Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Hitchcock Project-Robert C. Dennis Part Nineteen: "The Deadly" [3.11]

by Jack Seabrook

"Suburban Tigress" was
first published here
In a 1911 poem, Rudyard Kipling wrote that "the female of the species is more deadly than the male." Robert C. Dennis alludes to this sentiment with his teleplay for "The Deadly," which is based on a short story by Lawrence Treat called "Suburban Tigress," first published in the July 1957 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.

As the story begins, Margot Brenner sits at home alone, thinking of her husband's upcoming promotion and of their plans to adopt a baby. A plumber named Jack Staley arrives to fix a leak in the cellar. Margot is nervous at the thought of being alone in her home with the burly man, and she is concerned when he says that he needs to open a valve upstairs to keep the basement from flooding. When they are upstairs together, he is entirely too familiar, commenting on a painting she made, as well as her bedroom slippers and the quilt on her bed.

Staley fixes the leak and tells Margot that his fee is $500. He plans to blackmail her, explaining that he has been there for three hours on what was a five-minute job and that he can describe her bedroom in detail. Though he has already collected money from other women in the neighborhood, Margot resists and so he gives her until the next day to get the money.

Phyllis Thaxter as Margot
Meeting her husband at the train station, Margot keeps quiet about the plumber's blackmail scheme. The next morning, she calls the police to report Staley. She goes to the bank to withdraw money and comes home to meet Detective Thompson, who listens in hiding when Staley arrives. Somehow tipped off to danger, the plumber denies having asked for money and Thompson does not believe Margot's story.

After the men leave, Staley telephones; he returns to the house that afternoon. To his surprise, Margot has gathered three other women whom Staley had blackmailed. They record his demands on tape and he agrees to stop his blackmail. The women inform him that they will only remain quiet if he provides free plumbing for the new preschool nursery. He likes the idea of the good publicity it will bring for his business and leaves feeling satisfied with himself.

That evening, Margot meets her husband at the train station, able to say truthfully that "I settled with the plumber."

In a comment on the TV adaptation of his story, Lawrence Treat expressed astonishment that the teleplay used his story and much of his dialogue and he got "nothing extra." Perhaps Treat's memory was fuzzy when he wrote this comment for the book, Hitchcock in Prime Time, which was published in 1985, since a comparison of the show with the story demonstrates that Robert C. Dennis did a fair amount of rewriting.

Retitled "The Deadly," the episode was broadcast on CBS on Sunday, December 15, 1957. Once again, Dennis adds expository scenes to the beginning of the story. Here, Margot arrives at the train station, where two women gossip about Anne Warren, who does not look like a "happy young bride." Margot approaches Anne, who knows that she is the object of gossip and asks Margot how to balance a bankbook. Margot tells her, smiling: "That's simple! You just doctor the books, cheat on the budget, and steal from yourself!" It's meant to be a humorous comment, but in the first scene we see that Margot is a bit older than Anne, as well as wiser and more pragmatic. These qualities will allow her to deal with the blackmailing plumber more successfully than did her neighbors.

Jacqueline Mayo as Anne Warren
Anne is sad, so Margot invites her to dinner; Anne tells Margot that she and her husband Joe have not been going out much. Margot's husband then gets off of the train and she drives him home, telling him about the leak in the basement. Her husband says that Joe Warren is a "jealous, suspicious guy," and Margot comments on the lack of excitement in the suburbs, causing her husband to remark that "what you need is a good knife murderer or one of those juvenile gangs." Margot drives on, very much in charge of the situation. At home, she prepares dinner while her husband makes a brief and unsuccessful effort to fix the leak in the cellar himself. They joke about his not being the jealous type and this sets up an unspoken contrast with the Warrens.

The initial scenes of "The Deadly" tell us all we need to know to set up what follows, which corresponds to the plot of the story almost to the end. We discover the source of Anne Warren's sorrow and watch as Margot demonstrates how to handle a blackmailer. Staley lingers in her kitchen and uses what he observes to estimate her husband's income. Dennis removes elements of the story, including the Brenners' plan to adopt a baby, Mr. Brenner's impending promotion, and Margot's concern that her husband does not telephone her while the plumber is in the house. In their place, he presents a stripped-down version of the story that demonstrates why "the female of the species is more deadly than the male."

Lee Philips as Jack Staley
In Treat's story, Staley fixes the leak and charges $500; in Dennis's teleplay, Staley merely gives an estimate, which makes the duration of his stay even more suspicious. The scene where Staley returns to the house and is overheard by the police detective in hiding is curious, since there is no clear explanation of how Staley is tipped off to the presence of the law. Margot thinks he might have seen two cups of tea on the living room table, but this is not possible, since their initial dialogue occurs before Staley enters the room. An important change from the story comes when the detective suggests to Margot that she get other female victims together; this leads to the climax, where Margot and six of her neighbors gang up on Staley in the living room. This time, instead of telling him to do the plumbing at the preschool, they make demands that are more selfish, giving him a list of projects in their own homes that they expect him to do for free. Staley's crimes have been dealt with in kind: the blackmailed have become the blackmailers in a humorous and very fitting transference of guilt.

Craig Stevens as Lewis Brenner
"The Deadly" is directed by Don Taylor (1920-1998), who played the murderous college professor in "Silent Witness," another episode written by Robert C. Dennis and Taylor's only appearance on the Hitchcock show as an actor. Behind the camera, he directed seven episodes of the series, including Henry Slesar's "The Right Kind of House," in a directing career that spanned over thirty years.

Phyllis Thaxter (1919-2012) stars as Margot; she was onscreen from 1944 to 1992 and appeared in nine episodes of the Hitchcock series. She was also seen on Thriller and The Twilight Zone, and later in her career she appeared as Ma Kent in Superman (1978).

Playing Jack Staley, the plumber, is Lee Philips (1927-1999). Like Don Taylor, he started out as an actor and later became a director. His acting career spanned the years from 1953 to 1975; as a director, he worked from 1965 to 1995, almost exclusively in television. He was seen on The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and four times on the Hitchcock show, including Cornell Woolrich's "The Black Curtain."

Frank Gerstle
Margot's husband is played by Craig Stevens (1918-2000), a familiar face to fans of classic TV. Born Gail Shikles Jr., he was on screen from 1939 to 1988, including a role in Otto Preminger's Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950). On TV, he was the star of Peter Gunn (1958-1961) and he was also a regular on the short-lived Invisible Man (1975-1976).

Smaller parts in "The Deadly" are played by:

*Frank Gerstle (1915-1970) as the detective; he was a busy character actor between 1950 and 1970 who appeared on the Hitchcock series three times and in Roger Corman's The Wasp Woman (1959).

*Anabel Shaw (1921-2010) as Rhoda Forbes; her career mainly spanned the years from 1944 to 1958 and she was in Fritz Lang's Secret Beyond the Door (1947) and Gun Crazy (1950). This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

Peggy McCay, Anabel Shaw, Sally Hughes
*Peggy McCay (1927- ) as Myra Herbert; she has been onscreen since 1949 and on the soap opera Days of Our Lives since 1983; she also had important roles in two of the Hitchcock hours--"House Guest" and "The Magic Shop."

*Jacqueline Mayo (1933- ), who plays Anne Warren and resembles Mia Farrow; she had a decade-long career but only got small parts and not many of those.

*Sally Hughes as one of the blackmailed women; notable for her later role as the pulchritudinous Miss Putney, the dental assistant on "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat."

"The Deadly" is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here. For a funny take on this episode, click here.

"The Deadly." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 15 Dec. 1957. Television.
"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2016.
"Lawrence Treat." Lawrence Treat. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2016.
Treat, Lawrence. "Suburban Tigress." 1957. Hitchcock in Prime Time. Ed. Francis M. Nevins and Martin Harry Greenberg. New York: Avon, 1985. 137-51. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2016.

In two weeks: "Together," starring Joseph Cotten.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 75: August 1965

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Showcase 57

Enemy Ace in
"Killer of the Skies"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

Jack: Hans von Hammer, the Enemy Ace, is on patrol with his squadron when they encounter a pair of planes, one French and the other English, bombing a German train. The German ace manages to shoot down both planes but is wounded in the battle. Returning to the airfield, von Hammer witnesses two German planes being driven to the ground by a single Canadian plane flown by the Hunter, who drops a note challenging the two planes to come back up and fight him in direct air combat.

Hans von Hammer leads the other two planes back into the sky, where they try to fight the Hunter but are both shot down as von Hammer stays out of the fray. The Hunter and von Hammer know that they will soon meet head on, but first the Enemy Ace must stop an Allied plane that is shooting at German observation balloons. That task accomplished, von Hammer receives a note from the Hunter challenging him to a duel. Evenly matched, the two experts take to the skies and shoot each other down. On the ground, von Hammer holds a gun to the Hunter, intending to take him prisoner, but the Canadian dies next to his plane, another victim of the killer sky.

Kanigher and Kubert show their mastery of the form in this 24-page story that features exceptional art and mature storytelling. I remember having this comic years ago and the cover is a classic.

Peter: After three appearances over in Our Army at War, Hans von Hammer ("The Hammer of Hell") gets a chance to shine at full-length, and shine he does. A multi-layered, textured script and eye-popping visuals combine to make this one of the greatest DC War comics I've ever read. Kanigher, obviously inspired by his new character, seems to become a novelist here rather than a short story writer. We know Bob is a good scribe, we've seen dozens of A+ scripts out of the guy this past six years, but "Killer of the Skies" transcends funny book writing and almost has a PBS war documentary feel to it. You just can't see this creation with a pooch or facing dinosaurs. The dialogue flows almost like a poem (I watched the great pilot speed toward his own line--a fighter who flew without helmet or goggles--the better to feel the wind of battle skies against his face.) and there is, literally, not one wasted word. BK has the unenviable position (and remember, this was 1965, before dark and gloomy comics were the rage!) of attempting to win over an audience with a character we should be hissing and booing at but, because this Enemy Ace is so valiant, so much a man of principle, we suddenly see there are two sides to war.

In this installment, von Hammer must face his counterpart, a Canadian ace who's been mopping up the skies with the Hammer's comrades. Even while killing this scourge, the Enemy Ace admires the man's dignity and valor. We see bits of von Hammer's "home life," nothing more than a butler and trophy cups of his kills to keep him company. He's just a man waiting for his turn to come out on the losing end.

Guest commentary by Marvel University Professor Mark Barsotti

There's a lot to unpack here, so let's hop in the cockpit and take to the air.

I read "Killer of the Skies" as a young kid, date unknown, but it wasn't upon publication since I was only four in mid-1965 and still mastering Dr. Seuss. The story was either reprinted in another DC war comic or I picked up the original at this non-chain store in our suburban Denver neighborhood that had odd stuff, like random, several year old comics selling for a quarter. I bought Avengers #6 there (circa '67), with Zemo and the original Masters of Evil, which, after reading several times, I cut up, pasting panels into a scrapbook...

But Von Hammer made quite an impression and was never subject to the scissors. While I couldn't have articulated it then, even as a kid it struck me how different Enemy Ace was. First, of course, Hans is the enemy, the Hun, the Kraut, and for Combat-watching, multiple G.I. Joe-owning tykes, hopping in the cockpit with the German Rittmeister was... remarkable easy. Such is the power of top flight storytelling.

"Before I do a script, two things must happen," says writer Robert Kanigher, as quoted on the webzine Dial B for Blog, "I must see the characters in the darkened theater of my mind. And I must feel their emotions as if I were inside their skins."

Kanigher creates a rich aristocrat who is neither prideful nor pompous, a "human killing machine" without bloodlust, who salutes the fallen, friend and foe alike, but is shunned by his fellow pilots as if he were a demonic force, a loner, whose "only 'friend' the world" is a wolf, another killer from the primeval Black Forest.

And Joe Kubert's art conjures a grim but gripping airborne ballet, scored by chattering machine guns - a series of vertiginous loops, swoops, turns and dives; men playing chicken at 10,000 feet in flimsy, wood and cloth contraptions - as the "Hammer of Hell" plies his deadly trade.

"I think trying to inject the feeling of flight on a six by nine inch piece of paper is not an easy thing to do, yet it was a very enjoyable task," Kubert* said. He just made it look easy, filling the skies with a variety of planes, rendered with verve and realistic detail. His Von Hammer is Prussian nobility personified, chiseled cheekbones and pale blue eyes, remote but not haughty. Kubert's characters were always varied and memorable; he was an early exponent of the "photo-realism" that Neal Adams would be lauded for bringing to superheroes a couple years down the line. Kubert's one of those artists that, at the top of his game, is so consistently excellent, he's easy to take for granted.

Re-reading this tale, what also strikes me is the downbeat realism Kanigher and Kubert bring to the meat grinder reality of war. There are no winners, only survivors. Von Hammer's aerial exploits are entirely believable (alas, this will start to change to meet the demands of the medium, with the very next issue), and comparing this war story to the over the top, "funnybook" exploits of, say, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, completely upends that myth that Marvel was always striving for "realism," while DC trafficked in kiddy fantasy.

"Killer of the Skies" is about as real as comics got in 1965. It subverts the "evil German" stereotype, offers a non-heroic, bleak and bloody look at war, and all while telling a gripping, page-turning tale. Masterpiece is a high bar, an easy term to toss around, but Von Hammer at the controls of his crimson, Fokker Dr. 1 - at least for this issue - certainly flirts with that rarified atmosphere.

*quoted in the same blog post

Heath & Adler
Our Fighting Forces 94

"The Human Blockbusters!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jack Abel

"The Zep and the Mosquito"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Irv Novick

Jack: A bit of R & R with some island gals is rudely interrupted when Gunner and Sarge are assigned to work with a tank corps to drive Japanese suicide bombers back from the Allied side of the island. After witnessing soldiers with TNT belts and engaging in some fierce hand to hand combat, G & S are menaced by enemy soldiers holding flamethrowers.

Fighting fire with fire stops the assault, but the two men are soon back in frogman gear, putting a radio-controlled belt on an enemy sub so an Allied sub can target it for a torpedo shot. A last-minute escape from the doomed enemy sub is in order when Sarge's foot gets caught, but avoiding an explosion only means swimming right into the waiting arms of enemy frogmen. Underwater hand to hand combat ends when Gunner uses his radio-belt to signal for another torpedo and blammo!--no more frogmen. Gunner and Sarge end the story (and the series) back on the beach with the native gals.

The cover says "Only DC features Gunner and Sarge--the marines who always fight on a bull's-eye!" and the last page of the story tells us to "watch for the next terrific TNT caper," but it was not to be the case.

Peter: Ah, parting is such sweet sorrow... not! After 50 long, tedious, inane, borderline-racist, and disposable installments, we must bid adieu to the trio known as Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch. At least for a while that is. Never fear, GS&P fans (I'm looking at you, Jack), the Martin and Lewis of DC War will return in OFF #123 (February 1970) as part of the aptly-titled feature, The Losers . The Losers will be comprised of several DC War characters who lost their own titles over the coming years (and, yes, that sentence is confusing, sorry). The feature section of OFF will now give way to several other short-term series, none of which can be half as bad as Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch (fingers crossed). One wonders if the fabulous and meticulously characterized Colonel Hakawa will become a victim of the axe or if his buck-toothed visage will pop up in the future. One can only hope! As for the final installment? Well, I have to admit the series goes out on a high note (for Gunner and Sarge, that is); a fairly readable script devoid of intelligent dogs and Hakawa one-liners. "The Zep and the Mosquitos" is about as silly as Hank can get, complete with Snidely Whiplash Commandant and his continual complaints about mosquitoes. The G.I. Joe toy ads are much more enjoyable.

 All American Men of War 110

"The Co-Pilot Was Death!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"Aces of Dread!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Irv Novick

Peter: Captain Johnny Cloud is perhaps a bit surprised that the newest member of his squad is his old nemesis, Silent Bear, once a competitor for the affections of (now Nurse) Running Deer. For her part, Deer has no idea which way she leans as far as her heart is concerned and she tries to remain neutral. The boys, however, remain just as competitive in war games as they were at romancing on the reservation. During a particularly hairy mission, Bear is shot down and Johnny lands to rescue him. Both men are taken prisoner by Nazis seeking knowledge of the Allies' new base, the Master Control Radar Complex. Using devious torture methods, the Germans intend to wear our heroes down but Cloud and Bear get the jump on the devils and escape in a Nazi plane. During the escape, Silent Bear is killed and, at last, Running Deer can make her choice.

The latest in a long line of coincidences that make up the life of Captain Johnny Cloud, "The Co-Pilot Was Death!" is samey but not a bad time-waster. Novick's art is stirring and his air battles well-staged. One of the fascinating tidbits that comes out when we're reading DC War stories is that the Nazi commandants were genetically engineered to have bad sight in one eye, thus the obligatory monocle. "Aces of Dread!" is yet another Hank Chapman sibling tale, this time centering on two identical twins who pilot Spads in WWI. And, before you ask, yes, they did compete in sports. These days, I really "Dread" reading something with the Chapman brand.

Jack: The Johnny Cloud story falls somewhere in the middle for me--not among the worst of the series but at the same time not among the best. The air battle sequences are good, as you point out, and the highlight of the story is Silent Bear's sacrifice at the end. Johnny Cloud always seems to be moping around, thinking he's not good enough and that someone else is better. Usually, he proves himself wrong, but in this instance I think Silent Bear showed he was the better man. Running Dear will have to settle for second best.

Our Army at War 157

"Nothin's Ever Lost in War!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Spotter on the Spot!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Irv Novick

Jack: A new outfit sent to relieve Easy Co. is wiped out save for a single soldier who has a haunted look in his eyes and who keeps repeating that everything and everyone are lost. Rock insists that "Nothin's Ever Lost in War!" and gives the soldier a well-deserved smack in the face, but to no avail.

The new soldier, nicknamed "Lost," tags along with Easy Co. and witnesses Rock's heroics as the sergeant mans the gun of a downed Allied plane and shoots down two Nazi planes. Rock follows this up by taking the controls of an Allied tank and defeating an enemy tank, but Lost still complains. Rock next takes the position of a dead machine gunner and tries to hold off enemy troops. Shaken by an explosion, the sergeant wakes to find that the Nazis have taken Lost prisoner. Easy Co. catches up with the enemy and a fistfight ensues; Lost finally rises to the occasion and takes a bullet meant for Rock. It's only a flesh wound, though, and as he walks off with Rock he finally admits that "Nothin's ever lost in war--especially a sergeant!"

I was on the fence about this story, filled as it is with one of Kanigher's patented phrases that are repeated over and over, until I got the the two-page spread by Kubert that depicts the hand to hand combat. I can't recall ever seeing Kubert do such a large format piece of art in one of the War stories we've read to date, and this alone put the story over the top for me.

Peter: "Nothin's Ever Lost in War" is the antitheses of "Killer of the Skies," it's RK on cruise control. I'll give the man the benefit of the doubt; the Enemy Ace classic probably sapped Kanigher dry for August 1965 and so what we got was the lesser Kanigher in the other titles. The constant "Lost! Lost! I'm lost! You're lost! My sister's lost! Pooch is lost!" is like a weak song that keeps coming back to its chorus to distract from the fact there's nothin' else there. The "lost" soldier reminded me of Doctor Smith from Lost in Space, constantly moaning: "We're doomed. Doomed, I say!"

Hank Chapman continues to churn out lots of stories that involve brothers who competed on their college football team and then are, inevitably, assigned to the same platoon/division/fortress/ submarine and "Spotter on the Spot" is nothing new or interesting with its dynamite pair of brothers as artillery commander and "spotter" (the guy who relays back co-ordinates of enemy whereabouts). Surely, Hank had more cards up his sleeve?

Next Week:
You Will Believe in Ghosts!

Monday, March 21, 2016

It's An Entertaining Comic! Part Two: June/July/August 1950

And special guest host
John Scoleri!

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
2: June/July/August 1950

The Crypt of Terror #18
(June-July 1950)

"The Maestro's Hand!" 
Story and Art by Al Feldstein

"The Living Corpse" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"Madness at Manderville" 
Story by Ivan Klapper (?)
Art by Harvey Kurtzman

"Mute Witness to Murder!" 
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

Admiring the gorgeous sky and stars one night, Pam witnesses her neighbor murder his wife and the shock leaves her mute. When her husband discovers his wife's malady, he calls Dr. Bask to examine her. Unfortunately, for Pam, Dr. Bask is her murdering neighbor! Suspicious of the woman's sudden handicap, Bask has her committed, explaining to Pam's husband that some sudden shock has left the woman a violent psychopath. Trussed up in a straitjacket and speechless, Pam can't get her story told and, very soon after, she gets really bad news: knowing that Pam's speech will eventually return, Bask has scheduled brain surgery and tells Pam there will be an unfortunate slip of the scalpel. That night, Pam discovers that her voice has returned but she keeps mum. The next day, Bask comes into his patient's room to lead her to the operation and, as he undoes her truss, Pam beats him furiously. The strain is too much for the doctor's weak heart and he collapses. As he is dying, he discovers that his intended victim's voice has returned and pleads for Pam to tell an orderly he needs help. Pam answers in the negative and, instead, watches him die.

Voyeurism isn't played up as much in "Mute Witness to Murder" as it would be in Hitchcock's Rear Window (which hit screens four years after this story) but it's hinted at. Pamela wouldn't have been involved in this madness if she had simply obeyed her husband and retired to bed rather than spy on the domestic squabble-turned-murder across the alleyway. The hook is a bit contrived, I'll admit. Of all the doctors to call, it would have to be the murderer, wouldn't it? More powerful is the climax where Pam eschews "the moral thing to do," and ignores Bask's pleas for help. At one point, Bask cries "But... you can't just let... me die! Save me... please..." and Pam answers him with a cold, sharp "No." Johnny Craig, like Jack Kamen, can have an almost boring sameness to his work (his panel design is anything but startling) but no one can deny that he draws a great dame. Pam was played by Patricia Clarkson in the second season episode of Tales from the Crypt (HBO, 1990) rendered almost unwatchable by a hammy performance by Richard Thomas (as Dr. "Trask") and an awful score by Jan (Miami Vice) Hammer. The only aspect of the script that improves on the original story is the role of Pam's husband (Reed Birney), who actually shows interest in his wife's condition and questions whether she should be in a mental hospital.

"The Maestro's Hand"

"The Maestro's Hand" draws more than a little inspiration from The Beast With Five Fingers (1946) and its finale is predictable but Al Feldstein's art is a hoot, especially Dr. Hellman's swirly eyes. It's no wonder the gorgeous Virginia went looking elsewhere for love and satisfaction, even if she did wind up with a greasy piano player who looks like Robert Goulet. "The Living Corpse" and "Madness at Manderville" are both skippable but for Wally Wood's art (still in an almost cocoon-like state at this point) on "Corpse." -Peter 

Early Wood just doesn't give us wood.

Jose: “Mute Witness to Murder” is clearly the strongest story here, even if it does lift its basic premise from the 1946 film Shock, starring none other than Vincent Price as the dastardly doctor. While he certainly doesn’t reach the Gothic heights of Graham Ingels or the moribund caricatures of Jack Davis, Johnny Craig was always a great stylist, in my mind, and the fact that he was a double threat writer-and-artist was certainly no small feat. His renderings of Dr. Bask are especially unnerving; the reptilian smiles and smugness Craig captures in the character makes him feel more genuinely dangerous than any number of ghouls or witches. The finale is a master class in finely-wrought tension. I love Feldstein’s Disney Witch-looking Crypt-Keeper that opens up “The Maestro’s Hand.” Perhaps I’m just full of soft spots (see my love for the “Thing in the Swamp” blob from the previous post), but one of my endearing loves is for the ambulatory hand story. It’s such an old-fashioned conceit, the human appendage turned into a spidery monster with a mind of its own, that I can’t help but be tickled every time I encounter it. Sure, it has a cop-out ending, but it still gets an “A” for effort. This won’t be the last time Feldstein resorts to his swirly-spectacles look, and like Peter I just adore it. (Who else here has picked up on ol’ Al’s trademark hypno-circles that crop up in his work?) “Madness at Manderville” is way more insufferably leaden and tin-eared than I remember it from my youth; a very pale carbon copy of the themes that Kurtzman put to better use in “Horror in the Night” from last post’s Vault of Horror #12. And while “The Living Corpse” is another example from the school of “mystery stories that aren’t really mysteries” that other companies were publishing at the time, it does have some pretty nifty nightmare imagery that, even when coming out of the blue, still manages to give the story a nice hallucinogenic touch.

Jack: Troublemaker that I am, I preferred “The Maestro’s Hand!” to “Mute Witness to Murder!” I’ve always loved The Beast with Five Fingers, so this rip-off with mostly fantastic art by Feldstein was a blast. There are a couple of panels where he really messes up, but for the most part it’s wonderful. I was disappointed with Wood’s art on “The Living Corpse” and I’ve been underwhelmed by what we’ve seen from him to date, though I know he’ll get really good very soon. Kurtzman’s art is quickly growing on me, and his stylized work on “Madness at Manderville” nearly makes up for a too-wordy script. Craig’s story has the best balance of story and art, but the tale is a bit plodding despite a strong finish.

John: I'm with Jack on this one. “The Maestro’s Hand,” while somewhat silly, was the most fun in this issue. I'm finding it difficult to roll back my sensibilities to appreciate these tales as readers might have back in 1950. In “Mute Witness to Murder!” I couldn't get past Pam's inability to non-verbally communicate what she saw, say by writing it down before she was locked away in a strait-jacket. But that said, Johnny Craig's art was the best in the issue.

The Vault of Horror #13
(June-July 1950)

"The Dead Will Return!" 
Story Uncredited
Art by Al Feldstein

"The Curse of Harkley Heath" ★1/2
Story Harry Harrison(?)
Art by Harry Harrison & Wally Wood

"Doctor of Horror" ★ 1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by Graham Ingels

"Island of Death" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Based on the story, "The Most Dangerous Game"
by Richard Connell
Art by Harvey Kurtzman

Hank is being laid to in-medias-rest as we come into the issue’s lead story following our jolly ol’ Vault-Keeper’s introduction. The murdered man’s wife, Flo, and her lover, Bert, have the plan all worked out: the body’s to be dumped into the unforgiving ocean, Hank is to be reported missing and last seen on a fishing trip, and the conniving couple shall reap the rewards of their crime in the form of the hidden stash of dough Hank has squirreled away in the lighthouse he owned. It’s E. C. Revenge 101 by way of James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. And as our lovers soon find out, so does the ferryman, for Hank’s nibbled corpse has a nasty habit of washing up from the River Styx and right back onto the beach in front of the lighthouse. Try as the couple might, they cannot free themselves of its accusing presence. It’s only when Flo finds herself alone in the lighthouse one night that Hank officially rises to the occasion and stalks his cheating wife to the top of the tower, Bert meeting an equally ghastly fate when he returns.

“The Dead will Return” might just be the first bona-fide horror classic to come from the company’s bullpen. The script, which remains uncredited, is a prime cut of steak totally shorn of the narrative fat that weighed down many of EC’s contemporaries (and they themselves, at times). The unnecessary lead-up to the murder is completely disposed of, economically recounted in a later monologue that finds Flo venting her doubts and fears as she waits alone in the primal dark. Feldstein’s pen sparkles throughout; his thick, heavy lines are crisp and exact, giving us just enough detail in the small glimpses we see of Hank’s waterlogged corpse. Indeed, the decision to keep the reanimated husband completely in the shadows is a wise one. It keeps us questioning the supernatural implications of the conflict and results in one of the most suspenseful set pieces we’ve seen yet: Flo’s terrified retreat up the lighthouse’s winding spiral staircase as—something—follows ardently behind.

"The Curse of Harkley Heath"

“The Curse of Harkley Heath” is an old dark house chestnut of the English moor variety, a reconstruction of Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher” filled with duplicitous relatives out for the inheritance and a familial curse that may-or-may-not be real. Chances are your guesses concerning the plot’s trajectory are completely accurate based on this summary. “Island of Death” uses for its source a more contemporary classic, “The Most Dangerous Game,” that public school favorite, and Kurtzman’s script is much more obvious in its pillaging of the material. (This is essentially the same type of pulling-over that the company would later attempt with Ray Bradbury’s “The Emissary,” with memorable results.) Square-jawed hero “Stephen Crane” faces off against maniacal Count Cabeza on the “Island of Death,” but this abbreviated adaptation proves a tad unkind to Connell as most of the original story’s suspense and sadistic banter between the characters is vetoed for a more streamlined tale. Death by bees is certainly no replacement for a duel ending in mauling-by-bloodhounds.

The typical EC reader.
Creepy artiste extraordinaire “Ghastly” Graham Ingels makes his first splash in this batch of horror titles, including this issue’s “Doctor of Horror.” Reading the story reveals it for the fairly rote body snatcher-saga that it is, but simply to look at Graham’s artwork is to stare into the Gothic abyss that he seemed to easily conjure in every assignment without fail. Whereas guys like Feldstein and Craig worked in bold, clean-cut styles that aimed for an air of naturalism, Ingels wrought torture upon the page with expressionistic furor. Everything, from characters to setting, looks to be always in a state of agony or decay. When madmen rave, their mouths fill with thick cobwebs of saliva; hands are always long-jointed, bony, perfectly suited for the letting of blood. Even his sultry female characters, when they did appear, look like their curves are from the benefit of putrescence more than the All-American pulchritude of Jack Kamen. Looking at Ingels’s art produces the exact same emotional response as reading Poe. Perhaps this is a rather sorry review of “Doctor of Horror,” but all you really need to know in order to enjoy this tale is who it was that drew it. -Jose 

Peter: "Harkley Heath" is a warmed-up slice of Gothic meatloaf but a slab that's been out of the refrigerator for a couple days. It's not very tasty but you should have known better from the start. While I don't think "The Dead Will Return" is a classic, I do like certain bits of it, chiefly the climax that doesn't spell everything out for the reader. The evidence that Hank has been traipsing around the lighthouse is everywhere but we never actually see the corpse reanimated, do we? In a couple years, Feldstein (and Gaines and Craig and so on) won't be so keen on keeping the reader guessing.

Seabrook approved.
Jack: I love both Feldstein’s art and the lighthouse setting of “The Dead Will Return!” and I also love Flo’s array of low cut and off-the-shoulder dresses and blouses. She has an impressive selection of outfits for someone living in a lighthouse! The GCD credits “The Curse of Harkley Heath” both to Harrison and Wood, which gives me more to do in my ongoing search for the great artist that Wally Wood would soon become. I was disappointed in “Doctor of Horror” and thought it suffered from the “curse of the third story”—way too wordy and only so-so art from Ingels. Reading these EC tales is giving me a new appreciation for how hard it is to balance words and pictures, since some of the stories have way too many of the former crowding out the latter! I continue to enjoy Kurtzman’s work in “Island of Death,” though the changes to the uncredited source story don’t improve it.

John: "The Dead Will Return!" finally delivered on what I've been expecting from these EC titles. And I'd say it's Feldstein's best work yet. Sure, we don't see the shambling corpse, but dead bodies don't just find themselves wrapped in seaweed at the top of a lighthouse. Can't wait to read more like it! While I wasn't particularly enamored with "Doctor of Horror," it helped me recognize the influence Ingels had on artist Bernie Wrightson. I was disappointed with "Island of Death," which proves you can make a lackluster adaptation from the best stories... 

The Haunt of Fear #16
(July-August 1950)

"Vampire!" ★1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by Johnny Craig

Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Harry Harrison and Wally Wood

"The Killer in the Coffin!" ★1/2
Story by Gardner Fox
Art by Graham Ingels

"The Mummy's Return!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

Marsh Island, “a patch of land off the Louisiana coast,” is not only infested with swamps but also the bloodsucking undead, and it’s up to the good Dr. Jim Reed to sort out the deaths that have been plaguing his home. Trouble is, no one else is buying into the vampire theory, and the physician soon finds himself the butt of many an uncreative joke about bats. There seems to be a change in the wind when Jim discovers that the last victim was the maid of local aristocrat Mr. Winslow, and the older gentleman’s strange manners and insistence that the doctor attend to his ailing daughter at night—not to mention the presence of bite marks on the beautiful Nelda’s throat—seem to confirm that Jim is on the right track. The discovery of a dirt-lined casket in the basement seals the deal. Desperate to save Nelda from her predatory father, Jim confronts Winslow in the swamp and drives a stake through his heart. But Jim’s announcement of victory is met with rather a chilled  reception: Nelda admits that it is she who is the vampire and that she was sick only because her father hadn’t been able to provide her a victim. Now that Jim’s here, she doesn’t have to worry about that.

The swamp noir of "Vampire!"

Johnny Craig asserts his control of story and art once again in the swampy noir “Vampire,” economically moving the reader through eight pages of intrigue that build up to the grim moment of revelation. Craig flavors the tale with shots and lighting that show the influence of the cinema on his work, and though the twist at the end may be well-worn to our modern eyes, it must be stated that Craig never once shows his hand or compels his characters to act in an inane way in service of the surprise. “Horror-Ahead” is a game old sport but nothing really revolutionary. It does a nice little spin on the “unseen narrator” gimmick of prose fiction, but this is probably the worst of the Harrison/Wood collaborations that we’ve seen so far.

Even healthy folks look sick in "The Killer in the Coffin."
Ingels manages to make every day life a horror show with every panel of “The Killer in the Coffin,” and while it might not be his best it still possesses the same sumptuously Gothic thrills that we admire him for. And you have to give it up for that double-sting ending, one that finds our calculating henpecked husband feigning death from plague in order to murder his overbearing wife and take off with a young chickie, only to be buried alive along with all the other diseased corpses while his paramour lies helpless at the hospital, deranged from the exact same illness. I love the way that all the Egyptians from the flashback in “The Mummy’s Return” speak perfect English but then start chanting hieroglyphic symbols when trying to raise the dead, not to mention the fact that evil pharaoh Khufu has underlings carry out the assassination of a romantic rival because he doesn’t want blood on his hands but then goes ahead and knifes his wife to death himself. A ho-hum affair to put the wraps on this issue.

Peter: The obvious high point here is the Ingels art but "Horror-Ahead" is also good for some chills, despite hot-and-cold work from Wally Wood (who, like Ingels, will probably get better and better every month until he settles into being the incredible craftsman we know and love). Again, Russ Cochran claims this is Wood alone but, this time out, I'm going to favor the GCD's listing of Harry Harrison and Wood. Some of the panels (page 7, panel 1 for instance) are just too sketchy and amateurish for this to be Woody. Harrison and Wood would have a falling out in 1950 and go their separate ways (as Monday morning quarterbacks, we can cheer this occurrence). Bill Gaines, in an interview in EC fanzine Spa-Fon #5 (1969) said that when the two were working together, he didn't know who did what but when they split, "... all of a sudden Harrison's art wasn't very good anymore, and I found out who did what." Feldstein's "The Mummy Returns" is nothing more than a rip-off of the Universal mummy films of the 1940s and not a very good one at that. "Vampire" is a tedious eight pages of red herrings but Craig's art (especially the lovely splash and the effective final panel) makes the whole thing tolerable.

"The Mummy's Return"
Jack: I thought “Vampire!” was an excellent blend of story and art with a killer last panel, while “Horror-Ahead!” made me fondly remember Robert Bloch’s 1957 tale, “The Cure.” Ingels still hasn’t reached his peak with “The Killer in the Coffin!” but it’s better than “Doctor of Horror” and I especially like the panel where the murder is depicted in shadows on the wall. The story starts out too wordy (it is the third tale in the issue, after all) but really picks up toward the end. I was surprised to see that Ingels had been drawing comics since 1946 because in my mind he really evolves quickly in his time at EC. Finally, I think that if we didn’t set the artistic bar so high we’d be raving about Kamen’s art on “The Mummy’s Return,” which is very slick.

John: It's great to see Graham Ingels's art paired with a decent story. "The Killer in the Coffin!" was my favorite in this issue; it's the type of story I've been expecting more of as we take this trip through EC history. While I also enjoyed Johnny Craig's art in "Vampire," if not for the last panel it would have been a completely forgettable tale. I look forward to seeing more of Jack Kamen's work, and hopefully in stories a little more interesting than the rather dull “The Mummy’s Return.”

Weird Fantasy #14
(July-August 1950)

"Cosmic Ray Bomb Explosion"
Story Uncredited (Bill Gaines?)
Art by Al Feldstein

"The Black Arts"
Story Harry Harrison (?)
Art by Wally Wood and Harry Harrison

"The Trap of Time!"
Story Al Feldstein (?)
Art by Jack Kamen

"Atom Bomb Thief"
Story Al Feldstein (?) Harvey Kurtzman (?)
Art by Harvey Kurtzman

Kurtzman's splash page
Working at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in 1946, Paul Arnold seems to be nothing more than a mild-mannered nuclear physicist’s assistant. Little do his colleagues know that he is, in reality, an “Atom Bomb Thief!” For years, he has been sneaking data out of the plant and giving it to his associate, Karl. Together they intend to sell the plans for the bomb to the highest bidder. They fly off together over the Pacific to meet the agents of foreign powers but Karl pulls a double-cross and accidentally shoots out the plane’s control panel, causing a very wet crash landing. Paul escapes on a raft and leaves Karl to be eaten by a hungry shark. Washing up on a desert island, Paul is horrified to discover that the date is July 25, 1946, and he is standing on Bikini Atoll, where an atomic bomb is being detonated.

I hereby take back anything I ever said about Harvey Kurtzman. His splash page is stunning and his final page is brilliant. I did not see the surprise ending coming and it’s a blast! The other stories in this issue are not bad, either, from the self-referential “Cosmic Ray Bomb Explosion” to “The Trap of Time!” which features more slick art by Jack Kamen and a plot twist we’ve all read before. The Harrison/Wood collaboration, “The Black Arts,” could fit well in just about any of the horror or fantasy books this month.--Jack

and the fabulous finale of "Atom Bomb Thief!"
Peter: It’s evident from the classic “Cosmic Ray Bomb Explosion” that the creators behind Weird Fantasy had a lot of fun spoofing themselves and the often outlandish science factoids they would invest their stories with. The final panel proves these guys don't mind pushing the envelope. The fact that Professor Don Hartley (in "The Trap of Time") has nothing but good intentions for his time machine (rather than the usual pre-code inventor who would have come up with the gizmo to go back in time and find the Lost Dutchman) makes the cruel twist halfway through the story that much more delicious. The ironic ending that awaits the hapless protagonist of "Atom Bomb Thief" is indicative of the state of the U.S. (and the world) at the time. Someone much smarter than me (probably Jose, John, or Jack) once said that Hollywood moved on from werewolves and vampires to atomic bombs and all their side effects in the 1950s because the latter was a real horror, not some myth drummed up to scare the pants off your kid brother. Perhaps even stronger than his scripting (if we assume this was written by Harvey) is his layout technique and the sheer joy he seemed to be having confounding us (in the same way Will Eisner did) with bizarre panel structures and boxes with no balloons. Don't look too hard for any Lovecraft in "The Black Arts" despite the placing of the Necronomicon in the splash; HPL wasn't a household name in 1950 and, I suspect, the inclusion of the dark book was merely something Harrison (or Feldstein) had seen mentioned in Weird Tales at one time or another. These guys stole from the best.

The shock compels him to sing the opening lines to "Crazy Train."
Jose: “Atom Bomb Thief” is a great whopper of a tale, masterfully paced and conceived by Kurtzman with a rock-em, sock-em ending that foreshadows the great, great things we are soon to see from the company. It’s a nice, solid grounding for the lighthearted opener, “Cosmic Ray Bomb Explosion,” which, as Peter says, shows that Gaines and Feldstein were well aware of their ham-fisted stuffing of data from scientific articles into their comic book yarns and were not afraid to poke some fun at themselves. (Was it then a conscious decision of Feldstein’s to include the scientist characters who perpetually call out each other’s names?) For as humorous as the story is, it’s got one hell of a downbeat ending, one I can’t imagine seeing publication in these modern times. It doesn’t seem like Feldstein (or whoever was at the typewriter) was trying very hard on the script for “The Trap of Time,” however. Silly to the extreme, it suffers the “third story curse” that Jack mentions and proves too wordy and overwrought for its own good. Not only do we get an editorial aside that breaks down the concept of reincarnation for us, but there are these golden bricks of prose to help pave the way towards the risible conclusion: “A girl’s scream against the agony of her pain and hurt!” and our hero’s cheery thought, “Since Adele won’t die from that blowout, my life stream will change. I think I’ll stick around and see what happens!” Sure, you do that! Were it not for the SF tales it’s keeping company with, “The Black Arts” would certainly seem like a fitting tale to find in the pages of a comic called Weird Fantasy. Taken by itself, it’s a decent concoction of dark magic that has one of the more chuckle-inducing turnabouts involving love potions. Make sure you get all those ingredients right, otherwise your beloved could turn into a bloodthirsty were-beast!

John: Does anyone happen to know if the use of the editors as characters in "Cosmic Ray Bomb Explosion" was the first time that had been done in a comic? I remember members of the Marvel bullpen showing up throughout their books from time to time many years later. And while today Gaines and Feldstein are revered, I'm curious if kids at the time were even aware of the fact that those were supposed to be the real people behind the stories they were reading. I was amused they were described as the editors of Weird Science, so as not to be too self-referential in this issue of WF. "The Black Arts" seems strangely out of place in this issue, but it's entertaining and the art is a highlight. I can't wait to see Wally Wood at the top of his form. I also enjoyed “The Trap of Time,” and was prepared for it to end on the panel mid-way through when Don realized that he was responsible for the act he thought he would be preventing, so to get the second twist at the end was a nice bonus. For me, Jack Kamen's art is the standout in this issue. Last but not least, I thought “Atom Bomb Thief” was an okay tale, but I've not warmed up to Kurtzman's art yet. All in all, it was nice to read an issue with no real dogs for a change!

Weird Science #13
(July-August 1950)

"The Flying Saucer Invasion" 
Story and Art by Al Feldstein

"The Meteor Monster" 
Story Harry Harrison (?)
Art by Harry Harrison & Wally Wood

"The Micro-Race!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Man Who Raced Time" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Harvey Kurtzman

Scientist Marvin Stanhope creates a life form of his own, a microscopic civilization that he has engineered to evolve into an intelligent species in a matter of weeks. His hope is that this new world avoids the pitfalls of our human race and evolves into a more intelligent, peaceful race. Once Marvin has all the information he needs, he attempts to destroy the race before they can discover war and greed but his machinery lets him down and "The Micro-Race" eventually create a powerful weapon to use against each other. The resulting explosion destroys the micro-planet as well as Marvin's island. A fun little sci-fi romp with, for a change, a scientist who only wants to do good for mankind. A pity his experiment goes awry. I've slagged Jack Kamen for his dull art but this is the type of story he excels at; a story that doesn't require a lot of illustrated detail and can get by on its hook alone. The other three stories in this issue are fairly by-the-numbers though "The Flying Saucer Invasion" has a dandy twist ending. The art credit for "The Meteor Monster" is a bit hazy. GCD lists Harry Harrison but Russ Cochran claims (in the Weird Science #2 reprint, 1992) it's Wally Wood (and it sure looks like Wally's work). I'm erring on the side of caution and listing it as Wood as I consider Cochran to be the world's leading EC scholar. -Peter 

The stunning finale of "The Flying Saucer Invasion"

"The Micro-Race"
Jose: The first two tales in Weird Science #13 both left me asking the same question: “That’s it?” Perhaps it’s the overfamiliarity of the stories’ plots (UFO sightings and alien mind control, respectively) that left them feeling so old hat, but I think half of the problem also lies in the fact that at this point EC was still getting their feet wet in the genre game and had yet to excel at their craft. (“It was only their second issue,” the reader screams. “Cut them some slack, ya nut!”) “The Micro-Race” does have a fairly clever conceit, and it’s also refreshing to see Feldstein use a light hand in drawing the parallels between the little alien’s and mankind’s latent desires for ultimate self-destruction. “The Man Who Raced Time” skates by mostly from the benefit of Kurtzman’s art and characterizations. (Take a look at that homicidal grabber of a splash page.) Perhaps it’s just me, but our put-upon Professor Quantum (yeah, I know) felt much more immediate to me in his frustrations and insecurities than some of the other Melvins we’ve seen so far. You almost want to shed a tear for the poor, flattened sap at the end.

"The Meteor Monster"
Jack: May I take a moment to say how great these comics are? I know we’re not to the best of them yet, but the level of quality is already high. It’s interesting to read “The Flying Saucer Invasion” and see that a story as early as 1950 was already able to catalogue all of the theories about the flying saucer craze. “The Meteor Monster” is not a bad little story about an alien creature brought down by a surprising source, following the lead of H.G. Wells. The nuclear explosion at the end of “The Micro-Race!” is already becoming a cliché and I went back and counted three stories in this post alone that ended that way. Kurtzman continues to impress me in “The Man Who Raced Time,” with another idea that we’ll see a decade later on The Twilight Zone. Between Kutzman’s art and the humorous, self-referential tales that opened this month’s sci-fi comics, it’s not a big leap to Mad Magazine.

John: I'm beginning to wonder how good a final panel has to be to forgive a story for dragging on for several pages. In the case of “The Flying Saucer Invasion,” it might just be good enough. Despite the great ending to that tale, it was immediately forgotten once I started the fantastic "The Meteor Monster!" The initial panels reminded me of the Jordy Verrill segment from Creepshow, but it quickly washed away those thoughts with the introduction of the coolest creepy thing I think we've seen thus far in these titles. This story also has a great final panel, but it was a fantastic story leading up to that point, too. The most fun I've had in this batch of funny-books. I think I'm going to go back and read it again.

"The Man Who Raced Time"

Next Week in the Special 75th Issue of
Star Spangled DC War Stories!
The most popular war series of 1965 returns!

from Haunt of Fear 16