Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Crime SuspenStories #14

Cover dated December 1952/January 1953
Cover by Johnny Craig

"Sweet Dreams!" - Art by Johnny Craig/Story by Johnny Craig
"The Perfect Place!" - Art by Jack Kamen/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines
"The Electric Chair"/"The Hangman's Noose"/"The Guillotine!" - Art by Fred Peters/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines
"Private Performance" - Art by Graham Ingels/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines

"Sweet Dreams!" - A man is getting annoyed with his wife, who is obsessed with her inability to sleep. When she gets a new set of sleeping pills from her doctor, the man plans on killing her by pouring too many into her drink. She reveals that she spotted him doing so however, and switched cups, getting him to drink it. In a rage, he smuthers her to death with a pillow. The man wakes up, revealing it to all be a dream, but finds his wife dead next to him. He calls the doctor in, claiming she overdosed from the sleeping pills. The doctor reveals that she was a chronic hypochondriac and was given sugar pills, and reports him for murder. Johnny Craig puts in a usual strong art effort although I wasn't much of a fan of the story.

"The Perfect Place!" - A writer named Ernie plans to murder his wife June after becoming successful and falling in love with another writer. Ernie buys a secluded house from a man named Jess who claims his wife left him a few years ago. Ernie brings June out to the house and murders her. He hides her body by bricking her up behind a wall in the basement. On his way out however the sheriff comes by with Jess, who has admitted to murdering his wife and hiding her in the basement, just like what Ernie did to his wife. As a result, June's body is found and Ernie is found guilty of murder. This story seems to be inspired in part by "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allen Poe, which featured a murdered wife being hidden behind a brick wall just like in this story. "The Black Cat" had been adapted by EC earlier in the story "The Wall" from the Haunt of Fear #15 (aka #1).

"The Electric Chair/The Hangman's Noose/The Guillotine!" - This story features three tellings of the same tale, taking place in America, England and France. In each the protagonist comes across his wife in the arms of another man. Based on the variation, he kills either the wife, the lover or both. He is set to be executed for his crimes (either the electric chair in America, via hanging in England or the guillotine in France) but escapes on the day of his execution. By trying to escape via the subway system, the protagonist still ends up dying in similar fashion to his planned execution, either by being electrocuted on the third rail, being strangled by getting his tie stuck in a subway door, or being decapitated by the subway car. This is one of several "EC Quickies" that appeared around this time in either Crime SuspenStories or Weird Fantasy. The EC Quickies was an interesting gimmick that they used for a short enough period such that it didn't come off as overused to me. It was used a total of 7 times, primarily in Crime SuspenStories. Along with "Cutting Cards" from Tales from the Crypt #32, this is the only artwork Fred Peters did for EC during the new trend.

"Private Performance" - A crook breaks into a mansion so as to steal from a safe inside. While doing so he hears an argument amongst the elderly husband and wife who own the house. The husband, in a rage, bashes his wife's head in with a small statuette while arguing about being the 'greatest' and 'tops'. The old man spots the crook and chases him around the house. The crook, finding the front door locked, makes his way to the cellar where he hopes to hide in a chest. The old man soon comes down and locks him in the chest. The crook spots a poster on the wall revealing that the old man was a magician responsible for a human pin cushion illusion and he soon finds himself being struck with swords that the old man plunges into the chest. A pretty good story to end the issue, although I do wonder how the crook wasn't able to overpower a man who was probably more than twice his age.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Two-Fisted Tales #36

Cover dated January 1954
Cover by John Severin

"Gunfire!" - Art by Jack Davis/Story by Colin Dawkins
"Battle!" - Art by Reed Crandall/Story by Colin Dawkins
"Justice!" - Art by John Severin/Story by John Severin & Colin Dawkins
"Dangerous Man!" - Art by John Severin & Bill Elder/Story by Colin Dawkins

This issue was the first of "The New" Two-Fisted Tales. Following the end of the Korean War, EC made changes to its war comics by cancelling Frontline Combat entirely and changing Two-Fisted Tales back to more of an adventure comic (which was the original intent of the comic before the start of the Korean war). This was also due to Kurtzman's increasing need to focus on Mad. While Kurtzman remained credited as editor, he stopped writing each story as he did in the past (and in fact had no more writing credits the rest of the run). A new writer, Colin Dawkins was brought aboard who wrote the vast majority of the stories for the next year of the comic. John Severin also became the dominant artist, and had a part in the artwork of every story for the next three issues following this one. Severin had become for all intents and purposes the editor of the comic at this point, even though it wasn't credited that way. I didn't particularly like the format change, especially the fact that nearly every story was drawn by John Severin. There just wasn't enough variety and EC must have agreed as there was another stylistic change for the final 2 issues

"Gunfire!" - At a town in the old west, four criminals rob a bank and murder the martial, Ben Slaughter. Ben's son, Jack, witnesses his death, and the man with a scar across his left cheek that killed him. Jack is sent back east by his aunt and uncle. A few years pass and Jack returns. Jack meets back up again with his aunt and uncle after encountering some criminals. Jack's uncle thinks he's in hiding. Jack tells his uncle he's been hired to go after a man named Regan, the toughest gunhand in town. Jack successfully kills Regan's colleagues when they come after him after demanding Regan shave his beard. His men dead. Regan does so, showing the scar across his left cheek. Jack reveals Regan is actually a criminal named Bill Guthrie who has a warrant on him and he was assigned to go after him by a Stockmen's Association. A old west fashioned decent story to kick off the new format in Two-Fisted Tales, albeit being a bit predictable with the ending.

"Battle!" - This story takes place in 55 B.C., and features Emperor Claudius Caesar leading the Roman troops to Britain. Caesar's troops sneak through the swamp at night and battle against the British troops, led by a man named Caractacus. The Romans are very successful due to the Elephants and Nubian tribesmen within their ranks. This story is based on a passage from Claudius the God by Robert Graves.

"Justice!" - A trio of men kill a native american man in order to steal his horse. One of the victim's tribemates spots what has happened. He returns to the tribe which demands war, but he insists that justice be served instead. The tribesmen put the corpse of the victim across the railroad tracks in a white man's clothes, causing the train to stop. Once it does, the native americans force themselves on the train and make it to head into the nearby fort. There they search for the trio of murders, killing those who get in the way. As soon as they kill the three, the attack is stopped and they leave. The native americans in this story don't kill everyone, but they still kill a bunch of people (half of those in the fort per the final panel), including many innocents in their attempts for 'justice', so it was still quite the brutal killing spree.

"Dangerous Man!" - A man comes to see someone named E.J. Coffey, aka "Ruby Ed". telling him he has a picture of Hee-Chin, a member of Red China's Intelligence Corps. Along the way however, he loses the picture and is shot, dying soon after being brought into Ruby Ed's house. Ruby Ed recalls a book in a nearby museum having a picture of Hee-Chin, so he heads there. He meets the curator, who is revealed to be a subordinate of Hee-Chin when Ruby Ed finds the book. The two battle with swords, with Ruby Ed coming out on top. As a result, Hee-Chin is apprehended. This story was the first appearance of Ruby Ed, who would appear in a number of Severin-drawn stories in Two Fisted Tales during the remainder of its run. Ruby Ed was one of the very few non-Ghoulunatic recurring characters that appeared during the New Trend. This is an average story at best, with a rather drawn out sword battle taking up much of the second half of the story.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Weird Fantasy #13 (1950)

Cover dated May/June 1950
Cover by Al Feldstein

"Am I Man or Machine?" - Art by Al Feldstein/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines
"Only Time Will Tell" - Art by Harry Harrison & Wally Wood/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines
"The Men of Tomorrow" - Art by Jack Kamen/Story by ???
"...Trip Into the Unknown" - Art by Harvey Kurtzman/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines

Today I cover the other issue 13 of Weird Fantasy, which is the comic's first issue. Many of EC's comics didn't start with issue 1, but rather an issue much higher than that. This was done in order to save money on second class postage. Rather than create a new comic series, EC would rename existing ones. This was the case for many of EC's comics including all 3 horror comics, both sci-fi comics and Two-Fisted Tales. Sometimes the post office caught them, as they did with Weird Fantasy and the numbering had to go back to the proper order, which is why there are 2 issue 13's for this comic.

"Am I Man or Machine?" - A man named Roger, who is engaged to be married, is in a car accident. While his body dies, a pair of scientists take his brain and work on bringing him back to life. They start by giving him the ability to hear, then the ability to see and speak. Eventually they are able to construct a humanoid body for him. With his fake human body, Roger takes the opportunity to visit his fiance, Diane, now approximately 2 years after his death. Upon hearing that she has since married someone else, Roger realizes he'll never be able to provide her what a real human would and tells her its a fraternity initiation bit. A good, emotional story to start off the issue.

"Only Time Will Tell" - A scientist named Steve works on a time machine. Suddenly a portal appears in his lab and an older man comes out, demanding he help him. Steve goes through the portal with the man into the future and helps him repair his time machine. The older man forces him back to the past, but Steve manages to tear off and take part of the blueprints for the machine with him. Using these blue prints as a guide, Steve works on creating his time machine, which takes him 20 years. Something is wrong with the machine however, and it will explode in a few hours time if he can't fix it. Steve goes back in time and makes his younger self come to the future with him to fix the time machine, just as happened earlier in the story. The first of numerous time travel stories EC did, this story is a bit complicated at first read, but overall is a good one. It is rather tame compared to later time travel stories that EC did (as there's no deaths or anything done with severe consequences to history).

"The Men of Tomorrow" - A trio of scientists search for Kador Valley, within Mongolia, a valley never seen by modern civilization. They come across one of the inhabitants of the valley, and discover that he can read their mind. One of the men stays with him and is able to get him to speak while the others explore. This causes him to lose his ability to read minds, and he becomes more sly and shifty. The scientists eventually make it to the valley where they find a highly technological advanced society. The men are imprisoned, but as the entire civilization starts to learn to speak, they all lose their ability to read minds and become lying and deceitful. This causes two sides to go to war with each other, resulting in poisonous gas being spread in the city. The other side then detonates a nuclear explosion which destroys the city, and everyone within it. A decent plot, but this story is marred by a bit too much text at times, including one panel in which roughly nine tenths of the panel is filled with dialogue and the two characters are barely visible and hunchbacked.

"...Trip Into the Unknown" - A rocket ship heads into space, the first to do so with humans onboard. The rocket heads to a planet known as "Planet X", which is found to be breathable such that space suits aren't necessary. Our heroes make their way around the area, finding the civilization there in ruins. They head to a library where they take a book with them. They are soon attacked by humanoids twice their size, who chase them back to the rocket. The aliens try to knock the rocket over, so they blast off, leaving the planet. While heading through space they are able to translate the book, which reveals that the civilization of that planet ruined themselves through constant conflict, and that their planet was named Earth. Only 3 issues into EC's sci-fi comics and I've already got 2 stories where the twist at the end is that the alien planet is Earth. A very common sci-fi trope, one done better by "The Aliens" from Weird Science #7, covered a little while back.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Tales from the Crypt #32

Cover dated October/November 1952
Cover by Jack Davis

"Tain't the Meat... It's the Humanity!" - Art by Jack Davis/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines
"Roped In!" - Art by George Evans/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines
"Cutting Cards!" - Art by Fred Peters/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines
"Squash... Anyone?" - Art by Graham Ingels/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines

"Tain't the Meat... It's the Humanity!" - A local butcher named Zach Gristle finds his meat in high demand during World War II with the advent of rationing. During the war, red points need to be exchanged for meat, limiting the amount of meat that each customer can buy, as well as Gristle himself. A man named Vandercliff convinces Gristle to sell high quality steaks to him on the black market. This requires Gristle to find substandard meat to sell to his regular customers so as to acquire the red points needed to buy the steak. He descends to horse meat, then stale meat, and finally tainted meat. This makes the townfolks sick and eventually some of them die. Gristle goes to get the money he's saved up so he and his family can go on the run. But when his son dies due to eating the tainted meat at a friend's house, his wife snaps. She kills him, chops his body up then puts it on display at his store. A strong start to what is overall a good issue; this story would end up being used as the title for a recently published book from Fantagraphics publishing various Jack Davis horror stories.

"Roped In" - Donald Morgan, President of a construction company is arrested when concrete at a hospital he was responsible for is found to be substandard, causing many deaths. Morgan is innocent, as his 3 partners were responsible so as to make more money for themselves. Unfortunately for Morgan, they've trapped him in a web of circumstantial evidence by only using substandard material on his jobs. Morgan is found guilty of manslaughter and sent to jail. The other 3 partners go on a plane trip after winning a special job. While flying between two mountains however, they are caught in a gigantic spider web. A giant spider appears which kills the 2 that head outside. The final one locks himself in the plane but goes insane, knowing that he is trapped inside by the spider. An effective story with strong artwork from George Evans. This was Evans' first story for Tales form the Crypt, and one of his earliest stories overall for EC. He was generally given tamer fare, like Jack Kamen, but this story gave him the opportunity to do a monster in the giant spider.

"Cutting Cards!" - Two gamblers, Gus Forney and Lou Crebis hate each other so much that they agree to gamble on each other's lives. They start by drawing a card; he who draws the lowest card dies. They both draw aces and decide to try russian roulette instead, but the bullet is a dud and doesn't go off. They then decide to play chop poker to a finish. The loser of each hand has to lose a limb. They chop each others fingers off as round after round goes by. By the end both are in the hospital, with all their limbs chopped off and are still gambling against each other. Not much of a plot to this story, which is more just a way to show a lot of violence. That said, the story was considered good enough to be adapted into an episode of the Tales from the Crypt TV show. The artist, Fred Peters did only a couple of stories for EC during the new trend (the others appearing around this same time) and was not that good compared to EC's usual artists.

"Squash... Anyone?" - A husband and wife, Milo and Rene, are stars at a circus, using an elephant named Emma which places its foot over Rene during performances. In reality, the two hate each other and Milo is carrying on an affair with a woman named Leeta. Leeta convinces Milo to have Emma step on Rene during a performance, which he does. Emma is considered out of control and is killed. Leeta replaces Rene in the act, with a new elephant. A year passes and the circus comes across the same town. suddenly the decayed corpses of Rene and Emma appear and kill both Milo and Leeta before falling away into a putrid slime. One of EC's better circus-themed stories, with a scary, elephant corpse-filled final page.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Mad #5

Cover dated June/July 1953
Cover by Bill Elder

"Outer Sanctum!" - Art by Bill Elder/Story by Harvey Kurtzman
"Black and Blue Hawks!" - Art by Wally Wood/Story by Harvey Kurtzman
"Miltie of the Mounties!" - Art by John Severin/Story by Harvey Kurtzman
"Kane Keen!" - Art by Jack Davis/Story by Harvey Kurtzman

Today I cover my first issue of Mad, EC's most famous publication. Elder's cover for the issue was the only one he did for EC. The insider front cover features a parody of the "EC Artist of the Issue" features that were appearing throughout EC's various publications at the time, covering publisher Bill Gaines. This fake biography stated he was a thief, peddled dope, worked around burlesque houses, couldn't read and other various things. The bio was put together by Gaines and others while editor Kurtzman was ill. What was thought initially to be just a funny joke ended up in quite the big controversy for EC with their wholesalers due to offending another publisher for whom parts of the biography were true. EC had to prepare an apology to the wholesalers as a result. Overall the bio is by far the most notable part of this issue. Only the first story is particularly good, at least story wise (art is generally strong throughout) and the other stories are generally uninteresting to me. Although I'll admit that the EC humor comics were always the genre of theirs I was least into.

"Outer Sanctum!" - This story initially takes place in a crypt where a character named Ramon
hosts the rest of the tale. In the Louisiana swamp a scientist works on a mixture to create
life, which he dumps into the swamp due to its bad smell. The mixture combines with the swamp
to form a trash-like monster called Heap. Heap robs a Bank for the scientist then falls in
love with a female garbage heap in the back. The scientist sets the female heap ablaze, which
enrages the Heap, causing it to destroy the shack they live in. It runs off, never to be seen
again, but sometimes during the full moon it can be found, with little heaps following it. Our
host, Ramon, reveals that the whole story was made up, but the Heap does show up. The controversies with this issue continue. The statement of "Nice Fat Errand Boy Wanted"
(presumbably to be eaten) was taken by the wholesalers to mean that he was wanted for sexual
perverse acts.

"Black and Blue Hawks!" - The Black and Blue Hawks head to the country of Panazonia upon
hearing from one of their colleagues whose plane crashes that there is a revolution there. Upon
arriving they encounter the leader of the revolution, a beautiful woman who tricks them and
steals their plane. The last remaining Blue Hawk (having ordered the others back to their
island) follows her and eventually makes it back to Black and Blue Hawk Island where its
revealed that the woman and the other Black and Blue Hawks were the revolutionaries.

"Miltie of the Mounties" - A series of mounties report to Chief Mountie, Scott Yardland.
Yardland receives orders from his superiors to capture the criminal Nanuk the Canuk and sends
Miltie the Mountie after him. Miltie initially starts following his own footprints in a circle,
but does come across the heavily covered Nanuk the Canuk whom he chases. Nanuk is revealed to be a woman by opening her coat, shocking Miltie enough so she can shoot him.  Not that great a story in my eyes, it takes a while to get going and I don't understand why Nanuk being a woman was supposed to be so shocking to Miltie like it was. A similar type ending was used in the first story of the Panic #1.

"Kane Keen! Private Eye" - Kane Keen of the title is a private eye hired by a beautiful woman
who claims that her uncle is in danger. Her uncle, Rollover Rover, is a retired vaudelville
actor who had an act with a talking dog, Shlep. Upon arriving at his mansion they find Rover
dead and Shlep missing. Keen is faced with a variety of suspects as well as a mysterious thug
who keeps warning him to keep off the case and hits him in the head. In the end the killer is
revealed to be Shlep, who was disguised as the butler. Shlep gets away however by taking
hostage of a dumb cop who came to the scene.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Shock SuspenStories #6

Cover dated December 1952/January 1953
Cover by Wally Wood

"Dead Right!" - Art by Jack Kamen/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines
"Under Cover!" - Art by Wally Wood/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines
"Not So Tough!" - Art by Joe Orlando/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines
"Sugar 'N Spice 'N..." - Art by Graham Ingels/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines

This was my first issue of Shock SuspenStories that I ever read and is one of its stronger issues. Shock SuspenStories for the first half to two thirds of its run was a sort of EC Sampler, featuring a crime story in the lead off spot, a sci-fi story in the third story spot and a horror story in the final story spot. The second story of each issue was entitled a "Shock" SuspenStory and was usually used to tackle subjects such as racism, anti-semitism, corruption and other matters.

"Dead Right!" - A woman named Cathy occasionally meets with a fortune teller who successfully predicts that she will lose her job, then later find another one. The fortune teller predicts that Cathy will marry a man, who will subsequently come into a lot of money and die violently. Cathy is dissappointed to soon find out that the man the fortune teller is speaking of is a morbidly obese man named Charlie Marno who frequently comes to the restaurant she works at. Considering the fortune teller's prediction, Cathy agrees to go out with him, and eventually marry him. After a few months pass, Cathy wins a large sum of money by being the millionth customer at a local restaurant. Thinking that the fortune teller was wrong the entire time, Cathy tries to walk out on Charlie, telling him she never loved him and can't stand him, causing him to murder her. Charlie inherits Cathy's money then dies in the electric chair, fulfilling the fortune teller's prophecy. This is one of the stronger lead stories from Shock SuspenStories and one of my favorites. It also was adapted in a fairly strong episode of the television show, early in the show's run when the episodes were usually very faithful to the original stories.

"Under Cover!" - A newspaper reporter named Sam Roberts watches as a group of masked vigilantes whip a woman until she dies. When the leader of the group takes off his mask to check for sure, Sam is able to see his face and identify him. Sam is found by some of the vigilantees and flees, making his way to a hotel. He calls the FBI but the vigilantees quickly enter and start beating him up, demanding to know if he saw the grand master's face, which he refuses to say. Sam passes out. He later wakes up in the hospital with the FBI watching over him. Sam confirms to the agents that he can identify the grand master. At that moment the agents pull out guns and kill him, as it ends up they were the vigilantees, unmasked. This is a fairly good story, but is not as powerful as many of the so called "preachies" that frequently appeared in this slot in Shock SuspenStories. The masked vigilantees theme would return in issue 14's The Whipping.

"Not So Tough!" - This story takes place on a rocket ship heading through space, commanded by a man named Horace Bergman. Bergman is notoriously hard on his men and demotes his lieutenant/navigator , a man named Arden, when he gets them lost in space. The man who replaces Arden is unqualified for the job, but Bergman doesn't want to appear soft to his men by restoring Arden to his former role. The replacement is demoted himself then has a nervous breakdown as the ship starts to run out of oxygen. Bergman refuses to give him oxygen and use up any of their supply, so he dies. Arden starts screaming at him about it and is shot by Bergman as a result. The ship approaches a planet with oxygen, which they descend to in order to resupply their oxygen, however the gravity on the planet is very intense. Bergman becomes 'soft' literally as his body melts upon impact. Another pretty good story; a bit more telegraphed around building up to the ending than the other stories in the issue. I'm sure they thought of the ending first, then built the entire story around it. Shock SuspenStories' sci-fi stories were a mixed bag at times, but this was one of the better ones.

"Sugar 'N Spice 'N..." - A pair of children, Johnny and Margaret (Hansel and Gretel in German) play in front of an old woman's house that they are frightened of. They lose their ball in her yard and Johnny goes into get it and is scared off by her. The two children plan to play some pranks on her come Halloween, but the old woman has plans of her own. Johnny places an empty bottle filled with water in front of her door and rings the bell, hoping she'll open it and the water will spill all over the foyer. The old woman waits inside and ignores it however, doing so through additional tricks that they try in order to get her to open the door. When they're about to leave the old woman screams out as if she needs help. This convinces Johnny and Margaret to come inside, where they discover the entire house is made of candy. The old woman opens up a roaring oven and reveals that she is a witch, feeding the two to the oven. This is one of two takes that EC had on the Hansel & Gretel story, the other appearing in Haunt of Fear #23. That version, which was part of the Grim Fairy Tale was a lot more comedic in nature where this one did come off as a legitimately scary horror story as well as a bit more realistic in the modern setting. The story was narrated throughout by the old woman and she comes off as if she was one of the ghoulunatics at the end of the story.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Frontline Combat #5

Cover dated March/April 1952
Cover by Harvey Kurtzman

"442nd Combat Team" - Art by John Severin & Bill Elder/Story by Harvey Kurtzman
"Stonewall Jackson!" - Art by Jack Davis/Story by Harvey Kurtzman
"War Machines!" - Art by John Severin/Story by Harvey Kurtzman
"Big 'If'!" - Art by Harvey Kurtzman/Story by Harvey Kurtzman

"442nd Combat Team" - This story takes place during World War II in France as an American unit is surrounded by German troops. A German medic comes by and noticing that many of the soldiers are Japanese-American asks them to surrender and join Japan's allies, the Germans. The American troops decline and make an attempt to take down the German soldiers, despite multiple calls from the German medic to surrender and stop being traitors to their ancestors. The American troops are successful in taking out the Germans and one of the soldiers comments on the one thing the medic forgot, that they're Americans. This story is a fairly decent start to the issue, just overshadowed by a couple of stories that come after it.

"Stonewall Jackson" - This story takes place in 1864 during the Civil War. A group of COnfederate soldiers gather by a fire and tell stories about Stonewall Jackson, one soldier in particular. The story tells various anecdotes about Jackson's time as an officer. Towards the end of the story it is told how he died, being shot accidently by his own men in Chancellorville at night. The soldier telling the stories leaves the fire and it is revealed that he is the one who killed Jackson. Some of Kurtzman's stories focused in particular on historical figures such as Jackson, Lincoln, Rommel and others, and this was one such tale. Kurtzman featured Jackson in another story in Two-Fisted Tales #35, "Chancellorville" which focused in particular on his death. That story was also drawn by Davis. This story was one of the few Civil War themed stories that did not appear in the special Civil War issues that Kurtzman did.

"War Machines" - This story focuses on a battle that takes place in the hills of Korea, but in particular on the "war machines" involved. The American forces utilize various methods to try and take out the Koreans occupying caves in the hills. They start with planes, then move on to heavy artillery and tanks, none of which are able to be successful. Then the final war machine, man, heads up the hill and is successful in wiping out the Koreans and taking control of the hill. From time to time Kurzman would do stories focused not on particular characters but rather the weapons or devices used during war and this was one such example.

"Big 'If'" - A wounded soldier named Paul Maynard sits before some ancient Korean devil posts, thinking of how if only things would have been different. Maynard flashes back to how he got into this situation. His unit had been traveling and he volunteered to stay with a tank while his fellow soldiers seperated from him. When he gets fired upon Maynard flees from the tank and spots some planes flying by. He eats his lunch then passes by the devil posts, bending down to tie his shoe. At that moment he gets hit by a shell. After thinking of if he just changed one minor thing, all would be okay, Maynard collapses, dead. The final war story that Kurzman drew for EC, this is probably his second most well known after "Corpse on the Imjin" from Two-Fisted Tales #25. It is a simple, but powerful premise, that in war someone can die for no reason, for simply being in a certain place at a certain time. The story had a 6 page article written by Greg Potter (who wrote stories for Warren Publishing's horror magazines in the 1970s) dedicated to it in The Comics Journal Library for Harvey Kurtzman.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Vault of Horror #12

Cover dated April/May 1950
Cover by Johnny Craig

"Portrait in Wax!" - Art by Johnny Craig/Story by Johnny Craig (hosted by the Vault Keeper)
"The Werewolf Legend" - Art by Wally Wood & Harry Harrison/Story by Gardner Fox
"Horror in the Night" - Art by Harvey Kurtzman/Story by Ivan Klapper
"Terror Train" - Art by Al Feldstein/Story by Al Feldstein

Today I cover the first issue of the Vault of Horror, which along with The Crypt of Terror #17, was the first horror comics released by EC. Vault of Horror stories originally appeared in issues 10 and 11 of War Against Crime prior to EC changing the title to the Vault of Horror with this issue.

"Portrait in Wax!" - Henry is a struggling artist with little talent but a lot of ambition who lives with Robert, who is the exact opposite, lots of talent but no ambition. Henry steals a piece of Robert's artwork and makes a lot of money selling it to an art dealer. He does it repeatedly, making a lot of money. But Robert goes to a showing of the dealer's art and discovers what Henry has done. He is going to the police, but Henry throws acid in his face, knocking him out. Henry dumps him in a vat of acid to destroy his remains. Years pass and Henry makes tons of money off Robert's work. But eventually he sells of all the artwork. Luckily he finds a new artist to make money off of when a sculptor named Jules Vendette shows him his wax statues of people who died. Henry makes lots of money opening a museum of them, claiming the work as his own. But one day while moving a statue he discovers they're not really statues, but corpses covered with wax! Jules is actually Robert, who had not actually died since the vat he was dumped in was just water. He kills Henry and makes him his latest statue. Johnny Craig's first Vault lead story (and along with Curse of the Full Moon, which came out the same month in Crypt 17, one of his first horror stories). Although Craig's art is still somewhat simple looking compared to his later stuff, he still does a good job here. This story would be somewhat redone (with much more horrific results) in Silver Threads Among the Mold from issue 27, which was the first EC story I ever read.

"The Werewolf Legend" - An Englishman named Walter Mallory finds himself transformed into a werewolf and he kills a man who comes by him. The next day he wakes up in his home and grows nervous upon hearing from his cousin Gregory that a neighbor has been torn to shreds. Walter goes to the family library where he finds some manuscripts revealing that several ancestors had been werewolves. The next full moon he awakens as a werewolf again and kills another man. Walter seeks out the police and discusses the possibility of a werewolf doing the killings with them. He asks them to watch his castle the night of the next full moon and kill the werewolf if he sees it. The next full moon Walter becomes a werewolf yet again and kills another man without being caught by the police. Upon returning to human, Walter is prepared to kill himself but is stopped by the police, who reveal that it was actually his cousin Gregory who killed those men. Gregory had hypnotized Walter into thinking that he was a werewolf, faked the manuscripts and killed 3 men who were blackmailing him. The first of numerous werewolf stories to appear in the Vault of Horror. Wally Wood worked with Harry Harrison for a number of early EC stories in the horror and sci-fi comics. The artwork on this story bears only slight resemblance to the well known style Wood later developed on his own throughout much of his years at EC. While the art is a bit uneven at times, this is a fairly strong story.

"Horror in the Night" - A man named Jim visits his brother Tom at Hawkins Tourist Cabins, the family business. Tom is a nervous wreck, telling Jim about a horrific dream he had. In the dream, a couple comes to the cabins to stay the night. Tom suddenly finds himself in the cabin, as if he was a ghost. The wife is a complete lunatic, trying to escape multiple times in the night and murdering a cat by the door. The husband is bringing her to an insane asylum, as she has been crazy ever since their baby was clawed to death by a cat. When she tries to escape yet again, he strangles her then kills himself. Jim convinces Tom that it was just a dream and not something to worry about, but soon the couple arrives for real. The dream coming to life is another common horror story trope. While it is not something I have seen referenced out there from EC historians, this story may be yet another one inspired by an anecdote from Bennet Cerf's Try and Stop Me, as that book contains an anecdote about a woman's dream coming to life much like what we see here.

"Terror Train" - A woman named Gloria is convinced that her husband Ralph is going to kill her to get the $25,000 life insurance policy he has out on her. She catches him bringing poison into the house and one night wakes up with him over her bed, a knife in hand. She flees to a train station, buys a ticket and heads aboard. Soon however she notices that Ralph is aboard as well. After fleeing from him she goes to sleep, but when she awakens she finds all her fellow passengers murdered. She jumps off the train and makes her way to an abandoned shack where Ralph is waiting for her. Ralph throws her in a coffin and buries her alive. Suddenly Gloria wakes up; everything since she awoke and found the other passengers dead has been a dream and she imagined all of it, including her paranoia about Ralph trying to kill her. Ralph is there with a crew-member and has her taken away and put in a mental institution. A fairly strong ending to what is overall a fairly good issue for its time. Having insane women in back to back stories to wrap up the issue is the one flaw, and "Horror in the Night" would have fit better if moved to another issue (perhaps flipped with the 6 page story from The Crypt of Terror issue published the same month) such that there would be more variety. This story was one of a rare number that were reprinted by EC during the new trend, and would later reappear in The Haunt of Fear #20.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

M.D. #5

Cover dated December 1955/January 1956
Cover by Johnny Craig

"Complete Cure" - Art by Reed Crandall
"Child's Play" - Art by Joe Orlando
"Emergency" - Art by Graham Ingels
"The Right Diagnosis" - Art by George Evans

The writer for all 4 stories is unknown.

This is the first New Direction title I've covered as part of this blog. EC's New Direction comics were brought out after Bill Gaines cancelled all of EC's horror and suspenstory comics due to the horror/crime comic controversy at the time. The New Direction comics tackled various new subjects, some of which hadn't been covered in comics before. M.D. focused in particular on doctors and medical-drama related stories. Essentially a comic book version of E.R., House or other doctor/hospital themed shows. The New Direction comics were commercial failures and were a bit lifeless compared to EC's New Trend horror, crime and sci-fi comics. In addition, starting with the second issue of each the comics were under the Comics Code, resulting in a lot of censorship. Some of the New Direction comics were able to be at least somewhat interesting, even with the censorship, but M.D. was a comic I was never all that into. I can't say the stories are particularly bad, at least in this issue, but its hard to get too much into them or have much to say which is why this will be a rare instance where I won't have individual thoughts on each story. The one big thing that does come across in reading this issue is how different things are today; in "Child's Play", the mother's fear of her son being labeled different due to having a hearing aid, enough so that she doesn't even want him to have it, comes off as particularly ridiculous nowadays. The issue features a lot of extremism from the main characters, not just from that mother, but also central characters from the first and last stories.

"Complete Cure" - A man named Phil is in a car accident in which his legs are severly injured. His wife arrives at the hopsital and agrees to surgery which will save his life, but require the removal of his legs. Phil is extremely negative after waking up, wishing that he had died rather than losing his legs. He is convinced that his life is over and doesn't want to live as a cripple using prosthetics. Eventually he is convinced by his wife to use prosthetics and is able to walk again, but still feels extremely sorry for himself. He decides to leave his wife to spare her the burden of having to support him, but his doctor convinces him to come and see him first at a country club where he introduces him to a well known doctor, who also lost both of his legs. Phil realizes that he can make something of himself despite his handicap.

"Child's Play" - This story features a young boy named Jimmy whose friends stop playing with him and whose grades start suffering. It is soon discovered that Jimmy is going deaf which is the reason for these things. He goes through various tests and the doctor tells his parents that they could operate on him and give him a hearing aid to make things better. His mother is strongly opposed to this, thinking he will be labeled as different. She eventually concedes to having the operation. As it turns out, him having a hearing aid doesn't cause any problems at all; he gets back together with his old friends and they find his hearing aid very interesting.

"Emergency" - This story features a doctor traveling in an ambulance with a man with a broken leg. Due to a large storm, a tree blocks the road and he's forced to carry the injured man on a stretcher with the driver. When they get to the hospital they find that the power is completely out, and the backup generator isn't working either. The doctor, as well as the other doctor there and the various other staff work throughout the night to help out their patients, despite the lack of light or electricity, including successfully conducting surgery. By morning the power is back on and the doctors are finally able to take a break.

"The Right Diagnosis" - A man named George Gordon goes to his doctor complaining of severe abdominal pain. His doctor says nothing appears wrong after doing various tests, but George is convinced that he needs his appendix out. The doctor thinks it is more of a psychological disorder due to George's depression and that he has a self-destructive personality making him want to get surgery despite not needing it. George decides to go to another hospital under a fake name to see if they will operate on him, but they refuse as well. This causes George to want to commit suicide by jumping off the side of the building, but the doctor convinces him to not do so and get help.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Weird Science #7

Cover dated May/June 1951
Cover by Al Feldstein

"Monster From the Fourth Dimension" - Art by Al Feldstein/Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
"Something Missing!" - Art by Jack Kamen/Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
"...Gregory Had a Model-T!" - Art by Harvey Kurtzman/Story by Harvey Kurtzman
"The Aliens!" - Art by Wally Wood/Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines

"Monster From the Fourth Dimension" - A man named Hank encounters a bizarre meat-colored blob that floats in midair, changing shape constantly. The creature kills his cow then dissappears, only to reappear soon afterwards and comes after him. Hank flees from the creature and goes to see his brother Willy, a scientist. Upon seeing the creature, Willy believes it is from a fourth dimension which explains its constantly changing shape and ability to dissappear then reappear. The two of them shoot through the creature with a harpoon and tie it up. Willy then uses a device he was creating to go to the fourth dimension so he can blow it up with dynamite. A few minutes pass and Willy's machine appears back in our dimension, shattered into a bunch of pieces. Willy's dead body appears soon afterwards, a look of sheer horror on his face. The creature stops moving and dies, and Hank buries it. A fairly good story to start off the issue, with some interesting concepts in it. The story was redone in 1954 in the first issue of Three Dimensional EC Classics, drawn by Bernie Krigstein.

"Something Missing!" - A University professor named Roger is married to a nagging shrew of a wife, Hannah. Hannah is constantly complaining over Roger spending too much time on his experiments rather than teaching more and making more money. Roger hires one of his female students Sally, to be his assistant, enraging Hannah even further. Roger and Sally fall in love as they work on a device that can transmit matter and cause any transported creature to turn into what they are thinking about. After further nagging, Roger admits to his wife that he's in love with Sally. One night when Roger and Sally are in the lab, Hannah storms in. Roger puts Sally in the machine and turns it on, causing her to turn into a small statue of herself. Seeing it, Hannah smashes it. Roger picks up the pieces and puts it back in the machine so as to turn Sally back to normal, but misses a large piece, causing Sally to reform with a large part of her body (exactly what, not revealed) missing. The similarly themed Jack Kamen stories continue! This one's a bit similar to "The Trip" which I covered in Weird Fantasy #13, although not as good as that story.

"...Gregory Had a Model-T!" - This story is about an old man named Gregory Gearshift who loves his Model-T car, acting like it was another person. One day Henry passes out, but the car drives him home on its own. Having become very ill, Gregory's sister takes care of him and has to sell his possessions including his Model-T. His Model-T is sold to a young man who treats it as a joke and the Model-T, acting on its own drives after him, scaring him into climbing up a tree. When Gregory dies soon afterwards, the model-T drives itself into a cliff, essentially committing suicide. Kurtzman did a number of stories in the early EC science fiction comics but eventually his work was exclusively in his war comics and Mad. This was actually his final sci-fi story for EC and was probably the weakest of such stories. Kurtzman's sci-fi stories were often a bit more lighthearted, but a number of them were pretty good. Unfortunately this was not one of them.

"The Aliens" - This story features the first rocket ship to head into space. Our protagonists head towards the nearest planet, looking to see if there is intelligent life there. They initially land in the desert and find a cloud off in the distance which they follow, leading them to a group of the planet's inhabitants. It takes a while to converse with them due to the language difference. Suddenly the planet's inhabitants grow angry when the word "peace" is used and they attack. Multiple men are killed and both groups flee. The protagonists return to their rocket, but unbeknownst to them, the planet's inhabitants head to their own rocket ship, as they were visiting the planet as well. As the story ends, it turns out that both groups of people were from other planets, one from Venus and the other from Mars. Both, thinking they were talking with Earthlings plan to launch an attack on Earth. My favorite story of the issue, with an interesting twist ending.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Haunt of Fear #27

Cover dated September/October 1954
Cover by Graham Ingels

"About Face" - Art by Graham Ingels/Story by Carl Wessler
"Game Washed Out" - Art by George Evans/Sftory by Carl Wessler
"The Silent Treatment" - Art by Jack Kamen/Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
"Swamped - Art by Reed Crandall/Story by Jack Oleck

Today I'll be covering my first EC horror comic on this blog, one of the very last they ever published.

"About Face" - A husband, Jeff, and his wife, Amy, have twins, but Amy will only show him one of them, Penny, demanding he promise not to see the other one, Olga. Years go by and Amy keeps Olga's existence a secret from everyone, not even letting Jeff see her. Amy dies when the twins are 15 years old and Jeff pesters Penny enough that Olga leaves her room and meets him for the first time. Olga has a hideous deformed face and a dour, cruel personality as well. Jeff tries to be a good father to her and takes her out in public, but he denies Olga is his daughter when the neighbors are horrified at her appearance. This causes Olga to flip out and attack a young child. Jeff becomes convinced that Olga is evil and he and Penny will only be happy if he kills her. One night he barges into the twin's room and shoots Olga despite Penny's protests. As she falls to the ground, dead, Jeff realizes the truth, that Olga's face is on the back of Penny's head and that he's murdered her as well. This is a terrific story to start out the issue, with a great twist ending. Olga has one of the scariest appearances of any character to appear in an EC comic. The story does have some non-believable aspects (such as the fact that Penny had to keep the back of her head covered for her entire life, including all time in her father's presense) but the artwork and concept is strong enough to make you not really notice it. This story would be adapted in the final season of the Tales from the Crypt TV show and was probably the best episode of that very lackluster season. Carl Wessler, who wrote this story was the most prolific of several outside writers that joined EC in 1954. Wessler's original version of this story had Olga killed by police rather than her father, thankfully it was changed to the far superior ending in the published version.

"Game Washed Out" - In a Puritan community, a man named John Talbot carries on an affair with a woman named Becky. His wife Priscilla catches him and refuses to let him go so he murders her and weighs her body down in the nearby lake. He later goes to see Becky in broad daylight and is caught by her husband. As punishment, he is sentenced to three duckings in the lake on a stool.  Realizing its the same lake where he put his wife's corpse, he shouts out for them to stop, but his wife's corpse is able to grab ahold of him and cause him to drown. This is an alright story, but the underwater corpse ending is extremely similar to Tales from the Crypt #40's "Pearly to Dead" which was published earlier in the year and also was drawn by Evans. Warren Publishing's Vampirella magazine featured a story with a very similar ending that was probably inspired by this story in issue #28's "The Power and the Gory!".

"The Silent Treatment" - A king enjoys constant music and partying, but when it distracts him enough such that his daughter dies while trying to rescue her cat, he orders it all to cease. He then demands the entire kingdom go silent, starting with anything in the castle, but moving on to the village itself, including even menial tasks, then talking aloud, writing and even breathing. The townfolk, unable to take it anymore storm the castle and sew a metronome clock into his body that will make noise for hours unless he is absolutely still. The king stays as still as he can, but a spider crawls on him. Swiping it away, the metronome starts up again and the king, unable to take it, throws himself off a cliff. The final Grim Fairy Tale, a regular feature that appeared in the 3 horror comics (as well as a single appearance in Panic) that featured EC-style versions of classic fairy tales. This story was an original story rather than being based on something else. I consider it one of the weaker ones.

"Swamped" - This story is told from the perspective of a cabin build over the Okefenokee Swamp. The cabin was built by a ghoul, who specifically constructed it in quicksand. The ghoul frequently captures campers, hunters and other people in the swamp, eats them, then dumps their remains into the quicksand via a trapdoor in the cabin floor. Anyone who tries to go after him drowns in the quicksand. The cabin is disgusted by its creator's actions but can't do anything about it. Eventually, the enormous amount of corpses under the cabin are able to cause it to collapse, and the ghoul becomes just another corpse in the swamp. A very strong effort from Crandall, in one of his more gruesome stories. Jack Davis, who usually did the Crypt Keeper story in the Haunt of Fear is missing for the first time since issue 3. The story is pretty good too, with the unique perspective from which it is told.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Crime SuspenStories #8

Cover dated December 1951/January 1952
Cover by Johnny Craig

"Out of the Frying Pan..." - Art by Johnny Craig/Story by Johnny Craig
"A Trace of Murder!" - Art by Jack Kamen/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines
"The Escaped Maniac! - Art by George Roussos/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines
"Partnership Dissolved!" - Art by Graham Ingels/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines (hosted by the Old Witch)

"Out of the Frying Pan" - A man named Hank commits murder when he finds another man with his wife. The man he kills hits him in the head with a garbage can prior to getting shot, causing Hank to go temporarily blind. Hank is brought to a hospital until his blindness is cured, but is expected to go to trial and get the electric chair once he gets better. One of the fellow patients, an old man named Charlie is constantly telling the other patients of the goings on of the park that he can see from the window next to his bed. Hank, with his eyes slowly getting better knows he has to make a run for it soon and plans to steal the car of a man that Charlie says always parks across the street at 9:00. The night before he is set to be taken to jail, Hank jumps out of the window and tries to make a run for it, only to realize that Charlie was lying the whole time, and there was nothing but a brick wall outside the window. He is immediately captured and taken off to jail. The inspiration for this story was an anecdote from Bennett Cerf's book "Try and Stop Me!" I've never read the original anecdote but found another, superior telling in the book "More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark", a book that most horror fans who grew up in the 80s and 90s like I did have probably read. In that version an old man grows jealous of his roommate who is always talking about the things happening that he can see out the window. The protagonist ends up murdering his roommate by causing him to misplace his medicine, but when he is moved next to the window all he sees is a brick wall.

"A Trace of Murder!" - A man, Irving Fenwick, murders his wife Muriel by poisoning her with arsenic when she tells him she wants a divorce. He then kills himself. Across the other side of town another man, Felix Morley, plots to murder his older wife Emma such that he can be with his girlfriend Helen while still having Emma's money. Felix does research and discovers an untraceable way to poison Emma by mixing 2 ordinary, everyday items which he purchases. Felix successfully poisons Emma and gets away with it. After she's buried, a couple of local boys decide to have some fun and switch the gravestones of Muriel and Emma. Felix goes away on a trip with Helen and upon his return they get into an argument over money during which Felix reveals he poisoned Emma. Helen, afraid after he threatens to do the same to her, goes to the police. Felix is confident they won't trace the poison but the police dig up Muriel's grave due to the mixed gravestones. Upon being charged with murder Felix mistakenly blurts out that he used untraceable poison on Emma, confessing to the crime. This story shares some similarities to the other Kamen drawn story I've reviewed thus far and a great many more stories share similar themes. This story is ultimately a bit of a weak effort though, and the weakest story of the issue. Felix and Helen are described as husband and wife after very a short period of time, and Felix describes being set for life with Emma's money on one page then talks about running out of her money on the next after a single trip. That Felix was able to look up an untraceable way to poison someone at the library without much effort also came off as rather unbelievable.

"The Escaped Maniac!" - A man named Bert driving down the road in a rainstorm comes across a dishelved, unshaved hitchiker whom he lets in his car. Listening to the radio, they hear about an escaped maniac who broke out of a local mental hospital and is said to be hitchiking. The hitchhiker, Charlie, shows Bert his ID to prove he's not the maniac, although the radio later says that the maniac killed someone and stole their clothes and ID. Bert is further worried when Charlie turns off the radio in the middle of describing the maniac. Eventually they come across a farm house when the car dies and head inside. Bert, nervous that Charlie is going to kill him pulls out a knife and stabs him. Soon afterwards men from the mental hospital arrive and imprison Bert, as it ends up he was the maniac and Charlie was just some innocent hitchiker. The mysterious hitchhiker, a common horror story trope made a rare appearance here; infact this and "The Giggling Killer" from Crime SuspenStories #3 might have been the only hitchhiker stories EC ever did. Roussos did nearly 10 stories for EC during the new trend and along with Harry Harrison was the most prolific of those artists who never became EC regulars. His art is characterized by thick outlines and while a decent artist he was never really on the level of the EC regulars in my eyes.

"Partnership Dissolved!" - Herman Winkler, a meat wholesaler is approached by Dr. Paul Merrick, who shows him a solution made of papaya and a secret catalyst that partially digests meat. Due to the solution, they are able to buy cheap, tough meat and sell it as high grade meat, making a lot of money. Eventually Merrick is able to concentrate the solution and prepares a three month supply of the solution. Winkler, desiring to get Merrick's share of the profits, convinces him to go on vacation then locks him in a refridgerator the night he is to leave, causing him to freeze to death. Winkler then uses the solution on Merrick, dissolving his body. He tries to get the solution analyzed to find out the secret catalyst, with no luck. One day Winkler slips on his rug, which Merrick had slipped on before and told him to move, to no avail. Winkler's secretary gives him a glass of the solution, mistakening it for water, and Winkler's body dissolves into a putrid mess. For issues 3 through 16 of Crime SuspenStories, the Old Witch appeared with a horror story to end the issue. Its appearance was probably to help sales, since the horror comics were EC's best sellers, although the feature was eventually removed. Typically these stories would be less supernatural in vein than those appearing in the 3 regular horror comics, despite Graham Ingels, EC's best artist at gothic horror often being used.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Two-Fisted Tales #19

Cover dated January/February 1951
Cover by Harvey Kurtzman

"War Story!" - Art by John Severin & Bill Elder/Story by John Severin & Harvey Kurtzman
"Jivaro Death!" - Art by Harvey Kurtzman/Story by Harvey Kurtzman
"Flight from Danger" - Art by Johnny Craig/Story by Johnny Craig
"Brutal Capt. Bull!" - Art by Wally Wood/Story by Harvey Kurtzman

Today I'll be covering my first issue of EC's war comics. I was never as much a fan of the Kurtzman edited comics as I was the Feldstein ones, but Kurtzman's war comics were nonetheless fairly strong throughout. This is one of the earliest issues and the first where Kurtzman's hand in editing becomes apparant.

"War Story" - A sergeant tells a young fellow soldier about a company he was a part of in Japan during World War II. The company had a pair of twins in it, Dave, who loved to play his harmonica and kid around, and Duke, a mean guy obsessed with killing. Heading through the jungle they come across a Japanese battalion that they take out. Duke shoots a Japanese soldier shooting a white flag, then tries to kill the wounded Japanese commander but is stopped by the fellow soldiers. The wounded Japanese commander is brought to a hospital tent where he is given a blood transfusion. Duke becomes obsessed with killing him. Later, when Duke is away, his brother is wounded in an air raid and a stray bullet kills the wounded Japanese commander. Dave is put in the hospital tent where he was held. Duke sneaks in later that night, and thinking it is still the Japanese commander, stabs him with his knife. He is shocked to find his twin brother's harmonica seconds later. This story was the first in a long series of team ups with John Severin (pencils) and Bill Elder (inks) which appeared primarily in EC's war comics, but also had a few appearances in the sci-fi comics as well. The two were a good combination. After a more adventure-themed first issue, this second issue of Two-Fisted Tales starts off with the first true war story of the franchise and is a good one. Kurtzman shows right off the bat that Two-Fisted Tales would be different than the usual war comic. This story was originally intended to be the final story of the issue, but was moved up to the front, one of the few instances where EC went against its typical 8/7/6/7 page story format.

"Jivaro Death" - On a boat in the Amazon, a man named Slick and his assistant Garcia kill a diamond messenger and his bodyguard, then pretend to be them and acquire a half a million dollars in diamonds. Slick and Garcia head to a restaurant to meet Slick's colleague Smitty, who stabs and murders Garcia when he arrives. Slick and Smitty decide that to avoid the cops they'll head up the Amazon on their own boat, through Jivaro country, who are known for shrinking heads. Slick and Smitty are caught by the Jivaros and Smitty is tortured for hours before his death. The Jivaros come for Slick, who tells the Jivaros that he has magic powers that makes his flesh as strong as steel. As a result, he tricks the Jivaros into cutting his head off immediately rather than torturing him. This story was inspired by an anecdote that appeared in Bennet Cerf's book Try and Stop Me. This book was a source for a number of stories written by EC over the years, in particular those done by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines. Jack London's story "Lost Face" was also an inspiration for the ending.

"Flight from Danger" - An elderly professor near Berlin, Professor Franck, and his daughter Lisa are under pursuit by German soldiers. Franck has knowledge about how to create a hydrogen bomb and is hoping to escape and give the information to America. The two are helped by Captain Jim Turner from the U.S. has arrived to rescue them. While under pursuit, Professor Franck is shot and dies of his injuries. Another ally, Herman Gault arrives to assist, and with his help, Jim and Lisa are able to escape. Due to working as her father's assistant, Lisa also knows about how to develop a hydrogen bomb so as to help America. This rather basic adventure story is the weakest of the issue, a rarity for Craig, who usually turned out very strong material.

"Brutal Capt. Bull!" - This story, which takes place during the 1700s, features a British man named Jeremiah Pringle who is brought aboard the ship H.M.S. Confidence against his will to be a crewmember. The ship is captained by the Captain Bull of the title, who beats Pringle and has him whipped when he demands to see him. Pringle swears that Captain Bull will regret this someday. As the months pass, Pringle becomes a strong crewmember. One day when a cannon rolls around the ship unsecured, Pringle is able to grab it and save Captain Bull. A couple of years pass and Pringle is discharged. Knowing that he is no longer bound to follow Captain Bull's rules, he goes to see him and beats him up. EC's revenge-style stories would often end with murder or some other gruesome fate, but in this case its just Captain Bull getting beat up by Pringle. An overall good story that would have fit at home in Piracy years later.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Weird Fantasy #13 (1952)

Cover dated May/June 1952
Cover by Al Feldstein

"The End" - Art by Wally Wood/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines
"The Trip!" - Art by Jack Kamen/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines
"Home to Stay!" - Art by Wally Wood/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines
"Don't Count Your Chickens..." - Art by Joe Orlando/Story by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines

Our first entry covers my personal favorite issue of Weird Fantasy, which is also one of the more historically significant single issues that the company produced.

"The End" - The story begins with a massive comet approaching Earth but it miraculously burns up shortly before reaching the point of return. While humanity is saved, it is soon discovered that all mammals on Earth have become sterile due to the radiation from the comet. The second half of the story focuses in particular on Adam Akly, the last man ever born. As Adam grows older he focuses on trying to save humanity by creating a massive time machine which he plans to use to bring people from the past so as to repopulate the Earth in the present. The massive time machine is constructed in Grand Central Station due to its population density and placed in a location where it can draw people from the past and transport them directly to the future. A problem soon arises as only men are being transported from the past. Switching the years from which it draws them makes no difference, so Adam makes a last ditch attempt to solve things by going back in time himself to discover whats going on. Once he arrives he realizes that he's made a major mistake; the time machine's been placed in the men's bathroom. This story's origins can be traced to Miriam de al Ford's "The Last Generation" which inspired the sterilization part of the storyline and Damon Knight's "Not With a Bang", which inspired the ending. A very strong story to start off the issue.

"The Trip" - A scientist, Lon, falls in love with his beautiful assistant Edith. Since his wife won't give him a divorce, he plans to run away to a space colony with Edith. Lon is given the
opportunity to head to one of the space colonies to try out a quick-freeze system that he has developed that can instantly freeze animals for transport, and permit for their immediate thawing later on.  Because Edith is forbidden from heading to the colony with him, Lon has her quick frozen then stores her away in the ship. After his arrival Lon sets up his quick-thaw equipment and plans to thaw her that night while everyone is asleep. While carrying her to the quick-thaw equipment however, he trips over a loose wire and drops her, resulting in her body smashing into a million pieces. While this story contains many elements that appear in countless Jack Kamen stories, it's terrific ending makes up for it, making it one of the more memorable Jack Kamen science-fiction stories in my eyes.

"Home to Stay" - This story is about a rocket ship pilot, Dan Fawcett who repeatedly has to leave his wife and young son, Jimmy to head off to space, often several years at a time. Each time he
returns he strongly thinks about retiring so he can stay home with his family, but the urge to return to space overtakes him and he heads back time and time again, missing much of his son's
childhood. Dan finally promises that his latest trip into space will be his last. Returning to Earth however his ship explodes. While Dan is able to get into his spacesuit in time, he is caught in
Earth's gravity and starts burning up as he heads into the atmosphere. His wife and son spot him from the ground below, and thinking its a shooting star, Jimmy wishes upon it for his father to come home to stay. This story was an unauthorized adaption of 2 Ray Bradbury stories, "Rocket Man" from which much of the story comes from, and "Kaleidoscope" which inspired the ending". Upon reading the story, Bradbury sent a letter to EC pointing out that they had "forgotten" to pay him royalties for the 2 stories and asking if they'd be interested in future collaborations. This resulted in numerous future Bradbury adaptions which appeared in particular in the science-fiction comics. Incidently enough EC had swiped multiple stories from Bradbury before (Haunt of Fear #6's "A Strange Undertaking, which was based on "The Handler", and Vault of Horror #22's "What the Dog Dragged In", which was based on "The Emissary" are just a couple of examples), and also drew inspiration from his story "The Earth Men" in the next issue's story titled "Mad Journey". Bill Gaines claimed in a panel at the 1972 EC Convention that Bradbury thought "Home to Stay" ended up better than original stories and I would consider it one of the best stories that EC published.

"Don't Count Your Chickens..." - A young boy finds many eggs on Easter and his favorite is a bizarrely colored egg which his parents don't recall painting. That night, the boy hears the egg calling out to him, and the he follows the egg's directions to bring it to a cave. When he returns the next day, he finds that the egg has hatched, revealing a strange, but small alien creature. The creature used a sort of mind-control on the boy, convincing him to find it meat to eat. This starts with the boy removing food from his plate at dinner but graduates to much larger sources as the creature grows. Eventually, fearing for his health, the boy's parents send him away to summer camp. The creature, now quite large, makes it way out of the cave and starts attacking cows and various other animals to satisfy its hunger. Eventually the military is able to destroy it by burning it with flame throwers. The next Easter however, numerous boys and girls find very similar looking eggs while going on their Easter egg hunt in the areas that the creature had traveled through. Joe Orlando was usually drawn upon to do stories with bizarre looking aliens and this story featured one of the strangest looking ones an EC comic ever had.

The letter column for this issue contains a letter from Arline Grandon Phelan which heavily criticized the content of EC's comics and was discussed in the letter columns for multiple issues afterwards. Bill Gaines would later reveal in an interview that the letter was fake.

Monday, February 4, 2013


EC comics hardly need much of an introduction; they were the top horror and sci-fi comics of the early 1950s and have inspired not only numerous other comics but many television and movie creators as well. Despite how well known they are, I've always found coverage of EC comics on the internet a bit lacking and so am launching this blog.

My goal with this blog is to eventually cover all EC new trend, new direction and picto-fiction issues. By my count that includes a grand total of 310 issues, enough material to last me quite a while. This will not be in chronological order; I'll be trying to mix timeframes as well as genre to have a nice variety throughout. The sole exception will be those comics that must be read in chronological order, which I believe to be just Extra and Psychoanalysis. The pre trend comics I was never that into (and own copies of very few issues) so in all odds those issues will not be covered here unless I change my mind later on. Each posting should include summaries and reviews of each story in the issue as well as credits and historical data where possible.

While issue-by-issue coverage will be the meat of this blog, I also hope to post special articles from time to time covering areas such as EC's various writers, artists and other creators, as well as various other subjects as well.

Please also feel free to check my similar blog for Warren Publishing, which covered the vast majority of their published horror and sci-fi magazines!