Monday, March 19, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 53

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
  53: November 1954 Part II

Shock SuspenStories #17

"4-Sided Triangle" ★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Kamen

"In Character" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall

"The Assassin" 
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by George Evans

"The Operation" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

Old Farmer Abner has taken a shine to how well his “half-witted” housekeeper Annie has developed into a young woman, but Abner’s crotchety wife Hester always pops in at the most inopportune moments to dampen his flames of passion. Besides, as Annie explains to both of them, she has a boyfriend that she sees on the regular, which burns Abner up in whole 'nother way. But he soon discovers upon following Annie out of the house on one of her nocturnal trysts that her “boyfriend” is none other than the scarecrow overlooking the wheat fields. Reasoning with Annie does nothing to break her from her fixation; she tells Abner that she is convinced the straw-man is alive and will one fateful day prove his love to her. With libido raging like a mighty river, Abner decides to take matters (and more besides) into his own hands when he hunts Annie down again in the fields one night. Back at the farm Hester smells adultery and storms out with pitchfork in hand. She finds Annie lying next to her boyfriend, spent from a glorious moment of passion. Just to prove to the girl her romance is an illusion, Hester takes the pitchfork to the straw-man, unknowingly impaling her husband in disguise.

A "hot and heavy" kiss as depicted
by Jack Kamen.
("4-Sided Triangle")
There’s no question that following the Congressional hearings that Bill Gaines attended in 1954 that his publishing house essentially adopted a “screw it, we’re sunk anyway” attitude toward the New Trend content that remained for that year. Over the last few issues we’ve reviewed we’ve not only seen gradually escalating levels of rampant cartoon violence (not enough for the poor sap in “Forever Ambergris” to devolve into a rotting mess, but he’s gotta get sliced in half to boot) but a surprising frankness towards sexuality. As Peter so aptly highlights below, Carl Wessler took the Puritan-by-comparison “spent” metaphors that Al Feldstein had previously used mainly in the SF yarns and turned them up to 11 with “4-Sided Triangle.” The entire emotional thrust (sorry) of the story is Abner’s unchecked lust for his nubile victim, and were it not for Jack Kamen’s starchy illustrations, this story could very well have delved into pornography under the lascivious pen of a more adventurous artist. Coital relations aside, “4-Sided Triangle” is easily one of Wessler’s best scripts and is made such by the perversity at the heart of its central conceit. We all know what generous lovers scarecrows can be.

Horror actor Bela Kardiff is being given an honorary dinner and award for his years of thespian service in Hollywood with all of his favorite people in attendance. There’s his agent Don, who wrangled Bela into his career-defining role as Frankenstein’s monster; Lawrence, the president of the film studio who told Bela to check his actorly ambitions at the door; Marcel, the makeup artist who designed a suitably horrible visage for Bela; George, the PR man who schemed to make the monster the star of the picture; and finally Sidney, the studio’s treasurer who watched all the money from the movie pour in. They’re all very “good friends” of Bela; Bela the horror star who was eventually left penniless and begging for jobs and being scolded by mothers of frightened children. So tonight at this dinner Bela has decided to prove to the gang that despite his initial reservations, he’s warmed up to the idea of being the great horror villain everyone seems to think he is. You see, Bela has poisoned everyone’s glasses of celebratory champagne.

Jack and Peter assess Jose after
his first 4 months of fatherhood.
("In Character")
If it weren’t for the occasional and passably cute wink to the career of cinematic terror-king Boris Karloff (including a nod to his role as “editor” of some literary horror anthologies), “In Character” would be a complete waste of time. As it stands, it uses the biographical details of Karloff’s life—aside from the plague of being typecast as a monster, there really isn’t too much resemblance to the history of the character’s other namesake, Bela Lugosi—to tell a plodding story of revenge that you know precisely how it will end the minute Kardiff starts pouring the drinks. And I’m not sure what comic book Peter and Jack have been reading, but I don’t see “stunning” or “solid” work from Reed Crandall here by a long shot. Quit drinking that bubbly, fellas!

A rainy night, a loaded heater and a moving target exiting stage right from a ritzy hotel: “The Assassin” is on the hunt! The hired killer tracks his prey through the streets with the patience and perseverance of an old pro, but eventually the wary would-be victim gets the hint and tries giving his pursuer the slip through darkened alleys and bustling subway trains. But still the assassin follows on, even taking to the rooftops to snub out his prey with one well-aimed shot from his gun. Finally, the killer corners his target in a shadowy hovel and plugs him good. Suddenly, lights flash on and screams ring throughout the room. Turns out the assassin has performed the dirty deed onstage in front of 500 shocked theatre-goers.

I do *not* remember this number from Cats.
("The Assassin")
Plot-wise, there’s not much to encapsulate with “The Assassin,” which is fine with me because stories of its type are too rare here in the annals of ECdom. A real-time tale of a cat-and-mouse chase through gritty urban streets to a satisfyingly earned twist ending offers a kind of streamlined, no-frills approach to storytelling that we don’t see here too often what with subplots concerning So-and-So sleeping with XYZ Lover and plotting the murder of their spouse/neighbor/house pet, etc. Evans, as always, gets his noir groove on and frames a number of lovely panels, especially ones that show the assassin’s gloved hand looming in the foreground with his heater at the ready. Ka-pow!

“No honor among thieves” couldn’t be closer to the truth than in relation to the criminal ring made up of diamond mules Allie and Bimmy and their main man Doc Slater. The doc has concocted a particularly ingenious way of sneaking the precious gems past the customs offices that is full-proof: simply perform surgery on the mule and sew the goods inside them like a human purse. (“Rocks in His Head”, anyone?) Their scheme has gone beautifully for several thefts without a hitch, and when Doc Slater gets a lead on some wondrous 92-carat stones being housed at a local shop, Allie and Bimmy do their blasting stuff and snatch them up. To make things “fair” and ensure that the mule chosen to house the goods doesn’t split town, Doc puts both of his henchman under anesthesia and secretly operates on only one of them. But suspicion and greed gets the better of the two goons and they decide to settle their differences with a gentlemanly KNIFE MASSACRE. Doc Slater is a bit miffed at the carpet in his apartment getting so tarnished, but otherwise he’s happy as a clam since he in fact hid the jewels inside *himself* and had orchestrated his partners into cutting themselves out of the deal from the start. Too bad for Slater all the diamonds were phonies, and the residual paste from which they were made poisons the doc and kills him.

My upholstery! *Choke*
("The Operation")

I can’t remember which of my blogging compadres said it (that’s old age for ya), but at one point one of those geniuses made the assertion that bad art in a comic book could sink even the best script. I now submit Exhibit A: “The Operation,” very finely and wittily written by returning sensei Al Feldstein and nearly killed dead in the water by the leaden pencils of Joe Orlando. Orlando’s devolution from one of the company’s most exciting and interesting new artists to Rudy Palais on a bad day is utterly mystifying. What happened? Was Orlando gradually becoming less enthused over his work for EC due to the increasing social backlash the publisher was receiving in the wake of the Congressional hearings? Has what we’ve seen over the last few months been indicative of his desire to distance himself from Bill and Al’s New Trend? It’s been a while since I read my EC history books, but I vaguely recall some anecdotes regarding the shame Orlando’s family felt over his choice of employer. Or is this all just some hot air being expounded by an Internet know-nothing? I’ll leave all of that for the actual experts out there to hash out, but suffice to say “The Operation” could have easily been a much more remarkable story had it been drawn by the Joe Orlando that first showed up at the 225 Lafayette offices. --Jose

Peter: There's a sleaziness to "4-Sided Triangle" that won't be found in too many above-ground funny books; a middle finger to the Senate while the ship was sinking. The story itself is no great shakes--we've seen the horny older man lusting after the gorgeous and nubile young girl countless times just on this journey, never mind in all the other pre-code horror funny books--but it has enough moxie to it for me to classify this as one of the last greats of the New Trend years. It's not enough we witness feeble-minded Annie lusting for a scarecrow ("He can help me! He will! Someday! Someday . . .") but then we're voyeurs while the virgin gets her first taste of life's "little" pleasures (How long would this unwilling creature deprive her? How long this cruel neglect? How long? The answer came suddenly . . . startlingly . . . shockingly. No longer! Now! Now! This was her lover! How true her lover! How good her lover! The straw man . . . the stick and rag man . . . was hers at last!). Was there a more overtly sexual strip, even before the talons of the code? Of course, I've got problems with Jack Kamen's art, but Annie's so damn sexy it's hard to protest too much.

It's hard to see what Bela Kardiff is whining about so much; he's made lots of money off these monster flicks, but that's not enough? And, I get that he's bitter, but did he really have to dispatch the cinematographer, ferchrissakes? Seems a bit extreme. Even though the script may be a tad . . . oh, um, weak . . . at least we get some more stunning Reed Crandall work. "The Assassin" gives us a glimpse of what's to come when the New Trend exits stage left and the Picto-Fiction line begins. No dialogue save the requisite "Choke" and "Good Lord," and the prose is on the cliff looking into Purple Canyon, but the tale is an entertaining one and the twist is solid. Jack is on the money below when he mentions that this would be a good fit for Bernie Krigstein; it feels like a script tailored for BK. Finally, "The Operation" is filled with good and bad: the good being the very clever double-twist in its tail and the bad being the Sheldon Leonard-esque intelligent goon-speak that slows the pace down to a crawl and the really awful Orlando art. Joe was sticking out like a sore thumb among the class of Crandall, Ingels, and Krigstein by this time.

Jack: This is an outstanding comic! "4-Sided Triangle" is a very good story, but why assign it to Jack Kamen? Is he the only one who can draw sexy gals? The cover gives away the ending but it's satisfying nonetheless. I wonder what Johnny Craig would have done with this. I love the idea behind "In Character" but the ending is a letdown, despite solid work by Crandall. "The Assassin" features great noir narration and I love the fact that it's all captions and pictures and no dialogue. This would've been a good choice for Bernie Krigstein. Last of all is "The Operation," with Runyonesque dialogue and a clever but not great plot that ends with one twist too many. Shock SuspenStories was one of my favorite EC comics and, with one issue to go, it's still hitting the high notes.

Tales from the Crypt #44

"Forever Ambergris" 
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Davis

"Burial at Sea" 
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Reed Crandall

"The Proposal" ★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Sliceman Cometh" 
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Graham Ingels

"Forever Ambergris"
As Captain Matt Starke waits for his beautiful girlfriend Eileen to emerge from her room, where she's slipping into something comfortable, he thinks back on how they met and fell in love. Eileen was the wife of Starke's first mate, Ben Harper, but when she met Matt, sparks flew. Matt hatches a plan to get rid of Ben and, at the end of a long voyage through the islands of East Asia, Matt sends Ben alone on an errand to one particular island. Ben comes back aboard ship and soon shows signs of having contracted Bubonic plague. He is isolated in his cabin and at the same time a large sperm whale begins to follow the ship, gulping down rotten meat and garbage thrown overboard by the crew.

Eventually, the plague takes Ben's life and he falls overboard, little more than a pile of rotten meat. The next day, the sperm whale vomits up a large amount of valuable ambergris. Starke has his crew collect it and he sells it for a pretty penny when his ship reaches port. The perfume maker sends Starke a bottle of the rare scent made from the whale vomit. He gives Eileen the perfume to put on and, when she emerges from her room, he sees that she is now a rotting corpse, infected with the Bubonic plague. It seems the whale had swallowed Ben's corpse and the disease had passed through to the perfume.

This panel is hard not to like!
("Forever Ambergris")

Despite the overly convoluted plot, a hallmark of Carl Wessler's writing at EC, "Forever Ambergris" is an entertaining story, mainly for the rotting corpse depictions by Jack Davis. If Ben's corpse isn't bad enough--and it is cut in half by the ship's railing as he falls overboard--the final sight of Eileen as a rotting corpse in a tight red dress, her hair put back in a blonde ponytail, is really over the top. It's impressive that putting on plague-contaminated perfume could work its magic so quickly and that she would be so unaware of her condition and appearance as to stand in the doorway, hand on hip in a seductive pose!

"Burial at Sea"
Barney Hoag is enjoying his time as a solitary surf-fisherman in the Florida Keys until he is interrupted by a decrepit old man who tells him to get off his property. Barney, being a level-headed sort of chap, decides to burn down the old ship in which the man lives on the beach, but when he finds a gold coin in the sand, dollar signs dance in his eyes. He murders the old man, finds a treasure map, gets himself rigged up with a deep-sea diving outfit, and heads under the water, looking for the rest of the hoard of gold coins. Instead, he finds a large stone marker with his name and dates of birth and death carved on it; of course, the marker falls on him and pins him to the ocean floor, where he will remain.

If "Forever Ambergris" managed to hold together despite some convoluted plotting, "Burial at Sea" just falls apart. Barney's bizarre reaction to the old man is one thing, but the pre-fabricated grave marker underwater is quite another. Wessler tries to put forth a weak explanation by having the old man remark that he was prepared for Barney's visit, but this just seems loopy. Reed Crandall, usually so dependable, turns in seven pages of art that looks hurried in spots.

("The Proposal")
Pearl Drake is a gold-digger whose latest sugar daddy has left her, so she sets her sights on Howard Ellis, the wealthy, middle-aged bachelor across the hall. Pearl uses her feminine charms on poor Howard so well that soon he surprises her with "The Proposal," telling her "I want you for my wife." Flattered, Pearl heads back to Howard's apartment with him, where he introduces her to Esther, his vampire spouse, who gets right down to having dinner. See, "I want you for my wife" didn't mean he wanted to marry her . . .

The obligatory Kamen story this time out has the usual cheesecake benefits but is otherwise tiresome, though I'll admit I let out a guffaw when the punning meaning of Howard's statement became clear. That alone earned an extra half a star.

Good old Ghastly!
("The Sliceman Cometh")
It's 1793, and the Reign of Terror is in full swing in Paris. Andre Vache, the executioner, makes a deal with the treacherous Jean Courbeau to falsely accuse his brother Claude and execute him. The reward? A thousand gold Louis! Andre accuses Claude, Marat sentences him to death, and Andre lops Claude's head off at the guillotine. And that's when Andre's problems begin. That darn head just won't stay away! Andre tries to dispose of it here, there, and everywhere, but it keeps coming back. Finally, sick of the darn thing, Andre takes a cleaver and chops the head to bits. Bad timing! An hour later, Claude's headless corpse comes looking for his head and, finding it unavailable, he takes Andre's instead.

Ghastly gives it his all here, and the French Revolution setting is welcome, but Wessler once again drops the ball at the goal line. The head coming back over and over is funny but the shambling, headless corpse seeking its head and settling for that of Andre is nothing new.--Jack

Peter: There's not a whole lot to like here. "Forever Ambergris" is no classic, but at least it delivers enough sick twists to sate the appetite. The same cannot be said for the other three sub-par "terror-tales." "Burial" has a reveal that makes no sense whatsoever (how did the old man know Barney's name? Are we supposed to intuit that the codger broke into Barney's car and had a look at the registration, or is he a seer?) but some nice Crandall art. Ditto "The Proposal" (minus the nice art part). "Sliceman" sees the return of classic Ghastly art but bottoms out in the end with a twist we all saw coming. Perhaps the workload was getting to Carl Wessler.

MAD #17

"Bringing Back Father!" ★ 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Bill Elder and Bernie Krigstein

"What's My Shine!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Meet Miss Potgold" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Basil Wolverton

"Julius Caesar!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

Mr. Jiggie doesn’t have the life of Riley by a long stretch: his business is in upheaval, there’s some bratty orphan claiming he’s her Daddy Warbucks, and worst of all poor Jiggie can’t get out of the house for five seconds to attend a corned-beef and cabbage party at his pal Dinty’s place without his bully-shrew of a wife Maggs tearing into him with screams and blows alike. Just to show the reader how serious the damage his wife inflicts is, Jiggie occasionally switches the illustrations over from Bill Elder’s happy-go-lucky Sunday fare to the brutally honest and expressionistic veneer of Bernie Krigstein. His points regarding the sanitized depiction of violence in comics clearly made, Jiggie does what any self-respecting husband and father would do and hires a trio of cutthroat thugs from Krigstein’s side of the fence to victimize his family into cutting him a break.

("Bringing Back Father!")
“Bringing Back Father” isn’t your grandmother’s Kurtzman/Elder collaboration, as it literally introduces a third creative force into the fray that turns the whole dynamic on its head. Jack uses the word “jarring” below to describe the effect, and he isn’t wrong: the switching from Elder to Krigstein really takes you for a spin, especially after reading so many Elder parodies for so long that their goofy aesthetic has kind of seeped into you by now. Krigstein’s depiction of physical mutilation feels so out of place and shocking—think of the “hot and cold shower” effect of the Grand Guignol—that it leaves one almost kind of puzzled how to feel about the story in the end. It *is* funny to a point, but as Peter says the humor is so pitch dark in those moments that you kind of have to wonder about saying if the story was any good or not.

There’s a new game show premiering on the boob tube, and it goes by the name of “What’s My Shine!” Actually, it’s not really a game show at all but a thinly concealed (or not really concealed at all) send-up of the Congressional hearings complete with caricatures of Estes Kefauver and Joseph McCarthy. There’s a panelist named Lana Cheesecake, a kerfuffle made over a doctored picture depicting a “redskin” in action, and a commercial for some crap called “Pow.” Reading “What’s My Shine!” is akin to attending the dinner party of a married couple that decides to passive-aggressively work through their hang-ups right in the middle of appetizers: if only you could find some way to leave. Seeing EC by way of Harvey Kurtzman and Jack Davis taking their fight to the pages of their own parody book on the one hand seems like a reasonable reaction (that married couple really *does* need to talk about their problems), but on the other hand it seems like the wrong time and place to have that reaction (couldn’t the guys have just kept their response in the editorial?). In the end, “What’s My Shine!” is too butt-hurt to come across as genuinely funny.

It's topical!
("What's My Shine!")

Basil Wolverton comes swooping in to save the day (again) by lending the profiles of some of his indelibly hideous ladies to a vote-in contest to name the next spokesperson for Potgold, the dry-dry-DRY beer that gets you blitzed in record time. As much as I enjoy Wolverton’s overall aesthetic, the heavy reliance on his goofy drawings in "Meet Miss Potgold" feels like the cheap filler that this entry is, and I actually enjoyed the jokes written in the bookending “photo ads” even better than the fugly women. Is that Bill Gaines yukking it up in the background of those shots?

"Julius Caesar!"
Comic book parodies (or are they parody comic books?) are so rampant these days that in the short amount of time they’ve existed they have already accumulated a silo’s worth of repetitive tropes and clichés that invariably pop up in every strip. “Julius Caesar” seeks to educate us on the various tools of the trade, including never-ending streams of background fodder or “chicken fat”, anachronistic props and references, guest appearances by detectives and Hollywood cheesecake, and, of course, “DOMM DA DOM DOMM!” After laying waste to each other with tommy guns, army tanks, and finally atom bombs, the friends, Romans, and countrymen that make up the cast enter the tent of Brutus to find the lead conspirator uproariously laughing over an issue of MAD.

Capping off a resoundingly average issue, “Julius Caesar” pulls some funny moves and enters a whole ‘nother level of metatextuality by parodying itself and all its half-bred imitators by pointing out the things that made this publication funny in the first place. The effect is not so very different from reading “Bringing Back Father”: the things that are being said are funny, but the manner in which they’re being said requires a deeper level of thinking than what one might be accustomed to. One thing is for certain though: no one can claim that this publication isn’t 100% full-proof NUTS. --Jose

Melvin Enfantino: Though parodies like "Starchie" highlighted the lack of reality in comic strips, "Bringing Back Father" may be the first of its kind to literally pummel its reader over the head with the fact. Could "Father" be the birth of black humor in funny books? Elder's picture-perfect send-up of George McManus's simplistic art gives way to the brutally-beaten Jiggie and overbearing shrew, Maggs, by the brilliant Bernie Krigstein. If we weren't so startled by the domestic violence, we'd be in tears larfing at Jiggie's perplexed one-liners (after Maggs's dog is killed by a flying plate, Jiggie allows how "in this serious atmosphere, that dog died from being too skinny!"). While "What's My Shine!" and "Meet Miss Potgold" did nothing for me (the former is yet another dig at the witch hunt and the latter is just more of Basil Wolverton's goofy people profiles), "Julius Caesar!" is another winner. Harvey finally focuses the parody microscope on himself and the MAD rip-offs and does a brilliant job pointing out the standbys (bandages and toilet plungers!) and the essentials (Marilyn!) before winding it all up with a hilarious non-ending. Reading the damned thing upside down, though, was a literal pain in the neck. What I won't do for this blog.

Jack:  Another issue of Mad  that didn't make me laugh. Not even a little bit. The switching back and forth between Elder and Krigstein in "Bringing Back Father!" is jarring and the Krigstein pages are painful. What could be more dated than a spoof of the Senate hearings? Lana Cheesecake is the one and only highlight of "What's My Shine!" I love Basil Wolverton, so "Meet Miss Potgold" is welcome, despite the lack of a narrative. "Julius Caesar!" is pretty good in its investigation of lampoon cliches and Wood's art is, as always, spot on, but the whole issue is not much fun to read.

Our kind of party!
("Meet Miss Potgold")

Next Week!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Francis and Marian Cockrell Part Fifteen: Relative Value [4.21]

by Jack Seabrook

Having written bad checks to support his bad habits, John Mansbridge arrives by train at Gorse Hill intent on murdering his cousin Felix and thus preventing his forgeries from coming to light. John establishes an alibi by making sure he is seen by a ticket collector and a policeman before taking a bicycle that he had previously hidden in a shed and riding to his cousin's home. He was seen setting out on foot for the 45-minute trip, so his speedy cycling allows him to arrive before anyone would think he could. On arrival, John lets himself in the front door with a pilfered key, creeps up behind Felix, who is dozing in an armchair, and bashes in his skull with an Indian club.

After arranging the room to make it look like his cousin was killed during a robbery, John finds the bad check he was seeking in the pocket of his brother's jacket, ignoring a letter folded around it. He then goes outside and pretends to have just arrived, making a fuss when no one answers the door. A passing constable shows up right on time, enters the house, and finds Felix dead. He also finds a note in which Felix confesses to having committed suicide by taking poison. John is stunned, so the constable gives him a drink to calm his nerves.

Torin Thatcher as Felix
The police superintendent, sergeant, and constable later piece together what must have happened, realizing that John intended to murder his cousin without realizing he was already dead. They cannot figure out how John got to the house so quickly and they will never know, since the drink the constable gave John to calm his nerves was the same poisoned liquid that Felix had imbibed and John died almost instantly.

"Superfluous Murder," by Milward Kennedy, is the type of story that depends on giving the reader all of the clues while leaving out important details. In the first paragraph, we are told that John intends to murder his cousin. His carefully planned alibi seems to work and the murder is described in such a way as to avoid the suggestion that the victim is anything but asleep. When the constable finds the suicide note, John is shocked and takes the offered drink without comment. The scene then jumps to a discussion among three policeman about how the murder was accomplished. The author omits the fact of John's sudden death until the final paragraphs and it comes as a second surprise to the reader.

Tom Conway as the superintendent of police
I have been unable to pinpoint a date or place for the original publication of this story, but it was included in G.K. Chesterton's 1935 collection, A Century of Detective Stories, and the first publication I could find for any work by Kennedy dates to 1928, so it is reasonable to assume that this story was originally published between 1928 and 1935. The title may refer to cousin Felix's self-murder by suicide, which turns out to be superfluous because he would have been murdered anyway by John, or to John's supposed murder of Felix, who was already dead. The act of murder is also superfluous because Felix left a letter to say that he was killing himself and leaving his money to John. Consequently, the entire process that John goes through is superfluous.

Francis Cockrell was assigned to adapt Kennedy's short story for Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1959, and he changed the title to another one with more than one meaning: "Relative Value." John and Felix are, of course, relatives, and Felix's value to John lies in the money he can provide, either dead or alive. John's seeming murder of Felix is also of relative value, since it turns out to have been superfluous. Kennedy's story is so tightly plotted that its essence survives what is a somewhat sloppy script by Cockrell, at least judging from what appears on screen.

Frederic Worlock as Betts, the butler
The show opens with a close up of a check dated June 5, 1930, thus telling us that the story takes place almost three decades before it was aired on CBS on Sunday, March 1, 1959. We then see a scene that was only described as having happened in the past in the story, as John visits Felix and is chastised for forging a check and then having the temerity to request more money. This initial scene follows the pattern established by Cockrell in many other shows of taking events from a story and rearranging them to present them in chronological order.

Unfortunately, to the careful viewer, the time sequence in "Relative Value" refuses to make sense. In the initial scene, Betts, Felix's butler, tells John that he is going on vacation on Thursday and that a woman from the village named Mrs. Simpson will "come in by the day" to look after Felix. We can assume that this scene takes place some time between Friday and Tuesday; Betts would not say he was leaving on Thursday if the scene occurred prior to the preceding Friday; he would say "next Thursday" or give a specific date. If the conversation occurred on Wednesday, he would say he was leaving "tomorrow." The forged check seen in the first shot is dated June 5, 1930, a Thursday, so it must have been written at least a day before the scene takes place, and probably more than that.

Walter Burke as Benny, the bookie
Things begin to get confusing when John leaves Felix's home. He goes outside and examines a nearby pond, then sees the constable bicycle by on the road and checks the time on his watch. Readers of the story know what is going on, but viewers of the show are left to wonder what John is up to. The next scene takes place in daylight, which suggests that time must have passed since the last scene. In an incident added by Cockrell, John stops in a shop to see Benny, a bookie. John asks Benny if he will know if a check John gave him was fraudulent by "Thursday" and Benny replies that he'll know "tomorrow," which strongly suggests that tomorrow is not Thursday.

Even worse, after Felix has been murdered, Cockrell has the policemen interviewing Mrs. Simpson in Felix's living room. Now, if Betts the butler was not leaving till Thursday, and Simpson was going to come in "by the day," the earliest she would have come would be Thursday, and she says that this was her first day there. The times just don't add up. Cockrell should have either added some title cards to clarify the timing of events or added a few lines of dialogue to explain matters. As it plays on screen it looks like John leaves Felix's house, goes to the village, and then returns to Felix's house that same night, but this is clearly impossible and not Cockrell's intention. Instead, we are meant to understand that there is a break in time between the night when John leaves Felix's house and the afternoon when he arrives back in the village.

There are still other problems. After visiting Benny the bookie, John goes to a village pub, where last call is announced; this is usually 11 p.m. John then runs down the road and into the woods, where he finds a bicycle. In Kennedy's story, it is explained that John had hidden the bicycle in a shed previously so that it would be available for him on the night of the murder. In the TV show, it looks like he just happens to run into the woods and find a handy bike lying on the ground. Where did it come from? This is never explained. In the short story, a month passes between John's visit to Felix and his return to commit murder. In the show, the viewer is left confused.

Denholm Elliot as John Mansbridge
At Felix's house, John stands outside his cousin's window and hears a program on the radio (or perhaps a disc on a phonograph) in which a man explains life insurance--a nice touch, considering what is about to happen. In the short story, Kennedy has the superintendent explain that Felix bought a policy that was not invalidated by suicide; this detail is missing from the teleplay and one is left wondering why Felix would think that he could leave his life insurance benefits to John and then kill himself. John hits Felix with a fireplace poker, not an Indian club, and one is reminded of how many fireplace pokers have been used on television to commit homicide. John finds his second bad check in Felix's pocket and we see that it is dated June 5, 1930, just like the check in the show's first scene. Why did John write two bad checks--one for 50 pounds and another for 100 pounds--both on the same day, and why did one make its way to Felix long before the other? Who knows?

Most frustrating of all, perhaps, is what happens when the constable gives Felix's suicide note to John. John begins to read it aloud, there is a cut to the actual note, and then the screen begins to blur and there is a fade to black. We do not see the constable give John the poisoned drink! The shot then fades back in on the three policemen discussing the murder, and it is not until the show's final lines that we learn that John drank poison. This seems like an inexcusable failure to show an extremely important incident. In the last scene, the police refer to John being in the next room and comment that they will leave him there; we assume he is sitting in a chair, recovering. The last shot has the police go into the next room, where Felix and John's bodies are laid out side by side on the floor, so we get a visual representation of the fact that both are dead. The constable admits to having given John a poisoned glass of whisky and there is a fade out.

The final surprise!
"Superfluous Murder" is such a strong story that it manages to survive the clumsy adaptation for television under the title "Relative Value," despite the confusion as to timing, the mysteriously convenient bike in the woods, and the failure to show the key drink being administered. Some credit for this likely goes to the director, Paul Almond (1931-2015), a Canadian filmmaker and novelist who worked on TV and in film from 1955 to 1992. He directed "Seven-Up!," the first in the long-running series of features that have tracked a group of children every seven years as they grow up. In addition to "Relative Value," he directed one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. His shot choices and handling of the cast make "Relative Value" an enjoyable half-hour, despite its internal inconsistencies.

Starring as John Mansbridge, who passes bad checks to support a gambling habit, kills a corpse, and accidentally drinks poisoned whiskey, is Denholm Elliot (1922-1992), a British character actor who was a gunner in the RAF during WWII. His plane was shot down in 1942 and he sat out the rest of the war in a POW camp. After the war, he had a long career on screen, from 1947 until his death. He appeared in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Crocodile Case." His career peaked in the early 1980s, with notable roles in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Trading Places (1983), and A Room With a View (1985).

A.E. Gould-Porter as Tom, the bartender
Receiving second billing for a brief appearance is Torin Thatcher (1905-1981), who plays Felix Mansbridge. A British actor born in India, Thatcher was on screen from 1927 to 1976 and took a break to serve in the Royal Artillery in WWII. Among the many classic films in which he appeared were Great Expectations (1946) and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958). He was on the Hitchcock show three times, including "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole," and he also was seen on Thriller, Star Trek, and Night Gallery.

Tom Conway (1904-1967) plays the police inspector who figures out what really happened. Born Thomas Sanders in Russia, Conway's family fled to England at the time of the 1917 revolution. He was on screen from 1940 to 1964 and is best remembered as the star of the Falcon series of films in the 1940s. He was also in Cat People (1940). Conway appeared in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Glass Eye."

In smaller roles:

*Frederic Worlock (1886-1973) as Betts, the butler; he was on screen from 1914 to 1970 and appeared on the Hitchcock show four times, most recently in Francis Cockrell's "The Impromptu Murder."

*Walter Burke (1908-1984) as Benny, the bookie; born in Brooklyn, his face is familiar from countless TV roles between 1950 and 1980 but this was his only time on the Hitchcock show.

Mollie Glessing as Mrs. Simpson
*A.E. Gould-Porter (1905-1987) as Tom, the bartender; seen in numerous films and TV shows from 1942 to 1973, he was in ten episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "I Killed the Count."

*Mollie Glessing (1891-1971) as Mrs. Simpson, who came in "by the day" to look after Felix; this is one of her seven appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents; the last was "The Impromptu Murder."

Milward Kennedy (1894-1968), who wrote "Superfluous Murder," was born Milward Rodon Kennedy Burge and was a British novelist and short story writer active from 1928 to 1958. This appears to be the only time one of his works was adapted for the screen. In her introduction to Great Tales of Detection, Dorothy L. Sayers writes that, in this short story, Kennedy "uses the method first popularised by R. Austin Freeman of showing the method of the crime first and the method of detection after; adding a cynical twist in the modern manner." R. Austin Freeman claimed to have invented the "inverted detective story" in 1912; his most famous detective was Dr. Thorndyke. Those of us who remember the long-running TV series Columbo are quite familiar with the technique of showing how the murder was done first and how it is solved second.

"Superfluous Murder" is available in many collections of classic detective stores. "Relative Value" may be viewed online for free here or is available on DVD here. Read the Genre Snaps take on this episode here.

The FictionMags Index, 1 Mar. 2018,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
IMDb,, 1 Mar. 2018,
Kennedy, Milward. “Superfluous Murder.” Great Tales of Detection, edited by Dorothy L. Sayers, Dent, 1976, pp. 309–323.
“Relative Value.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 4, episode 21, CBS, 1 Mar. 1959.
Sayers, Dorothy L. “Introduction.” Great Tales of Detection, Dent, 1976, p. xiv.

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Mar. 2018,

In two weeks: Our series on the Cockrells wraps up with a look at "The Schartz-Metterklume Method," starring Hermione Gingold!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 125: April 1972

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Our Army at War 244

"Easy's First Tiger"
Story and Art by Russ Heath

"Wheel for a Fort!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #70, May 1958)

"The Pin-Up Tank!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #77, December 1958)

"The Silent Tin Can"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #104, September 1962)

"What Do They Know About War?"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Sgt. Rock is in North Africa in April 1943 when a new kind of Nazi tank comes along and easily blows up two Sherman tanks that were supporting Easy Co. Air support is called in and, in a battle between tanks and planes, one tank is destroyed and one plane is shot down. After Easy Co. takes a German prisoner from the destroyed tank, a soldier named Fred rushes the side of the next tank with a bazooka and manages to blow it to bits after being shot himself. The third and last Nazi tank rolls right over poor Fred, ignoring his attempt at surrender. Rock and his men hop on another Sherman tank that has just pulled up and follow the Nazi tank, but it disappears when they come to a river. Their Nazi prisoner reveals that it went under water and they see a snorkel sticking up above the surface to provide air for the men in the tank and keep its engine running. Rock dives in and covers the snorkel with his shirt but, before the men in the tank can suffocate, the men of Easy Co. dive under water and rescue them.

Not cool!

Russ Heath both writes and draws a fast-moving, exciting tale, one that reminds me a bit of comics of today in that it's much more pictorial than wordy. Not surprisingly, Heath tells the tale mostly in images, and fortunately the images are great.

A "Wheel for a Fort!" narrates its own story, as it finds itself attached to a large plane and involved in an air battle before getting stuck and barely managing to hold together for a landing. We do not like stories narrated by inanimate objects, and this one is no exception. We do like Mort Drucker's depictions of gritty soldiers, but there is nary a human to be found in these six pages. Fortunately, Mort can draw planes well, too.

"What Do They Know About War?"
Tank 219 is "The Pin-Up Tank!" because the infantry men love to see it blow things up. The tank's driver is jealous because he thinks he's playing second fiddle to a piece of machinery but, in the end, he discovers that the men have been cheering him and not the tank. At least the story before this one had Mort Drucker's art; this one is six pages of Andru and Esposito's pop-eyed, freckled soldiers and it's no pleasure to read.

When the U.S.S. Stevens is approached by a poor man with his family in a fishing boat, a rude sailor makes crude comments to a young woman on the small boat. The father of the family is grateful for any gifts from the big ship's crew to help his starving clan, and the young woman tells off the sailors with dignity. As the father paddles away, he wonders, "What Do They Know About War?"

This series may be uneven, and the art may not be the best, but it sure has the ring of truth and authenticity due to Glanzman's real-life experiences in WWII.

Peter: Wow! "Easy's First Tiger" is one of the best Rock stories we've read so far. I had always heard that the DC war comics of the early 1970s were of high quality but, so far, it's been hot and very cold. Crawling out from under the wreckage that was the strict confines of the Comics Code (which saw some easing in 1972), these war tales are actually displaying some of the horrible violence inherent in war. Though shown "off screen," Fred's execution by tank treads is pretty graphic stuff, punctuated by Rock's astonished "They--crushed him! They crushed Fred!" (as if even the Sarge is amazed the CC let that pass). There are healthy wallops of pathos, nasty Nazi violence, and Allied humanity to go along with the majesty of Russ Heath (who contributes what may be this year's best art). Nothing else in this issue comes close. From the lows of "Wheel for a Fort!" (which contains some stellar Drucker visuals to help you ignore what could be the nadir in talking-vehicle-parts hooks) to the lows of "The Pin-Up Tank!" (which doesn't even have decent art to distract from one of the most annoying and whiny protagonists in all of World War II). Still, it's all worth it for that stunning opening act.

Weird War Tales 4

"Ghost Ship of Two Wars"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #81, October 1960)

"Time Warp"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #123, November 1965 ["The Dinosaur Who Ate Torpedoes!"])

"The Unknown Sentinel"
Story Uncredited
Art by Mort Meskin
(Reprinted from House of Mystery #55, October 1956)

Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: I found this to be a particularly weak issue of WWT. Joe Kubert draws the five-page frame story, which ends with a soldier suddenly turning old for no discernible reason. And what's with all of these mysterious people wandering around wanting to tell stories? It happens every issue, without fail. The reprint from House of Mystery was kind of fun, what with the Valley Forge twist, but the Glanzman piece was just four impressionistic pages with no story. Had I bought this in 1972 I would have wanted my 25 cents back!

Peter: After three issues, Weird War Tales has not proven to be a must-buy. I'm sure DC loved the fact that they were soaking the kids for all their lawn-mowing money but, aside from that, why put the darn thing out? The only reprint "new" to us this issue (from House of Mystery!), about two freezing G.I.s contemplating desertion but saved by the ghost of a Valley Forge ghost, is entertaining enough but certainly not enough to justify the high cover price. So far, the only things that make me hold on to my near mint copies of Weird War Tales are the sharp covers by Kubert. Things better change quickly.

Our Fighting Forces 136

"Decoy for Death!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by John Severin and Joe Kubert

"The Game of War!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Thorne

"Call for a Tank!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #52, September 1957)

"The Camera Patrol"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #53, December 1956)

"Imperium Neptuni Regis"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Since Captain Storm appears to be dead, Ona, the plucky village gal, volunteers to take his place. She comes in handy during an enemy tank attack, improvising a bomb from a gas lantern, and she then leads the Losers back to her village, where the townsfolk are preparing to repel the coming invaders. Ona becomes a "Decoy for Death!" and skis to the nearby Nazi camp, where she sweet talks a guard into revealing the plans for the attack on her village later that night. Returning to meet up with the Losers, she provides intelligence that allows them to set a trap for the Nazi tanks and prevent the village from being attacked. To top it off, she returns to the Nazi camp and kills the commander with his own knife. She is right to tell the Losers that "I have proved myself worthy of taking Capt. Storm's place."

"Decoy for Death!"

I think this is about as good a story as we're going to get in the near future from the DC War team. Severin's art and storytelling are excellent and Kanigher's script avoids the pitfalls we've grown used to. A box on the cover asks if Captain Storm is really dead and, so far, it appears that this is the case. I like that this is a continued story and am looking forward to more.

An exercise between soldiers from the North and the South at West Point tests "The Game of War!" and ends with the Confederates defeated. When the real war breaks out not long after that, the same commanders soon find themselves facing off on the field of battle. This time, the southern commander uses a lesson he learned in the games to defeat the northern troops. He refuses to butcher them; however, the northern commander warns him that his side will eventually lose the war.

"The Game of War!"

A six-page short feature, this does not have much to recommend. Is this really the same Frank Thorne who hit it so big a few years later with Red Sonja? His art is rather scratchy.

"Call for a Tank!"
It's WWII again, and every time a sergeant puts in a "Call for a Tank!" he gets no response until he's already gone ahead and blown up the enemy himself. After this happens three separate times, he finally gives up.

Joe Kubert was drawing some muscular panels in 1957 and it's a good thing, too, because Kanigher's script is awful. Call for a tank is repeated about 745 times in eight pages. Enough already! We get the point.

Young fliers make fun of "The Camera Patrol" when an older soldier shows them film (stills?) taken in flight. He points out all of the problems but the young folks mock him and defend the brave fliers. Only at the end do we learn that the brave pilot whose actions were shown to the young men is none other than the man narrating the show.

"The Camera Patrol"

Russ Heath could also draw pretty well back in 1956, as this six-page reprint amply demonstrates. However, other than a fun ending that was easy to predict, there's not much going on that we haven't seen before.

When the U.S.S. Stevens crosses the equator, the crew follows tradition, dressing up in costume and engaging in wacky festivities.

William Golding's 1980 novel, Rite of Passage, has a key scene in which the main character finds himself in the midst of this celebration but wholly fails to understand it. It's a very good book and I recommend reading it and avoiding this four-pager by Sam Glanzman.

Peter: Despite the misleading cover and some typically silly nonsense (the Nazi soldier's loose-lips scene is a howler), this installment adds to my confidence that John Severin's arrival on scene has inspired Big Bob to avoid the moronic devices that torpedoed this series in its first few chapters and set it on a course to, at least, Average Island. If I have one complaint (and it's a minor one) it's that Severin's Johnny Cloud looks something like a Bolshevik now rather than the proud ace Irv Novick built him up to be. Otherwise, I'm digging John's graphics big time and. like Jack, I find the feel of a continued saga very refreshing. As for the rest of the issue, only one of the reprints shines, and that's largely due to Russ Heath's art. "The Camera Patrol" has a "twist" we can see coming straight from page two thanks to the incessant heckling by the audience but, oh, those graphics!

One of our favorite departments here at Star-Spangled DC War Stories is the circulation figures we come across each year, giving us a look at how the war titles were doing, sales-wise. Well, it's time to have a gander at how the four titles (Weird War was too young for figures) did in 1971 (1969 and 1970 figures immediately follow to give us an idea how funny book circulation was dropping in the early 70s--though the news is certainly good for OFF and SS):

                                                                 1971              1970              1969
G.I. Combat                                         167,841         178,363         186,264
Our Army at War                                161,881          171,510         180,137
Our Fighting Forces                           164,142          139,770         133,134
Star Spangled War Stories                145,869          136,204         149,104

Next Week in EC Issue 53:
There might just be a couple classic horror stories
left to squeeze out of the ol' gal!

Monday, March 5, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 52

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
 52: November 1954 Part I

The Vault of Horror #39

"Deadly Beloved!" ★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Johnny Craig

"Top Billing" ★★1 /2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Reed Crandall

"The Purge" ★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Bernard Krigstein

"All for Gnawt" ★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Graham Ingels

"Deadly Beloved!"
On assignment from Hearth and Home Magazine, writer Ed Leeds finds himself with an overheated radiator in the middle of a Louisiana swamp when he happens upon a dilapidated mansion, overgrown with ivy and muck. Interested, Ed makes his way into what he believes is a deserted estate, only to find that the interior has been burnt out from fire and a gorgeous dame named Eloise walks the hallways. Eloise explains that the house was gutted in a fire ten years before and that she was its only survivor. Ed finds himself enchanted by Eloise's beauty and fast falls under her spell. The pair wander through the house and Ed narrowly avoids tragedy at just about every turn, including accidentally firing a rifle off in the direction of his beautiful hostess. When the midnight hour approaches, Eloise explains how she wants Ed to be with her always and the reporter suddenly realizes the stunning blonde isn't exactly what she claims to be. Eloise didn't survive that fire and now she's lonely; she'd like Ed to join her in her ghostly perambulations but, of course, Ed has to die first. The suddenly un-lovestruck reporter runs screaming from the estate and drives out of town, only to return later that night, knowing he can never get Eloise out of his mind.

A whole load of good stuff.
("Deadly Beloved!")
Ninety per-cent of "Deadly Beloved!" is soap-opera drivel, awful purple prose filled with gobbledygook like I've the feeling I've known her all my life, yet I know we've never met except, perhaps, in some forgotten dream, but two aspects save it from collapse: Johnny Craig's ultra-cool, ultra-creepy, ultra-sexy visuals and that haunting final story panel where Ed faces his destiny (shoulders hunched with fatality). Craig certainly had a way with the women, as his splash of co-host Drusilla testifies, and his display of Leeds's nightmarish see-sawing between what's right and wrong is brilliant. So why would the editor of a swanky rag called Hearth and Home send a reporter out to the middle of a swamp?

Blye, Nash, and Winton, three unemployed Shakespearean actors, come across the Woltham theater backstage door one night and, suddenly, hope shines down on them. Entering the stage door, they find a motley crew performing Hamlet (and not doing a veddy good job at it) and having a bit of a kerfuffle on the side; someone keeps stealing the props and it's enraging the lead.

Sensing a production in need of an actor, Winton approaches the director and is immediately hired. Enraged, Blye heads up to his friend's dressing room and bashes his brains in with a sash weight. When he tells Nash that Blye has had a case of the jitters and headed back home, he's aghast that Nash has the audacity to volunteer his services to the stage director. Another trip to a dressing room and suddenly Blye is the last actor standing. And yet another prop goes missing. Retiring to his dressing room, Blye discovers the prop manager loping around, promising to open his goodie bag for the actor. When Blye has a look, he's shocked to see a sack full of human heads. Convinced he's seeing things, Blye heads for the window for some fresh air and the sign at the front of the building has him suddenly rethinking his career. The director and lead burst in to announce that Blye has been given the role of "poor Yorick . . ." Undeniably silly, yes, but entertaining as all heck. It's like one of those really long jokes that ends with a groan of a punchline (I mean, where in the world would you find an "Insane asylum for actors?") but you can't help smiling. The detail in some of Crandall's panels is mind-boggling (check out that splash above), a trait that the artist will become famous for in his work for Warren.

Krigstein's magnificent splash.
("The Purge")
Wrongly accused as a witch, beautiful maiden Alicia lies in the king's dungeon, waiting for execution, but a last-second stay from the king himself fills her with hope. His majesty has obviously taken a fancy to the wench's fine wares and, soon, the king admits that if Alicia can undergo "The Purge" and be cleansed of the devil, she will be his queen. To cleanse Alicia, the king commands his sorcerer, Keselrood, to use all powers at his command in seven days or the wizard will lose his head. After many arduous and painful rituals, Alicia is pronounced "cleansed" by Keselrood and taken to the king's quarters. Alicia looks around in amazement at the riches that will soon be hers but her joy is short-lived when the king reveals himself to be a werewolf. [Say what?] [Yep, a freakin' werewolf!] [Well, what the hell does that have to do with the first five and a half pages of story?] [Nothin'!]

Verily, we are presented with the grandest conundrum: a beautifully-illustrated, well-written five-page story with one page of painfully bad expository. "The Purge" is, in fact, wrapped up with what could very well be the stupidest twist ever concocted for an EC tale. I was half-expecting we'd get a reveal that mirrored that of "Witch Witch's Witch!" (from Vault #36), where the accused is actually a witch, but Carl, in a very Wessler-like way, defies expectations. No clues are dropped and the only reaction a reader can have is "WTF?" Why would this king spend so much time and energy on "cleansing" Alicia only to rip her to shreds? Couldn't he eat "Satan-ised" meat? It's like telling a joke with the wrong punchline and the sad part is that the deadly dumb denouement takes a bit of luster off the exquisite Krigstein visuals. Some historians have thrown mud at the theory that EC was so obviously higher in quality than any of the competitors but just one look at a BK-illustrated strip scotches those theories.

True, it's a shocker cuz we never saw it coming.
Doesn't make it a good shock!
("The Purge")

Millie Mumford's been through four husbands and only has three grand to show for it. Obviously, her plan of "wed and then dead" is not working, but she decides to give it one more try and answers a "lonely hearts" ad for an old man who owns a sprawling estate and just wants someone to share it with. When Millie arrives at the estate, she's more than a bit surprised to see a run-down shack sitting on an overgrown lot. Alvin Tuttle ushers Millie in to his "quaint" house and asks her to sit on his sofa so they can get to know each other. As she sits, she hears a sickening snap and crunch under the sofa and Alvin joyfully raises a dead rat caught in a trap, explaining that the place is overrun with the damn things and just needs a woman's touch. Disgusted, Millie storms out and heads for a local bar, where the bartender lets on that Alvin Tuttle is worth four hundred grand and he keeps it somewhere in the house. Swallowing her pride and envisioning a golden ticket in her future, Millie races back, makes amends, and agrees to marry Tuttle. Months later, despite scouring the house, Millie still has no clue where the bounty is located and decides violence is the only solution. She threatens to wring Tuttle's neck and the poor old man confesses that the money can be found in the basement behind a large rock in the wall. The portly princess races down the stairs, dislodges the stone and finds several metal cases. As she's hauling out her new-found wealth, a steel trap closes on her arms and she's stuck. Alvin descends the stairs and opens the metal cases, revealing the skeletons of his former wives, all greedy money-chasers just like Millie. As Alvin says his goodbyes, the rats move closer to a very large meal. Poor Ghastly, loaded down with lousy script after lousy script. He does his best to make "All For Gnawt" at least "lookable" (even if it's nowhere near readable) but the tired plot and nagging logic lapses (so, no one ever reported any of Alvin's wives missing?) sink this one fast.

Jack: Late-period, New Trend EC comics are starting to remind me of late-'60s, early '70s DC Horror comics in that the scripts are weak but the art is stellar. Hmm, what do both periods have in common? Carl Wessler! Craig's art is fine on "Deadly Beloved!" but I knew the gal was dead very early in the story. Likewise, Crandall draws beautifully in "Top Billing" but the punchline was obvious way before it was revealed. I can't say the same about "The Purge," which at least had an unexpected finale, even if it was out of left field. Krigstein's art is lovely to behold. Not so lovely is Ghastly's art on the last story, which also ends with a questionable conclusion that doesn't exactly make sense. This series is limping toward cancellation like a corpse shambling through a graveyard.

Crime SuspenStories #25

"Three for the Money" ★★
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Jack Kamen

"Dog Food" ★★★
Story by Jack Oleck (?)
Art by Reed Crandall

"Key Chain" ★★★
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"The Squealer" ★★
Story by Jack Oleck (?)
Art by George Evans

"Three for the Money"
Bank manager Joel Thatcher has been murdered . . . twice! Joel's wife, Nan, discovers his body in the study, a bullet hole in his forehead and a knife protruding from his back. The corpse has been slain by two different assailants! Just as the realization of this fact hits Nan, she witnesses two men escaping through the backyard and calls the police. The very-observant Constable Stebbins (who wears a natty sheriff's badge on his lapel) asks Mrs. Thatcher to come downtown the next day and answer a few questions. The grilling elicits the information that two men were competing for the attention of Nan: Joel's colleague, bank clerk Henry Dickson, who's been taking the lovely Nan out for lunch and a little hand-holding (but all innocent enough, contends the widow), and George Bakersfield, caretaker of the Thatcher summer lodge (and ace knife-thrower), who's professed his love for the young beauty and sworn he'll give her what she wants. Very quickly, the incredible Constable Stebbins breaks down the two men and has them ratting each other out. The only chore left is for the coroner, who must determine which weapon committed the crime and which was merely the "dessert." When both men commit suicide in their cells, the state is saved the money of a trial and Stebbins explains to Nan that no autopsy is necessary, which sends shivers of joy up the widow's spine since the real murderer is Nan Thatcher, who poisoned her husband shortly before her beaus added ornaments.

Oh, for the glorious 1950s, when autopsies weren't the necessary unpleasantry they are today. The twist is really not that bad, but "Three for the Money" sure takes a long time to get there and what we have to wade through  is the same old soap opera crap that Jack Kamen seemed destined to illustrate. That horse has been beaten into microscopic atoms so I'll only say that this is just as average as the last JK strip I had to snore through (and, by the way, why does Jack's knife-wielder on the cover have cat's eyes?).  It might have been nice if (the usually reliable) colorist Marie Severin had actually read the caption that read . . . "The next morning, I dressed in black and went into town to the Constable's office." before settling down to color Nan's dress blue! Any suspense as to whether Nan was an innocent is burnt to a crisp along with the paper in the fireplace (we later learn it was her forged suicide note for hubby, but we know she's up to something) on page 2. Blah!

"Dog Food"

"Dog Food"
Prison camp guard Lester Hoag is a sadistic sumbitch who rules over his inmates with a swift baton and a pack of hungry mutts. Any prisoner foolhardy enough to attempt an escape ends up as "Dog Food"! When Lester's masochistic ways lead to the death of Toleman's buddy, Andy, the hardened inmate, plots Hoag's death via hidden meat scraps and a sharpened butter knife. Lester gets wind of the assassination plot and swipes the meat scraps, leaving Toleman at the mercy of the dogs, but the hardened jailbird uses the knife to cut pieces off himself in order to get to his torturer. This is some seriously nasty stuff in both script and art department. Oleck seems to revel in Lester's brutality but then, it suddenly occurs to this jaded reader, that's where EC was heading towards the end. The nastier the better, I says. It's a vicious piece but it's effective thanks to Reed Crandall's unwavering penciling hand. That final panel is very reminiscent of Crandall's other gore classic, "Carrion Death" (from Shock #9). You can question the plausibility of a man carving off enough flesh to bare his ribs and still have the strength to wield a knife with any intent, but you can't question the quease factor.

"Key Chain"
Con-artist Unger slithers into town and ingratiates himself with the residents of a swanky hotel; he's in search of easy prey. The mark comes in the form of socialite Mrs. Hodges, who keeps over one hundred thousand dollars' worth of diamonds in a bank vault. Unger convinces the woman he's a diamond man and that her collection is under-insured; Hodges quickly agrees to bring her diamonds to her apartment for Unger's inspection. With a bit of clever subterfuge, the con manages to acquire a dupe of the master key for the hotel and heads for a lock shop to have a key made. He pickpockets the owner as he's shutting down for the evening and heads in to use the key machine, locking himself into the shop. When a beat cop walks by, it unnerves Unger enough that he upsets a board of blanks and drops the shop key in the detritus. The muck-up only gets worse with every moment's passing. Next morning, the shop owner finds Unger babbling amidst thousands of blank keys and wonders why a man would break into a locksmith shop, especially one with a broken front door. As with most of the stories we've seen illustrated by Bernie Krigstein, "Key Chain" is a cut above most of the author's previous work. Oleck ups his game with this interesting and ironic character study. I could have done without the final O. Henry panel; better to have left us with the image of a beaten Unger, sitting in a sea of keys. Krigstein continues to dazzle, portraying even innocuous incidents (as in the panel above, of Unger standing on a corner waiting for the key shop to close) with a flair seldom found this side of Will Eisner.

"The Squealer"
Cops Ed Zimmer and Bert Bransen have got a great thing going, collaring hoods and then putting them to work on the street. The boys in blue pocket three-quarters of all hauls and the perps avoid jail time. The plan goes swimmingly until Ed gets a panicked call one night from Bert, who's just beaten a confession out of a young hood. The beating goes awry and the suspect ends up dead. Zimmer arrives at the precinct to find the dead boy is his own son, Jerry. George Evans's gorgeous art for "The Squealer" stands head and shoulders above Oleck's cliched and heavy-handed script; Jack even throws in a rotten childhood and a busted marriage to justify Ed Zimmer's behavior. The only reason Jerry's murder is a surprise is that we're not privy to his secret life of crime. Odd that this muckraking tale (there are bad cops in the world?) isn't being dumped into the pages of Shock. Still, it's hard to dismiss a funny book story so nicely illustrated. --Peter

Jack: When you have three stories well drawn by Crandall, Krigstein, and Evans, why in the world would you put the Kamen story first and have him draw the cover? Like this month's Vault of Horror, this comic excels in the art department (except for Kamen) and doesn't quite reach as high with the stories. "Three for the Money" has a dopey ending, "Dog Food" has a ludicrous finale, "Key Chain" is cool but the last panel is superfluous, and "The Squealer" is predictable the closer you get to the last page. Still, this is a decent comic and continues to show that (at least in late 1954) the crime books were better than the horror books.

Oh, so that's why Ed is such a rotten guy!
("The Squealer")

Panic #5

"Tick Dracy" ★★★
Story by Nick Meglin and Al Feldstein
Art by Bill Elder

"Panic's Dictionary of Sports" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"Spots Before Your Eyes!" ★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"You Too Can Hook a Zillionaire!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"Tick Dracy"
"Tick Dracy" has one heck of a case on his hands and it hits very close to home. Someone has been slashing the face of Dracy's gorgeous wife, Mess Falseheart, every night in bed. Tick promises Mess he'll get to the bottom of it even if he has to murder every one of his arch-enemies (including the evil Aircraft-Carrier-Noggin!). Unfortunately, the list begins to dwindle as Dracy eliminates them one-by-one and each of them confesses they had nothing to do with Mess's mess. In the end, it's revealed that Dracy himself is the unwitting culprit; since the 'tec has a razor-thin face (which explains why no one ever sees him head-on), he's been violating his wife's kisser at night with a goodnight kiss!

Finally! We finally get a strip in Panic that could easily be slotted into MAD and no one would know the difference. Oh, Bill Elder has come through for us with his giggly panels but the scripts have not been up to snuff . . . till now. I've got a feeling that's due to the addition of humorist Nick Meglin to the Panic staff (years later, Meglin would become editor of MAD); it might have given Al a much-needed helping hand with the funny stuff. And there's lots to laff at here: Mess's gruesome transformation from cute blondie to slasher-film victim (at one point the poor girl wears a bag over her head); Dracy's grotesque arch-enemies (in addition to my fave, Aircraft-Carrier-Noggin, there's also Raisin Puss and Shivery, a villain who lives inside a refrigerator); the birds that make a nest in Junyor's thick moptop; and, of course, the dead-on barbs aimed at Chester Gould. Could this be an omen of good things to come?

"Tick Dracy"

Well . . .

Strop, You're Killin' Me!
("Panic's Dictionary of Sports")
"Panic's Dictionary of Sports" is a sometimes-clever send-up of sports jargon. It also, at times, makes you yearn for Henny Youngman. Like when golfer Slamming Sammy Divot calls for his "caddie" and an automobile appears or when Yogi swings at a "foul ball" and it reeks or when a basketball player "dribbles" across the court or . . . I hope you get the picture. If not, there are about sixty more. Only Jack Davis could illustrate this one. "Spots Before Your Eyes!" is an embarrassingly unfunny look at TV celebrities like the weatherman, the gardening expert, and the sportscaster. I'm not exaggerating when I say this is about as funny as a "Re-Elect Trump in '20" bumper sticker; there's not a half-hearted smile in sight. And Joe Orlando's art is gosh-almighty ugly, boys and germs; could it be intentional?

"You Too Can Hook a Zillionaire!" takes us right back to where we started from before I got so darned hopeful about this issue. "Zillionaire" is another Al movie parody that elicits exactly one laugh from this here jaded funny book reader and that one, when the movie producer calls for a "non-communist screen writer so we can get to work on the script," becomes less funny when you realize it's the first in a series of jabs at the comic book police. One full star of my star-and-a-half rating is awarded for Wally Wood's recreation of Lauren Backache's exquisite rear end. Sexist, yes, but I swear my bad jokes are better than the ones found in Panic. -Peter

Oh, that Lauren Backache!
("You Too Can Hook a Zillionaire!")

Jack: "Tick Dracy" is the only ray of light in this otherwise recyclable issue. I liked the unrelenting attack on Chester Gould, with little, descriptive boxes in every panel, and I laughed at Dracy's long hair when his hat flew off. The villains didn't make me laugh, nor did the dated references to Jackie Gleason. As for the other three stories, they were just plain terrible. By the end of the Orlando piece, I was just scanning because I realized that there was no point in reading every word. I thought having Wally Wood illustrate a spoof on a Marilyn Monroe movie would be better, but even he seems uninspired this time out.

Piracy #1

"The Privateer" ★★★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Reed Crandall

"The Mutineers" ★★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Wally Wood

"Harpooned" ★★ 1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by Angelo Torres

"Shanghaied" ★★★ 1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Davis

Britain is at war with Spain, so Captain Ballard James has his ship registered as "The Privateer," allowing it to attack Spanish ships and collect their treasure. The first attack is so lucrative that Captain James soon doesn't care whose ship he attacks. He and his men go on a rampage, attacking ships and coastal cities and collecting loads of treasure, becoming pirates rather than privateers. Finally, his ship attacks what appears to be a merchant ship, only to sail right into a trap: the other ship is a pirate ship masquerading as a defenseless vessel and, in the battle that ensues, Captain James is killed and his ship ransacked.

"The Privateer"

I did not have high hopes for Piracy; I thought it would be a desperate attempt to find a new topic to replace the rapidly fading horror and crime titles. Boy, was I wrong! The GCD does not provide writing credits for the stories in this issue, so I don't know whom to praise for the plotting, captions, and dialogue, but Reed Crandall's art is excellent and the story is thrilling.

"The Mutineers"
In 1854, Frank O'Hara signs on as first mate of the clipper Lorna J, run by brutish Captain Matthew Bollard. O'Hara is repulsed by Bollard's whipping of a sailor named Rico, so Bollard makes O'Hara take 48 hours' watch with no relief. Aided by Scotty, the cabin boy, O'Hara survives the ordeal, but four days without wind have the rest of the crew restless and angry. A hurricane blows up and the captain punishes the crew by allowing the sails to be torn in the storm; when it is over, Bollard orders the tired men to climb up and mend the sails. After an exhausted sailor falls to his death, the rest refuse to work, leading to another whipping by the captain. Soon, half of the crew turn into "The Mutineers," and a huge fight breaks out. When it ends, Bollard punishes Scotty by sending him up to the crow's nest. He falls to his death and that is the last straw for what remains of the crew. They sneak off in a long-boat and leave Captain Bollard to run the ship alone as it heads toward storm clouds.

Is there anything Wally Wood can't draw well? Nary a many-tentacled monster or flimsily-gowned maid in sight, yet he delivers another action-packed story of high seas adventure. It's not as good as "The Privateers" but it's close.

On the whaling ship Eban Dodge, things are tense. It's 1854, and they're looking for whales off the coast of New England. First mate Martin Ericson is jealous of Captain Mathew Strong and, when a whale is spotted and the crew heads out in a long-boat after it, Ericson sees this as his chance to get rid of the captain and take over the ship. The whale is "Harpooned" and Ericson makes sure Strong is caught in the rope line and dragged into the water after the thrashing whale, but when the whale finally surfaces and destroys the small boat, Ericson finds himself "impaled on the harpoon pole sticking out of the whale's back."


This issue of Piracy is a feast for the eyes! "Harpooned" is not as heavy with plot as the two stories before it, but it moves smoothly from start to finish and the denouement is satisfying. Williamson and Torres have a style that is more fine art than comic art; it's nice to look at but it lacks the muscular excitement we saw in the Crandall and Wood stories.

Captain Henry Walton waits in his ship in San Francisco Harbor for the rest of his crew to arrive so he can set sail, but when a Mr. Piggot shows up with three men who have been "Shanghaied," Captain Walton recognizes one of the unconscious drunks as the man for whom he has been searching for twelve years. A dozen years before, Walton had been a budding author who had been shanghaied himself while in San Francisco. He was forced to become a sailor, thus beginning an illustrious career that eventually found him the captain of his own ship. Now he has finally found Mike, the man he swore to kill for forcing him into a life at sea. Mike finally awakens from his drunken stupor and Captain Walton confronts him--and thanks him for setting him off on the career that has made his life a happy one!

A surprising and wonderful ending caps a highly entertaining story of revenge that turns out to be something else entirely. Who better than Jack Davis to illustrate a tale filled with drunken sailors, madams, and a writer who becomes a seaman? This is a great finish to a terrific comic!--Jack

Peter: As I approached the reading of an entire 32-page comic devoted to pirates (and the first issue of seven, to boot!), I thought, "Oh, this is not going to be good." Such a pessimist am I. It's early, of course, but Piracy may very well become the great adventure comic that Two-Fisted was supposed to be. All four tales are high-quality reading in both the script and art departments, with both "The Privateer" and "The Mutineers" earning four-star ratings from this funny book fan. "Harpooned" could have been comfortable in the pages of Shock and "Shanghaied" is unlike any story we've yet encountered on this journey. Piracy #1 gives me hope that the phoenix is rising even before the ashes have cooled.

Next Week!
More Blazing Battle Action
When Rock Tries to Tame a Tiger!