Monday, June 5, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 33: April 1953

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
       32: March 1953

Weird Science #18

"Mars is Heaven!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Ray Bradbury
Adapted by Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"Snap Ending!" ★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Al Williamson and Roy Krenkel

"The Parallel!" ★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Disassembled!" ★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

An exploratory rocket on an expedition to Mars touches down on the angry red planet after months of travel and the curious crew look out their portholes to see… the town of Green Lake, Wisconsin, circa early 20th century! Where the spacefarers expected scarlet dust and withered canals they now find charming Victorian houses, horse-drawn carriages, and porch swings, with an entire community of God-fearing human villagers presiding. But the real clincher comes with the discovery of previously-dead relatives residing in the Martian province. The astronauts are overwhelmed by twin surges of relief and nostalgia, and one of them posits that maybe, just maybe, “Mars is Heaven!” Even logical Captain John Black finds himself inclined to agree as he settles down to dinner with his older brother and parents, all of them the same age at the time of their Earthly demises. But lying in bed that night Captain Black starts considering a new theory, one that supposes the real monstrous denizens of Mars saw the astronauts’ advance and decided to attack coyly in a masquerade of their loved ones. And you know what they say about perfect paranoia being perfect awareness…

Nostalgia kills.
("Mars is Heaven!")
It’s a testament to the overall strength and impact of Bradbury’s timeless “Mars is Heaven!” that this wordy, visually slow-paced comic book representation still has the power to induce a real shiver in your spine come the conclusion. We all know what a great artist Wally Wood was, but here, for once, it’s almost beside the point: the heavy captions filled with Bradbury’s prose are the main attraction here, as sacrilegious as that may be to say. Whereas an artist of Wood’s caliber would be needed—sometimes desperately—to elevate the content of the given story, here Wood dials it back and works in concert with the narration instead of dazzling our eyes with big, showy effects. It’s a minimalist approach that makes the climax all the more chilling, and the fact that Wood *still* holds back from depicting anything overtly visceral after the veil has been lifted with that final panel renders this adaptation of “Mars is Heaven!” as an especially haunting SF tale.

And then there’s the rest of the issue.

To sink its what?
("Snap Ending!")
In “Snap Ending,” space explorers bypass a massive green planet 3,000 times the size of Earth and settle for setting down on its much more manageable pink moon. Touching down on the surface, the astronauts are perplexed to find that the moon’s skin is pliable and bouncy. Organic compound, says the crew’s mineralogist, and thus they begin to bore into the satellite to determine its makeup. Meanwhile our hero trails off reminiscing on his wife in her slinky red gown of the future and his weepy son whose depression over his Dad’s imminent departure is only placated with the purchase of a balloon at the local fair. Suddenly our hero comes upon a gigantic cable emerging from the moon and trailing off towards the bulbous green planet. Putting two and three together, he rushes back to tell his pals to cut the borer off but he’s too late: just like that day at the fair, the pink balloon explodes into pieces and the bulbous green alien child who held it is reduced to a sobbing mess.

“Snap Ending” is one of those stories that is passably engaging on the first run-through but immediately becomes 100% proof stupid the second you think back on it in retrospect. Feldstein has played these pranks of scale and perspective on us before—anyone else remember “The Die is Cast” (WF 12)?—and the old joke really hasn’t improved with the passage of time. Not in a story seven pages long, anyway. Williamson and Krenkel’s shadowy art is stimulating to the eye, and the last panel is in of itself a hoot, but the length of the journey to get to that point sours the experience.

And then came Kamen! Calvin Henkel is not unlike other EC protagonists we’ve seen before. Instead of looking within to discover the reasons for why his life is an abject failure, Calvin hypothesizes that it’s probably his damn doppelganger in an alternate dimension who’s screwing things up for him by constantly moping all the time. (Don’t worry: this won’t be the last time Calvin’s brain fails to detect irony.) Hatching a delusional and completely dangerous utterly brilliant plan, Calvin decides that he’ll get his crap together long enough to build a contraption that will allow him to enter the alternate dimension (gee, what a bum, right?) and plant a home-brewed bomb that will blow his sad sack counterpart to Kingdom Come. After ensuring the success of his invention (re: passing out and waking up in a world that looks exactly like the one he just left), Calvin slaps his bomb together, gets a light warning from his wife to be careful, and then sneaks off to the alternate dimension to rig the explosives in Calvin #2’s house. Right where that bastard will least expect it! On his way back to “our world” (re: objective reality), Calvin bumps into the alternate version of his neighbor who, surprisingly, is not sporting a goatee to denote her evil nature. Upon his return, Calvin’s wife surprises him with a guest: the friendly neighbor, who reports seeing Calvin earlier that day! But if *she* saw *him* earlier, then that must mean… OH—MY—KABOOM!

The average reader after
experiencing "The Parallel."
Alfred E. Neumann preserve us, where the hell do you start with this thing? “The Parallel” is like a crash course in dramatic irony and idiot plots. For dummies. It’s tempting to hypothesize that Calvin must suffer from short-term memory loss. (If only we did too!) How else is it possible for him to justify thoughts and actions that run conversely to those that immediately came before? He really is a “you-can-never-step-in-the-same-river-twice” kinda guy, isn’t he? “I just woke up in my basement… I must be in a parallel universe!”  I gotta admit, stories like “The Parallel” operate on a whole different level of inanity compared to those like “Snap Ending.” With “Snap...,” it’s more like a botched effort to be cute or clever, that conscious effort to do something different. But stories like “The Parallel” just seem to give themselves over completely to the howling, gibbering void, giving no rhyme or reason for doing the things they do because the author has no damn idea what it’s all about either. (Just look at Feldstein’s garbled end note capping the story. He’s basically saying, “*I* have no goddamn idea! *You* write the story!”) As misguided as it may be to do so, I have a twisted sense of respect for those kinds of stories. Four stars! (Re: one a half stars!)

And here’s “Disassembled,” just limping over the finish line. Stanton’s been sent out by his boss to check on Broderick after transmissions from the latter’s broadcast relay station mysteriously conked out in the middle of the night. The strange, burnt crater in the ground is only matched in menace by the presence of Broderick himself, who warns Stanton away from inside the darkened station before telling him his eerie tale. The broadcasts from the night before were cut out after a UFO crashed into the earth outside the station, sez Broderick. Being a curious fellow, Broderick popped into the ship to see who was about before making off with a neat-looking radio to dissect in the privacy of his station. Unfortunately for Broderick, the hapless, eviscerated radio was in fact a living robot, as is reported to him by another of the ship’s automated passengers. Turns out that the extraterrestrials are here to study human life themselves, and so the second robot returns the favor to Broderick and disassembles him to find out what makes him tick.

The quality of this issue distilled in one panel:
all over the place.
The final entry in this issue of WS comes within a hair’s breadth of being a complete and thudding bore before the unicycle robot makes his adorable arrival and the final panel sinks the landing in pure grisliness. I would still be very hard-pressed to recommend “Disassembled” to anyone looking for quality EC, as it isn’t even one of Joe Orlando’s best hours either. All told, it’s a mushy finale to a wildly inconsistent issue. --Jose

Peter and Jack reward Jose for reading
this issue with a Bill Gaines action figure.
*Now with kung fu grip!*
("Snap Ending!")
Peter: Even a sickening, Tales from the Crypt-like ending can't save the deadly dumb "Disassembled!" and its sub-par Joe Orlando art, but "Disassembled!" is genius when stacked up next to "The Parallel!" How could Al not have known that most readers would give up halfway through its text-heavy six pages and never make it to the confusing and convoluted climax? It's amazing how calm and accepting Florence is of her hubby's nutty ramblings of parallel worlds and Calvins. "Just be careful dear!" "Snap Ending!" has one of the most laugh-out-loud coincidental climaxes we've yet encountered. Hang on! You mean the Captain was just thinking about his kid's balloon and . . . all this time they've been on a giant alien kid's balloon? What are the chances? That leaves only "Mars is Heaven!" to rescue this trashcan edition of Weirdly Bad Science and, well, it's a Bradbury so it gets an extra star for that but, like some of the Martian Chronicles stories adapted thus far, it moves at a snail's pace and is not one of Bradbury's best. But, on the bright side, it's got a killer twist and some sharp Wally. Thumbs down on the issue but thumbs sideways on "Mars."

Jack: I was mesmerized by "Mars is Heaven!" and it's definitely in the running for my Best of the Year. Bradbury's evocation of the small-town America of an earlier time is idyllic and seems to have influenced both Jack Finney's time travel stories and Rod Serling's scripts for The Twilight Zone, especially "Walking Distance." The story is subtle and beautiful and the art is perfect. "Snap Ending!" is a nice follow up, with gorgeous art, a fun twist ending, and great aliens in the last panel; the story is well-told but not quite the classic that "Mars is Heaven!" is. Jack Kamen brings the issue back to Earth with a resounding thud in "The Parallel!," another overly wordy story with panel after panel of talking heads. It's too complicated and the ending is dumb. What sense does it make for Calvin to plan to kill his double? "Disassembled!" is a decent story that leads up to a whopper of a final panel; Bill & Al do a nice job of building suspense as it begins to dawn on the reader what happened to Broderick.

Hey! Lemme see those hands!
("Mars is Heaven!")

Two-Fisted Tales #32

"Silent Service!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Lost Battalion!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Johnny Craig

"Hannibal!" ★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"Tide!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Joe Kubert

The crew of an American WWII sub encounters a Yamato class air craft carrier with two dangerous escorts and attempts to sink the big ship. When one of the destroyer escorts turns toward the sub, a decision to sink the destroyer and get the hell out is made. Once the ship is sunk, the men paint a red sun on one of their torpedo doors. Meanwhile, on the Japanese carrier, a picture of Emperor Hirohito is added to the three that had hung before. To me, the most exciting war story is one set on a submarine. That may be because I'm a bit claustrophobic and the idea that these brave men sat in a fish tank thousands of feet below the surface unnerves me. As with so many of Harvey's contributions to the war titles, "Silent Service!" is not a story per se, but rather an incident. Great art by Davis, especially the panels of the men awaiting depth charges. The tension is palpable.

"Silent Service!"

"Lost Battalion!"
In World War I France, 650 American soldiers are trapped in the Argonne Forest, with Germans surrounding them and rations and ammo running low. Our narrator chronicles the various SNAFUs the "Lost Battalion!" must deal with, including "friendly fire" and the dependence on carrier pigeons for communication. At last, word gets through that the German army is weakening and the American army is advancing. This comes too late for our narrator, though, as we find out, in a Twilight Zone-esque finale, that he had been killed by an explosion half-way through the story! That climax is a total surprise, though if you re-read the story, you'll see that Harvey plays fair and drops clues as to what's really going on. This is a grim tale from start to finish, with lots of small, but essential details that almost transport you to the heart of the battle. One scene, where a soldier removes the handle of a potato masher from his comrade's back, begins as comedy and ends as a shock when we discover that the wounded soldier never even knew been hit. This is the third (and last) of the Johnny Craig war stories. Craig was a very good artist but Kurtzman must have realized that war was not Johnny's forte. In fact, the panel reprinted here almost looks like it's been touched up or completely drawn by Kurtzman himself.

Marching for the great General Hannibal Barca, an old soldier only wishes to see his commander before he dies in battle. Unfortunately, fever takes his eyesight just as Barca makes his way past the troops. Since I knew nothing about Barca, Harvey's history lesson is at least a bit enlightening and the tragic climax of "Hannibal!" tugs at the heartstrings. Wally shows us once again why he was, perhaps, EC's best all-around artist. How was Wood able to spend time on his exquisite lines and detailed backgrounds when the deadline must have been looming constantly?

In "Tide!," Kurtzman tells the story of the unsung heroes known as the Navy combat demolition men, the troops who came in on the morning of D-Day to attempt to clear a path on the beach for the Allies who would soon follow. The work had to be done while the tide was out, since that was when the German mines were exposed. It was a very dangerous job (amidst very dangerous jobs) and one I had absolutely no knowledge of. Hats off to Harvey for this particular history lesson. Blink and you'll miss the EC career of perhaps the greatest war comics artist of all time, Joe Kubert. According to Bill Schelly, in his excellent biography of Kubert, Man of Rock (Fantagraphics, 2008), Joe found working with the EC writer "frustrating, because Kurtzman expected the penciller to stick strictly to the predetermined layouts as provided." (We've already noted that George Evans felt the same way.) Joe would only work on two more stories for the company. "Tide!" is a ground breaker for Kubert, though, because it was his first toe in the water of a field he would revolutionize a few years later. Kubert's work is sketchy here, not the refined and powerful pencils we'd almost take for granted once he hit his stride with Sgt. Rock.

An interesting letters page this issue, one given over to a plea from "the editors" to "keep buying EC magazines!" Evidently, success comes with a high price (as we know now, looking back from our Monday Morning Quarterback thrones), as the stands were being flooded with literally hundreds of imitators of EC Comics, several of which cleverly disguised themselves as product of the company.--Peter

Jack: "Silent Service!" is an exciting and suspenseful submarine story with a neat surprise at the end [Say that five times fast! -Jose], when the purpose of the Hirohito pictures is revealed. I thought Johnny Craig's art did not fit the genre in "Lost Battalion!"--he is best suited to crime and horror stories where he can delve into the lives of corrupt people. Wood's art is superb in "Hannibal!" and using the old man's point of view gives the readers a way in to this ancient tale. Finally, it's good to see Joe Kubert in "Tor" mode but the attempt to make a broader statement with the use of the tide fails, in my opinion. On the letters page, Kurtzman notes that Kubert was just back from a stint in the Army in Germany.

 The Haunt of Fear #18

"Pipe Down!" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

"Bedtime Gory!" ★★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

"Pot-Shot!" ★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Black Ferris!" ★★★
Story by Ray Bradbury
Adapted by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

When 21-year-old Lila married 47-year-old Andrew for his money, it didn't seem like such a bad deal, but after 13 years she's tired of the old man, who's starting to show signs of senility. Enter Howard, the hunky oil burner technician, and soon it's not just the radiators that are heating up. One good shove down the stairs and poor Andrew is dead, but Lila keeps putting off Howard's desire to get married, saying it's too soon. During her period of mourning, she buys a pet monkey, born right when Andrew died, and soon Howard begins to suspect his lovely Lila of infidelity. Eventually, he snaps and kills her, and the police cart him away, leaving a monkey who seems to smile as it sits in Andrew's favorite chair, smoking his pipe and reading his chosen book of poetry.

A series of EC cliches strung together with reasonably good Ghastly art, "Pipe Down!" is not noir enough (Johnny Craig could have done better) or weird enough (the monkey recalls stories by John Collier). Instead it's just pretty good, but not nearly as stunning as Ghastly's cover, which is one of his wildest. The strange thing about Ingels at this point is that his framing drawings of the Old Witch are much more interesting and outre than the stories he's illustrating.

Bridge? No thanks. I prefer poker!
("Pipe Down!")

Marrying the boss's daughter was only the first step for Milton the chauffeur in his plan to take over the company. He arranged for her father to die in a car crash, meaning she inherited Papa's money and stocks. Milton then blackmailed stockholders until he amassed a controlling interest in the company; this allowed him to demand that the board elect him president. His wife, Lorna, realizes what a monster she wed and buys him a Terribly Strange Bed to sleep in the night before the board meeting. He falls asleep and, when he awakens, he is tied to the bed, spread-eagled, and Lorna is turning a crank at the side. It's truly a "Bedtime Gory!" because meek and mild Lorna has purchased a late model stretch rack and now Milton will realize his dream of becoming a Big Man.

Feldstein's story is a real hoot and the photo-realistic art by Evans is perfect. Milton is revealed as a creep from the start, and the slow progression of his dastardly plan is parceled out in delicious morsels, leading up to the final surprise--and what a surprise it is! Lorna's shift from milquetoast wife to lunatic is well-handled.

Should've stuck to yoga.
("Bedtime Gory!")
The Duke of Melvania has a ne'er do well son named Amboy who likes fast coaches, good food, and lusty wenches. After one too many villagers is killed by his speeding coach, the Duke agrees to give Amboy his own castle and a yearly allowance of his weight in gold. Greedy Amboy eats till he's fat, but not fat enough, so he downs a few hundred pounds of lead shot to tip the scales even further. When his coach races to the weigh-in and has to come to a sudden stop, the lead shot explodes out of Amboy's stomach and kills him.

Isn't it bad enough that Jack Kamen's characters all look the same and he has to draw these awful Grim Fairy Tales every month? This is one of the worst stories yet, surely in the running for Worst of the Year. With "Pot-Shot!," it looks like Big Al was running low on "clever" ideas for fairy tales and the whole concept should have been scrapped.

As close as "Pot-Shot!" comes to being entertaining.
Young Hank tells his pal Pete that there's something funny at the carnival that has arrived in town one fall. Hank points out that Mr. Cooger, the carnival man, rides "The Black Ferris!" wheel backwards and grows younger as the carnival's hunchback cranks the lever that moves the ride. Cooger pretends to be an orphan boy named Joseph Pikes and is taken in by kindly (and rich) Mrs. Foley. Hank is certain that Pikes plans to steal her money and then disappear by using the Black Ferris to return to his real age. One night, Hank and Pete see Pikes leave Mrs. Foley's house with a package and ride the Black Ferris the right way around. Hank attacks the hunchback so the wheel keeps turning and, when it finally comes to a stop, Mr. Cooger sits in Pikes's place, now a skeleton.

Like "Mars is Heaven!," this story features some lovely and lyrical writing courtesy of Mr. Bradbury as filtered through Al Feldstein. Davis dials back his usual caricature style a bit and hits just the right tone. The story does have its weird moments, such as when Hank's father punishes him by locking him in his room, nude, but overall it's a notch above what one expects from a comic book, at least a horror comic in 1953, even one published by EC.--Jack

The conclusion to "The Black Ferris!"
Peter: The Ray Bradbury adaptations have run hot and cold but "The Black Ferris!" (which originally appeared in the May 1948 issue of Weird Tales) is among the best so far. One of Bradbury's finest horror stories, "Ferris" was expanded into an unfilmed screenplay for Gene Kelly and then later into the classic novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes. Usually, the young, adventurous, and trouble-seeking whelps of the Feldstein adaptations are annoying, but Hank and Peter contain just the right amount of Boy's Life to balance The Little Rascals. And that's a pretty bold move, even in pre-code days, to show Hank's naked bum, but that sort of thing will become commonplace when Mad kicks into high gear. "The Black Ferris!" manages to eat up all the quality this issue. The other three would never find themselves in any "Best Of" talk: "Pipe Down!" is absolute rubbish, scraping the bottom of the bottomless adultery barrel and wasting Ghastly's contribution this issue; "Bedtime Gory!" is a long and tedious story that's almost redeemed by that ghoulish last panel; and, perhaps worst of all is our Fairy Tale, "Pot Shot!," with an ending so vacuous, its meaning has to be explained by The Old Witch.

Jose: “Pipe Down” is certainly a divergence from the typical EC formula, and it proves unique albeit middling for all of that. The simian shenanigans put me in mind of George Romero’s Monkey Shines (1988), the tale of a therapeutic Capuchin monkey that goes bananas and takes a similarly sneaky tact in messing with her victims. The final panel is a nice droll touch, but it doesn’t seem right that Ghastly should’ve been stuck with this one. “Bedtime Gory” is a nice sadistic little bastard, creeping up on you and getting under your skin just like that son-of-a-gun Milton. Captured with George Evans’ realist eye, Milton’s elongated body and Lorna’s wild-eyed descent into madness are genuinely stomach-churning and disturbing. Man, “Pot Shot” makes it more than clear that the boys were running out of ideas for these Grim Fairy Tales, huh? No wonder they’d turn to “horror-fying” classics of the subgenre later on. After an admittedly humorous start, the tale sinks to rock bottom as soon as the weight gain-subplot gets stuffed in. Good thing we have Jack Davis’ interpretation of “The Black Ferris” to wash it down. A story with two likable, drawn-from-life adolescents as its heroes? Mercy me! And I love how Hank really throws himself into the act of kicking the hunchback’s ass. That kid’s got moxey. Follow that up with grinning skeletons on carnival rides and you have my heart.

Frontline Combat #11

"Bird-Dogs!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin and Bill Elder

"Rough Riders!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Ric Estrada

"Lufbery!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by George Evans

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

Ever hear of the Army “Bird-Dogs”? No? Exactly! These aircraft pilots were largely responsible for cruising through the sky and radioing the enemy’s position to their comrades down below in order to send the enemy packing with some heavy artillery blasts. The drawling good ol’ boy who flies the plane in our tale goes about his duty without so much as breaking a sweat, laconically surveying the Chinese convoy making its way down the North South Road and radioing in their coordinates. The convoy is broken up with a few well-placed blasts, but the pilot realizes it’s time to split when three Chinese soldiers begin to mount their anti-aircraft machine gun. Ol’ Cletus makes it back to home base a wiser man after having noticed the hole in the cockpit window from the bullet that nearly took his life. Light on its feet all around, “Bird-Dogs” manages to keep its eight pages moving along briskly thanks to the breezy layout of Severin and Elder. Jack’s comment below regarding the story’s removed perspective is accurate; the grim fallout left in the wake of the blasts is literally depicted from a god’s-eye-view, leaving the broken bodies of men and horses looking like ants.

I can see my horse from here.

But do you know who had it worse than the oft-uncelebrated bird-dog? The “Rough Riders”! Particularly any of the countless Americans who fell at the tearing bullets of the Spanish army during our country’s entry into the dispute with Cuba in 1898. Led by no less than human grizzly bear Teddy Roosevelt, the Riders, men from all walks of life and education, find the torturous environs of Cuba to be too daunting even on their steely nerves. If the ripping artillery of the enemy wasn’t enough, the Americans must also contend with the island’s unfriendly fauna as well. After recounting the brutal ways in which his brothers in arms have taken bullets to the throat and cannon balls to the face, one Rider discovers that his end is to be the worst of all when the fatally wounded soldier falls prey to the pincers of flesh-hungry land crabs. Were it not for its exotic and completely left-field climax, “Rough Riders” would likely have gravitated towards the Hamper of Forgetfulness along with all the other old laundry of the war comics. Ric Estrada doesn’t look to be the best fit for EC—he’s still better than Fred Peters, thank God—but his style and talent feels in keeping with the “other pre-coder” vibe that this story gives off.

Der lion, jou see, she is me good look sharm!
American ace Raoul Lufbery is having a ripping old time flying with the Lafayette Escadrille during WWI, but you would too if you had 17 official victories against the Germans under your belt and Lord knows how many unofficial ones. A cunning opponent in any aerial dogfight, Lufbery still keeps a clear head about his chances of escaping his plane should it catch ablaze during battle: “…First I’d do eferyt’ing to get de fire oudt! Den if I saw it vas no use, I’d jump! Maybe you’d fall in a tree! Anyhow, you couldn’t be no woise off!” We know what you’re thinking: What the hell kind of accent is that? We also know the other thing you’re thinking: What the hell is Lufbery doing with a lion sitting next to him? But most importantly we know the third thing you’re thinking: How the hell are those words going to come back and kick Lufbery in the Red Barons? Glad you asked! After taking off in another man’s aircraft to shoot down a crippled German albatross, Lufbery finds that he must abandon ship when his guns jam, his thumb gets blown off, and the plane’s gasoline tank explodes. Forever a man of his word, Lufbery takes his chances and jumps out… missing his hypothetical tree and crashing fatally into an old peasant’s rose garden. George Evans’ you-are-there artwork remains a consistent delight, and the blackly humorous turnabout that this tale of valor takes proves amusing.

During “Operation Killer” in the Korean War, an MD comes out from an air strike none the worse for wear but the same cannot be said for his fellow troops. The doc quickly goes about his business, carefully medicating and dressing gory wounds like severed jugulars and traumatized eyes with all the care and patience of the dutiful. It seems the old adage about lightning proves true for explosions, as another one knocks the doc off his feet but leaves him mostly unscathed. This time out it’s a Chinese soldier who ends up wounded, but just as before the doc keeps to his Oath and fixes the patient’s gangrenous tissue right up. Later two important discoveries are made: first that the doc’s leg was actually badly wounded following the second blast, and second that he’s actually not with the Marines but actually a Navy doctor attached to the outfit.

Aerial? No thanks.
Arterial? Hell yes!

Just as “Bird-Dogs” before it set out to honor the contributions of a neglected division of the military, so too does “Sailor” seek to shine a light on the down-and-dirty sacrifices that men of the Navy made right alongside their muddy brothers in the Army. I’ve said before that when it comes to the war titles I’ve had my fill of aerial dogfight stories, but the one thing I can probably never get enough of is war medic stories. I love all the gritty anatomical details and how they’re ultimately about rebuilding and restructuring in times of destruction and chaos. “Sailor” is another addition to this great tradition. --Jose

Corporal Enfantino responds to the Chubby Bunny challenge.
Peter: The army pilot of "Bird-Dogs!" has one of those annoying accents that forces the reader to re-read just about every sentence to see if the message came through clearly, but this vignette is enlightening and exciting: lots of little panels filled with green stuff, yet the art is dazzling. "Rough Riders!" is a weird one, to be sure. It begins as another one of Harvey's lectures, but then almost discards that plot and segues into a lecture on military death before throwing in a Crypt-Keeper-worthy finale (". . . to be eaten alive by land crabs . . .") just for the hell of it. It's a strange combo, for sure, but the whole thing finds a way to stay cohesive. Perhaps even more startling than impending death by crab is the four-panel sequence detailing the death of a Rider (below). "Lufbery!" features gorgeous, photo-realistic art from George Evans (an artist we don't see enough of around these parts) and a bio of an ace I knew nothing about. The tone and look sure remind me of Kanigher and Kubert on Enemy Ace. As good as the first three tales are (and they are very good), the obvious four-star story here is "Sailor!," grueling in a way only pre-code comics could get away with. Sad that the Code took most of the realism out of the genre and, for the most part, left us with watered-down tripe like Gunner and Sarge and Hunter's Hellcats.

Jack: I agree with you that "Sailor!" is the best story in the issue, as Davis portrays the gritty life of a Navy doc in Korea. Next comes "Lufbery!," a heroic depiction of a WWI flier who leaps from his burning plane without a parachute. "Rough Riders!" is not very engaging, even though Kurtzman wisely focuses on one man's impending death; Estrada's art is just average. Finally, I usually like the Severin/Elder stories more than I liked "Bird-Dogs!" It's marred by the Huckleberry Hound accent of the main character and the story is told in such a laid-back fashion as to be dull. The subtle panels showing the destruction on the ground are so low key that they almost don't register.

Lieutenant Seabrook cuts to the heart of the matter.

Weird Fantasy #18

"Counter-Clockwise" ★★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by John Severin and Will Elder

"Zero Hour" ★★★
Story by Ray Bradbury
Adapted by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Homesick!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Al Williamson and Roy Krenkel

"Judgment Day!"  ★★★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

Ron was lucky, growing up the son of rocket ship pilot Sam Travis and, one evening, he tells his pop that he wants to join the rocket fleet. As he's breaking the news to his stunned father, a spaceship lands in front of them and a strange, grotesque creature exits and approaches the duo. Sam blasts the monstrosity with his atom blaster and the perceived danger is averted. When the elder Travis reports the occurrence to the authorities, the government takes the rocket away for study. Ron is accepted into the rocket fleet and graduates at the top of his class; his reward being named the captain of the very alien ship he and his father discovered. His mission is to find the planet the rocket originated from; a five-year mission that has its perils. Six months into the voyage, Ron discovers what he thinks is the planet of origin and, despite orders only to observe, he lands the ship but manages to damage one of the fins in the process. While working on the damage, Ron discovers that the planet turns "Counter-Clockwise" to the direction of Earth and time is turning backwards. More distressing, his body grows bumpy sores and he loses stamina. Finally, after years of repair, the ship is ready for flight and Ron heads back to Earth. He lands in a field where a man and his son approach; the man aims his atom blaster and fires. As Ron lays dying, he realizes that he has gone back ten years in the past! Wholly predictable and the science is a bit far-fetched . . . I think (would your watch really run backwards if the planet turned counter-clockwise?) . . . but the plot is enough fun to avert your thoughts now and then. The art is . . . interesting; I'd have thought this one would have gone to Wally rather than the war guys but maybe Wood's plate was full. The protagonists don't suffer much but that creature is anything but scary.

Precocious seven-year-old Mink plays a new game called “Invasion” with the local kids. The tots are collecting household items, conversing with invisible pals, and spouting dialog like “Beam 4-9-7-A-B-X.” Mink’s mom gets worried that maybe there’s more to her daughter than just a very active imagination. Ray Bradbury spins more magic with children (no writer could blend childhood and dark fantasy like Bradbury), the only drawback being the Jack Kamen art. While Kamen has his fans, I remain unimpressed with the standard “talking head” narrative. The artist’s payoff panel (the unveiling of the invaders) looks more suited to a ghost story than science fiction but there's no denying that it's quite effective.  “Zero Hour” proved to be very lucrative for Ray Bradbury. In addition to the WF classic, the story was also adapted several times for radio (by Suspense, Escape, X Minus One, and Dimension X) and, in 1992, for Ray Bradbury Theatre, a syndicated TV show that lasted 65 episodes (over 6 seasons), all revolving around Bradbury’s short stories.

David Todd is in love with friend Larry Ardsley's wife, Lynn, and the thought that Larry gets to make love to Lynn every night is driving the man crazy. Luckily, Lynn feels the same way about David and, equally lucky, David and Larry are about to head to Mars on an expedition. David explains to Lynn how he intends to murder Larry and blame it on Mars. The boys land on the red planet and David wastes no time, blasting Larry the second they're out on the Martian landscape. Col. Todd reports back to Earth, letting them know that his partner has died of a strange disease he picked up when the men were exploring and that he'll be heading for the hub space station immediately. When David gets to the station, he finds it deserted, but a message over the loudspeaker, from General Minorly back on Earth, informs him that, because scientists can't explain Larry's sudden death and for the safety of Earth, David is confined to the space station for the rest of his life. I love a twist I never see coming and "Homesick!" paid off in spades. Al Williamson's art looks almost too good for funny books, with its posed characters and lovely detail. Certainly, the science fiction books were the most appropriate showcase for Williamson's work, but he also found time to contribute to some of the other EC titles as well. Like many of the EC vets, Williamson found work at Warren in the 1960s, producing such classics as "Sand Doom" (Creepy #5) and "The Lighthouse" (Eerie #3).

Tarlton has arrived at Cybrinia, "the planet of mechanical life," where robots have been programmed to create and propagate a civilization much like that of man back on Earth. Trouble is, Tarlton discovers that the main "species," the orange robots, have taken control of the planet and relegated the blue robots to the slums of Cybrinia. After a tour of both colonies, Tarlton explains to his orange robot guide that Cybrinia is not ready to become part of the "great Galactic Republic" because, unlike Earth, which has come a long way since the 1950s, this planet allows segregation and promotes prejudice. Leaving his host with some words of wisdom, Tarlton boards his ship and blasts off. Once in space, he removes his helmet and "the beads of perspiration on his dark skin twinkle like little stars . . ." Probably the most controversial tale EC ever published (outside of the infamous "Foul Play"), "Judgment Day!" must have been a bold kick in the nuts for 1953 and remains pretty doggone powerful (and, unfortunately, timely). Its critics might deem it overly preachy and, as Monday Morning Quarterbacks, we can find that climax a tad predictable, but I think the story still has lots of bite. Bill Gaines's fights with the censors over "Judgment Day!" are legendary and the whole sad but true story can be found here. --Peter

Jack: It's hard to read such a famous story without looking at everything that happens through the lens of knowing the ending. The gimmick of having Tarlton keep his helmet on the whole time to hide his face in preparation for the last-panel revelation is awkward but necessary. "Homesick!" is best appreciated for the stunning work by Williamson; the story itself starts out as almost a noir/sf crossover with a woman and her lover planning to kill her husband, but by the end it's all a bit dry and scientific in the telling. Kamen's Kids populate "Zero Hour," which is an example of a story that works better without pictures. I know it well from a treasured cassette of an old radio show and thus was disappointed in how it was presented here. "Counter-Clockwise" is an above-average time paradox story that manages to end predictably even though it doesn't go where I thought it would go at the start.

At Last!
The Long-Awaited Return of the Hangman!
In the 106th Issue of Star Spangled DC War Stories
On Sale Next Week!


Grant said...

I mainly associate "Mars Is Heaven" with the RAY BRADBURY THEATRE version, which had Hal Linden as the captain. Since the captain is a no-nonsense character who's the last one to be tricked, Hal "Barney Miller" Linden seemed like the perfect choice to play him.

Even if "Pot Shot" is as bad as everyone says, the line "A heavy date with a French wench" is pretty catchy.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Grant. That's one of those shows that seems so dated when I watch an episode online. For some reason, B & W TV shows don't seem as awkward as color shows from the '80s and '90s, especially on videotape.

Quiddity99 said...

This month has several issues I really enjoy and I generally have a much higher opinion of this month's output than you guys do, but I cannot deny nostalgia may color that somehow as this month has both my first ever issue of Weird Science and the Haunt of Fear.

"Mars is Heaven" is one of the better Bradbury adaptions and a truly scary sci-fi story, easily the peak of the issue. Still, I'm a bit more positive of the rest of the issue's content. I first read this issue when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old and remember being scared to death of those aliens in the last panel of "Snap Ending", enough so that I avoided the story for quite a bit. As an adult, not that scary, and very similar in nature to the aliens we got in "The Aliens" as well as an upcoming story in Shock SuspenStories that I cannot recall the title of. "The Parallel" I also enjoy if only because the premise is so ridiculous, the protagonist comes up with this belief that there's a parallel version of himself and blows himself with no proof whatsoever that there ever was a parallel world. He probably did it all to himself! "Disassembled", the weakest of the issue at least has that memorable final panel.

I could be wrong, but I'm quite certain "Silent Service" was written by Jerry De Fuccio, Harvey Kurtzman's assistant. At the very least I recall it coming up in interviews how Kurtzman sent him to go into an actual submarine to research material for the story. Interesting to see a rare Johnny Craig appearance in something other than the horror or crime comics. We're also around the time where Kurzman's got George Evans doing basically bios of various World War I aces each issue, which I generally enjoyed, in this issue's Frontline Combat. In any case, that's about all I have to say about the war comics for this month.

This month's Haunt of Fear is another excellent issue for me; one of the comic's best covers, and memorable stories throughout, although I will again admit nostalgia may color my glasses here. The reincarnation concept is one I just don't recall EC using that much, and it made "Pipe Down" a memorable and rather creepy story for me. We're around the point of time where EC really starts going all out on the gore, with Andrew smashing Lila to death with a poker, the stretch rack ending to "Bedtime Gory" and Amboy's fate in "Pipe Down" all being quite horrifying. "Pipe Down" I'm a lot higher on as a Grim Fairy Tale, I always found it to be one of the more unique ones in a series that often simply was a horror twist on well known fairy tales. The concept of someone swallowing all that lead disgusted me quite a bit when I first read this, which I suppose is what horror comics are supposed to do! And another fine Bradbury adaption to wrap up the issue.

While not as good as the Weird Science and Haunt of Fear issues, this month's Weird Fantasy is another good one. Severin & Elder start the first of a several issue run of doing sci-fi stories for this title with the best one they did. The "alien" of "Counter Clockwise" I always felt was effectively scary and it is an overall quality story. The two middle stories are about average. "Homesick" gives us the rare, one-time only Al Feldstein and Al Williamson collaboration for the cover. "Judgment Day" is (in a good way) probably up there with "Foul Play" as the most well known single story EC did and one of their most effective "preachie" stories. Quite absurd what EC had to go through a few years later when they tried to reprint it for Incredible Science Fiction #33.

Peter Enfantino said...


Thanks so much for taking the time to put down your thoughts and share them with us. That ol' debbil nostalgia colors 90% of what I read, saw, or listened to "back in the day." When I was 14, I knew then that Wings at the Speed of Sound was a better record than Sgt Pepper but if I listen to them today... well, I still think that (choke!). I've read most of these comics (with the exception of the war titles) at least two or three times over the past forty years and I'll be damned if my opinion doesn't stay just the same on some and rise or fall on others. No one will convince me that the tales that were adapted for the Amicus flicks were less than classics, for instance but some of the "preachies" just don't resonate with me like they did on the first reading.

Jose Cruz said...

Dang, I wish I could've gotten to WF 18 in time for this post. That was a really great issue all-around. Even if "Counter-Clockwise" was predictable and slightly implausible, that one really set its hooks in me and reeled me in. Another solid Bradbury adaptation that I felt similarly towards as "Mars is Heaven": the pictures don't really make or break it for me, the story's that good. Of course, Wood was doubtlessly 10x the visualist Kamen was. "Homesick" was super! Intergalactic James M. Cain! "Judgment Day" is an unbeatable classic, still packing punches 60 years later. God, if ever in my time some rich producer decides to mount a faithful EC anthology series, I'd love to see something like *that* on the small screen!

And thank you Grant and Quiddity coming back to the comments section here! We all look forward to your feedback every other week!

AndyDecker said...

These covers are impressive. Way above the competition. So imaginative, especially the SF titles. One wonders that Wood and the others put so much work into this.

Jack Seabrook said...

If I saw those covers on the newsstand among the other 500 comics out at the time, I'd plunk down my dime right away!