Monday, February 19, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 51




The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
  51: October 1954


Kurtzman
MAD #16

"Shermlock Shomes in the Hound of the Basketballs!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Will Elder

"Newspapers!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Restaurant!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Will Elder

"Wreck of the Hesperus" ★ 1/2
Poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Adaptation by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

Just as arch-nemesis Arty Morty blows another dozen bullet holes through Shermlock Shomes, the master detective is called upon by the ravishing Prudence Basketball. It seems Basketball Hall has been plagued by the ghostly presence of a demon hound, leading Pru’s uncle Coolidge to recently die of fright. Reporting to the estate on the moors, Shomes quickly hightails it out of the story to leave Pru under the protection (and gropey hands) of his trusted companion Dr. Whatsit. Sensing the devilish dog closing in on them through the fog, Whatsit gives the beast a good thrashing before realizing that it’s Shomes, returned with a weighty accusation in his pocket as he fingers Pru as the real cause of her uncle’s death. But, as it turns out, supernatural shenanigans abound as Shomes and Whatsit bump into a very real devil upon the moor.

Say "uncle"!
("Shermlock Shomes in The Hound of the Basketballs!")
While it’s not quite as snappy as the first Shomes story, “Hound of the Basketballs” still has a good number of gags, like when Shomes and Whatsit hide under the nearest furniture after Pru regales them with her ghost stories. Elder’s art is also lacking somewhat in its usual fire; this is confirmed by holding up this story to Will’s other assignment in this issue, “Restaurant.” The reader can discern fairly clearly which of the two the artist was having a better time with.

Did you know, faithful comic book reader, that the material you love so dearly but that is denigrated by your so-called “wise” elders is actually the stuff of tame fantasies compared to the sensationalistic utter drivel called “Newspapers” that those janitors of morality are constantly poring over? It’s true! Just take a look at the blood-soaked exposes on the riots and meat grinder murders that fill its turgid pages, or any one of the columns relating the latest bit of Hollywood gossip to a smut-hungry readership (“Googie With Foofoo While Boobie Vacations”). Not to mention all the shyster ad space and frothing letters section and trashy movie previews… You want to know the real menace to society? Just check out that *other* area of your local newsstand!

Black and white and red all over, indeed.
("Newspapers!")

Like “Movie… Ads” before it, Kurtzman teams up with Davis yet again to train their creative crosshairs on a medium that prefers to trade in the coarse rather than the cultured, contrary to popular perception. “Newspapers” benefits by not suffering from the redundancy virus that plagued the former story, here offering up something a little bit different than what came before it as we are taken through each of the daily edition’s skeezy sections. What this one *does* have working against it is an overabundance of tiny text crowding around the major images that leads to a bit of sensory overload. While this “prose” is frequently humorous as Peter points out below, the overall package leaves one wanting to just scan for the major points and then move on with their lives, at least on that first read.

It’s Sunday afternoon, and all the Sturdleys would like is a nice lunch together as a family at the local chow-mein restaurant. Fat chance! From the dirty dishes and the maddening crowd to the inattentive wait staff and the lavatorial demands of the baby, this supposedly idyllic excursion resembles nothing so much as a battle to swim up Niagara Falls. But even as the brat kids toss radios at heads and the Sturdleys are unceremoniously kicked out of their booth the second their meal is over, the stupid intrepid family knows that they’ll be back same time next week for another lovely afternoon out.

Fine dining at its finest.
("Restaurant!")

In its depiction of the drudgeries of everyday life, when even a trip out to eat is riddled with heartache, “Restaurant” cuts closer to the bone than any number of goofy parodies could hope to achieve. What makes this particular “story” so funny is that we can relate to the escapades that the Sturdleys undertake within the six pages. We’ve all been there before, and while of course mundane annoyances are heightened here for comedic effect, the jabbering hellscape that Elder depicts with his pencil and pen resembles the emotional impression that all of our own special restaurant trips left on us. If this is an indication of Mad’s new direction, I’m all eyes!

You remember that long fellow what wrote the pretty poems you were forced to read in high school? Well, Mad does! In “Wreck of the Hesperus”, Harvey Kurtzman dons his adapter cap as he did before for “Casey at the Bat” and “The Face Upon the Floor” and the results… are pretty much the same. Wally Wood is the artist on tap this time out to provide risible illustrations for the straight-laced rhymes, but just as before the effect left me more or less cold. Barring a surprise cameo from Popeye, I found Wood’s art here mostly incomprehensible; he seems to be going for a goofy Jack Davis vibe, especially in his depiction of the captain’s daughter, that is just not a good fit for his style. --Jose

"Wreck of the Hesperus"
Melvin Enfantino: "Hound of the Basketballs," while pretty amusing, is nowhere near as funny as the first Holmes parody. "Newspapers!" and "Restaurant!" are windows into the future of Mad Magazine, a future where the editors will balance film parodies with barbed commentary on the absurdities of everyday life. "Newspapers!" almost has too much information (a lot of it hilarious) and threatens sensory overload, while "Restaurant!" reminds me of the kind of incidents that Larry David uses to prop up Curb Your Enthusiasm. A double shot of Will Elder is always welcome. "Wreck of the Hesperus" has some really oddball Wood art (at times this looks nothing like the work of Woody) and some very funny bits (I laughed out loud at the panel reprinted at left); not bad for a poem adaptation.

Jack: This is a very disappointing issue of Mad. The Holmes parody is a retread of something they've done better before and I have to wonder if the over-writing and overly-long word balloons are a sly nod to Al Feldstein's tendency to crowd out the art with words. "Newspapers!" continues the trend of whining about how it's not fair that comic books are being targeted. The point is made in a page or two and the whole thing seems designed to be flipped through rather than read carefully. "Restaurant!" is less a story than a drawn-out incident, while "Wreck of the Hesperus" wastes the talents of Wally Wood, who seems to give up on page six and just use white panels with sound effects.


Ingels
The Haunt of Fear #27

"About Face" ★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Graham Ingels

"Game Washed Out!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by George Evans

"The Silent Treatment" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Jack Kamen

"Swamped" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Reed Crandall

Back in 1886, Jeff Lorimer's wife, Amy, gives birth to twins but makes him promise to never try to see the ugly one named Olga. The pretty one named Penny grows up happy but, when she's 15, her mother dies. His wife dead, Jeff insists on meeting Olga and she turns out to be as ugly as promised. She's so ugly that when he walks down the street with her by his side, passers-by turn and vomit. Jeff decides the best thing to do is to kill her, so he shoots her, only to discover that she and Penny are the same person and Olga's hideous face grew out of the back of Penny's head.

"About Face"

Ghastly's artwork is suitably hideous in "About Face," but I guessed what was going on right from the start. The whole thing makes little sense and requires Penny to flip her blond hair over so that her Olga face is in front. But what about the rest of her body? Wouldn't her feet point the other way? I don't get it.

John Talbot and Becky Ames are a couple of horny Puritans having an extra-marital affair in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. John's wife Priscilla catches him and threatens to tell the Council, so he kills her with a fireplace poker and throws her body in the local pond. When Becky's husband Calvin comes home early and catches his wife in the arms of her lover, Becky pretends she was forced into it, and the Council sentences John to be ducked three times in the pond by means of the ducking stool. As John is lowered into the pond, he sees Priscilla's corpse under the water; each times he goes under she gets closer to him, until at last she wraps her dead arms around his neck and pulls him down into the depths along with her.

"Game Washed Out!"

Despite the awful title, "Game Washed Out!" is a creative and original take on the "dead wife gets revenge" EC tale. George Evans's art is perfect for the 17th-century setting, since it can tend to seem a bit stiff, and the plotting is done well enough that I did not see what was coming until near the end. Extra points are awarded for having the Vault Keeper reading a copy of Seduction of the Innocent in the final panel.

A king who likes to party loud and hearty does not hear his daughter's cries for help when she topples out of a high window while trying to rescue her cat. She falls to her death and he institutes "The Silent Treatment" in his kingdom, ordering all sound quashed because he is haunted by what happened. Eventually, the peasants revolt and sew a metronome inside of him so that he goes bonkers and leaps off a cliff to his death.

"The Silent Treatment"

This story has so much going against it. I don't like Grim Fairy Tales and I don't like the Kamen art. Yet somehow, by the bottom of page five, it starts to get interesting, as the peasants approach the king with ill intent. On page six, suspense grows as the reader wonders what has been done to the king. A spider lowers itself closer and closer to the king, who lies immobile on a bed. And then, guess what? They blow the ending with a dumb twist involving sewing a metronome inside his body. Too bad! They had a shot at a good finish.

A ghoul builds a shack in the middle of a quicksand swamp and lures hunters to their deaths, eating their flesh and dumping their bones beneath the rickety structure. Eventually, the roiling mix of bones and mud causes the shack to collapse and the ghoul to fall prey to the bones of his victims.

"Swamped"

"Swamped" doesn't sound like much when summed up, and the fact that the shack narrates the story is not a plus, but Reed Crandall's work really shines through the muck. There are so many fine panels that it's hard to choose just one to reproduce!--Jack

"Yeah, yeah, and then what happened . . ."
drooled the councilman!
("Game Washed Out!")
Peter: Please don't ask me to dig through my stack of notes but I know I've seen the punchline of "About Face" before. Tell me how Jeff could have gone through the years without once seeing the back of his pretty daughter's head. The 15th (and final) Grim Fairy Tale, "The Silent Treatment," isn't really as bad as I expected it to be (usually, this feature is pretty bad) but, and I'm beating a dead horse yet again, you can really tell why Feldstein would hand these softies over to Kamen. Jack's visuals are as exciting as watching grass grow. "Swamped" seemed to be a tale headed for something special but, by the time the cliched finale rolls around, not even Crandall's graphic graphics can save it from mediocrity. By default, "Game Washed Out!" is the issue's best tale, thanks mostly to George Evans's art and some unintentional humor from the councilmen (at least, I think it's unintentional). Gotta admit though, we've seen that climax one too many times (in fact, it's a variation on the final panels of "Swamped"), haven't we?


Severin
Two-Fisted Tales #39

"Uranium Valley!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Colin Dawkins
Art by John Severin

"Oregon Trail!" ★★
Story by Colin Dawkins
Art by John Severin

"The Secret!" ★★★
Story by Colin Dawkins
Art by Gene Colan and John Severin

"Slaughter!"  ★★ 1/2
Story by Colin Dawkins
Art by John Severin



The fabulous Ruby Ed Coffey leads his merry band of raiders through a canyon above the Urubamba River, where the boys discover a cave containing the mummified remains of an Incan king and a secret passageway to the fabled "Uranium Valley!" Ed and Cannon decide to take a swim (Fred Wertham had always suspected Ed of favoring manly flesh) and, while investigating a mysterious underwater cavern, Cannon is kidnapped by a band of savage Incans and taken to the ruler of the valley, a king seated on a golden throne. The king orders that Cannon be thrown into a pit with "the monster" and the beleaguered but muscular adventurer is charged by a giant with a mean streak. Cannon uses his wits and vastly superior knowledge of fighting skills to break the gargantuan's neck but the king deems our hero "the new monster" and sets his guards on Cannon. Just in the nick of time, Indiana Coffey arrives with plenty of bullets and saves the day. I haven't been a big fan of Ed Coffey's exploits to this point but, of the four (and "Uranium Valley!" is Ed's final voyage), this is the best. Ironically, it's the Coffey adventure that, for the most part, ignores its star and focuses on supporting character Cannon. The final panels have a nice irony to them in that both sides see the other as the hostile race. Well, the script is the tightest of the quartet but Severin's art is scratchy and almost unfinished in spots (in particular, during Cannon's battle with "the monster"), nowhere near the detailed and stylish Severin work we've become accustomed to.

During the American Indian Wars, scout Simon Chuter is taken prisoner by a band of Cheyenne led by Cheyenne Hawk. Hawk explains to Chuter that the Sioux will be ambushing Chuter's troop farther up the "Oregon Trail!" and offers the help of his party to defeat the Sioux. When Chuter returns to camp and reports the news, his Lieutenant scoffs and informs his scout that they'll be just fine without the help of the enemy. Realizing the troop has ignored his offer of help, Hawk cooks up a deception and tricks the army men into teaming up to defeat the Sioux. Slow-moving and a tad confusing, "Oregon Trail!" just didn't do much for me in either the script or art department. As with his art on  "Uranium Valley!," Severin's work here seems rushed and incomplete. Evidently, Cheyenne Hawk was being test-driven as another continuing character in the TFT stable (a "more about Cheyenne Hawk in the next issue" tag appears in the final panel) but no further adventures were chronicled. It's just as well as it seems the story was pretty much told.

Dermot Wilson has a plan for the ultimate weapon so he goes to his old friend, Nick, a senator who has the ear of the President. Nick gets Dermot in to see the Prez and, with an audience of only one, "The Secret!" is spilled. Word gets out that a weapon to end all wars has been developed and is ready for testing and the dirty Commie rats send word to their "insiders" that the formula must be stolen at all costs. Test day comes and a battleship is vaporized in the Atlantic; the Russkies now order their agents to kidnap Dermot. By all appearances a meek scientist, Dermot Wilson was wrestling champion in college and a student of Judo. The Red hitmen are arrested and the Soviets are forced to sit down and discuss peace with the President. Years later, Nick has become President and looks forward to learning exactly what Dermot's secret weapon is. Much to his surprise, Wilson opens his attache to reveal . . . nothing! A little psychological warfare has led to peace. A nice, surprising little tale with a brilliant twist. Though sole art credit is given to Severin, "The Secret!" is unmistakably the work of Gentleman Gene Colan (whose tenure at EC ends after a too-short term of two strips, but don't feel bad as Colan's later contributions to Atlas's horror comics were amazing!). Severin, no doubt, inked the finished pencils but, curiously, Gene isn't credited. That may have led to Colan's bad memory when it came to his brief stint at EC; interviewed for the Colan biography, Secrets in the Shadows (written by Tom Fields and Gene Colan, Twomorrows, 2005), the artist explained how he had done a "try-out story" for Harvey Kurtzman ("Wake," Two-Fisted #30), only to be disappointed when Kurtzman "didn't think (Colan) had hit the mark." So, at some point Gene must have been invited back by new editor Colin Dawkins; how else to explain this second story?


Ranch owner Cal Barron has a rustling problem so he sends for the famous Black Jack "Slaughter!" The tall, handsome gunslinger arrives at Barron's spread and quickly takes charge, looking for clues in the mountains around Barron's land and keeping one eye open at all times. While in town, Slaughter recognizes wanted steer rustler, Waco Bill, and informs the fugitive he'll be runnin' him in. Waco ain't amenable to that but the two men strike a bargain: whoever loses their shootout pays for beans and coffee. Slaughter outduels Waco, ventilating his non-shooting arm, and a friendship is born. Waco agrees to be taken in to the nearest marshall but, on the way, the men are ambushed by Cal Barron's ranch foreman (the man responsible for the rustlin'!). Waco proves himself a true pardner when he blasts the ornery foreman and saves the day. A partnership is born. As cliched as "Slaughter!" is (the town's name is a cliche . . . the land baron's name is a cliche . . . our hero's name is a cliche . . . even the freakin' horse's name is a cliche!), I enjoyed the heck out of it, dopeyness and all. Black Jack Slaughter's initial adventure reads like a condensed version of a George Appell novel (Google him); Dawkins barely scratches his main plot hook of cattle rustling when he takes us down a different dusty trail and introduces Black Jack's future pardner. The wrap-up, the reveal of Hank Heeley as the mystery rustler, almost seems like an afterthought and, to tell the truth, I'd forgotten the main plot point anyway. "Slaughter!" is almost a template for 1950s western funny books. Further adventures of Waco and Slaughter were promised but, like Cheyenne Hawk, never materialized, probably due to the end of the Dawkins/Severin run on Two-Fisted.--Peter

Jack: "Uranium Valley!" is very much like an old Sunday newspaper comic in story and art style; Severin sticks almost exclusively to rectangular panels and the unfinished feeling you noted reminded me of classic newspaper strip art. "Oregon Trail!" is an excellent western with a nuanced portrayal of two tribes and how they relate to white men. It's surprising that "The Secret!" is credited only to Severin since it's so obviously Colan's work; Severin's inks tighten up Colan's pencils and remove some of the shadows we know so well. "Slaughter!" is a fun western but there's nothing new in the plot. The art in all four stories this issue is very impressive.

Next Issue . . .
Will Jack and Peter sing the praises of
John Severin's Flying Tigers?

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Classic TV Villain Blogathon-The Cybernauts


THE CYBERNAUTS


Was The Avengers the best TV series ever? Was Diana Rigg the coolest heroine ever? If you answered yes to both, you would have plenty of evidence to support your case. Submitted for your approval (to borrow a phrase from another contender for best TV series ever): the Cybernauts, who have the distinction of being the only villains to appear in the black and white/Emma Peel Avengers, the color/Emma Peel Avengers, and The New Avengers with (gulp!) Gambit and Purdey!

PART ONE: THE CYBERNAUTS (Season 4, episode 3, first aired 16 October 1965)

Written by Philip Levene
Directed by Sidney Hayers

What could have done this?
We get right down to it with the teaser, in which a man in a bathrobe is menaced by a mysterious someone. Bullets don't stop it! We see a gloved fist punch a hole through a wooden door but we don't see the killer. Soon, John Steed and Emma Peel are on the case, investigating the scene of the crime. Steed examines a rifle that has been bent into a curve and we learn that this man is the third victim, each of them rich and powerful. Another murder follows quickly on the heels of the first, and this time we see more of the figure of the killer but we still don't get a good look. Steed and Mrs. Peel again make the scene and we learn that the victims all had business with the Harachi Corp.

Mrs. Peel suspects that an expert karate blow was used, so she visits a karate school, where it looks like one of the students could be a suspect. Mrs. Peel shows off her skills by beating the school's female champion and the sensei remarks that Emma "has the skill of a man." Meanwhile, Steed visits the Harachi Corp. itself, were he secretly photographs documents with a camera hidden in his umbrella! Emma pays a visit to a toymaker and sees a demonstration of a toy robot. Soon, she has enrolled as a student at the karate school and witnesses a demonstration by the top student, a man named Oyama, who happens to be the same man she met at the toy company!

On the trail!
Steed meets Dr. Armstrong at United Automation. Dr. Armstrong is played by the wonderful Hammer Films veteran Michael Gough and he rides around in a motorized wheelchair, telling Steed that machines and computers will be able to do anything humans can. A mysterious man wearing glasses tips off Dr. Armstrong that Steed may not be all that he seems. By the time Steed leaves United Automation, we know who the villains are, but who is the killer?

Yet another murder occurs practically under the noses of our hero and heroine, and this time the victim is a karate expert, effectively eliminating as suspects the students at the karate school. It turns out that Dr. Armstrong is wiping out all of the competing bidders for a new product from the Harachi company. Steed returns to Armstrong's office and breaks in; he finds a mechanical man sitting immobile. Steed hides as Dr. Armstrong and his assistant Benson (the man in glasses) admire the robot and we finally have the solution to the mystery of who (or what) has been doing the killing. The Cybernaut follows a radio signal sent from a fountain pen given to each of the victims, and now he's activated to home in on Steed's location!

Dr. Armstrong
Unfortunately, it's not Steed who has the pen. It's Mrs. Peel! The Cybernaut heads after her and Steed tries to escape from Dr. Armstrong's factory in time. Fortunately for the male viewers, Mrs. Peel happens to be dressed all in black leather. Suspense builds as this damsel in distress waits unaware of the danger coming toward her. But Emma Peel is no weak female! Can her martial arts skill match the strength of a Cybernaut? She leaves home before the Cybernaut arrives, so the answer will have to wait, but meanwhile, Steed has been knocked out by a blow from another Cybernaut who was programmed to capture, not to kill.

Emma drives to Dr. Armstrong's factory and Steed makes his escape. The Cybernaut finds her and things look bleak until Steed saves the day by pitting one Cybernaut against another. One prevails and goes dormant after disabling the other.

A Cybernaut!
"The Cybernauts" is an exciting start to the saga of the mechanical men, with great music and a wonderful use of sound. When the Cybernauts slash their arms down in a karate chopping motion, there is a loud sound of a whip that will be associated with them in each of the two episodes that follow. The style and humor of the show make it a highly entertaining hour, and the gorgeous black and white photography adds immeasurably to the look of the program. The Cybernauts are frightening due to their power, their inhumanity, and their relentless pursuit of their victims. The special effects are primitive but this is overcome by sharp camerawork and a thrilling story. The word Cybernaut is only used once, in the final scene, as Steed fills in a crossword puzzle and Mrs. Peel gives their adversaries a name. The real villain of the piece is Dr. Armstrong and the Cybernauts are his weapons of choice; his memory will continue to cast a shadow over the Avengers when the Cybernauts return.


PART TWO: RETURN OF THE CYBERNAUTS (Season 6, episode 1, first aired 30 September 1967)

Written by Philip Levene
Directed by Robert Day

A Cybernaut in color!
Holy vibrant colors, Batman! The Cybernauts are back and in vivid, living color! There's not much better than watching a TV show from the Batman era, when TV shows discovered all the colors of the rainbow in a big way.

We all know what's coming when a fist is seen breaking down doors and we hear that familiar whip sound. While the Cybernauts were kept off screen in their first appearance, the cat is out of the bag now so there's no reason to hide then on the occasion of their return. This time, they're not killing people but rather knocking them out and kidnapping them. First comes a man in a mansion. Meanwhile, Steed and Peel visit their friend Paul Beresford, played by another great veteran of Hammer Films, Peter Cushing! Two scientists have disappeared and, after Steed and Mrs. Peel leave, a Cybernaut delivers the latest missing person to Beresford, who is both a big flirt when Mrs. Peel is present and also secretly a villain bent on doing away with her and her partner. There's no mystery about the bad guy this time around, especially since his assistant is Benson, the same man in glasses who helped out Dr. Armstrong last time we saw the Cybernauts!

Paul Beresford
A third scientist is kidnapped and brought to Beresford's home after a good session of breaking things and making whipping sounds. The Cybernauts may amble along as slow as zombies, but like Canadian Mounties they always get their man. The color photography in this episode is stunning and director Robert Day makes the most of his opportunity by having a Cybernaut walk though a beautiful green field. Just as the mechanical man brings the latest victim to Beresford, Steed and Mrs. Peel return unexpectedly. They suspect that the Cybernauts are back but they know that Dr. Armstrong, their creator, is dead. In a fun bit of self-reference, Beresford gathers his scientist-prisoners together and shows them black and white clips of John Steed and Emma Peel from "The Cybernauts." It turns out that Paul Beresford is the brother of the late Dr. Armstrong, and he offers a hundred thousand in cash to each scientist who will help him get revenge on the duo that he holds responsible for the death of his beloved sibling. One of the three refuses, so naturally Beresford has a Cybernaut do away with him. He shows the remaining two scientists more black and white clips of Steed and Mrs. Peel in action so they will know their targets.

Mrs. Peel under Beresford's control!
Steed and Mrs. Peel make another visit to Beresford's home, but this time they are being watched by the trio of scientists from behind a two-way mirror. Steed reveals that he is tracking down the late Dr. Armstrong's next of kin, which worries Beresford enough that he dispatches a Cybernaut to kill Armstrong's lawyer. Steed arrives soon after the murder and is himself knocked out by the Cybernaut. Meanwhile, the scientists work from their jail cells until one escapes and seeks refuge with Mrs. Peel. A Cybernaut tracks him down, knocks out Mrs. Peel, and captures the rogue scientist. The two remaining scientists draw up plans for perpetual torture. Steed and Mrs. Peel think they are getting closer to their objective when Beresford calls and offers information on Dr. Armstrong, but the scientists have invented a wristwatch that will turn our heroes into human Cybernauts!

Beresford gives Mrs. Peel one of the watches as a gift and asks her to wear it the next day, while his assistant breaks into Steed's office and replaces a watch with a deadly counterfeit. The next day, Mrs. Peel dons the watch and Beresford activates it by remote control. She immediately turns into a human Cybernaut and drives to Beresford's home, followed closely by Steed, who fortunately forget to wear his watch. At the Beresford estate, Paul toys with Emma until Steed arrives, then he sends her outside to take care of her partner. Mrs. Peels knocks out Steed and when he awakens he is inside the home, where Paul reveals his true identity.

Steed in a thoughtful moment.
The bumbling scientists try to put a watch on Steed so that he will also become a human Cybernaut, but they mistakenly put it on a Cybernaut, which runs amok. Steed frees Mrs. Peel and the Cybernaut attacks Beresford. In the end, Mrs. Peel crushes the remote control device and the Cybernaut goes dormant, allowing Steed to push it over with a finger.

"Return of the Cybernauts" is a delightful sequel, in which the colors explode off the screen and Peter Cushing makes a worthy successor to his fictional brother and fellow Hammer Films veteran, Michael Gough. The use of the black and white clips from the prior episode is a clever way to remind viewers of what has gone before, and The Avengers, as always, has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek and does not shy away from self-referential humor.


PART THREE: THE LAST OF THE CYBERNAUTS . . . ? (The New Avengers, Season 1, episode 3, first aired 31 October 1976)

Written by Brian Clemens
Directed by Sidney Hayers

When in his wheelchair, Felix Kane dresses
like he's in a British Invasion band.
Alas, nothing lasts forever, except maybe the Cybernauts! Mrs. Peel was long gone and Tara King was as good as forgotten when the Avengers returned in the fall of 1976. Steed's new partners were Mike Gambit, a James Bond type, and Purdey, who was to be saddled with some of the most embarrassing outfits in the history of fashion. A birthday party for Steed is interrupted when a dying agent staggers in to say that a double agent has been identified as Felix Kane. The next day, Steed watches from his car as Kane meets his contact in a parking lot. A car chase follows and Kane appears to die in a fiery crash.

A year passes and it's another birthday party for Steed, who stoically recalls what happened to Kane the year before. Meanwhile, a man named Frank Goff is released from prison and immediately kidnapped and taken to the lair of a mysterious, masked man in a wheelchair, who is obsessed with killing Steed and his new partners. Goff once worked with Dr. Armstrong, who created the Cybernauts, and the masked man wants to know the location of a storehouse of Cybernauts that Dr. Armstrong hid before he died. Goff leads the way to the hidden storehouse and we learn that Goff built the mechanical men to Dr. Armstrong's specifications. Bit by bit, Steed learns that Goff was let out of prison and has disappeared; as soon as a Cybernaut is up and running, the masked man has the Cybernaut kill Goff, whom he plans to replace with a genius. It seems the masked man wants to take the Cybernauts further than they have been taken before!

When fitted with Cybernaut parts,
Kane favors a Chairman Mao look.
After Steed learns of Goff's death, a Cybernaut captures Professor Mason, who has been experimenting with cybernetics, and threatens harm to his daughter unless the professor helps with his dastardly plan. Steed investigates the professor's disappearance and confirms his suspicions: that familiar, whip-like sound, the inefficacy of bullets, the mangled iron gates all suggest that the Cybernauts have returned! Steed's new partners have read the old files and comment that Steed, who never worries, is worried. Scenes alternate between the masked man and Professor Mason working on their secret plan and Steed and his partners piecing together what is going on. Steed visits Mason's lab and is knocked out by a Cybernaut that has come to take a key piece of equipment.

Gambit and Purdey head for the location of a man named Foster, who knows why Goff was released from prison a day early, but they arrive too late and see that a Cybernaut has already killed the man. A thrilling battle on a long and winding staircase ensues and Gambit and Purdey succeed in destroying the Cybernaut by knocking it over a railing. It falls a long way to the landing and loses its mechanical head. Steed examines the severed head and an agent brings shocking news: a fingerprint recovered from the noggin belongs to the late double agent, Felix Kane!

Is this really the last of the Cybernauts?
Two weeks later, Professor Mason has finished his work and outfits the masked man, whom we now know is the very much alive but horribly scarred Felix Kane, with Cybernaut legs, an arm, and torso-covering armor, making him the first Cybernaut-human hybrid! He dons a purple suit and cap over his metal parts, making him resemble a cross between Chairman Mao and Prince, and heads for Purdey's home. Professor Mason manages to warn Steed, and he races to Purdey's house as she battles the Kane-bernaut in a thrilling exchange of karate blows in the confined space of her living room. Kane is more mobile than the typical Cybernaut and Purdey can't escape, so it's a good thing Steed and Gambit arrive with handy aerosol cans of Plastic Skin, which they spray liberally over Kane and soon render him immobile, in what is a rather silly and sad finish to the last of the Cybernauts.

Despite the less than stirring color, in comparison to that used in "Return of the Cybernauts," Purdey's embarrassing outfits, and her forced attempts at witty banter, "The Last of the Cybernauts . . .?" is a worthy conclusion to the Cybernaut trilogy.

FINAL REMARKS:

Steed is on the case!
The three episodes of The Avengers to feature the Cybernauts form one long, continued story. In the first part, Dr. Armstrong uses the mechanical men to try to enrich himself, but his plans are foiled by John Steed and Emma Peel. In the second, Dr. Armstrong's brother seeks revenge on the duo because he holds them responsible for the death of his sibling. In the third, Felix Kane blames Steed and his partners for his horrible injuries and wants to use Cybernauts to exact his own vengeance. The two Diana Rigg episodes are the strongest and they are aided in large measure by the presence of Michael Gough and Peter Cushing. The 1976 episode is enjoyable, but Purdey is no match for Mrs. Peel.

The best TV series ever? The coolest heroine ever? Oh yes, and the best and scariest robots ever? You bet!

Watch "The Cybernauts" online here. Watch "Return of the Cybernauts" here. "The Last of the Cybernauts . . . ?" is not available online but is on DVD. Thanks to The Complete Avengers by Dave Rogers (NY: St. Martin's Press, 1989) for confirming air dates.

Be sure to check out our blogathon's promotional video here and to look for other participants in the Classic TV Villain blogathon listed here.

--Jack Seabrook

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Francis and Marian Cockrell Part Thirteen: Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty [3.18]

by Jack Seabrook

Millicent Bracegirdle leaves the safety of home in Easingstoke, England, and travels alone to a hotel in Bordeaux, France, to meet her sister-in-law, who is arriving from South America. She arrives late in the evening and ventures down the hall for a bath but accidentally returns to the wrong room and finds herself locked in when the doorknob comes off in her hand. To make matters worse, there is a strange man asleep in the bed! She spends a terrible night in silence, afraid of waking the man and afraid of scandal, but eventually discovers that the man is dead. A bit of ingenuity allows her to escape before the maid arrives in the morning and, in the end, no one but she knows of her night of terror. When she learns that the dead man was wanted for murder, she is not afraid and is glad that she was able to kneel and pray at his bedside.

This is a tremendous short story in which the title character is at all times focused on doing her duty. Her name, Bracegirdle, fits her, suggesting that she is constrained and rigid in her outlook. She has left a very ordered life with her brother, an Anglican priest, to travel outside her own country for the first time in order to meet her relative by marriage. "It was customary . . . ," the narrator writes, "for everyone to lead simple, self-denying lives . . ." Miss Bracegirdle overcomes her "horror of travel" and journeys, a woman alone, to a foreign country.

When she finds herself trapped in the wrong room, it is duty again that guides her thoughts and actions. She fears that, if discovered, she will be suspected of "breaking every one of the ten commandments," and remains quiet for hours in the darkness, much of the time hidden in the narrow, dusty space under the bed. Her duty to say her nightly prayers leads her to ponder the importance of kneeling and to come to the realization that " 'it isn't the attitude which matters--it is that which occurs deep down in us.' "

Mildred Natwick as Millicent Bracegirdle
The story is filled with gentle humor that flows from the absurdity of the situation and, after Millicent discovers that the man is dead, she is concerned that she might be accused of murder and sent to the guillotine. "It was her duty not to have her head chopped off if it could possibly be avoided," she thinks.

Her final act of duty comes from her decision to spare her brother the knowledge of her ordeal. She writes a letter to him and mentions all of the small events that occurred on her trip to France but leaves out the most shocking one--that she spent a night alone in a hotel room with the corpse of a man wanted for murder. "It was her duty not to tell"--it is as simple as that.

A cynical reader might wonder if Miss Bracegirdle uses duty as an excuse to protect herself, but it seems clear that in her mind she is protecting everyone else and resisting the temptation to tell a story that would make her the center of attention. In the end, Millicent is a strong, thoughtful woman who rises to the occasion and handles a situation that would challenge most people.

Gavin Muir as the Dean
"Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty" was written by Stacy Aumonier (1877-1928), a British writer best known for his short stories. He served in World War One and died at a fairly young age of tuberculosis; he was praised by such contemporary writers as John Galsworthy, James Hilton, and Rebecca West. IMDb lists a handful of films and TV shows adapted from his stories. This particular tale was first published in September 1922 and appears to have appeared contemporaneously in The Strand Magazine in England and in Pictorial Review in the United States. A reprint in the November issue of Current Opinion may be read here; there are charming illustrations and a photograph of the author.

The story was filmed as early as 1926; IMDb lists a short film version of the story with this date and credits Aumonier with the screenplay. It was filmed again in England in 1936 and starred Elsa Lanchester as the title character; Aumonier is again credited with the screenplay. He died eight years before, so this could be an error. Even if he did write the screenplay for the 1926 film, which may or may not be true, that version was surely silent and the 1936 version almost certainly had dialogue.

Tita Purdom as Maude
Aumonier's story was filmed a third time and aired on CBS on Sunday, February 2, 1958, as part of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series. The task of adapting the story for the small screen was assigned to Marian Cockrell, who seems to have been the producer's first choice for stories involving eccentric older women. Cockrell uses tried and true methods to bring the story alive, adding an opening scene at Miss Bracegirdle's home at the Deanery in Easingstoke. The short story begins as she arrives at her hotel room in Bordeaux, but the TV version starts earlier and dramatizes a scene that was referred to as having occurred in the past in the story's narrative. This is followed by a stock shot of the Eiffel Tower and a superimposed title that reads, "Paris 1907," putting a specific date on the events that was absent in the original. There is a dissolve to Miss Bracegirdle arriving at her hotel room and it becomes evident that Cockrell has relocated the story from Bordeaux to Paris. Miss Bracegirdle explains to the maid that the train was delayed, so her late-night arrival is in the City of Lights rather than the port city in southwestern France.

After the maid leaves the room, voice over narration begins and subsequently dominates the episode. This allows Miss Bracegirdle to express her thoughts while alone, as Cockrell takes the narrative of the story and turns it into speech delivered by the main character. The character is a bit more playful and spunky than she is in the short story; she undresses for her bath and imitates the pose of a can-can dancer that she sees in a picture on the wall. In the bathroom, we observe her bathing and a towel is carefully placed on the edge of the tub to prevent embarrassment. Back in the wrong hotel room, the man in the bed is obviously dead from the first time he is shown, though Miss Bracegirdle does not notice. She first hides in the wardrobe but quickly moves to the space under the bed.

Albert Carrier as the waiter
The biggest problem with this episode is the unrelentingly cheerful stock music, which puts a comic spin on everything that happens. Miss Bracegirdle's is an absurd and amusing situation, but better use of music would have given the show a more appropriate mood to match that of the story. In the first important change to the tale, Millicent has returned to the dead man's room to fetch her towel when a waiter enters to bring morning coffee. She dives under the bed and remains there until he leaves, after having discovered the corpse. When she returns to her room and the maid comes in to tell her what has happened in the room next door, there is no mention of the man's death being thought a possible suicide, as there is in the story, and this was surely a deletion made for the censors.

The most surprising change comes at the end of the show, where Cockrell rewrites the conclusion of the story. Miss Bracegirdle does not pen a letter to her brother, nor does she leave the hotel and decide to keep what happened to herself. Instead, the waiter enters her room with morning tea. As she thinks in voice over how indecorous it is for a man to enter her room, he asks: "Does Madame require anything more?" He then reaches into his vest and pulls out one of her stockings, which she must have left in the dead man's room. Having found and returned it, he matches it to her other stocking hanging on the foot of her bed, gives her a conspiratorial wink, and exits the room, leaving her stunned!

The dead man (uncredited)
This surprising change completely alters the story's conclusion and is in keeping with the show's light tone. Her secret is known and misunderstood but no one thinks the worse of her. Cockrell's ending is clever and dramatic, but it ends the show by making a very different point than is made in Aumonier's story.

"Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty" is directed by Robert Stevens (1920-1989) with his characteristic flair. The bathtub scene is cleverly shot, avoiding nudity in an amusing way, and Stevens works well in tight spaces, especially when Miss Bracegirdle hides inside the wardrobe and under the bed. He uses two mirror shots toward the end of the episode and keeps the story moving at a rapid clip from start to finish. Stevens directed 49 episodes of the Hitchcock series and won an Emmy for his work on "The Glass Eye."

Mildred Natwick (1905-1994) gives a strong performance as Millicent Bracegirdle. Born in Baltimore, she began appearing on stage at age 21 and debuted on Broadway in 1932. She was on screen from 1940 to 1988 and appeared in John Ford's The Quiet Man (1952) and Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry (1955). She was one of The Snoop Sisters in a series of TV movies in the early 1970s, and she appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents twice.

A Robert Stevens mirror shot
The rest of the actors in this show all have small parts, since the majority of it involves Miss Bracegirdle on her own. Gavin Muir (1900-1972) plays her brother, Dean Septimus Bracegirdle, in the opening scene. He was born in Chicago and appeared on screen from 1932 to 1965. This was one of his three appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents; another was in "Back for Christmas."

Tita Purdom plays Maude, one of the women sitting with Miss Bracegirdle in the opening scene. Purdom was born Anita Phillips and was a ballet dancer who had a brief career on screen in the 1950s. She also appeared in the Hitchcock-directed episode, "Wet Saturday."

The sly waiter in the last scene is played by Albert Carrier (1919-2002), who was born Alberto Carrieri in Quebec and who was on screen from 1950 to 1984. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

"Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty" is available on DVD here or may be viewed online here.

Sources:

Aumonier, Stacy. “Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty.” Sept. 1922. Historicaltexts.org, historicaltexts.org/Mystery/Aumonier%20(1916)%20Miss%20Bracegirdle%20Does%20Her%20Duty.pdf.
The FictionMags Index, 6 Feb. 2018, www.philsp.com/homeville/FMI/0start.htm.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
IMDb, IMDb.com, 6 Feb. 2018, www.imdb.com/.
“Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 3, episode 18, CBS, 2 Feb. 1958.
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. “Galactic Central.” Galactic Central, 6 Feb. 2018, philsp.com/.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Feb. 2018, www.wikipedia.org/.

In two weeks: The Impromptu Murder, starring Hume Cronyn!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 123: February 1972


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


Kubert
Our Army at War 241

"War Story"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Dirty Job"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Alex Toth

"Combat Tag!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by John Severin
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #55, December 1957)

"Batmen"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

"The Hot Spot!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #70, March 1959)

Tony Saladino gets it!
("War Story")
Jack: Famous newspaper reporter Ernie Patterson is assigned to follow Easy Co. so he can write about war for the folks back home. His "War Story" begins when Easy Co. attacks a castle and Brooklyn-born Tony Saladino is shot through the head. Later, Rock encounters enemy gunfire while crossing a river by footbridge and a new recruit named Hank is shot to death after bringing Rock back to safety. Finally, a soldier named Pedro is killed during a snowfall as Easy Co. attacks a German tank. Having learned all he needs to know about battle, Ernie the reporter tosses aside his notebook and we see the only thing written inside: "War is Hell!"

Heath does a fine job illustrating this rather brutal tale but I wish the events were not so predictable. We meet a soldier named Tony whom we've not seen before and suddenly he's shot and killed. Next comes Hank, with the same result. By the time Pedro is introduced, we know what's coming. I know it's not going to happen in the comic book world, but how about killing off one of the Easy Co. soldiers we actually know?

"Dirty Job"
Roman soldiers at an inn in Jerusalem complain about that day's "Dirty Job," which turns out to have been the crucifixion of Jesus. Alex Toth's art is lovely but this seems like an odd entry in Our Army at War.

Tired of being called "Kid," a young soldier yearns for a special nickname, or "Combat Tag!," like the veterans around him. He carries out one bold attack on the enemy after another and finally realizes that he's had a combat tag all along: "The Kid."


"Combat Tag!"
John Severin's art is not quite what we're used to here, making me wonder if someone else did the inks. Maybe Mike Esposito?

The U.S.S. Stevens is attacked by ten kamikaze planes, or "Batmen," at once and manages to shoot them all down. Glanzman's four-pager contains some excitement and a final note explaining that this didn't actually happen to the Stevens but rather to a ship called the U.S.S. Hadley. Why set it on the Stevens only to debunk it in the last panel?

"Batmen"
In a war, where exactly is "The Hot Spot!"? Pilots, frogmen, and marching soldiers on the ground all think they've found it, but the truth is that it's everywhere. Joe Kubert does a nice job illustrating different areas of battle but this six-page filler from early 1959 ends up going nowhere.

"The Hot Spot!"
Peter: "War Story" is a stunner; the best Rock we've seen in months. Though it's a bit heavy-handed at times and, yes, a bit obvious with its sudden "shocks" (every G.I. that Ernie takes a shine to chronicling ends up ventilated), "War Story" is also very violent and unnerving. Tony's death atop a gold throne is the strip's standout scene; Ernie stands, in shock, in front of the boy's corpse, as Rock, seemingly unfazed, rattles off orders to his men (and did that rifle shot hit Tony in the head?). Powerful stuff indeed. Equally strong is the Haney/Toth short-short, "Dirty Job," a tale that would have found a comfortable home in the pages of one of the EC war titles a decade and a half earlier. Toth is fast becoming the Bernie Krigstein of the 1970s DC war titles with his elaborate (and yet, at the same time, simple) design and use of panels (check out that dynamic splash where the sword effectively becomes part of the title and then works its way into the panels below it). The reprints are readable and feature some stellar art. Overall, one of the best issues of Our Army in a long time.


Kubert
Our Fighting Forces 135

"Death Picks a Loser!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by John Severin

"John Mitchell"
Story and Art by Norman Maurer

"The Mormon Battalion!"
Story and Art by Ric Estrada

"Combat Log Book"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by Russ Heath
(reprinted from Our Army at War #68, March 1958)

"Killer Clock!"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by Carmine Infantino
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #22, May 1954)

Peter: The Losers enjoy a brief respite from classified missions at a small carnival just outside London. An old gypsy tells the fortune of each Loser and then exclaims that one will die. She refuses to answer the question of "Which one?" but, as the men exit the tent, the sky is filled with Germans. One of the planes is shot down and crashes into the fortune teller's tent, ending the evening on a somewhat somber note. The Losers are then given their latest assignment: help liberate the German-infested village of Helgen, located in Norway. At first, the C.O. commands Captain Storm to remain behind, due to that ornery wooden leg and all the drawbacks that accompany said artificial limb. When Storm's compadres speak up, the C.O. must admit defeat and allows the Captain to participate. The boys head to Helgen and quickly gain the trust of the villagers, initiating a plan to destroy the German base in Helgen and take out a batch of the evil Krauts for good measure. The Losers plant bombs all through the village and head high up into the hills with their new friends but, when the devices don't detonate, Storm heads back into Helgen to see what's up. Gunner, Sarge, and Cloud all watch in horror as the town ignites. The team has suffered its first loss, but villager (and sexy lass) Ona volunteers to fill the shoes (if not the pegleg) of Captain Storm in the pursuit of good over evil.

A genuinely shocking ending caps an above-average Losers adventure. Well, it'll be shocking only for a few issues (more about that in a few months) but what Big Bob is hinting at (at least, I think he was consciously setting this up) is the advent of the continuing storyline in the DC war titles. Yeah, we've had traces of continuing threads here and there but nothing like what's coming (more about that in a few months). John Severin is knocking my socks off with his exciting visuals; he's moved in and made this team his own, giving them a pep they never had before in this series nor in their own series years before. Just look at that Johnny Cloud pictured to the right. Gone is the sour, weighty shoulders, woe-is-me-I'm-an-Indian-in-a-white-man's-militia Cloud; replaced by an assured member of an elite team (just look at that smile). Something I thought I'd never proclaim: I'm looking forward to the next few adventures of this team.


Well, there's good news and bad news about
"The Mormon Battalion!" 
"The Mormon Battalion!" makes a 2000-mile trek from Iowa to California, preparing for (but hoping to avoid) battle. Along the way, they encounter Indians but not one life is sacrificed and, once they end their journey in San Diego, their dream of aiding the army but spilling no blood is realized. I've not been fond of these short history lessons by Maurer or Estrada (in fact, until I can say anything but "my god, this is horrible art . . . ," I'll be bypassing comment on Maurer's work), for the most part due to the amateurish visuals. Having said that, "The Mormon Battalion!" is an engrossing story that had me captivated during its entire six-page length. Yes, I still have plenty of problems with Estrada's art but his dialogue is crisp and very adult (in fact, this particular strip reminds me of some of the history lessons Harvey Kurtzman doled out in Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales); in no way dry and condescending. It's the best kind of tutorial.

A new pilot learns all there is to know about entering data in his "Combat Log Book" after his first mission is filled with activity. A bit predictable but exciting nonetheless, this one is interesting more for its early Heath work. Just guesswork here but it looks like, based on this strip, Russ probably handled his own inking later on as there's a darker look than we're accustomed to (though the GCD credits Heath with both pencils and inks, so what do I know?). No one could draw military aircraft better than Russ Heath (go ahead, argue with me).

A squad of G.I.s arrives at a checkpoint in an abandoned town to find everything bullet-riddled. All but an ominous alarm clock, set to go off at 2:30. Is the suspicious object a bomb in disguise, set to go off with its alarm, or is it just a harmless device? "Killer Clock!" builds up some nice tension in its short length but, of course, the pay-off is a bit of a disappointment. Carmine Infantino is an artist who's taken his lumps over the years (and it seems the group of detractors grows larger every year) but I've never found his stuff to be as intolerable as, say, Andru and Esposito or Grandenetti. It's perfectly average funny book art.


Jack: "Death Picks a Loser!" ends with a shock. The cover says Captain Storm is dead, the fortune teller says a Loser is going to die, and the story ends with the captain apparently dead. What's going on? To be continued? This is most unusual for a DC War comic and I like it. John Severin is at the top of his game, at least for the '70s. I really liked "John Mitchell," which tells of how an antique cannon saved the day, and "The Mormon Battalion!" is an enjoyable and unusual story of a long march west with no enemy in sight. "Combat Log Book" features fine aerial battle work by Heath and an interesting take on the difficulty of documenting battle action. Does "Killer Clock!" signal our first sighting of Carmine Infantino in this blog? The story is a very good reprint with clock-ticking suspense.


Kubert
Weird War Tales 3

"Been Here Before!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #44, January 1957)

"The Cloud That Went to War!"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #17, January 1957)

"The Pool . . ."
Story by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman
Art by Russ Heath

"Combat Size!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #66, January 1958)

"Pilot for a Sub!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #68, March 1958)

Peter: Thousand of years separating them, two groups of men discover "The Pool . . . ," the only water for miles around, deep in the African desert. But the pool is a prize to be fought for, whether with clubs or sub-machine guns and, in the end, no one enjoys the cool water. Future superstars Wein and Wolfman do a nice job drawing parallels between primitive man and World War II enemies. The message, that we could all get along and share the resources if only we weren't so greedy, is handled subtly and without the sledge-hammer that most 1970s funny book writers (we're looking at you Steve Gerber and Bill Mantlo) used to pummel us kids with. It doesn't hurt that the boys have Russ Heath doing the heavy lifting for them. "The Pool . . ." also has one thing that none of the reprints have going for them: at least a hint of the weird.

G.I. Tommy relives his childhood (playing war on the farm) as he heads for a Nazi-held barn. "Been Here Before!" makes me feel like I've . . . been here before. "The Cloud That Went to War!" is obviously aimed at the junior weathermen amongst the war title devotees. It's six pages of facts about clouds and condensation and all manner of fascinating scientific data. What it isn't is an entertaining war story. The Andru/Esposito art on "Cloud" and "Been Here" isn't as awful as the gunk that the boys would churn out a few years later but it's nothing special either. A green G.I. is told (constantly) by his sarge that, as long as he keeps moving forward, a soldier will always feel a mile high. Our hero samples the entire "Combat Size!" range before realizing the sarge was right. The final reprint this issue shows a bit of imagination (and more than a bit of fantasy); the "Pilot for a Sub!" is the deep-sea pilot-fish, which latches onto a host and becomes almost a compass. When its host shark is killed by a mine, our hero fish becomes the mascot of an American sub and leads the crew out of danger. Yep, it's a stretch to think the boys in the tin fish could actually see this itty bitty flounder in the depths of the ocean but, hey, it's a fun read and Mort Drucker is aces!


The whole shebang is bordered this issue by a weird (finally, I can use that word appropriately) story involving two pilots whose plane goes down in the sea and they're left to float in a raft with no food or water. Out of the night comes a seaweed creature who tells them about "the deeds of brave men lost in war's holocaust (who) float on the silent waters about you!" Strangely, only two of the stories he tells are set in the ocean. As dopey as the framework's script may be, the visuals are a delight. It's a peek at what might have been if Joe Kubert had been artist on Swamp Thing.

Jack: As you point out, the only weird thing about this comic book is the five-page new frame story by Kubert. "Been Here Before!" is an above-average story for Ross and Mike, illustrating an emotionally satisfying tale of a boy playing war and growing up to be a soldier. "The Cloud That Went to War!" is a dull story of how clouds benefit men at war and I think "The Pool . . ." would have been better drawn by Joe Kubert in light of the cavemen and his history with Tor. By the time I got to "Combat Size!" I thought that it was really stretching a point to call these "Weird War Tales"; I guess it's all in your point of view. The last story, "Pilot for a Sub!," is a fish story that does not allow Mort Drucker to show his artistic strengths.


Kubert
Our Army at War 242

"The Rock!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #68, January 1959)

"Death of a PT Boat!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick
(Reprinted from Captain Storm #3, October 1964)

"Line of Departure!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #64, September 1958)

"Broken Ace!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #87, October 1961)

"A Tank for Sarge!"
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #57, October 1960)

"The Wounded Won't Wait!"
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #108, November 1964)

"The Brave Tank"
Story by John Reed
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #44, January 1957)

"Battle Hats!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #58, May 1957)

"The Rock!"
Jack: In peacetime, "The Rock" was a boxer who wouldn't stay down, no matter how much pummeling he took. In wartime, he behaves the same way and inspires the men around him to keep fighting, even when they've been knocked down over and over. By placing "The Rock" first in this, the first 100-Page Super Spectacular issue of Our Army at War, Joe Kubert suggests that this story was the prototype for the Sgt. Rock character that followed. And you know what? It works! This Rock has red hair and doesn't take any guff from anyone. Kanigher's story is simple and direct, with no wasted words, and late '50s Kubert art is muscular and effective.

When Captain Storm's PT boat is attacked by Japanese zeroes, it looks like the "Death of a PT Boat!" is a distinct possibility, but the Captain and his boat survive after his lieutenant gives up his life to protect Captain Storm. Again wracked by guilt, Storm must overcome other people's assumptions about his limitations and blow up both an enemy destroyer and another zero before he loses another crew. Irv Novick is no Joe Kubert, but this is the best Captain Storm story I've read to date. The thrust of this series seems to be that a man with a wooden leg can do anything a whole man can do, and Captain Storm has to prove it to himself and his colleagues over and over.

"Death of a PT Boat!"
A young soldier worries about crossing the "Line of Departure!" on the way to attacking an island. He soon learns that the coming attack is nothing compared to the battles he faces on the way. Six-page filler with the usual gritty visuals by Mort Drucker, this is standard late '50s back of the book stuff that must have brought back memories for any ex-WWII soldiers reading it.

"The Brave Tank" keeps moving forward, fighting on after it is shot up and eventually defeating the enemy. Another back of the book reprint from 1958 with nice tank work by Russ Heath, this story is interesting because we never get to see the faces of the men in the tank.

The issue limps to a finish with a four-page reprint drawn by two of our least favorite artists, Andru and Esposito. If we thought  we'd get through 100 pages without having a story narrated by inanimate objects, think again! "Battle Hats!" from different branches of service vie for superiority.

"Line of Departure!"
I love the DC 100-page comics, and this one has plenty of exciting battle action and great art! The cover is a classic wrap-around and each of the longer stories is introduced by a new, one-page drawing by Kubert of the story's hero. The new art is very sharp. There's also a neat, two-page "War Diary" by Sam Glanzman that purports to be from "a collection of letters and drawings mailed home to the folks." It tells about the passage through the Panama Canal and shows just how tight quarters were on board ship.

Peter: It's a bit of revisionist history to include "The Rock" in the Sgt. Rock canon but, doubtless, Big Bob and Joe drew on elements of this classic when creating the Sarge just five months later. Chris Pedrin, in the essential DC war study, Big Five (Alton-Kelly Corporation, 1994-95), dissects what he believes to be the "formation" stories for Sgt. Rock and rates "The Rock" as "highly significant." Joe, in his blurb for the story on the contents page, describes it thus: "featuring the 3-striper G.I. of W.W. II . . . who stands like a block of granite against the enemy! How'd he get that way? It's all here . . . and more . . ." Sounds like Kubert was the foundation for the revisionism.

The gorgeous wrap-around cover!

It's a relief to know that all the self-pity inherent in the Capt. Storm character didn't begin when he became a member of the Losers but was hammered into readers of the Captain's solo title. Big Bob writes a story revolving around Storm's peg leg and how he reacts to the reactions of others. Sampling the few stories reprinted recently, I am relieved that we sidestepped that title. In fact, the only other reprint outside of "The Rock!" that's worth reading is "The Brave Tank," and that's because of Russ's art. "Line of Departure!" is not awful, but I kept wondering why none of the other soldiers in the boat would come to the aid of this poor schmuck. As he says in the final panel, he's already fought the war by himself. "Battle Hats!" is another in the line of stories narrated by inanimate objects and the less said the better.

Next Week . . .
The walls were closing in but these guys
could still have some fun, right?