Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Hitchcock Project-John Williams Part Two: Whodunit [1.26]

by Jack Seabrook

The second episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to feature John Williams was "Back for Christmas," adapted from John Collier's short story of the same name and discussed here.

Williams then appeared in a third episode of the first season of the series. This one was titled "Whodunit" and first aired on CBS on Sunday, March 25, 1956. It was adapted from a short story called "Heaven Can Wait" by C. B. Gilford that first appeared in the August 1953 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The story won an award in the magazine's 1952 contest and was collected in the book, The Queen's Awards, Eighth Series, which was published in 1953. I previously discussed C.B. Gilford's career here, and the editor of EQMM writes, in an introduction to the story, that this was the third time that Gilford had submitted the story for publication--it had been revised and rewritten in response to comments and suggestions from the editor.

Alan Napier as Wilfred
As the story begins, Alexander Arlington, age 52, finds himself in Heaven before the archangel Michael, who tells him that he was murdered: stabbed in the back with his own letter opener. Arlington demands to know who killed him but Michael does not know the answer. It seems that, under the pen name of Slade Saunders, Arlington wrote 75 mystery novels during his time on Earth and now is miserable because he does not know the identity of his own killer. Michael suggests sending Arlington back to relive his last day to see if he can find the solution.

Arlington finds himself back on Earth, waking up at noon on his last day. His secretary, Mr. Talbert, hand-delivers a letter from his publisher, who expresses concern with the declining quality of his recent novels. Talbert suggests that he can write future Slade Saunders books better than Arlington could, at which point Arlington fires the man and Talbert threatens him, thus becoming Arlington's first suspect.

Amanda Blake as Carol
Arlington next confronts his 28-year-old wife regarding her affair with a man named Armbruster; he tells her that she must choose between her rich husband and her penniless lover. Arlington decides that his wife and her lover are the second and third murder suspects. Another suspect arrives in the guise of his fat, worthless nephew Andrew, who asks for a $500 advance on his future inheritance and threatens to do something drastic when Arlington refuses to grant his request. He becomes suspect number four.

The fifth and final suspect is the gardener, Henry, a former criminal who is worried that Arlington will report him to the police once he gives up his career as a mystery novelist. Arlington sets up dinner with all five of the suspects and invites them to attend a farewell party in his study that night at ten o'clock. Throughout the story, Arlington receives occasional telephone calls from Michael the archangel, who checks on his progress and offers advice.

Waiting for midnight
Arlington packs a suitcase and carries a gun and at 10:45 he returns to his study to find all of the suspects gathered there. He locks the door and addresses them, telling them about his murder and his trip to Heaven. When Michael calls, Arlington explains that this is an old gimmick used in mystery novels. He then goes over each person's motive for murder and they question how he will ever solve the crime before it occurs. Arlington states that he has made sure that the murder will not happen by having them all present as witnesses; after midnight, when he survives, he plans to leave them all behind and write a book about his experience.

Just before midnight, Armbruster goes to the door and says that all he has to do to prevent anyone from witnessing the murder is to turn off the lights--and he does! Arlington is murdered as before and finds himself back in Heaven, no wiser than he was as to the identity of his killer. Michael helps him deduce that his wife was the guilty party and Armbruster her accomplice. The archangel then invites Arlington to "come in and meet the boys . . . Edgar and Sir Arthur and G.K.C.," noting that "all mystery writers go to Heaven."

"Heaven Can Wait" was
first published here
It's easy to see why "Heaven Can Wait" won an award from EQMM, since it is clever, witty and fun. Gilford plays with the classical mystery format and the gathering of the suspects, which was so often used by Ellery Queen himself, and the idea of the angel sending a man back to Earth and then providing assistance recalls Frank Capra's classic film, It's a Wonderful Life (1946). It also recalls the 1941 film, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which was based on a 1938 stage play called Heaven Can Wait. Here Comes Mr. Jordan was also remade in 1978 as Heaven Can Wait. According to The FictionMags Index, "Heaven Can Wait" was the first story Gilford had published after his twelve-year absence from writing fiction and it led to a long career as a short story writer.

The producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents bought the rights to the story and it was adapted for television by the husband and wife writing team of Francis and Marian Cockrell, who retitled it "Whodunit." Francis Cockrell wrote 18 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and I discussed his career here; Marian Cockrell wrote 11 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and I discussed her career here. Francis Cockrell also directed this episode, one of two episodes of the series he would direct.

The TV version of the story retains the overall plot and structure of the short story while changing various details. The direction is particularly good and, combined with an excellent cast, the video version improves upon the source. The show begins as we hear heavenly choirs of angels singing as a woman in a diaphanous gown walks through two enormous doors toward a large, marble-top desk. Behind the desk sits Wilfred, Arlington's recording angel. (Perhaps the Cockrells did not think it would be suitable for television audiences to use the name of a real archangel from the Bible!) The woman introduces Arlington, who floats into the room on a small cloud, a miniature harp in one hand, a look of mild discomfort on his face. The room is bordered by pillars and beyond them float clouds, showing us that this is a stylized version of Heaven.

Arlington sports little, cardboard wings on his back and complains about the uncomfortable cloud and his own lack of skill in playing the harp. He also flexes his shoulders to try out his new wings. Cockrell really plays up this opening scene and its artifice is quite amusing. Arlington boasts that he'll have the crime solved long before midnight and agrees to relive his last day up to five minutes before the murder.

Philip Coolidge as Talbot
The setting becomes much more realistic and mundane when Arlington wakes up back on Earth, where he is awakened by an Asian houseboy rather than his secretary, whose name is now Talbot. At first, Arlington thinks his trip to Heaven was a dream, but Wilfred quickly telephones to correct him. Williams gives a wonderful performance throughout the episode--finishing his breakfast in bed, he pours his daily spoonful of medicine and make a face before realizing he no longer needs to swallow it.

The scene in the story where Arlington confronts his wife and her lover is cut and the show moves right on to the conversation with Arlington's nephew, now named Vincent, rather than Andrew. He sees his wife kissing Benson (not Armbruster) outside and confronts her alone when she comes in the house. He writes down a list of suspects and their motives, though the character of Henry has been deleted, leaving only four potential killers rather than five.

Instead of having dinner with the suspects and inviting them to a party in his study, Arlington decides to wait and see who returns to the house that night, thinking that whoever comes back will have to be the killer. As midnight nears, Talbot returns, followed soon by Carol and Benson. Frustrated by the failure of his plan, Arlington calls Vincent down from his bedroom and the five of them go into his study, where he tells them about his impending murder. Unlike the story, he does not make explicit reference to the mystery trope of the gathering of the suspects, but the result is the same. Williams is especially good here, accusing each person in turn, filled with his own sense of self-importance. He never pulls a gun, as he does in the story; instead, Arlington is consumed with fussiness and frustration.

Making a list of suspects and their motives
Arlington wishes he could extend his time to solve the crime and Wilfred telephones to grant his request. The murder is staged in shadows, as flashes of lightning intermittently reveal the silhouettes of figures moving about the room. Back in Heaven (the angel choir chants, helpfully, "Now he's back in Heaven"), the author finds that he doesn't mind returning without an answer. The Cockrells make an interesting change in the story here, as the mystery writer decides that "Somehow, it doesn't seem to matter so much this time . . . you see, nobody seemed at all upset at the idea of my being killed. And now, I'm beginning to wonder what sort of person I was." Wilfred guides him to the solution of the crime and Arlington thinks he must have been "rather obnoxious" and wonders how he got into Heaven. He expresses surprise when Wilfred tells him that all mystery writers go to Heaven, something the angel is unable to explain! At the end of Gilford's story, the assertion about the destination of genre writers is the humorous cap to the tale, something well calculated to appeal to both the editors and the readers of EQMM.  On TV, where the writers may have felt more marginalized, the same assertion is met with befuddlement!

"Whodunit" is an excellent adaptation that improves on its source by cutting some characters and scenes and reorganizing others. Humor is added to good effect and the direction and acting are outstanding. John Williams was 52 years old when he played this role, just as the character is in the short story. His wife, 28 years old in the story, is played here by 26 year old Amanda Blake (1929-1989), who was born Beverly Neill. Her onscreen career lasted from 1950 to 1989 and mostly consisted of an almost twenty-year run as Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

Jerry Paris as Benson
Her lover, Benson, is played by Jerry Paris (1925-1986), a busy character actor who is today better known as a director of TV sitcoms. He acted in films from 1949 to 1986 and on TV from 1951 to 1983, including a recurring role on The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961 to 1966), but his name is more familiar from his work as a director, which lasted from 1964 to 1986. He made two appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Talbot, the secretary, is played by the familiar Philip Coolidge (1908-1967), who was onscreen from the late 1940s to the late 1960s. He was in Hitchcock's North By Northwest (1959) and appeared in seven episodes of the Hitchcock TV series, including "De Mortuis."

Ruta Lee
Alan Napier (1903-1988) plays Wilfred, the angel. Born Alan Napier-Clavering, he will always be remembered as Alfred the butler on Batman from 1966 to 1968, but his career onscreen was a long and busy one, stretching from 1930 to 1981. Other TV appearances includes Thriller, The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery; his many film roles included parts in Fritz Lang's Ministry of Fear (1944) and Moonfleet (1955), Val Lewton's Isle of the Dead (1945), and Hitchcock's Marnie (1964).

Finally, Ruta Lee (1935- ) plays the angel at the beginning of the show who introduces Arlington to Wilfred. Born Ruta Kilmonis in Quebec, she had a 60-year career onscreen, including two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and an episode of The Twilight Zone. She maintains her own website here.

"Whodunit" is available on DVD here. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the story.

"The FictionMags Index." The FictionMags Index. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
Gilford, C. B. "Heaven Can Wait." Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine Aug. 1953: 126-43. Print.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. "Galactic Central." Galactic Central. Web. 23 Sept. 2016.
"Whodunit." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 25 Mar. 1956. Television.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.

In two weeks: "The Rose Garden," starring John Williams and Patricia Collinge!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 88: September 1966

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

 Star Spangled War Stories 128

"The Million Dollar Medal!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Gene Colan

"Sniper's Nightmare!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Arnie's had it rough all his life; the poor guy can't buy a break, but now all that's changed. After his squadron enters a strange cloud over an uncharted Pacific island and is massacred by prehistoric monsters from a dinosaur stone age, Arnie's the only soldier to survive. He manages to grab a raft and row ashore, only to discover more giant beasts ready to make a meal out of him. Back at the base, his CO is growing antsy since Arnie has important info regarding an enemy convoy and the Allies are counting on his rescue. Luckily, the man in charge just happens to be Tim, Arnie's buddy from way back. Tim hoofs it to the island and discovers that Arnie has found the world's biggest diamond and has no intention of sharing it with anyone . . . including Tim. All that Tim wants is the info that Arnie is carrying but he can't convince his old buddy of that until a series of run-ins with stone age creatures in which Tim risks his life to get Arnie to safety. Arnie is mortally wounded but manages to relay the convoy info to his old friend. Tim heads back to the base as Arnie awaits his destiny with "The Million Dollar Medal!" as his pillow.

"The Million Dollar Medal!"
As War That Time Forgot stories go, the first entry not written by Robert Kanigher is pretty darn good, but Howard Liss (who is fast becoming my favorite DC war writer) is constrained by the same formula that Kanigher wrote himself into. It's a shame that RK didn't let Howard run wild with the WWII dinosaur scenario but, then again, maybe there are no intelligent WWII dinosaur scenarios. We shall see, since Liss will script the next three WTTF chapters as well. Colan's art is, as always, exemplary; his use of odd panel shapes is such a breath of fresh air. The climax, with the doomed Arnie seemingly ready to shuffle off with a smile and a really valuable pillow, is
B-Liss-fully dark. The cover brings up an interesting question: was there a story entitled "My Enemy is 100 Million Years Old!" and featuring the Suicide Squad, slotted for this issue? There's a Suicide Squad vibe to Arnie Brock and Tim Granger but no one mentions the elite team by name (and they usually crow about it all through the length of a SS entry).

Jack: Mid-'60s Colan art isn't as good as '70s Colan art, but it's good nonetheless, especially when stacked up against what we're used to seeing from Andru and Esposito. This story has some of the same flaws we see in Kanigher stories, such as the long flashback and the coincidence of childhood friends meeting up again in wartime, but the fact that Arnie is an almost irredeemable bum adds depth. Yes, the plane still goes through a mysterious cloud and emerges into the Land of Dinosaurs, and yes, no one at base ever quite realizes what's going on, but Liss and Colan are definitely a step up from Kanigher and Andru.

Peter: Dobson was blind as a kid but all his other senses made up for it; the kid could nail a duck two hundred miles away with a pea shooter. But then, one day, a freak accident renders Dobby sighted and he's suddenly an even better marksman. Fast forward several years and another freak accident leaves army sniper Dobson blind. It's a "Sniper's Nightmare!" ("Tryin' to shoot a guy you can't see is like tryin' to hit a home run against a fastball with your back turned!") but, fortunately, Dobson has his childhood experience to draw from and lays waste to the entire German army. A bit of a fanciful tune from Liss and not really my cup of tea, unfortunately, but the loony bits are entertaining (Dobson's origin is actually kinda sorta a reverse Daredevil, isn't it?). That final panel (below), with Dobby laid up in a hospital bed, contains a bit of dialogue a little saucier than we're used to in the land of homogenized war.

Hundreds of thousands of DC-loving boys
just threw down their comics in disgust!

Jack: Stacked indeed! That was a surprise to read in a DC comic. Too bad Gene Colan didn't draw that story!

 Our Army at War 171

"The Sergeant Must Die!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Combat Mile!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #56, January 1958)

Jack: Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. have a new mission: to bring back the serpent crown of Barbarosa, the Germanic warrior king of long ago. It seems the Nazis are whipping themselves into a frenzy over the thought that the king will return and lead them to victory.

Before they can reach the ruined castle where the crown is held, the men of Easy Co. must fight their way through a village of Germans who cry out the emperor's name as they launch suicidal attacks on our favorite G.I.s. Once the villagers have been defeated, a batch of Nazi soldiers are next, and Easy Co. makes mincemeat of them as well. Nazi snipers menace Rock and his men in a German forest and several booby-trapped Nazis cause the death of a number of American soldiers.

It's never a good sign when members of
Easy Co. with nicknames we've not
heard before head into battle!
As the men of Easy Co. ascend the path to the ruined castle, they are met by a Fraulein who tells them that an army of schoolboys is guarding the place, and the last descendant of Barbarosa announces from a parapet that he is their leader. Rock approaches alone and engages in a brutal fight to the death with the axe-wielding giant, but a well-placed swing of his Army helmet knocks the red-bearded enemy to his death far below. As the story ends, Rock chooses to replace his Army-issued helmet on his head and forego the crown of the German emperor.

There's a lot going on in "The Sergeant Must Die!" and it fills up 18 pages with plenty of action. The notion that Nazis--and German villagers--could get fired up over the hope that a long-dead Germanic warrior might return to life and lead them to victory is an interesting one, something that one could almost imagine happening. There was a real Barbarossa (with a double s), who was Holy Roman Emperor in the twelfth century and a very powerful leader indeed. Hitler's invasion of Russia had the code name, Operation Barbarossa, so the great man of old was certainly in the mind of the Nazis. Kubert makes good use of the warrior's imposing physique, and it can't be coincidence that both he and Sgt. Rock--who battle to the death--have red hair!

Peter: Though the cover screams "Sgt. Rock fought the mad emperor for the lives of a teenage army . . . ," we don't get to see said fight until the closing pages and it ain't really worth the wait if you ask me. It seemed as though Big Bob was going down the supernatural path for a bit but then shied away, which is all right by me. Though "The Sergeant Must Die!" was anything but exciting, I don't care for those "Elseworlds" stories where Rock fights Vikings or cavemen. I've always been of the mind that the Sarge's world should be kept separate from the rest of the DC Universes; why fight WWII with hand-held weapons when the Allies could have the Son of Krypton wipe out the Ratzis in a single bound?  Having said that, I always hoped for a cross-publisher team-up of Rock and Marvel's Sgt. Fury. How glorious would that have been? "Combat Mile!" is not worth bothering with; surely, there were more compelling reprints in the vaults.

Heath and Adler
G.I. Combat 119

"Target for a Firing Squad!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"A Jet's No Pet!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #62, July 1958)

Peter: The Jeb Stuart happens upon a soldier who's about to be shot for desertion but fate, in the form of a crashing Focke-Wulf, stays his execution. He holds a gun on the men of the Jeb and demands that they hide him from the inevitable search party but, when the going gets tough, the soldier proves that, deep down, he's no chicken. Though the story's a winner, this is just about the worst work we've ever seen from Irv Novick. If I didn't know any better, I'd say this chicken scratch masquerading as comic art was Ross Andru, inked by Jerry Grandenetti. Yep, it's that bad.

"Target for a Firing Squad!"
Anyway, I appreciated the pace of Kanigher's script; it's exciting and there are a few surprises. We all knew the deserter would redeem himself but it's a fairly effective climax anyway. General Jeb is pretty much a no-show again outside of a one-panel cameo where he essentially says nothing that his descendant can use in battle. One scene that drew a loud guffaw from me is when the deserter is knocked unconscious and the Jeb boys drag him to safety but neglect to separate the guy from his weapon. Yeah, I'd leave a rifle in the hands of a man who'd just threatened me with death. Russ Heath puts his masterly touch on the reprint this issue (although it features way too many tight shots for my taste), a little piece of TNT fluff about a pilot who discovers, when he's assigned a new F-80 Shooting Star, that "A Jet's Not a Pet!" The theme (that a piece of machinery has feelings too) would be explored many more times with the same result.

"A Jet's No Pet!"
Jack: Hang on, Peter--did we just have a main character die? It sure looks that way! Toward the end of the story, Slim--who has been one of the recurring characters in the series--gives his life to save his comrades when he throws his body on top of a potato masher. This is what bothers me about the Sgt. Rock stories--none of the main group of characters is ever killed in action. Of course, it is Slim's sacrifice that inspires the doomed soldier to give his life in a similar way. I will be very interested to see how this death is dealt with in the next few stories.

As for the reprint, I thought the Korean War setting gave Heath an excuse to draw plenty of neat jet action, though the story was a simple one. It does seem like the stories in DC war comics have grown more complex over time, though Kanigher is no Harvey Kurtzman.

Next Week!
Our Aim is True!

Monday, September 19, 2016

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Part 15: October 1951

Featuring special guest host, John Scoleri!

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
15: October 1951

Weird Fantasy #9

"Spawn of Mars" ★ 
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Wally Wood

"The Duplicates" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Connection" ★ 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Max Elkin

"A Mistake in Multiplication" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

While out cruising the intergalactic strip, a group of astronauts come across an alien spacecraft in free-fall towards Earth. Shimmying over to the vessel, two explorers discover a room containing glass cases housing the dormant bodies of a hundred goopy, gruesome aliens. The bulbous tykes don’t take kindly to being awoken from their cryo-nap, and a quickly-timed ray gun blast ensures that one explorer and his head remain united. After such an overt demonstration of hostility toward all humans, the clever Commander Corwin decides the only thing to do is to haul the sleepy alien carcasses back home. For science? Apparently yes, but the lab coats on the job are just as clever as Corwin; they don’t even attempt to determine the genders of the creatures before sticking them all in an enclosed observation room, only to act surprised when their numbers double overnight. As it turns out, all matters of sexuality are moot as the aliens reproduce by budding. You know, like plants? Those things we’ve known about since forever. Thankfully, the Army is up to the task of shooting every last alien right in their freaky faces, eliminating any cause for alarm over the ultimate destruction of the planet. Meanwhile, just outside San Francisco, a runaway alien and its cadre of a million, endlessly reproducing offspring are headed towards the city to commence the ultimate destruction of the planet.

Pew! Pew! Pew!
("A Mistake in Multiplication")

Welcome to the fold, Mr. Orlando! (Gooble-gobble…) While my cohort Peter is astute in remarking on a distinct Woodian flavor to Orlando’s compositions, it’s certainly not the overt mimicry of say, Howard Nostrand aping Jack Davis for the pre-code horrors of Harvey Comics. His aliens are lots of fun, great, knobby trolls who almost seem to predate H. R. Giger’s design for the Xenomorph with their protruding ribs and whipping tails. They’re a lot more fearsome than Feldstein’s meager description of “little monsters” would imply. While “A Mistake in Multiplication” may not be the mind-expanding SF of Ellison or Murakami, personally I’d be fine if Weird Fantasy and Weird Science dedicated their pages to depicting space jockeys blasting monsters away for the rest of their runs so long as Wood or Orlando got to draw them.

Wood approaches the eldritch.
("Spawn from Mars")
And then there’s the rest of the issue. Admittedly, Wood himself is in pretty exceptional form in “Spawn from Mars,” and though the one-two punch climax allows him to offer up his own variation on an extraterrestrial of the “loathsome, disgusting” variety, I found myself kind of fuzzing out during all the intermediary action. “Spawn” reads an awful lot like some of the sub-par scripts that were floated to Jack Kamen in the past with its depiction of two lovebirds discovering that one of them is actually a hitchhiking Martian in disguise, and the slight innovation of having a female space explorer as an equal member of the crew is dashed by Feldstein’s fumbled handling that has the bespectacled, strapping Jean Belmont sobbing “uncontrollably” and being comforted in the strong arms of her new boyfriend. So much for progressive casting. Still, the effort is appreciated and Wood’s ever-strengthening craft is a joy to witness.

"Are you thinking of the same
inane plot I am?"
"Hell yes!"
("The Duplicates")
The other two tales, however, are absolute dogs. Kamen is assigned, yet again, a mind-numbing affair involving brainy scientist types experimenting on their female companions, mostly to the latter’s detriment. “The Duplicates” is about two dweebs who have just put the finishing touches on their duplicating machine but both men have the hots for the same girl. Being scientists, they deduce that the most logical thing to do is to create a double of the woman so that everyone gets their fair share of romance. Turns out that the duplicate is even sweeter and nicer than the original, so they make a copy of her and head to an invention convention to boast of their success. But faster than you can say "Algernon," the scientists discover that the duplicate copy of their experimental mouse has rapidly aged. When they return home, the boys confirm that they’re both wedded to two crones. Inane to the nth degree, “The Duplicates” asks the audience to believe that the same characters who created the overwhelmingly-detailed Duplicator are also bumbling idiots who are apparently blind. You're saying that they didn’t even look at their mice before the bigwig science expo? That is just one big, bitter pill too many to swallow, Mr. Feldstein.

“The Connection” is also bad but it’s . . . something else entirely as well. Let’s see if I got this right. A fortyish scientist moves into the basement of an unattended nineteen year old girl. The two bond over the next year and grow rather close. The girl tells the scientist about the elderly custodian who took care of her after the sudden death of her parents; the scientist reminds the girl of him in his own way. The scientist is constructing a time machine. He becomes self-conscious of his age when he and the girl decide to pursue a romance and determines to use his new machine to fast-forward into the future by fifteen years so that the chronological gap between him and the girl won't be so daunting. The scientist fudges the calculations big time and, long story short (too late), he ends up as a 65-year-old creeper in the 3-year-old girl’s basement. You see, he’s the elderly custodian that mysteriously appeared in the girl’s home all those years ago. Confused? You bet. Disturbed? Positively. Feldstein one-ups the tangential incest from “Space-Warp” (WF #6) with some paradoxical pedophilia that can’t help but leave the reader with a funky taste in their mouth. -Jose

The polite way to ask
your roommate if he's a farter.
("The Connection")
Peter: I don't know about you but if I found a spaceship full of dangerous monsters, the first thing I'd think is, "Let's bring them to Earth!" Newcomer Joe Orlando has a very Wood-esque look to his work at this point but, later on, he'll create a look all his own. Orlando, of course, went on to do work for Warren Publishing and then rebooted DC's mystery line in 1968. "Spawn of Mars" is the winner by default this issue, what with the blandness and tired plot devices (two scientists fighting over the same girl again?) of "The Duplicates" and the pedestrian art and confusing time travel paradoxes of "The Connection." Not to beat a dead horse, but Max Elkin (like George Roussos before him) sticks out like a Charlton in a stack of ECs. Just look at the second panel on the opening page; Elkins's characters are taller than the roof's edge. That's one small house.

Jack: It seems that Wally Wood could not help drawing hot chicks, even when they were brainy scientists and astronauts, so he solved the problem of how to convey the high intelligence of the gal in "Spawn of Mars" by sticking a pair of glasses on her. It's wonderful to see Joe Orlando finally join the EC team; I have a lot of respect for him due to his later work for DC and also I just plain love his art. The Grand Comics Database doesn't show a lot of credits for Max Elkin, but his art looks so much like the 1940s style that I wonder if he did work that has yet to be identified. And poor Jack Kamen keeps getting stuck with the worst story in the issue! I thought the Duplicator was like an early 3-D printer.

John: Looks like Wood and Orlando provide some high-caliber space creatures in this issue! Can never get too much of that.

Paradoxical pedophilia never looked so metal.
("The Connection")

Frontline Combat #2

"Bouncing Bertha" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Zero Hour!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin and Bill Elder

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

"Contact!" ★ 1/2
Story and Art by Harvey Kurtzman

A U.S. tank nicknamed "Bouncing Bertha" runs into trouble in Korea, with Chinese soldiers behind it and an impassable ditch in front of it. The men abandon the tank and it crashes into the ditch. One of the crew waves a white flag of surrender while the others fight on until they are rescued by a helicopter, leaving the man who surrendered to face the enemy alone, much like a beetle struggling in a pool of water who gets eaten by a fish. The second issue of Frontline Combat starts off strong, with Jack Davis demonstrating his mastery of the war form as he illustrates a story with characteristic Kurtzman irony. Not a lot happens here, but the prose and pictures are compelling nonetheless.

"Bouncing Bertha"

The issue's highlight is "Zero Hour!" In this WWI tale of trench warfare, a rookie is caught out in No Man's Land and men give their lives trying to bring him back, until an officer finally puts him out of his misery with a bullet. The story is brutal, with injured soldiers left for dead and calling for their mothers out on the battlefield. Severin and Elder provide perfect illustrations for Kurtzman's story, which pulls no punches in its study of the horrors of war.

"Zero Hour!"

"Gettysburg!" tells the story of the last day of the great Civil War battle, with the added twist of having a Union soldier from Alabama forced to kill the southern officer who was his father. This battle is a classic and Wally Wood's art is gorgeous; the personal touch with the Alabama soldier is almost unnecessary.


Finally, in "Contact!" we get a double dose of Kurtzman, who illustrates his own story. Two American soldiers in Korea manage to fight off an overwhelming force of Chinese before the U.S. forces show their might by bombing the heck out of the enemy and burying them. Harvey's irony is heavy here, as the story ends with commentary that reads: "If we believe in good, we can't go wrong." The earlier panels with enemy soldiers' hands sticking out of rubble make the reader question the sincerity of the patriotic phrase.--Jack

Kurtzman at his brutal best in "Contact!"

Peter: With only a handful of issues as proof, it's evident to me, at least, that EC's war titles were the most consistent comics they were producing. Not the horror comics we all grew up on, not the science fiction Bill and Al prided themselves on; no, it was Harvey Kurtzman's 99% humor-free, unflinching look at combat through the ages. One need look no further than the one-two punch of "Bouncing Bertha" and "Zero Hour" to agree with me. Neither story offers one glimmer of hope amidst all the bloodshed; pessimism is Kurtzman's middle name. That has to be the reason why FC and TFT were the weakest sellers amongst the New Trends. It's hard to see some pre-teen youth wanting to pick up another issue of FC after watching the sergeant of "Zero Hour" put one of his soldiers out of his misery or the deserter of "Bouncing Bertha," left behind to die. I appreciate the care and artistry behind "Gettysburg," but this is one of those stories that feels like homework. And Harvey's cartoony style could put lots of people off but the message of "Contact!" is clear. Or is it?

Jose: Sheesh, you guys ain’t kidding. EC’s two war titles should’ve been renamed Kurtzman’s Everlasting Gobsmackers. That might not have had the same testosterone-fueled ring as Two-Fisted Tales or Frontline Combat, but it sure would’ve been a hell of a lot more honest about just what those shiny-faced cadets at the newsstand were signing up for when they made their purchases. “Zero Hour” packs enough misery in of itself to make even the staunchest patriot question the “glory of war.” Moreso than any of the horror or suspense titles, the war series of EC could be genuinely, pulse-skippingly chilling at times, as they are in this story. Could you imagine a villain from The Vault of Horror shrieking for his mother as a rejuvenated corpse shambled his way? Of course not; certain absent details of humanity kept many of the horror stories solidly in the realm of fantasy, albeit however fun and depraved they could be. What Kurtzman does best is to bring that humanity to full, glaring light, equally illuminating the heights of compassion and the depths of despair (usually both within the same story) to the point that the reader is at turns awed and sickened. Tales of bravery like “Bouncing Bertha,” be their conclusions however grim, still reinforce the notion that selflessness and perseverance are the standard to which we should all hold ourselves, while treaders of the moral gray-area like “Contact” force you to reexamine the rightness of your actions and question the very concept of “right.” Some EC titles wanted to be read, but the war series wanted to meet you on the battlefield.

Weird Science #9

"The Gray Cloud Of Death!" 
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Wally Wood

"The Martian Monster" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Invaders" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Wally Wood

"The Slave of Evil!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by George Oleson

"The Grey Cloud of Death!"

As  the spaceship the Venus-2 approaches the second planet from the sun, the crew see the lifeless hulk of the Venus-1, their predecessor ship. They investigate the dead ship and find that all of the organic matter has been stripped save for a dead man who was sealed inside a metal tank. He left a diary to explain that "The Gray Cloud of Death!" came from Venus and ate up everything living on the ship. The crew of the Venus-2 look back to see the same cloud heading toward their own ship, so the captain orders it to take off, leaving the crew members stranded aboard the Venus-1 as the deadly cloud approaches them. Wally Wood excels with this fantastic story, which reads as if it were adapted from a classic SF pulp. I could not find an antecedent online, so if this is an original story, my hat is off to Mr. Feldstein!

"The Martian Monster"
Little Freddy Harmon likes to sit alone in the woods and read Weird Fantasy, but his imagination becomes reality when he meets Sobodno, a Martian who convinces him that his Dad is a bad guy for marrying his stepmother. Sobodno warns Freddy about "The Martian Monster" and eventually murders Dad with a pistol; the "Martian" turns out to be Freddy's stepmother's evil boyfriend, who just eliminated the competition. But wait! The stepmom and her lover discover that the Martian Monster is real and it's slobbering their way! What the heck? This is a very weak story with Kamen's usual bland touches. Where did the monster come from?

When a future war is lost, the defeated men commandeer a spaceship and take their families to the stars, searching for a habitable planet. Unfortunately, when they reach one, "The Invaders" are blown away by a U.S. Air Force jet. Get it? They weren't from Earth after all! This twist has been used so many times that we see it coming a mile away, but two Wally Wood stories in one issue is never a bad thing.

"The Slave of Evil!"
Last and most definitely least is "The Slave of Evil!" This story is so muddled that it's hardly worth summarizing, but I'll try. A man named Peter awakens in a lab, where two doctors hand him a gun and send him on a mission. He kills Harold Bergoff and steals blueprints, then goes back to the lab for another snooze. When he wakes up, he is joined by another somnambulist named Rudolph, and the two men rob a bank. Peter returns to the lab and hears the doctors planning world domination, so he shoots them. It turns out that he's a robot, and as the story ends he plans to destroy the machine that gave him life. Yawn. The art is unexpectedly better than average but the story is a tedious page filler.--Jack

Peter: "The Gray Cloud of Death" is a potent tale with a deliciously pessimistic climax. The cynic in me believes that the lone survivor of the Venus-1 (who starts his story with a "Get the hell out of here, now!!!" warning) wrote his journal entry so long that the men of the Venus-2 couldn't possibly read it and then save themselves in time. The final panel, of the Venus-2 crew awaiting their certain death in the guise of the gray cloud, is a stunner. A little less stunning in the story department is the second Wood contribution this issue, "The Invaders," which does a good job of throwing us off the beaten path at first but we're all sure these travelers are going to end up on Earth, right? At least we didn't find out they were Earthlings who traveled through a time warp back to the 1950s, yaddayaddayadda . . . Wood's art makes the journey bearable but the inking is so much different than that on "The Gray Cloud" (much lighter) that I have to believe someone else handled those chores on "The Invaders." I love how Wally's women lounge around in skimpy negligees despite being deep into space. The other two stories this issue are both disposable pap. CSI has come a long way since the days of "The Martian Monster," when you could shoot a man (twice!) from across the room and pass it off to the local yokels as suicide. Jack Kamen shows once again why he was the king of stencil art; each face is interchangeable. Oh, and the ending makes no sense, if that matters. Best known for his lengthy stint on The Phantom daily strip, George Oleson drops in for his one and only contribution to the EC Mythos, the dreadful "The Slave of Evil!" Moving at a snail's pace, "Slave" suffers not from poor art (it is limp and unimaginative but it's not awful) but from a muddled, tired script climaxing in a ridiculous expository from the lead protagonist, a robot who has taken the time to jot down his story before disconnecting his power supply. Pull the plug!

"The Invaders"
Jose: As Peter says, inking makes all the difference in the world. The heavy shadows and anguished blacks of “The Gray Cloud of Death!” clash wildly with the stress-free, sunny optimism of “The Invaders,” somewhat funny considering that both stories come to downer conclusions, but whereas the latter tale pulls the bait-and-switch of having its enthusiastic aliens meet flaming death at the hands of the  U. S. Air Force, we have a notion that the space explorers in “Gray Cloud,” like those slaughtered members aboard Ridley Scott’s Nostromo, are doomed from the moment they open the cautionary pages of that diary. For as nonsensical as “The Martian Monster” may be, the story was far more enjoyable than many of Kamen’s previous efforts, even if the deus ex machina moment happens solely for the convenience of plot. I think “The Martian Monster” also deserves some applause for the game portrayal of the “extraterrestrial” creatures that Kamen renders on the page; Smilin’ Jack didn’t get a lot of opportunities to draw anything legitimately monstrous, and although the ending could have gone the route of “Horror in the Schoolroom” (HoF #7) and kept its long-leggity beastie to the shadows, we get to see the flesh-eating Zato in all its rugose glory. Even the glamour shots of Sobodno show a level of refreshing detail new to Kamen’s art. “The Slave of Evil!” is strictly middle-of-the-road hash, neither offensive nor very thrilling. Oleson has a neat style, though; I wouldn’t have minded seeing more from him.

John: Nobody does space-jockeys quite like Wood, and when paired with a great story like "The Gray Cloud Of Death!" it's a real treat. Yes, there's a bit of that Lovecraftian note that was written as the writer was dying, but that's forgivable here. When many an EC-character would have called for their comrades to come rescue them, ensuring certain death for all, it was a nice twist for our ill-fated heroes to send the others away before they too were doomed. I was amused by "The Martian Monster," and was pleased there was a reasonable explanation for our space pal Sobodno packing a 45. Of course, unless we want to believe that WF-reading Freddy has the ability of spawning creatures from his imagination, there's no explanation for the Martian monster appearing exactly as 'uncle' Sobodno describes. Sadly, there was an easy opportunity to explain this that Feldstein didn't take advantage of. Have Freddy not see the Martian early on, so that when he meets Sobodno for the first time, he doesn't realize that he's not the Martian he has been speaking to. "The Invaders" is more Wood space-jockeys, but as my cohorts have pointed out, there's something lacking in the art when compared to "Gray Cloud." Sadly, the story is lacking, too.

 The Haunt of Fear #9

"Warts So Horrible?" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

"Forbidden Fruit" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"The Age-Old Story!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Gorilla's Paw!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"Warts So Horrible?"
Miserly old Titus Cranberry is about to kick off and he's determined his two useless nephews and sole heirs, Lem and Hank, will see not one penny of his estate. Titus instructs his lawyer to spend his entire "fortune" on a ring to be interred with him when he passes. The freeloaders overhear the conversation and plan accordingly. Meanwhile, across town, young Rudy has some nasty warts he'd like to rid himself of and his pal Chuck suggests they see the old hermit who lives in the bayou. The old man whips up a recipe for wart-remover that includes pouring stagnant stump water from a vinegar bottle over a freshly dug graveyard at midnight. Titus Cranberry succumbs and is buried just as the boys are searching the obituaries for a fresh grave. They head out to the cemetery and perform the ritual just before Lem and Hank arrive to dig up their uncle's body. Titus is having none of that and his corpse rises from his coffin, grabs hold of the terrified twosome, and folds back the dirt over the three of them. Rudy and Chuck hightail it but stop to discuss what they've seen. Chuck believes it was all part of the old hermit's witchery but Rudy's red-faced for having gone through so much trouble and he's still got warts! There are a couple of well-worn cliches that are pulled out of the trunk this issue (actually, they're probably kept in the top drawer for quick access) and the greedy heirs who get their just desserts in "Warts So Horrible?" is the first. The Ingels art is creepy as all hell and the Huck and Tom (sorry, Chuck and Rudy) characters are charming in a Bradbury-esque way but the main plot thread, Titus and his nephews, shows no inspiration nor is anything about it surprising. We know right from the get-go what's going to happen to these deadbeats. That final line will raise a smile though.

"Forbidden Fruit"
Shipwrecked and cast away on a remote island, businessman Dick Baker and his secretary, Rita, are a bit concerned when they can find no fruit or animals to eat anywhere on their new home. Suddenly, a voice from in the jungle warns the couple to get back in their raft and get away from the island as it will be their death if they don't. They follow the voice to a man-made fort, behind which is the island's sole fruit tree. Baker begs the voice to share the food with the starving newcomers but the faceless man tells them it is "Forbidden Fruit," and if they eat it, their bodies will be covered with horrible sores and their skin will rot. Thinking the man crazed, Baker climbs the fence, opens the gate, and the pair begin supping on the delicious fruit. Finally, the voice comes out into the open and Dick and Rita are terrified to see a walking corpse, oozing with sores. Baker opens fire on the thing and it dissolves into a "pool of pulsating, putrescent slime." Rita and Dick are left to ponder the error of their ways. As simple as the script is, I still liked this one. It's goofy and Joe's vision of a rotting (but living) corpse gives Ghastly a run for his money. Sure is lucky that Dick "remembered the gun when (they) abandoned the plane" and that Rita knows a little about sewing. If you're paying attention, her dress actually regenerates itself as the story progresses!

"The Age-Old Story!"
"The Age-Old Story" is about as apt a title as you could find for this issue's Feldstein/Kamen mash-up. Maybe "Age-Old Stories" would have been better. Here you get the gorgeous young chick who just wants to have a good time but wants a lot of money too. The older, naive scientist who wants a trophy wife but then never has the time to spend with her. The young paramour, a cad who just doesn't want to work for a living but wants to reap the benefits of a rich girlfriend. Oh, and throw in the regenerator sauce and you've got a quick six pages of filler, topped off with the cookie cutter art of Jack Kamen, whose characters struggle to differentiate from one another. I love that when old doc Henry spikes Harriet's drink and she ages instantly, she loses her teeth as well!

In “The Gorilla’s Paw," Floyd, passing an old curio shop, is fascinated by a row of trinkets. Beckoned in by the shop owner, Floyd is first repulsed and then obsessed by a severed gorilla’s paw. He buys it and finds that every time he wishes for something, he gets it. But every wish comes with consequences. When he wishes he had never bought the paw, the next morning his money is in the paw and he finds out that the curio shop owner has been murdered. The story ends with a classic AAAAAAH!: while talking to his buddy on the phone, Floyd demeans himself for being a dope, wishes he had his buddy’s brains, and . . . well, you get the picture (and, yes, you do get the picture!). It’s no secret that Gaines and Feldstein liberally “borrowed” from many sources to create their comic tales. Frankenstein was reimagined several times throughout the titles, as was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But it’s a testament to just how well the writing duo could pick at a corpse that two different variations on W. W. Jacobs’s classic “The Monkey’s Paw” would pop up in Haunt of Fear (the second being the classic "Wish You Were Here" in #22) and both would merit inclusion in a Best of . . . -Peter

"The Gorilla's Paw"
Jose: “Warts So Horrible?” earns extra merit for its distinctly regional flavor and attempting to put a spin on the vengeful corpse motif. The scheming nephews are old hat but the rambunctious tykes consulting the wisdom of a swamp hermit to rid themselves of the warty scourge has enough charm to balance the scales. Ingels even manages to get in some skin-crawling shots that act as slight but effective variations from his normal oozy aesthetic; check out ol’ Titus’s rotting jack o’ lantern smile from the above screenshot. “Forbidden Fruit” plays on the narrative from William Hope Hodgson’s classic tale of body horror, “The Voice in the Night,” but the chilling inevitability of the original is traded in for some sappy romance that borders on Mad Men-esque misogyny (at one point Dick calls Rita a “little idiot” for keeping her feelings from him) and a louder climax that goes for shock value. “The Age-Old Story!” on the other hand, fails to add any new wrinkles to a time-worn template and hobbles along on a walker to its whimpering finale. Thank goodness we have the outrageous “Gorilla’s Paw” to more than make up for it. This is a prime example of the EC bullpen’s ability to take a simple springboard—here, Jacobs’s genre staple—and filter it through their patented, twisted vision to produce an “adaptation” that entertains on every level. I love the fact that Feldstein literalized the notion of the mummified paw carrying out each wish by making it into an ambulatory horror; the (imagined) images of it crawling along the floor, crushing skulls, and lobbing off body parts are too good to pass up. Definitely a bona fide winner from the company’s horror line.

Like that last tooth,
Ol' Titus won't go down without a fight!
("Warts So Horrible?")
Jack: Peter, I am shocked that you did not like "Warts So Horrible?" more than you did. For me, Ghastly + Southern Gothic = classic! I love that Old Titus has but a single tooth, and the art perfectly meshes with the brilliant, ghoulish humor of Feldstein's story. "Forbidden Fruit" is another great piece of work by new recruit Joe Orlando, with a fabulous reveal of a man about to rot to death. The Kamen story is as expected, though the gold digger/schemer reminded me of a character who might turn up in a Johnny Craig story. By the way, where is Johnny this month? I'm with you guys on the Davis story--a real hoot and classic work by the artist who is now becoming a master of war and horror.

John: "Warts So Horrible?" left me wanting. As I've declared many times before, I'm a big fan of shambling corpse tales. In this one, our shambling is relegated to a single panel of a skeletal hand. "Forbidden Fruit" on the other hand, I really enjoyed. While the script is laughable at times, Joe Orlando's art is fantastic. I loved the look of his doomed inhabitant on the island. "The Age-Old Story!" puts a twist on the well-worn two-timing dame plot, but it's not enough to make it entertaining. And you can't go wrong with the inspired "Gorilla's Paw!" (or, perhaps more appropriately, Gorilla's forearm). Yes, we all know what's happening, but it's fun to follow along to see what our unwitting protagonist will accidentally do on his way to finding out what's so special about his simian curio. This was a perfect story for Jack Davis' style.

Two-Fisted Tales #23

"Death Stand!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Old Soldiers Never Die!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"Kill!" ★ 1/2
Story and Art by Harvey Kurtzman

"Dog Fight!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin and Bill Elder

August, 1918. Allied infantryman Caruso asks fellow troop Pappy Davidson what the meaning of the song is that the British soldiers croon around the fire. Pappy explains that experience is what proves the lyric that “Old Soldiers Never Die.” Caruso gets a first-hand demonstration when Pappy tries to warn a group of fellows running toward the trench to hold still and cover their faces as a German pfalz hones in on them. “Fool kids never learn!” Pappy shouts over the four, bullet-riddled bodies. Next month, Pappy and Caruso are hunkered down in a funk hole as a menacing tank roams the battlefield. Pappy senses danger and beats a quick path in the opposite direction. Caruso passes on Pappy’s advice to follow and gets shelled by the Germans for his trouble. Thankfully Caruso only ends up with a “scratch;” he rejoins his friend on the march through the Argonne Forest the following month. The pair witnesses another fatality when a soldier too eager to get out of his gas mask convulses into a hacking mess from the poisonous air. One month more of fighting sees a heavenly development: Armistice is signed on November 11, effectively ending the war. Caruso tells Pappy the great news and aims to celebrate over some wine when a few die-hard Germans blast their hideaway in a last burst of rivalry. Caruso’s none the worse for wear and tries to get Pappy’s spirits up about peacetime. It’s little use though: a stray bit of shrapnel has pierced the old soldier’s brain, instantly killing him.

Apocalypse Then.

If the gritty, mud-speckled artwork of Wally Wood wasn’t enough to sell this piece, Harvey Kurtzman’s unremittingly bleak perspective on the arbitrariness of death would be enough to ensure the classic status of “Old Soldiers Never Die.” The buff, macho vibe that Wood brought to other assignments is traded in here for a much more earthy and dismal look. Nothing about the journeys of Pappy and Caruso look glamorous at all, as compared to, say, the historic grandness of “Gettysburg.” The soldiers look as if they have risen from the cold, wet dirt themselves, craggy-faced phantoms who return to the dust in all-too-prompt and often horrifying fashion. Wood seems to be perfectly in tune with Kurtzman’s aims here; I don’t know whose idea it was to have the poisoned soldier’s “COUGH” sound effects turn increasingly bloodier, but it definitely gets the message across. Pappy’s stone-eyed face and the silhouettes of two troops carrying his lifeless body between them under the old jaunt’s lyrics are just the right shade of nihilism to end this story.

"Death Stand"
“Death Stand” finds another old-timer extolling sage advice, this time in the form of Ol’ Joe Hill explaining that “[w]hen a bullet’s got your name on it . . . ain’t nothin’ you can do!” This reasoning is put to the test, as it is so often in a Kurtzman story, when an American pilot parachutes from his downed vessel right onto the border of enemy territory. The soldiers race their two jeeps out to save him, but one vehicle is destroyed by Korean artillery. All the Americans are forced to pile into one vehicle, but the numbers prove too overwhelming. Hill volunteers to hold back and give the approaching tank everything he’s got with an armload of grenades. Hill finds out too late that the tank is actually on the mountain ridge above the road where he waits and watches as all his comrades are sent sky-high in a blast of fire. Hill evens the score by bashing the tank operator’s face in and tossing the explosives in after him. When Hill reaches the site of destruction, he confirms that he’s the only surviving member of the group. “Ain’t nothin’ you can do about it!” says the kid Hill explained his theory to just before breathing his last. This is a solid pairing of Davis’s dynamic art and Kurtzman’s trademark irony, with a constant sense of movement to the panels that ensures this one rips along at the speed of an action picture.

Can Abner pet the rabbits now?
There’s some cinematic touches to be seen in “Kill,” Kurtzman’s own double-duty entry from this issue, but overall this one seems like a one-note gimmick that pits a psychotic soldier from the American army with a love for sharpened knives against a psychotic soldier from the Chinese army with a love for well-kept machine guns. Granted, that could serve as the basis for a pretty thrilling confrontation, but the short running time doesn’t give the story room to breathe beyond its “Hey look, they both ended up killing each other!” ending. Also, Kurtzman’s art runs a little too close to simple caricatures in this story for my tastes; some of the characters look like they could’ve stepped out of a Rocky and Bullwinkle sketch.

When first we meet Captain Jacob Strange (any relation to Stephen?), he is already deep in the waters of personal malaise. After getting into a “written argument” with his fiancé, Strange sinks into a depression when none of his sweetheart’s letters show up at his Pacific Island base, so now he exorcises his bottled-up sorrow by striking down every Japanese fighter plane that comes into his crosshairs. When an all-hands-on-deck call sounds over the base’s PA, Strange heads into the sky with his comrades for another round of fighting just after he gets word that a mailing snafu has held up all of his fiancé’s messages. Strange leads the host of Japanese fighter planes away from his fellows, ensuring their safe return to base. Just when the troops have given up hope of Strange’s arrival, the pilot radios in, but a low-lying bank of storm clouds and a busted receiver result in Strange completely missing the base. All his friends can do is listen to his helpless calls and the sound of his plane’s engine fading in the distance. “Dog Fight” might not be great shakes when it comes to the narrative department, close to bordering on melodrama at times, but for me that haunting finale is enough to warrant a half star on its own merits. --Jose

("Dog Fight")

Peter: An interesting use of the color yellow in "Old Soldiers Never Die!" and "Death Stand!" It's used almost randomly in backgrounds, (by colorist Marie Severin, sister of John, and later an artist for Marvel) though I'm sure there's a deep meaning to it and my three (college-graduated) amigos will enlighten me. "Death Stand!" is an amazingly brutal and pessimistic tale (witness Joe Hill's beating of a Korean with a grenade), one that could only have been published before the code commenced. "Old Soldiers" has the same kind of ironic kick in its ass as "Death Stand!" and Wally's art has a grungy, decayed look not usually associated with Wood work; it's almost horror story art. "Kill!" is the weakest story in this issue, coming off a little bit too preachy for my tastes (Harvey could be very preachy but usually he'd mask it) but Kurtzman delivers, big time, with the last of the quartet. The final two pages of "Dog Fight" are simultaneously eerie and heartbreaking. It brings to mind a documentary on the Bermuda Triangle I saw not too long ago, which sought to explain the "lost squadron" of WWII.

March of the damned.
("Old Soldiers Never Die")
Jack: The Kurtzman/Davis combo is dynamite, as evidenced once again by "Death Stand!" Of course, a Kurtzman-penned tale of heroism has to end with a sense of futility, but Davis's pictorial storytelling here is stunning. "Old Soldiers" equals the first story in quality, recalling All Quiet on the Western Front in its downbeat ending and featuring gritty Wood art. I agree that "Kill!" veers over the line into sermonizing, but I was less impressed than Peter with "Dog Fight!" Despite the usual steady work by Severin and Elder, I think the story could've used some larger panels to let the artists expand the air battles.

I have long believed that the greatest ten-year period for comics was 1945 to 1955, and this month at EC reinforces that belief. Frontline Combat and The Haunt of Fear are as close to classic issues as we've seen to date, with Two-Fisted Tales close behind. Even the SF comics shine, in large part due to the work of Wally Wood and newcomer Joe Orlando. Call me an EC fan-addict!

John: "Death Stand!" was cut from the same cloth as many classic EC horror tales, so I wasn't surprised about how things panned out for our protagonist. The Davis art is nice, but story-wise, I'm troubled by the fact that Joe Hill sits and watches while the tank fires on his helpless buddies rather than spring into action to save them. Wally Wood's art in "Old Soldiers Never Die!" makes it the best entry in this issue. Unfortunately, the story left me cold. It's worth noting that in the hardcover EC Archives edition that I have, the yellows Peter mentions that can be seen in the screen grab above are completely wiped away. I do love Wood's splash page (also reproduced above) with the rat coming out of the eye socket in the bottom right corner.

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