930s to the late 1990s. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock TV show.

The great Alan Napier (1903-1988), born Alan William Napier-Clavering, plays Sir Everett; he was on screen from 1930 to 1988 and appeared six times on the Hitchcock show, including "Whodunit" and "I Killed the Count." He is best remembered as Alfred the butler on Batman (1966-1968).

In other roles:
  • Maurice Marsac (1915-2007), a French actor who made a career of playing waiters and hotel clerks, plays the latter here; he was on screen from 1943 to 1987 and also appeared on Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
  • Mary Forbes (1879-1974), a British actress, debuted on the London stage in 1908 and was on screen from 1914 to 1958. She plays Diana's mother who dies of the plague.
  • Ann Codee (1890-1961) plays the doctor's wife who prepares the medicine; a Belgian actress, she was on screen from 1928 to 1960.
  • John Mylong (1892-1975) plays the doctor; he was born Adolf Heinrich Munz in Austria and was in German films from 1921 to 1935 and then in American films from 1940 to 1962.
Ann Codee as the doctor's wife
None of these four actors ever returned to the Hitchcock TV show.

"Into Thin Air" is available on DVD here or may be viewed online here.

Sources:
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. IMDb.com. Web.
"Into Thin Air." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 30 Oct. 1955. Television.
Michaud, Jon. "The Original Shouts & Murmurs." The New Yorker 18 July 2012. Web.
"Pat Hitchcock." Archive of American Television. Web.
Wikipedia. Wikipedia.org. Web.
Woollcott, Alexander. "The Vanishing Lady." New Yorker 13 July 1929: 36. www.newyorker.com. Web.
Woollcott, Alexander. "The Vanishing Lady." New Yorker 6 July 1929: 32. www.newyorker.com. Web.

In two weeks: "Breakdown" starring Joseph Cotten!

Monday, September 11, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 40





The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
 40: November 1953


Kurtzman
Mad #7

"Shermlock Shomes!" ★★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Will Elder

"Treasure Island!" ★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin

"Smilin' Melvin!" ★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

In foggy old London town, Dr. Whatsit makes his way to the residence of boon companion and detective extraordinaire, Shermlock Shomes. After getting shot in the head (again!) by his arch-nemesis Arty-Morty, Shomes attends to the pressing case of a woman selling Girl Scout cookies whose uncle has mysteriously died in his locked study. Applying all of his deductive know-how, Shomes performs a reenactment of the events leading up to the murder that involves him dropping down through a roaring fireplace and bashing Dr. Whatsit’s head in. The corpse promptly revives to explain how he died and Scotland Yard enters to take the raving and horny sleuth away.

Peter wipes the smile right off his client's face.
("Shermlock Shomes!")
“Shermlock Shomes” operates on the thinnest crust of narrative, giving way to a series of hilarious set-ups and payoffs that are all incidentally or tangentially linked to what’s come before it. The primary goal here is  not to tell a story, but to make us bust our guts. Sherlock Holmes and his world are so well-known that Kurtzman and Elder don’t have to worry about felicity to their source material and can instead give themselves over entirely to their zanier leanings. Stories like this really allow you to appreciate the firestorm that was Bill Elder’s visual innovation; not a single panel goes free of a great gag or non-sequiter. The king of the chicken fat still rules his roost.

After delivering a map to Captain Rollem Bones, young Melvin Hawkins figures he’ll sign up with a crew of pirates to hunt down the treasure that the map reveals. Led by the infamous Long-John Aluminum (who naturally sports some flashy red long-johns), the crew sets sail for the tiny island bearing the treasure, young Melvin fighting off the murderous advances of his shipmates all the while. Upon arriving at the destination, Long-John promptly disposes of the crew when he instructs them to dig—off the edge of a seaside cliff. Melvin quickly gets to work and, much to Long-John’s horror, excavates the chest brimming with their sweet reward: hundreds of gold-wrapped milk chocolates!

Jose walks in on Jack assessing the
new women's volleyball league.
("Treasure Island!")
“Treasure Island” isn’t necessarily a dud, but it’s a long ways off from the heights that we began the issue with. Unlike in the war titles, Severin’s contributions to Mad are *very* hit and miss for me, sometimes all within the same story. The most I can say for this one is that it has its cute moments (like when Melvin stumbles upon Captain Bones ogling a ladies’ dressing room through his spyglass) and that the cameos from other Mad characters help to support the notion that the series had a legacy and fanbase long enough and rich enough that it could afford to make those jokes and hope that their readers knew who the hell they were talking about.

“Smilin’ Melvin,” on the other hand, is a whole ‘nother basket of sour apples. It’s an appropriate title, seeing as how Kurtzman seems to be mugging his way through this turgid affair from start to finish. It might have been funny if it didn’t feel so utterly convinced of its own funniness, or if it stopped assuming that the person reading it was brain-dead. Following the exploits of its own cranially-challenged hero, “Smilin’ Melvin” chugs its way up a long, steep hill before it lets our hopes come plummeting down on the other side. This Little Engine might think it can, but I assure you that it most certainly cannot. That might be a lazy mixing of metaphors, seeing as how this is ostensibly an airplane story, but if nothing else that will help clue you in to the caliber of jokes we’re dealing with here. Add to that a mind-ripping tendency towards repetition and obviousness (“You mean if I DO THAT THING that you said I SHOULDN’T DO then SOMETHING BAD is gonna happen? Uh oh!”) and you have the airline vomit sack that is “Smilin’ Melvin.”

The “Hey Look!” shorts that came before it were alright I suppose.--Jose


What was the name of that jet again?
("Smilin' Melvin")

Melvin Enfantino: "Smilin' Melvin!" could be the most boring and tedious parody in the first seven issues of Mad. Not one larf. "Shermlock Shomes," on the other hand, brings the giggles fast and furious. This one's so densely packed with sight gags, it might be best to read it twice. The poor girl scout's injuries to the eyes are a gut-buster (as are her attempts to ward off said injuries) as is the final fate of Dr. Whatsit. I'm loving the cameos from other strips (the crew of "Ping Pong" and issue 2's Melvin Mole pop up in "Treasure Island!") and about four of every ten sight gags work (not a bad hit-miss ratio when you think about the vast number employed in these things). "Treasure Island!" is a concept that must have sounded hilarious pre-execution, a parody of the much-loved Classics Illustrated, but the finished product only manages to elicit a few chuckles from this old grump.

Jack: You are an old grump if you didn't get any smiles out of "Smilin' Melvin!" I have never read "Smilin' Jack" but Wally Wood is so good that it didn't matter to me. Severin's stories are getting better bit by bit and his art is flawless, but they're just not anywhere near as funny as the Elder stories. "Shermlock Shomes!" is a classic with something delightful in nearly every panel; the satire is brilliant and the gag in the last panel is a hoot. I'm glad we get to read some reprints of Kurtzman's "Hey Look!" but they don't really fit the Mad mood.


Feldstein
Crime SuspenStories #19

"The Killer" ★★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Reed Crandall

"Wined-Up!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

"Murder May Boomerang"
Story and Art by Johnny Craig
(from Crime SuspenStories #1, November 1950)

"About Phase" ★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

Ever since he was a boy, Jonathan liked to make things. Now that he's a man, he plans to marry Elsie but refuses to follow in his father's footsteps. The local guild refuses to admit him because his father is not a member, so he finally agrees to take up his father's work but he refuses to tell Elsie what it is. His wife gets pregnant but when the baby is stillborn, Elsie loses her affection for Jonathan. One day, he returns home from a trip to find that she had been having an affair and has murdered her lover. As she ascends the stairs to the gallows, Elsie finally learns her husband's profession: he is the hangman.

"Yes, honey, I know. You never wear your hood!"
("The Killer")
"The Killer" is an excellent story that keeps the reader in suspense from start to finish, wondering what Jonathan's secret profession could be. Crandall's art is outstanding and does a fine job of portraying the events, which appear to take place in the 18th century. I have just one question: why does Jonathan not have a hood on in the last panel? Isn't the whole point of the story that the hangman's identity is a secret?

Charles Ashland and his wife Laura have some unusual marital problems. Five months ago, they were in a car crash that left her unscathed but left him paralyzed due to psychosomatic causes. Now, she tells him that she planned to kill him and the crash was her fault. Ready to try again, she explains how she will wheel him out to the dock by the lake for her daily swim and then pull his chair into the water by a thin and invisible wire. No one will get to him in time before he drowns, since he can't move. She goes upstairs to get on her swimsuit, then comes down and has her usual glass of sherry before heading out to the lake.

"Wined-Up!"
After Laura dives in and pulls Charles in, she suddenly develops a severe leg cramp and he suddenly finds himself able to move. Rather than save his "Wined-Up!" wife, he explains that he knew she tried to kill him months before and has been faking paralysis all this time, waiting for his chance at revenge. He lets her drown, swims to safety, returns to their cabin, and empties out the sherry bottle, having filled it with denatured alcohol, which is known to cause cramps.

Got all that? It's not as complicated as it seems and the story progresses quite nicely, with more superb art from Evans. I had a feeling that Charles was spiking that sherry but I did not expect to see him recover his ability to move. I just thought they'd both drown.

Wilbur Fenwick loves to read stories from the newspaper to his nagging wife Myrtle all about the Moon-Mad Werewolf killer who is terrorizing London. Thinking that when the killer is caught, he will be judged insane and committed to an asylum until cured, Wilbur uses the occasion of the next full moon to murder his wife in the style of the killer, then confess to the police. Too bad he missed one small detail--there was an eclipse on the night he killed Myrtle and so there was no full moon. Sentenced to death, Wilbur realizes that killing the first three women to set up Myrtle's murder was a waste of effort.

There's nothing wrong with "About Phase," and the Evans art is great for the second time this issue, but the story kind of falls flat. I knew Wilbur was going to kill his wife in the werewolf style and the twist ending is not interesting enough to justify all of the buildup.--Jack

"About Phase"
Peter: The finale of "The Killer" is not much of a surprise (except maybe to the guy who pops "The End" on all the stories and forgot to add it this time) but at least we have some fabulous Crandall to gawk at. "Wined-Up!" excels at presenting a very sleazy Laura, thanks mostly to George Evans; the script is too dependent on silly nonsense (Charlie feigns paralysis how long while he waits for the perfect moment to be murdered by his wife so he can kill her first?). The writing in the previous two stories are flawless though, when compared to the dopiness Al presents as "About Phase!" Just try running the complexities of the twist through your head for a moment. Let's be thankful then for the double dose of Evans. Am I the only one who feels this issue was thrown together at the last second?




Craig
The Vault of Horror #33

"Together They Lie!" ★★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall

"Let the Punishment Fit the Crime!" ★★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"A Slight Case of Murder!" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein and William Gaines
Art by George Evans

"Strung Along!" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

One awful night, Alex Horton is awakened by his housekeeper, Agnes, who tells him that the boat-house is on fire and his wife, Sylvia, is trapped inside. Sylvia dies in the blaze and Alex is distraught. He has a double-sized tombstone placed at the head of his wife's grave, with her name and his inscribed on it, so that when he finally dies it will be certain that "Together They Lie!" He tells his lawyer that he'll give the money he inherited from Sylvia to charity.

"Together They Lie!"
Agnes then produces a letter from the lawyer to Sylvia and explains that Alex's wife was cheating on him and she could have saved her but chose to let her die in the fire. Alex is grateful to learn the truth. He breaks the headstone in two, changes his will to leave his fortune to Agnes, and kills himself. Over six months later, Alex rises from the grave and kills Agnes and the lawyer before repairing the broken headstone and joining his wife in her grave.

Here we go again! Raise you hand if you knew Alex was going to rise from the dead as a rotting corpse and go after the baddies. Reed Crandall's art is rather uninspired, probably because this story has been told so many times before. The idea that Alex would suddenly leave all of his money to his housekeeper because she told him his late wife was a cheater is ridiculous.

"Let the Punishment Fit the Crime!"
Why the sudden interest in the justice system among the local kiddies? The townsfolk wonder this exact thing as they watch the kids carry a home-made coffin down the street. Just that afternoon, they asked the undertaker about funerals and burial. They also asked the doctor how to tell if something is dead, and they showed an interest a few days before in a newspaper report about a killer being fried in the electric chair. They asked the electrician how an electric chair works, and they asked their teacher to explain capital punishment. The town lawyer said kidnapping is a capital crime and the judge talked about jury trials. Why, who's this? It's Mrs. Phillips, who can't find her son, Freddy. It seems he stole Emmy Lou's doll and the other kids would not speak to him after that. The adults look on in horror as the kids finish burying the coffin, which presumably holds the body of little Freddy. The Vault-Keeper explains that the kiddies pushed Freddy into a live wire.

That's an awful lot of explainin' for a pretty simple story, isn't it? It's never good when the host has to clear up what happened in the last panel. Jack Davis can draw just about anything, so it's never dull, but this story is a long lead-up to a mediocre payoff.

"A Slight Case of Murder!"
Lately, it seems that Hilldale has experienced more than "A Slight Case of Murder!" In fact, four women have been brutally killed while locked in rooms with no entrance or exit that would allow a normal human being to get in or out. Doc Swanson arrives in town and tells Sheriff Moulton that he's solved the mystery and to meet him that night at the bottom of Mansion Hill. When they meet, Doc explains that, 25 years before, he delivered a monstrous baby at the Bates Mansion and now, he thinks that the baby has grown up to kill women who rejected him. It turns out that Sheriff Moulton is the killer and, when townsfolk rip the clothes from his body, they discover that he has a normal head and a lizard-like body that allows him to squeeze through tiny spaces.

George Evans fumbles the ball on the goal line, as you can see from the big revelation in the final panel. The whole idea is pretty disgusting, frankly, but the sight of it is underwhelming.

"Strung Along!"
Tony Zargono was a brilliant maker of marionettes and he entertained audiences with his amazingly lifelike creations, but he was lonely. When pretty groupie Nora came along, it seemed to good to be true. They were married and he showered her with gifts until he got too sick to keep performing. Once the money was all gone and he was on his death bed, she broke the news to him that she never loved him, only his money. Heartbroken, he waits for death but is surprised when Nora returns in the dark of night to hold him and console him. he dies happy, not knowing that she was dead as well and that the faithful marionettes had murdered her and made a puppet out of her and pulled strings to make his final hours bearable.

One thing Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein seemed to know how to do was to funnel the right stories to the right artists. Clowns, circuses, carnivals, marionettes--these were perfect for Graham Ingels's particular style of art. The story itself is not terribly original, and they could have made it more horrific by showing us the process of turning Nora into a puppet, but instead they go for suspense and mystery, leaving the final surprise for the last panel.--Jack

Peter: "Strung Along!" is another subtle instance of EC interjecting sex into their funnies when dying Tony asks new puppet Nora to "make my last night complete . . ." Again, I want to see the deleted panels of the marionettes doing their work with little scalpels, hammers, and screwdrivers. "A Slight Case of Murder!" builds its Gothic atmosphere well but then slips on the banana peel of a climax; that final panel draws more guffaws than most Mad parodies. "Together They Lie!" is another cataloging of cliches best ignored. "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime!" is this month's best story, an effective thriller a la Bradbury (in fact, I had to double-check to make sure it wasn't one of Ray's babies, but this is a very rare non-RB month) with a whopper of a final panel; that last caption raises the hairs on the back of the neck. Kudos to Johnny Craig as well, whose only contribution is a subtle but chilling cover.


Davis
Tales from the Crypt #38

"Tight Grip!" ★★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

". . . Only Skin Deep!" ★★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall

"Last Laugh" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Bill Elder

"Mournin' Mess" ★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

A dusty old trunk is ecstatic to have finally been taken down from the attic by its owner, Wilma, who gets busy filling it with lovely, frilly clothes that she’ll be wearing during her honeymoon with her fiancé, Carl Roswell. Even after the couple is hitched and arrive at their idyllic hotel, the sentient trunk can’t help but feel a strange fear around this new man. It turns out that the old grip’s premonitions were well-founded: wielding an ax in the honeymoon suite, frothing Carl reveals that he was only in it for Wilma’s riches. Carl literally cuts off his wife’s scream and then cuts the rest of her down to size, stowing the chopped meat away in the trunk with the intent of sneaking out and disposing of one parcel at a time while he informs the hotel staff that his wife is sick in bed. The trunk tries to deter the murderer at every turn, first snapping its lid on the fiend’s bloodspattered fingers and then disgorging its gory contents right in the hotel lobby after it refuses to unlatch its lock for Carl in the honeymoon suite. Carl manages to make his escape while the trunk is bagged and tagged as evidence by the police. Lingering in the evidence locker for four years, the trunk gets a break when a pair of thieves busts into the storage unit… and one of them turns out to be Carl. A scare from a roaming security guard forces the killer to take shelter in the trunk, at which point the trunk begins to shrink down, squeezing Carl’s flesh out through the bullet holes the killer blasts in it and compressing his bones down into a fine dust.

What the...?
("Tight Grip!")
If your first question after completing “Tight Grip” is “Who put the roofie in my Kool-Aid?” then you’re on the right track. But this story's loopiness is also its main saving grace. The novelty of the talking trunk and the absurd payback it enacts upon its tormentor snatch the story from the soup of mediocrity and allow us to ignore the major plot contrivances and logic-lapses that would have sunk a more conventional yarn. This is a real chicken-or-the-egg piece: what came first, Feldstein’s idea of a story narrated by a trunk or his idea a guy being strained out from  a box like human dental floss?

Herbert and Suzanne have been meeting at the same Mardi Gras party for five years now, and young Herbert has been bitten by the love bug good. He can’t stop thinking about Suzanne and it would seem she’s just as crazy for him. The only trouble is that they’ve never seen each other’s faces, a leftover of a desire for mystery Suzanne expressed during their first meeting that they’ve upheld ever since. But Herbert desires to strip off his domino mask and to strip off other articles too, namely the wretched hag mask that Suzanne wears upon her conversely knockout frame. After Herbert proposes, the two lovers quickly tie the knot and sneak away to a hotel room to get to know each other as man and wife. But still Suzanne persists in wearing their masks. It’s enough to drive Herbert into dreaming of himself removing Suzanne’s hag mask only to see that her actual likeness is a mirror image of the mask. Upon awaking, Herbert is overcome with frenzy and deigns to tear Suzanne’s mask off with all his might. A decision he soon regrets, realizing too late that the sick mess he holds is all that’s left of his wife’s real face.

Jesus wept.
("Only Skin Deep...")

It’s funny how these stories come around to you again. (Or how you come around to them.) I can recall reading “Only Skin Deep…” 12 years ago and finding it mostly unremarkable with the exception of the final gross-out, but now it seems to strike a whole new unsettling chord for me. I think part of that is my heightened awareness of Reed Crandall’s artistic prowess. “Little” details like the artist’s exceptional backdrops during the Mardi Gras and cypress swamp scenes and his dramatic staging and lighting of the figures would have sailed over my head at the time but leave me in awe now. It’s this display of genuine beauty and festiveness that builds up that last panel to be so shocking and gut-wrenching. The notion of someone literally tearing off the face of another might seem a bit too fantastic to swallow, but the grounded reality that Crandall so expertly depicts in his fine anatomy and noirish shadowings make just about anything seem possible. This is EC at its retina-smacking, modern-day Grand Guignol finest.

Ernie Ceely arrives at the offices of Dr. Falder with an unusual dilemma: it hurts every time he laughs. This is a particularly unhappy predicament for Mr. Ceely. Ernie, you see, is a practical jokester, one of the old-school variety who still gets a hell of a kick from calling up old ladies and telling them to turn out their street lamps before they go to bed. But Ernie isn’t one to shy away from the edgier thrills either. He suspects that his painful giggles resulted from the hilarious strain he caused for himself when he pulled his latest gag: dressing up a pile of horse meat in some children’s clothing, Ernie threw the mess under an oncoming train, thus convincing the boys playing by the tracks that they just witnessed a gory demise. At hearing this Dr. Falder gives Ernie some pills to help with the pain and ushers the patient out of the room so that he can prepare some tests that he’d like to make. Upon reentering, Ernie is regaled by Dr. Falder with a story of his own, one about an eight-year-old boy who thought that he had seen his three-year-old brother run down by a train and who raced back home only to be struck down by a car himself right in front of his mother, who promptly dropped dead of a heart attack. The three-year-old, left unattended in the bathtub, then drowned. Realizing the horrible chain of events his prank created and Dr. Falder’s connection with it, Ernie is strapped down to the table as a machine fitted with goose feathers tickles him into tortured delirium and the pills containing fish hooks he swallowed begin to cut their way out of him.

Jose subjects another hapless victim
to more of his lame jokes.
("Last Laugh!")
When you think about it, the conclusion of “Last Laugh” is only a few slight degrees more outlandish than a fireman slicing himself open on a sharpened drop-pole (see “Strop! You’re Killing Me!” from TFTC 37), but they say that a few degrees killed the dinosaurs. Bill Elder is in just as fine form as ever, and let it not be claimed that “Last Laugh” wasn’t a story suited to his tastes, but this one comes just short of the left-field weirdness that made “Strop…” stand out like a razor in a candied apple.

Sweeney is a reporter from the Globe who’s out to solve The Mystery of the Derelict Cemetery. Ever since the enigmatic group of benefactors collectively known as the “Grateful Hoboes, Outcasts, and Unwanteds’ Layaway Society” rolled into town there was fishy business brewing from the start. Not only was the organization strangely intent on assisting the homeless only *after* they died, but the grounds upon which the cemetery rested were unique in that none of the markers were adorned with grave mounds. More perplexing than this is the news seven years later that the Society was readying the cemetery for its thousandth burial; strange seeing as how by Sweeney’s calculations the area of the property could only hold over six hundred bodies. Performing a stakeout one night, Sweeney watches astounded as a grave mound actually sinks into the ground. Upon digging, the reporter comes to a metal door that swings out from under him and delivers into a underground labyrinth where Mr. Copehard, emissary of the Society, leads Sweeney to the dining hall of a nearby mansion. It seems that the anonymous benefactors truly stand by the name of their organization: “Grateful Hoboes, Outcasts, and Unwanteds’ Layaway Society,” or “G. H. O. U. L. S.” for short!

Too little, too late of this world.
("Mournin' Mess!")

What a letdown it is seeing Ingels being handed these lukewarm assignments time and time again. This is the same artist who we all seemed to unanimously proclaim was the King of Horror, and now it feels as if he can just barely rise above the turgid material that he lends his inks to. “Mournin’ Mess” is yet another Feldstein-penned script that battles the illustrations for panel space, and Ingels’ patented brand of grotesqueness is strictly limited to a single, all-too-brief glimpse of the corpse-munchers seated ‘round the dining table at the end. It’s not nearly as fun as “Midnight Mess,” the story that it cheekily references in a bit of meta-humor that has Copehard explaining that they got the brilliant idea for their society from a magazine called Tales from the Crypt. The boys might have been better off just reprinting that story here instead.--Jose

Original uncensored cover for Crypt #38
Peter: As anyone who reads the DC War blog knows, I can't stand stories narrated by inanimate objects (or donkeys, for that matter) and "Tight Grip!" is no exception. Carl's plan sure isn't thought out very well. Any slight error would have tripped him up; the smell and blood must have been nauseating. That final panel of "Tight Grip!" has got to be one of the silliest committed to EC paper but, conversely I dug the scene of Wilma spilling all over the lobby. I love how Bill and Al mess with our expectations in ". . . Only Skin Deep!" Yep, we know exactly how this will end and it sorta kinda does but with a sick twist. What's queasier in that final panel: the mess of Sue's face or the oozey thing in Herbie's hands? Only Crandall could have delivered that knife to the gut. "Last Laugh" is monumental in its stupidity. A boatload of coincidences (the biggest whopper of them may be that the doctor is able to provide Mr. Ceely with fish-hook-imbedded pills!) and nary a believable moment. The finale, Ceely strapped to a table and being tickled to death, almost makes me believe that Bill and Al were winking at us. Almost. "Mournin' Mess" is a fun hunk of self-aware nonsense that telegraphs its hook the second Copehard mentions the full name of the organisation. It's hilarious to think a band of ghouls would sit around reading Tales from the Crypt. Mention has to be made of the cover, which was censored, in-house, just before the issue was printed. Even then, about a year before the walls came tumbling down, Bill and Al could smell trouble coming and sought to head it off at the pass.

Jack: If a good EC horror story is all about the payoff, then " . . . Only Skin Deep!" and "Mournin' Mess!" can be counted as successes. Sue in "Skin Deep" has a rockin' body but what man would ever marry a woman without seeing her face? I was starting to worry that we were heading into "Lola" territory (The Kinks) but the finish was not bad, kind of like the ghost story where the woman always wears a ribbon 'round her neck and when her husband unties it her head falls off.

I enjoyed "Last Laugh" mainly because I have grown so fond of Will Elder's work and give extra points to any story he draws. Al Feldstein goes overboard with the word balloons in "Mournin' Mess" and doesn't give Ghastly much room to work--it reminds me of a story by Kurtzman (I think it was Harvey) where he drew little figures at the bottom of the panel being squashed by the giant word balloons. "Tight Grip!" stops making sense on page 7 and completely goes off the rails at the end.


Craig
Shock SuspenStories #11

"The Tryst" ★★★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"in gratitude . . ." ★★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"The Space Suitors" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall

". . . Three's a Crowd" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen





"The Tryst!"
Julie Adams comes to work for John Hendricks as his secretary but the man quickly becomes obsessed with the radiant, virginal young lady. Though much older than  Julie, John asks the girl out and she agrees. A courtship follows and then marriage. Hendricks buys his bride a huge mansion outside of town and forbids her to leave the estate, so jealous is he of sharing her attention with anyone else. One of John's clients, Mr. Farnsworth, begins visiting and comments that the married couple should have a child; later, Hendricks tells Julie that won't be happening as a child would spoil his angelic image of her. One day, John spots Julie heading into the woods and immediately suspects her of meeting with Farnsworth for a fling. John murders his client but, the next morning, the newspaper headline elicits nary a reaction from Julie . . . Hendricks has murdered the wrong man. That weekend, he follows Julie into the forest (armed with a pistol) and, from afar, sees her wave to someone down at the lake and remove her blouse. After his wife has redressed and headed back to the estate, John sees movement in a bush and empties his revolver, suspecting he's murdered his wife's lover. He returns to the house, where Julie asks him to return with her to the lake as she has a confession to make: though she knows John would not approve, she's been meeting with a boy from a local orphanage for picnics and swimming. The boy's bullet-riddled boy lies at the lake's edge.

"The Tryst!"

"The Tryst!" is a nasty bit of business that works on so many different, uncomfortable levels. Hendricks is obviously a madman, so hellbent on preserving his unspoiled maiden (have they even consummated this marriage?), he'll commit murder without batting an eye. The scary thing about John Hendricks is that a lot of us, to a lesser extreme, can identify with his mental paralysis. Who hasn't been so in love with another that blindness can set in? Granted, the majority of us would not take it to the extremes that John did but, once given the pleasure of hindsight, we might agree we were a tad . . . protective. How refreshing is it that, right to the final panel, Julie is an innocent, monogamous woman who's not seeing the local welder for afternoon grab-fests in the woods? By golly, she defies expectations; she must have been in love with John and not his money! And, finally, "The Tryst!" features the fewest number of cigarettes ever drawn by Johnny Craig in an EC story: just two panels!

"in gratitude..."

"in gratitude..."
Joey Norris has returned from Korea and the town gives him a grand welcome home; dozens of townsfolk await him at the train station and a rally will be held at the town hall later that day. Wounded in the war, Joey has become the town hero. Once at home, he lunches with his mom and pop and explains that, before the rally, he'd like to visit Hank's grave. Sheepishly, Joey's parents explain that, throughout all their son's war correspondence, they'd grown to love Joey's war buddy, Hank, and when Hank had given his life to save Joey's, they naturally agreed to follow their son's wishes by burying Hank in the family plot. Then Hank's body showed up and the town began to talk; Joey's father couldn't risk losing business so Hank was buried in the nearby Greendale Cemetery. At the rally, Joey explains how he'd gone off to war, lost his hand, and fought for freedom and equality with pride but, now, feels only shame for a town that refused to accept Hank for his skin color.

"in gratitude . . ." is a powerful statement, one whose message seems, sadly, just as relevant today as it did in 1953. It's a bit on the preachy side and its "twist" is telecast from the moment Joey's pa mumbles out his explanation, but there's no denying that Gaines and Feldstein were taking chances few publishers would have gambled on. The war vet's mother telling of her vision of the heroic Hank is particularly stirring (here's a man who saved their son's life but isn't worthy of inclusion in anything but a grave somewhere out of the public eye) but the punch in the gut here, obviously, is Joey's condemnation of the crowd he grew up with (but wouldn't he have known of those faults before he came home?) and their racism: ". . . the grenade that tore (Hank's) skin to pieces didn't know its color . . . didn't care if it was black or white." Perhaps it was these observations, rather than some injury-to-the-eye or "headlight" panels, that roused Prof. Wertham?

"The Space Suitors"
Don and Wanda thought they'd planned it so well. Don had told his boss (Wanda's husband), Milt, that there was a planetoid out there full of uranium ore and the man had immediately scheduled the three of them for a rocket ride. But once they got their spacesuits on and were investigating the planet's surface, Don had dropped the charade and pointed a laser blaster at Milt's mid-section. Milt didn't have the reaction Wanda and Don had expected; he laughed and told them he'd known about their plan to get rid of him the entire time. If Don were to pull the trigger, a remote control on Milt's space suit would launch their ship into space, leaving the lovebirds stranded. Wanda cries "liar!" and Don ventilates his boss. Within seconds, to their chagrin, the couple learn that Milt wasn't lying and they watch their only way home blast off. Milt's now-bloated corpse smiles at them as they settle in for a long, slow death. Some time later, an expedition finds "The Space-Suitors," holding "bloated, ruptured hands . . ." Reed Crandall, my current favorite EC-artist (sorry, Ghastly!), proves he can wander into Wally Wood territory and do just fine, thank you (to be completely honest, though, Reed doesn't do nearly as much heavy lifting in the detailed-rocketship department as Wally). As with most of these triangle stories, the bump-off really isn't planned that well (how was Don going to explain the enormous hole in Milt or do they not need proof of death in space?) but it's a golden moment when the lovers discover they've been foolish and "couldn't even kiss, no less . . . ," well, you know.

"...Three's a Crowd"
Della and Alan are heading up to their cabin this weekend for what Alan hopes is a "fresh start" anniversary vacation but Della invites their best friend, Andy, along. Andy has just bought himself a cherry of a car (decked out with a phone, no less!) and insists on doing the driving despite Alan's nervous protests that the roads are winding and Andy tends to have a lead foot. No matter, the trio makes it to the cabin in one piece but when Alan heads to the trunk to get the suitcases out, Della and Andy suspiciously head him off at the pass and inform him they'll be taking care of the luggage. That night, Alan wakes to find Della gone from their bed and follows voices to the guest cottage. Eavesdropping at the door, he can hear his wife and best friend making plans. Believing those plans involve Alan's exit from Della's heart, he plots their murder. He asks them to go into town the next day, despite having received a call informing him that the bridge had washed out. When Della and Andy have left, he goes into the guest cottage and discovers a banner reading "Happy Anniversary, Daddy!" along with a basinet and maternity clothes. Realising he may have made a mistake, Alan rushes to phone Andy in the car but discovers he's come down with laryngitis. But for that lame last panel, ". . . Three's a Crowd" is not a bad little case of mistaken adultery with a nice, nasty twist. Sure, Jack Kamen's characters look like they just got of the boat from his last art job but if you've got to employ an artist with such a limited range, best to give him a "talking heads" story such as this one. All in all, a very solid issue of SS. --Peter

"...Three's a Crowd"

Jack: These are four very strong stories--I liked the Wood one best, mainly for the gorgeous art. Craig's story is excellent, as usual, though I think he could've made the orphan look younger so that he didn't look old enough to be a lover rather than a surrogate child. Crandall's story is also top-notch, with an ironic twist and that knockout panel showing Milt dead. Even the Kamen story, usually reliably the weakest of the bunch, is very good, up until the last panel flops. It's interesting that three of the four stories this time involve jealousy and fear of adultery; this seems to be the biggest reason that people in EC stories commit crimes.

Another look at the Crypt #38 pre-fix cover

The debut of the EC Fan-Addicts Club

Fun for the whole family!

Next Week . . .
The Enemy Ace flies off into retirement