Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Stanley Ellin Part Four: The Day of the Bullet [5.20]

by Jack Seabrook

Stanley Ellin's short story, "The Day of the Bullet," was first published in the October 1959 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Told in the first person by an unnamed narrator, the story begins with his assertion that the day in question was a turning point in the life of his best friend when they were boys together in Brooklyn in 1923. The narrator's family was moving to Manhattan the next day, so the day in question was fraught with emotion and the sense of an ending.

In the present, the narrator is eating breakfast with his wife when he sees a newspaper headline reporting the death of racket boss Ignace Kovacs, who was shot to death in his car, a bag of golf clubs on the seat next to him. The narrator tells his wife that Kovacs was his next door neighbor and best friend in 1923 when they lived in Bath Beach, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, where the story's author was also born. In a flashback, he tells of Mr. Rose, who lived in a large house at the end of their block. Once, while playing around by Rose's fancy car, Rose caught Iggy by the arm and shook him, causing Iggy to threaten to tell his father, whom he idolized.

"The Day of the Bullet"
was first published here
One day, the boys went to the Dyker Heights golf course to fish for golf balls in the water hazard. They witnessed Rose beat up another man and dump him in the water. The narrator wanted to flee, but Iggy insisted on trying to help the victim, who chased the boys away. Iggy decided to tell the police, but they were strangely unmoved by his story. Mr. Rose and Iggy's father were brought in and Rose denied the incident. To Iggy's shock, his father seemed nervous and did not stick up for Iggy. Rose told Iggy to come to his house for odd jobs and gave the boy a five-dollar bill. Thirty-five years later, the narrator understands that that was the day when Iggy switched loyalties from his father to Mr. Rose and set out on a life of crime that would end decades later with his violent death.

The title of the story refers to the day in 1923 when the narrator says that the bullet was figuratively fired that would reach its target decades later. The narrator believes that each person has "one day of destiny" and the lives of the two boys went in different directions: the narrator is shown to be happily married, while his friend became a criminal. Ellin paints a vivid picture of 1923 Brooklyn as it seemed to a 12-year-old boy, where the most wealthy and powerful man in the neighborhood was a gangster made rich by bootlegging during Prohibition.

Barry Gordon as Iggy
Iggy, the narrator's best friend, was always "full of mischief" but worshipped his father, a trolley car conductor and Sunday afternoon baseball star. The narrator leaves Iggy behind, moving up in the world and across the river to Manhattan, while Iggy stays in the more working-class borough of Brooklyn. Ellin uses symbolism when he shows that the boys have to climb over landfill to reach the golf course, which smells bad; the beating they witness is a visual demonstration of the festering garbage buried underneath the green expanse of the course. Iggy, "small and skinny," identifies with the man who is beaten and it is not clear whether Iggy wants to help the man and report the incident to the police out of charitable instincts or from a desire for revenge. The narrator, who grows up to be a solid citizen, wants to leave and not get involved, but Iggy insists on checking on the wounded man and reporting the crime to the authorities.

Iggy is confronted by a series of surprises that make him re-evaluate his core beliefs:
  1. The beaten man does not appreciate the boys' concern and tells them to go away. 
  2. The police are not concerned about the crime, especially after they learn of Rose's involvement. 
  3. Mr. Rose arrives at the police station calm and in control of the situation. 
  4. Iggy's father is visibly nervous and does not support his son. 
Glenn Walken as Clete
After Rose offers to pay Iggy to do odd jobs and gives him money, it is not surprising that the boy turns on his father and transfers his loyalty to Rose. "The Day of the Bullet" is a story of the transition from childhood to adulthood. The boys are twelve years old, on the cusp of puberty and at an age where they begin to be responsible for their own moral choices. The narrator is lucky in that he is removed from the neighborhood and thus avoids having to choose between a good and an evil life. Iggy has seen how the world of men operates and does not have the internal strength or moral character to resist pursuing a life of crime, despite having tried to act honorably when confronted with a dilemma.

John Craven as Clete as an adult
"The Day of the Bullet" is a brilliant, elegiac story that was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Short Story of the Year but lost to Roald Dahl's "The Landlady." It was quickly bought and adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, airing on CBS on Valentine's Day, Sunday, February 14, 1960. The teleplay is by Bill S. Ballinger and is a Valentine to the viewers, a classic episode of the series.

Ballinger’s script for the TV show follows Ellin’s short story closely, with a few small changes and one big change. The film opens with establishing shots of New York City skyscrapers to set the scene, then we see a man walking down a city sidewalk and buying a newspaper at a newsstand. Gone is the story’s opening narration and gone is the scene at the breakfast table between the narrator and his wife; in fact, "The Day of the Bullet" is an unusual episode in that it features not a single female character. Why did Ballinger choose to alter the opening in this way? The reason will not become apparent until the end of the show.

Dennis Patrick as Mr. Rose
The newspaper’s headline reads, "Brooklyn Rackets Boss Shot to Death," and the voice over narration briefly tells us that the man on the street is remembering events of thirty-five years ago as the scene dissolves to 1925. Ballinger takes each scene from the story and turns narrative passages into dialogue, showing us the incident at Mr. Rose’s house with his car rather than describing it. The story's unnamed narrator is given the name of Cletus (Clete) Vine, and we see him and Iggy outside the shop window as Iggy admires the golf club on display inside. Iggy's love for his father is shown in a scene where the man, having come from a baseball game at the park and still in uniform, talks with the boys and tells Iggy that it’s important not to be scared after Iggy confirms that his father would protect him from a bully.

The musical cues in this episode are particularly good, with the strains of what sounds like "Someday My Prince Will Come" audible on the soundtrack during the two scenes between Iggy and his father. In the scene at the golf club, the story's references to landfill and malodorous smell are removed, but Ballinger lifts entire passages of dialogue directly from Ellin's tale, nearly word for word. There is a nice shot at the police station, looking up at the desk sergeant from the boys' point of view, and the show ends with a beautifully shot scene as the boys walk home down a dark, Brooklyn sidewalk, past a row of identical stoops; the setting recalls the settings of Fritz Lang’s great, mid-1940s films with Edward G. Robinson, The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street. The flashback ends with Iggy running off alone in tears, calling back to Clete, "You’ll see!" several times.

There is a dissolve back to the present and a close up of the newspaper with "Ignace (Iggy) Kovacs" highlighted above the headline. This is why Ballinger changed the opening scene: the revelation of the relationship between the dead racket boss and the boy in the flashback was uncertain till this moment, and there was some question throughout the flashback as to which of the boys grew up to be a racketeer. Voice over narration ties the events from thirty-five years ago to the murder the night before, and the show comes to an end.

"The Day of the Bullet" is another example of a great short story that translates beautifully to the small screen, where the script is brought to life by expert direction and great performances by the cast members, especially Barry Gordon as Iggy.

Biff Elliott as Iggy's father
The show was directed by Norman Lloyd (1914- ), the actor/director/ producer with the Hitchcock connection who directed twenty-two episodes of the television series. Though not credited on screen, it is Lloyd’s voice we hear giving the voice over narration at the beginning and end of this episode.

Bill S. Ballinger (1912-1980) wrote the teleplay, which (like the short story on which it was based) was nominated for but did not win an Edgar Award. Ballinger began writing for radio in the 1930s and 1940s, then wrote for television from 1949 to 1975, penning seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents as well as an episode of The Outer Limits and two episodes of The Night Stalker. He also wrote many crime novels from 1948 to 1975. There is an excellent website here devoted to the man and his work.

Giving a hyperkinetic performance as Iggy is Barry Gordon (1948- ), a child actor who also had success at a very young age as a singer. Gordon went on to a long career as both a character actor and a voice actor and he was president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1988 to 1995. His screen career began in 1956 and continues today, and he was seen in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and one each of Thriller and The Night Stalker.

Harry Landers as Joe, the chauffeur
His best friend Clete is played by Glenn Walken (1945- ), whose TV career ran from 1952 to 1974 and whose last credit was a small role in Apocalypse Now. His brother is the actor, Christopher Walken.

Dennis Patrick (1918-2002) plays the menacing Mr. Rose; he was a busy TV actor who was on screen from 1949 to 1994 and who was seen in three episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Last Escape."

Iggy’s father, whose feet turn out to be made of clay, is played by Biff Elliott (1923-2012), who started out on TV in 1950 and whose first film credit was as Mike Hammer in I, the Jury (1953). Elliott appeared on screen through 1986 and was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents five times, including "A Crime for Mothers." He also appeared on Star Trek. There is a website about his career here.

In smaller roles:

Harry Landers (1921-2017) as Joe, the chauffeur who menaces the boys in Mr. Rose's driveway; he was also in "Breakdown" and was on screen from 1947 to 1991, usually playing bit parts.

Clegg Hoyt as the desk sergeant
John Craven (1916-1995) as the adult Clete, who is seen in the opening and closing scenes with the newspaper; he was in the original Broadway cast of Our Town and he was on screen from 1937 to 1970, appearing in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as well as Thriller and The Twilight Zone.

Clegg Hoyt (1910-1967) plays the desk sergeant at the police station; his brief career on screen spanned the years from 1955 to 1967 and he was on the Hitchcock show four times, as well as on Thriller and The Twilight Zone.

David Fresco (1909-1997) plays the man who gets beaten up on the golf course; he was on screen from 1946 to 1997 and may be seen in no less than 12 episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Gloating Place."

David Fresco as the golf course victim
Sam Gilman (1915-1985) plays the cop who brings the boys to see the sergeant; his career is most interesting. He started out as a comic book artist for Marvel and Centaur from 1939 to 1942, drawing a text illustration for Marvel Comics #1. He then served in World War Two. On returning to civilian life, he became an actor and befriended Marlon Brando. He moved to Hollywood and got his first role in Brando’s film, The Men (1950). He went on to a career on screen that lasted until 1983 and he may be seen in five episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Insomnia." He was also on Thriller.

Sam Gilman
The beautiful photography in "The Day of the Bullet" is the work of Neal Beckner (1906-1972), who worked his way up in Hollywood as a member of film camera crews starting in 1930, eventually becoming a TV director of photography by 1956. He had this role for 26 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, in seasons five through seven, and "The Day of the Bullet" was the first to air. He also was the cinematographer for a handful of films in the early 1960s.

Finally, the fine selection of musical cues (something that could be a distraction on the Hitchcock series, especially in early years) was the work of Frederick Herbert (1909-1966), who was the music supervisor for 59 episodes in seasons four through six.

"The Day of the Bullet" is available on DVD here or may be viewed online for free here. Read the Genre Snaps review here.

"The Day of the Bullet." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 5, episode 20, CBS, 14 Feb. 1960.
Ellin, Stanley. "The Day of the Bullet." The Specialty of the House, Mysterious Press, 1979.
The FictionMags Index.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Grand Comics Database,
"Neal Beckner." British Film Institute,
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. "Galactic Central." Galactic Central,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 13 May 2018,

In two weeks: Our series on Stanley Ellin concludes with "You Can’t Be a Little Girl All Your Life," starring Dick York!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 130: September 1972

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Star Spangled War Stories 164

"Remittance Man!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Dan Spiegle

"White Devil . . .Yellow Devil!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Alex Toth

Peter: "On a wild jungle island . . . (in) the South Pacific," evil Japanese Colonel Tanaka searches for the "Remittance Man!," a brave civilian who's hidden himself in a cave and is transmitting important info to the Allies. Tanaka discovers the location of the cave and has it bombed. Thinking no one could survive the explosion, Tanaka congratulates himself on a job well done and  informs his higher-ups that they are free to send ships through an important waterway. Meanwhile, in Washington, the Unknown Soldier accepts orders to impersonate the dead remittance man and deliver one last important message. When messages are intercepted by the Japanese, Tanaka flips his lid and sets traps all over the island for our undercover hero. US is too smart for these dopey soldiers and, with the help of the real remittance man (who wasn't dead but just buried under tons of rubble), the important radio transmission is sent and Tanaka and his men are eliminated. "Remittance Man!" isn't a great story but it holds the interest and, more importantly, Dan Spiegle's art looks a heck of a lot better here than in the previous issue. I question why the Unknown Soldier feels the need to don a disguise to hide in a cave from the Japanese. Why not do the job with or without bandages? Since no one even knew who the remittance man was or what he looked like, who's going to recognize our hero sans a get-up?

"Remittance Man!"

"White Devil . . . Yellow Devil!"
Toshiro has been taught by his commander that the Americans are the white devils, monsters who do not kill for honor but for "souvenirs." While on a patrol, Toshiro is jumped by an American soldier, who holds up just before plunging a knife into his heart. The G.I. is taken aback by Toshiro's youth and promises to tend to his wounds after he's escorted him back to a prison camp. One of Toshiro's comrades sneaks up behind the G.I. and kills him. Later that night, Toshiro buries the G.I. but is shot and killed. A simple synopsis does not do justice to this nicely-written and gorgeously-illustrated war tale, one that sees Big Bob shake off the dust and get down to business for the first time in a long time. Toth's stark visuals are one-of-a-kind and instantly recognizable; his art tells so much more of the story than the captions and word balloons can hope to. "White Devil . . . Yellow Devil!" is an installment in a new series of vignettes under the heading, "Bob Kanigher's Gallery of War" and, if the first tale is any indication, we're in for some good reading.

More Toth!

Jack: I wonder if Col. Tanaka knows Col. Hakawa, that practical joker of the Pacific Theater? No matter, Haney and Spiegle give us a decent story that doesn't get very exciting but isn't bad, either. The Kanigher/Toth tale fits well into the late Vietnam-era mood of 1972 DC War Comics in that it shows the point of view of soldiers from both sides and demonstrates acts of mercy and cruelty. Toth does nice work with a wordless sequence and muted colors suggesting night action.

Our Army at War 249

"The Luck of Easy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Wing Man"
Story and Art by Wally Wood

Jack: As they make their way through Italy, Rock and Easy Co. meet an Italian peasant who pulls his very pregnant wife in a cart, intent on having her deliver their baby at the farm home from which they fled when the Nazis came. Easy Co. is going the same direction, so they accompany the couple, wiping out Nazis along the way. When they arrive at the farm, the men of Easy Co. must hold off approaching Nazi soldiers as the couple wait inside their small home for the baby to arrive. Rock single-handedly returns a live potato masher and wipes out the enemy just as the baby is born.

"The Luck of Easy!" is a dull entry in the Easy Co. series, with little to generate excitement in story or art. There is virtually no suspense created and the plot moves from one battle to another until Rock executes his usual heroics at the end to save the day.

"The Luck of Easy!"

"Wing Man"
During WWII, the fliers of the R.A.F. are shooting down enemy planes left and right, but "Wing Man" Archie Pyke does not have a single German kill to his name. He is very good at sticking to his leader plane and protecting it, but he laments the fact that he never gets to shoot anyone down himself. Finally, he shoots a jet out of the sky in order to protect his leader, finally proving his mettle.

It's such a pleasure to see Wally Wood back drawing war comics after all these years that I can forgive the fact that his story is a bit perfunctory. His DC work in the '70s never reached the heights of his EC work in the '50s, but he's still one of the all-time greats in my book.

Peter: I'd have never pegged Wally Wood as the man responsible for "Wing Man," but then this was nearly two decades after his stint at EC and styles change.Woody still has the chops, even in the script-writing department; "Wing Man" is a bit deeper than the usual gung-ho pilot filler tale. Our hero manages to save the day through dumb luck rather than a last-second elevation of skills; that's a refreshing change of pace. The Rock tale is an amiable piece of fluff with a beautiful coat of Heath paint to make it shine.

G.I. Combat 155

"The Long Journey"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Ashcan Alley!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #67, March 1958)

Peter: Stuck in icy Russia, the men of the Jeb Stuart must depend on the help of a few friendly Commies to get their hides back to the front in one piece. Trouble is, the ghostly General who has given his name to his descendant and to the Haunted Tank has already told Commander Jeb that they won't make it back in one piece! After a particularly nasty village battle, in which they befriend a one-armed Russian freedom fighter named Gorki, the boys find that the only way they'll make it back home is by hiding the tank. They dismantle the Jeb and transport her, via horse and wagon, back to the front. A direct sequel to last issue's adventure (a facet of the "recent" installments of some of these series I'm digging--now let's get Rock in line, Big Bob!), "The Long Journey" is a decent page-turner with plenty of action and pathos. Maybe I'm getting used to it, but Sam Glanzman's art isn't as annoying as it's been in the past. Sure, his G.I.s have a few too many freckles, but I can live with that.

"The Long Journey"

A navy frogman finds that dodging mines and enemy subs in "Ashcan Alley!" is a little more difficult than avoiding bowling balls (seriously!) back home. I like these underwater adventures as they mix things up a bit and take us away from the same ol' battlefield drama. Problem is, so many of these are just the same ol' underwater pinball, where one frogman manages to outwit the entire German sea force and come out the other end with all limbs intact. Our hero this time out sidesteps mines, E-boats, depth charges, torpedoes, and a particularly soft Nazi flipperman. At least it's got the Kubert sheen.

"Ashcan Alley!"

Jack: It's not bad enough to suffer through 14 pages of Sam Glanzman's attempt to draw the Haunted Tank, but do we have to read Bob Kanigher's attempt to mimic Russians trying to speak English? "No time bury dead" is one of the choice sentences, making the Russian peasants sound like the Frankenstein monster. The backup story looks much better, with smooth Kubert art but, as Peter points out, you read one frogman story, you've read 'em all. Bob Haney uses the term "ashcan alley" seven times, including the title, but it felt more like seventy.

Next Week . . .
The Final Crime!

Monday, May 14, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 57

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
 57: February/March 1955, Part I

Tales from the Crypt #46

"Upon Reflection" ★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Davis

"Blind Alleys" ★★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

"Success Story" ★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Joe Orlando

"Tatter Up!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Graham Ingels

A werewolf is terrorizing Plainsville, but the townsfolk have not been watching any Lon Chaney Jr. movies lately and Mayor Hanson has to explain to them that silver bullets are required to rid the community of the foul fiend. When the next full moon comes around, everyone is ready. Mayor Hanson inspects his own house (?) and fires when he sees the werewolf, not realizing he's looking in a mirror. The rest of the rifle-toting townsfolk storm in and finish the mayor off.

Jack, you needed to hide the mayor's face better!
("Upon Reflection")
"Upon Reflection," the first story in Crypt of Terror #1, as the Crypt-Keeper calls it, is nothing new, and has all the hallmarks of a tired Carl Wessler script. The villagers complain to the mayor, blah blah blah, and in the end the mayor turns out to be the werewolf. I saw it coming a mile away. Unfortunately, Jack Davis was too lazy to draw the mayor from an angle that obscured his face, and when he's looking in the mirror he still looks human.

Gunner Grunwald is the director of a home for the blind, but the residents are the least of his concerns. In fact, he has let the home fall into ruin while enriching himself. The poor blind people suffer with rats, roaches, and rancid food while Gunner lives in luxury. No wonder he bought a vicious guard dog named Brutus to protect himself! Finally, enough is enough, and the blind revolt. First they capture Brutus and lock him in a basement room. Then they capture Gunner and lock him in a room next door to Brutus. For the next three days, they hammer and saw, building something mysterious while the dog goes crazy with hunger.

Peter gets dressed for another day at work.
("Blind Alleys")
Finally, Gunner is set free, only to walk into a maze whose wooden walls are lined with razor blades. No problem, thinks he, I'll just walk slowly and carefully and watch my step. But then, Brutus is released, and Gunner has to run for his life. And if that's not bad enough--the blind folks turn out the lights.

"Blind Alleys" is one of those EC stories I've been waiting for ever since we started this blog and, I'm happy to say, it doesn't disappoint on re-reading 40 or so years later. I remember it from the Big Book and from the movie, and it's no accident that it's a Gaines/Feldstein script rather than a Wessler script. Evans is the perfect choice to illustrate it and the last line is unforgettable: "And then some idiot turned out the lights!" This is one of the best revenge tales EC ever published and it belongs in the all-time top ten list of EC stories.

Recently married to a hot blonde, Elmer Preston can't believe his luck when her parents announce that they're giving the young couple $1000 as a down payment on a new house. Things are going well until Mom and Dad arrive on the doorstep and say they're broke and want to move in. It goes from bad to worse as they demand more and more from poor Elmer and soon even his wife joins in the never-ending litany of nagging and haranguing about why Elmer can't get ahead in the world. The poor sap finally snaps and cuts off their heads. When the police come and he tells his story, they marvel at the severed heads arranged in platters on the dining room table.

Got ahead... oh wait, *now* I get it!
("Success Story")
The high I got from the previous story was short-lived, as we're immediately brought back to Earth with another Wessler tale that goes from A to B to C with no surprises. "Success Story" is one of the most uninspired revenge tales we've read. Orlando's art is not appealing either, and the best I can say for this tepid tale is that they don't shy away from the ending, as things get pretty grisly with the cleaver attack and the heads on display.

Why would handsome, young Tony Barrett marry an old hag like Fanny Ogden? For her money, of course! A stranger told Tony that Fanny has $100 grand stashed away in her house and he's determined to find it. As the months go by, he is more and more repulsed by his wife, who spends much of her time gathering up rags to sell to the ragman who stops by on a daily basis. Tony finally has enough and murders his wife, burying her body in the basement. The ragman keeps coming and, when Tony runs out of rags to give him, the tattered fellow heads down to the basement and wants the clothes from Fanny's corpse. It turns out he was Fanny's lover but knew she needed a strong, young man for a husband, not a ragman.

Ghastly tries his best but this story is yet another retread of an old EC theme and the surprise ending makes no sense. "Tatter Up!" features the strange ragman who keeps coming to the door; since this is a Wessler story, you know he'll figure in the big finish. But what the heck? A man made out of rags? I don't get it. I liked DC's 1970s Ragman better.--Jack

Ragman... oh wait, *now* I get it!
("Tatter Up!")
Peter: Tales from the Crypt #46 is a milestone for several reasons, the most obvious being that it's the last horror comic EC ever published. Interestingly enough, #46 was originally assembled to be the premiere issue of a fourth horror title, The Crypt of Terror, before the horsemen of the Senate apocalypse rode into town; the intros were not even changed as Bill Gaines was in such a rush to get this thing out the door. It's also the last time we'll see Graham Ingels sign his name, "Ghastly" (from here on out, it's simply "Graham"). The final important note on my checklist belongs to "Blind Alleys," which is the last of the Amicus adaptations we'll get to on this journey. I have to say that I prefer the filmed version (found in Tales from the Crypt) to the original. The character of Gunner Grunwald (Major William Rogers in the film, played nicely by Nigel Patrick) in the comic version is a mean-spirited, sadistic sumbitch, almost laughably so, while screenwriter Milt Subotsky's take on the asylum director is more "human" (while retaining the penny-pinching side of the character), avoiding such silliness as tripping or dumping buckets of water on the heads of his charges. Subotsky gets it: you don't have to go Jerry Lewis on your audience to get them to hate this guy. Having said that, I still like the original quite a bit and it's certainly helped along by George Evans's art and that classic final line. "Success Story" is the perfect tale to serve up to someone if you want to show them what was going wrong with the line, dredging up bad plots and twists endlessly. "A-head! A-head!" Get it? Yeah, I got it halfway through the story when you pounded me over the head with it. "Upon Reflection" is also short on surprises (except, perhaps, the sight of a werewolf in a blue suit and cape). Funny that only Elwood Hanson's reflection looks like a werewolf! So what about that final Ghastly goodie? Ugh! "Tatter Up!" is yet another variation on the young man courting the rich old ugly woman, this time capped by a nonsensical climax (if the guy's made of rags and his hands are "soft and stringy-like," then how is he supposed to strangle Tony?).

Two-Fisted Tales #41

"Code of Honor!" ★★★ 1/2
Story and Art by John Severin

"Mau Mau!" ★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"Carl Akeley!" ★★★
Story and Art by Wally Wood

"Yellow!" ★★★ 1/2
Story and Art by George Evans

Stephen Ashley has made quite a name for himself among the South Carolina social elite but it's not necessarily for the good. Ashley is a marksman and takes advantage of his skill whenever a disagreement arises; the arrogant young man  issues challenges to duel as frequently as some change their bedsheets. His proclivity for "murder" (as some have called Ashley's hobby) has chased him from South Carolina to the friendlier streets of New Orleans, where Ashley seems to have gotten away from his bad habits. But a night out and a pretty maiden lead Stephen down that road one time too many. He challenges a Frenchman to a duel and discovers too late that, in New Orleans, the weapon of choice is the sword and Stephen's opposite is the deadliest swordsman in all of France! Though "Code of Honor!" is only six pages long, it's a fabulously constructed little gem, with a protagonist you can't wait to see run through and a nicely delivered surprise climax. Even faced with using a weapon unfamiliar to him, Stephen Ashley is such an egotistical SOB that he's completely confident he'll get the job done. Writer Severin's dialogue is rich with nuance and sounds so real, as in the exchange between Ashley and his latest prey, a pacifist named Brian, who has been asked his honest opinion of Ashley's reputation and delivers an honest answer, a conversation that dooms the innocent Brian:

Just some of John Severin's deep dialogue
from "Code of Honor!"
Ashley: Since there is no tribunal to do justice to a deeply wronged individual . . . must he then tamely submit to insult and disgrace or should he not resort to the first law of nature . . . of self-preservation?
Brian: Self-preservation? To me it is murder!
Ashley: Then sir, you are saying that I am a murderer?
Brian: Well . . . yes! I reckon I am!

Though the GCD lists John Severin as his own inker, I think he had some help; his lines are a little softer and rounder than usual (still great work). This here's the best story we've had in Two-Fisted since Harvey headed for MADder pastures.

Jungle picture director Merrill Quantock arrives in Nairobi to film his most exciting and authentic documentary yet, a study of the "Mau Mau!" tribe. To aid him. Quantock hires only the best, including big game hunter McBan and Mau Mau expert, Limuru. Once in the jungle, McBan hires a native named Hinga, who seems to be a whiz at fixing anything mechanical, but Limuru and Quantock believe Hinga to be a Mau Mau in disguise. The cameras roll and Limuru provides several natives for "set dressing," but it's soon revealed that it's Limuru, and not Hinga, that is the Mau Mau! Most everything Bernie Krigstein works on is a page-turner, but "Mau Mau!" is curiously dull and confusing. The twist is predictable and the secondary character of McBan doesn't serve much of a purpose other than to stand off to the side and look grim. Krigstein's work is cartoony (a la the similarly jungle-set stinker, "Numbskull," from Haunt #28) and far from the experimental style he excels at.

"Mau Mau!"

"Carl Akeley!" is an interesting and beautifully illustrated docu-drama about the noted early 20th-century taxidermist and adventurer who fought wild animals and lived to tell the tales (and then was struck down, ironically, by a malaria-carrying mosquito). As with many of Harvey's "lectures" in the early days of Two-Fisted, "Carl Akeley!" enlightens those of us who are ignorant in the ways of history and the men who shaped that history. Wally's work, especially the bull elephant sequence, is nothing short of thrilling. A change of pace in that there is not one line of dialogue, with the story being told only in captions and images.

World War I pilot Bill Stone is "Yellow!" and, at first, he couldn't care less if everyone knows it. But when comrade Curry makes a comment about one of the pilots being a coward, it raises Stone's hackles and he becomes an ace. After a particularly grueling mission wherein he saves Curry's bacon, Stone confronts his ally with the news that Curry's comment about cowardice turned Stone's entire demeanor around. Curry shocks Stone by confessing that he was actually talking about himself being the weak link!

The respected 24-issue run of Two-Fisted Tales comes to an end with "Yellow!," a well-written and nicely-illustrated tale that delivers quite the punch with its final line of dialogue.  It's a tribute to George Evans's story-telling abilities that the strength of "Yellow!" lies not in its aerial battles but in its quieter moments back at the base with the pilots and their rituals and fears. "Yellow!" is the perfect coming attraction for the debut of next month's "New Direction" title, Aces High, a comic that will prominently feature the talents of George Evans and carry on the spirit of TFT. --Peter

Jack: I found Kurtzman's editorial heartfelt and thought it interesting to read that so much research went into these stories. While I liked Severin's story, it seemed overly talky and oddly lacking in action and suspense, with an abrupt finish. Krigstein's story features some of his most straightforward art but the narrative is unengaging. Wood does excellent technical work but the story is kind of dry, like something from a Gold Key comic or the Sunday funnies page. Evans saves the best for last, as his rich air battle work lifts an excellent story into the air.

Weird Science-Fantasy #27

"Adaptability" ★★★★
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Wally Wood

"Close Shave" ★★★★
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Reed Crandall

"4th Degree" ★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"I, Robot" ★★★
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Joe Orlando

For over 900 years, a giant ship has hurtled through space. It contains 556 men, women, and children--all that remains of the human race since Earth became uninhabitable. They have survived all these centuries in an environment where all of their needs are met by carefully tended machines. Now, as they approach the Earth-like planet of Procyon-5, excitement mounts at the prospect of finally living normal lives in the open air. The ship lands and the young people pour out of it, but the older ones are afraid to leave the safe environment that they have known for so long. Very soon, the young folks find that life in the real world can be uncomfortable and frightening, and they head back to the safety of the ship and blast off back into space.

A nice sequence by Wally Wood.

"Adaptability" is a fine science fiction tale that is made even better by gorgeous art by Wally Wood. Wood could draw any kind of story, but somehow the science fiction and fantasy ones seem to have piqued his interest and made him work harder to craft one brilliant page after another.

"Close Shave"
In the 25th century, handsome Jay Ellison tells his fiance, Vida Orkney, that he is unworthy of her hand in marriage. She thinks back to how they met, when he saved her from being run over by a speeding car, and how they fell in love, as she witnessed his brave acts of standing up to bullies in public. In this future society, Ganymedes are covered with fur and persecuted. Some have been engaging in a particularly "Close Shave" and passing as humans. Jay admits to Vida that he's a Ganymede and has been shaving down and hiding his true self from his beloved. She laughs and tells him she's also a Ganymede, so they can be wed. Later, when she's alone, she realizes that she must destroy the picture of her human parents so he never finds out she's lying.

Otto Binder writes some very wordy comic book stories, doesn't he? This and the one before it take a bit of time to read but are worth it. Reed Crandall is a superb comic artist and this story progresses nicely through its twists and turns until the final revelation. I like the depictions of the hairy Ganymedes, too.

A decent panel from our favorite punching bag.
("4th Degree")
In the year 2039, Val Draper is a romantic among humans who are devoted to the state. His girlfriend, scientist Andrea Coles, has invented a time machine and he convinces her to send him back to 1954, before the Atomic War destroyed all countries and the people were enslaved by the world government. Having heard enough, the doctor from 1954 reveals that there is no time machine and Val is still in 2039, where he was tricked into giving testimony against himself. He is taken outside and shot. Inside, Andrea reads one of his forbidden books from the past and weeps over the thought of a world where love existed.

Bill Gaines was surely smarting from the comic book witch hunt when he wrote this tract, which is overly preachy and lacks subtlety. For Gaines, the world of 1954, where people could not speak as freely as they could ten years before, was heading toward the world of 2039, as depicted in this story. He was right, of course, but the story is a dud and Kamen's art doesn't help.

Adam Link, a robot built and trained by Dr. Link, writes his memoirs, recalling how he was first given life and how he learned and retained knowledge. When Dr. Link is killed in a lab accident, the robot is blamed and hunted, much like the Frankenstein monster. In the end, he chooses to switch himself off rather than harm any humans.

"I, Robot"
Eando Binder's classic science fiction story, "I, Robot," is brought to life by Al Feldstein and Joe Orlando. Orlando's tendency to draw unpleasant or ugly humans is tamped down here by the need to draw the old scientist and the robot for most of the story's length. I enjoyed it and would like to have seen more pulp classics adapted by EC's staff.--Jack

Peter: I liked "Adaptability" a lot but think Otto should have ended it with the young folk having a hard time adapting to the new atmosphere and racing back to the ship like spoiled children (some things never change, do they); no need to throw germs and icky stuff in there as well. The hand is certainly heavy in "Close Shave" (I thought for sure that, in Vida's list of intolerances--"witch hunts . . . anti-semitism . . . racial intolerance . . ."--we'd get "Senate subcommittees," but no!) but the final panel double-twist is pretty clever. What's this? The return of Gaines and Feldstein? Time to celebrate? Hardly. "4th Degree" is a cliched snooze with perfectly matched art. Why does the "government" go to such extremes to fool Draper when all they had to do was execute him? I've never cared for Adam Link, in any of his incarnations, be it prose, comic, or TV show, and this version of "I, Robot" (the first adaptation, I believe) is no exception. There will be three adaptations over the next three issues, all illustrated by Joe Orlando. An interesting footnote (certainly more interesting than the story itself) is that Binder and Orlando re-teamed in the mid-1960s for a series of Link stories published in Warren's Creepy.

MAD #20

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

"Sound Effects!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"Paul Revere's Ride!" ★
Poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Adapted by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

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

Hans and Feetz, the so-called “Katchandhammer Kids”, are not unlike any other German child, fitted with a lust for violence and causeless retribution. Their target of choice is the buffoon Kapitan, who falls to prey to all manner of their intricate MacGyver-meets-Home Alone antics and deathtraps, including the use of a cat, a dog, a mule, an uncorked champagne bottle, and strategically-placed garbage to perpetuate the illusion that the Kapitan is a stinking drunk to an esteemed guest. The Kapitan responds in kind by whaling the ever-loving hell out of the two terrors, much to the chagrin of the Inspektor, who warns the Kapitan that brute force will only lead to more deviltry on the part of the kinder. Years later, it turns out the Inspektor’s words have rung true: now young men, Hans and Feetz have grown into a pair of honest-to-goodness cutthroat criminals!

We're two wild and crazy guys!
("Katchandhammer Kids!")

Like a number of comic strip parodies from previous issues of MAD, I’m not familiar with the source material here, but then again just as before that foreknowledge isn’t really necessary as Kurtzman and Elder are operating on their own bizarro wavelength here. My opinion of “Katchandhammer Kids” falls somewhere in the middle of Peter’s and Jack’s evaluations: I appreciate the gonzo and anything-goes nature of the humor—the chicken fat quotient runs especially high here—but the faux German dialect becomes a slog to get through at certain points and at times shortchanges the comedic punch. Overall, I certainly feel more cultured for having read it, though I suspect that that’s not really the effect the boys were going for.

"Sound Effects!"
Hey, kids! Dontcha just love those big ol’ gobbledy-gook “Sound Effects” that you find in your funny books? So striking and bold and all over the damn place! You hardly need any narrative exposition or dialogue to tell a story when you got sound effects on your side! And that’s just what Kurtzman and Wally Wood set out to do here, to rib-tickling effect. There’s really no way to synopsize this little bit of winking meta-humor; the glee lies in the reading. Suffice to say that the duo uses the boilerplate template of a detective noir to incorporate all manner of onomatopoeia and aural cues, whether they’re of the familiar variety (THUNK, BLAM, etc.) or of the never-knew-that-was-a-sound variety (BLEED, CRAWL, etc.). Only in MAD could one find a story like this, willing to break free from the mold EC had set for itself and just take part in some light anarchic goofery.

Hey, kids! Dontcha just love those long, boring poems your teachers force you to recite and suffer through in English class? Wouldn’t it be great if those poems were set to illustrations that could be considered humorous only by the broadest definition? Then have we got the funny book story for you! I can only imagine that Harvey Kurtzman kept returning to these poetry parodies because they were easy enough to use in order to fill out some six-page real estate; *none* of them have been up to the comedic standards of his other work, and they’ve *always* been the low point of whatever issue they appeared in. The same is true for “Paul Revere’s Ride”, which finds Jack Davis being forced presumably at musket-point to draw some “hilarious” panels of a pint-sized Revere chasing after his horse and stealing some chickens. I would’ve preferred that they just ran the original unabridged poem instead!

Oh man, here comes the milk out of my nose again!
("Paul Revere's Ride!")

Cowboys… helluva group of mythic American figures, ain’t they? Well myths are exactly what they are, as the final story so aptly (and repeatedly) tells us. Peter puts it pretty aptly down below; Kurtzman is ever-accurate with his historical facts, as always, but there just isn’t a lot of comedic mileage to be had from those facts, at least not in the way they’re presented here. The tale follows a similar “This is how we see it / this is how it really is” template as other MAD entries like “Book… Movie,” but the comparisons made in “Cowboy”, seeing as how they’re rooted in history, come across more as mildly horrifying than hysterical (“Cowboys would actually be lynched for that kind of behavior… HAR HAR HAR!”). It’s an oddball albeit generally inoffensive note to leave the issue on, and poor Jack Davis is left with the fuzzy end of the lollipop again.--Jose

Peter: "Katchandhammer" is the latest KurtzElder classic, a strip so blatantly goofy it almost defies description. You keep waiting for the faux-German accents to drop off but, no, the lunacy continues right through the final panel (with even the page numbers getting in on the act). The intricately plotted gags are hilarious; KurtzElder's success at aping these strips is insanely funny. The same cannot be said about the rest of the issue ("Cowboy!" is spot-on with its dissection of the myths but that doesn't make it funny), which is about as funny as putting on the evening news. Still, if KurtzElder can keep their train moving down the tracks, that guarantees at least a handful of guffaws every issue.

Jack: As I slogged through these four stories, I began to wonder if there's much benefit to re-reading Mad 63 years after it was first published. You do have to hand it to Kurtzman for having the nerve to write that whole first story in pidgin German, but that doesn't make it fun to read. The cover is brilliant and I could see bored kids poring over every "German" word balloon in class, but do we have to as well? "Sound Effects!" was my favorite story this time out, both for the Wood art and the private eye theme. It struck me that it's not that different from one of those 2018 comics with little dialogue or narration. The last two stories are more Jack Davis than I can handle in a single sitting. Neither one is funny, and Kurtzman is leaning awfully hard on the theme of comparing artifice to reality.

 Was für seltsame Unsinnigkeiten diese sein?
Ich muss lachen mein Arsch ab!
("Katchandhammer Kids!")

Next Week in
Star Spangled #130 . . .
Just how good is Alex Toth?