« A knot you are of damned bloodsuckers. » — William Shakespeare
One of my favourite Atlas mood-masters was Anthony Lewis “Tony” DiPreta (July 9, 1921 – June 2, 2010); it appears Mr. DiPreta and his colleague Murphy Anderson share not merely a birthday, but a day of birth as well.
Tony DiPreta’s long career in comics began with his arrival at the “Busy” Arnold studio, with his first credits appearing in early 1942. He worked extensively for Hillman Periodicals, handling such features as Airboy (yay!), Skinny McGinty, Flying Dutchman and Stupid Manny; Lev Gleason Publications (various crime stories and The Little Wise Guys); and of course Atlas Comics, where he chiefly, but not exclusively, cut loose on moody-but-not-gory horror stories, often with a finely-turned streak of gallows’ humour.
Tony survived the post-Code near-collapse of the comics industry when he succeeded Moe Leff on Ham Fisher‘s Joe Palooka strip, which he carried until the feature’s final curtain in 1984. In the 1970s, he also did a bit of moonlighting for Charlton, contributing to a couple of issues of The Flintstones spin-off The Great Gazoo. In 1994, DiPreta took on another venerable, long-running newspaper strip, medical soap opera Rex Morgan, M.D., until his well-earned retirement (DiPreta’s, not Morgan’s) in 2000.
For your reading pleasure and mine, I’ve selected this adorably wacky tale from Atlas’ Journey Into Mystery no. 11 (August, 1953). Writer unknown, which is a shame.
Occasionally, I notice a comic book cover with a tentacled monster so peculiar that one starts wondering whether the artist was on drugs or just couldn’t give a shit. That is not a criticism, however: where grabby appendages are concerned, the weirder, the better. Even if some of these guys have a face (muzzle? rictus?) even a mother couldn’t love, or their anatomy defies all laws of biology, we’ll welcome them with open arms!
As usual, in chronological order.
First in our line-up is this little fella in a hat. At least he looks like he’s wearing a cap, although perhaps he just has a square head with a skin flap hanging over the sides. At first glance, his tentacles are hollow, although their flesh is probably just a dull shade of battleship grey. So what’s this “thing that waited”? Soviet soldiers who are actually alien invaders. Duh.
This next cover is probably a little more standard for pseudo-octopus fare: a lady with huge, ahem, bazooms (Russ Heath liked ’em busty, it seems – seriously, just look at the size of those things!) threatened by some horrific monster who’s dispatching her companion as expediently as possible. Still, the somewhat Wolverton-esque, grave-dwelling aliens with pincers at the end of their tentacles are odd-looking enough to squeeze their way into this post.
This toupee-clad creature with evil gimlet eyes doesn’t look much like a pet, if you ask me. How are those grabby little arms attached to its head, anyway? Wait, who am I talking about, again? 😉
“My Greatest Adventure” was a title that promised much, and it must have been difficult to live up to it every month. Witness the following “fantastic” creature – a furry slug with disturbingly fleshy lips and tentacles. I can’t vouch for my reaction had I been an excitable ten-year old, but to this blasé adult, the poor beast summoned by some psycho witch doctor (the jungles seem to be always overrun with them) is just begging to be put out of its misery.
Our next exhibit finally features a proper alien, one who looks strange but at least makes sense as a unified, functioning creature. I love his sadly drooped whiskers, his dejected expression that’s strangely at odds with his pontifical speech.
« Make him a werewolf! But in space! And give him tentacles! » Yeah, guys, that went over really well. A Marvel Masterwork, my ass. But wait: Black Destroyer! is an adaptation of A. E. van Vogt’s short story from 1939. And did Cœurl, the black cat-like creature, have tentacles in the story? Why, yes, he did.
« His great forelegs—twice as long as his hindlegs—twitched with a shuddering movement that arched every razor-sharp claw. The thick tentacles that sprouted from his shoulders ceased their weaving undulation, and grew taut with anxious alertness. Utterly appalled, he twisted his great cat head from side to side, while the little hairlike tendrils that formed each ear vibrated frantically, testing every vagrant breeze, every throb in the ether. » (read the full story here.)
My last offering for today is the cutest, featuring an adorable blue varmint who gets my full sympathy and support. Weird? Sure, a bit – he’s got a tentacle sprouting out of his forehead – but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? This cover also proves that monsters are just as interested in tooth-whitening procedures as us humans.
« Look! An undersea monster! Spearing that torpedo like it was a sardine! It’s a nightmare! »
Writer-editor Bob Kanigher, flanked by artists Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, drew first blood in « The War that Time Forgot », chronicled in DC’s Star Spangled War Stories beginning with issue 90 (May, 1960). The idea was scarily basic, but it was an irresistible premise, at least where young boys were concerned: let’s face it… soldiers vs dinosaurs. How might a T-Rex fare against a bazooka charge? Well…
The only time the series (what I’ve read of it… Andru and Esposito are no dream team of mine) did anything for me was a tale about two soldiers, one American and the other Japanese, stranded together on « Monster Island » and having to save each other’s sashimi. And this was before Lee and Toshirô got together on their own little slice of Hell in the Pacific, yet! I enjoyed the human interest aspect of the tale.
While I, like pretty much any other kid, was fascinated by dinosaurs early on, I quickly soured on inaccurate and fanciful depictions of the beasts. The War That Time Forgot is just one long, tedious dino-butchering exercise, be they harmless herbivores or kill-frenzied carnivores. Piss-poor palaeontology, that. Give me King Kirby‘s Devil Dinosaur any old time instead: that series runneth over with surreal, freewheeling fun, with nary a claim to accuracy in sight or in mind.
Ahem. The WTTF ran its course in SSWS until issue 137 (February-March, 1968), and was replaced by the far more nuanced Enemy Ace by Kanigher and Joe Kubert. Their all-time high, arguably in the case of Kubert, and without the faintest shadow of a doubt in Kanigher’s case.
So why am I writing about this series if I care so little about it? Well, when Andru (meh) or Kubert (great, true to form) weren’t handling cover duties, Russ Heath was. And while I’m fairly unmoved by Heath’s skill as a storyteller (too static, too measured), he was a first-rate cover artist, most strikingly for DC’s 1960s war books (and hey, Sea Devils) and Atlas’ 1950s westerns and horror titles.
So, in fond remembrance of Mr. Heath, who left us last week at the age of ninety-one, here’s a gallery of his Star Spangled War Stories covers featuring The War That Time Forgot. Thank you, sir.
Addendum to SSWS 131: apparently, « Bird-Man » started a trend, as everyone and his distant ancestor soon was riding a Pteranodon of his own. To wit: Tomahawk #109 (Mar. – Apr. 1967… just a month later).
« Newly dead, the gases of decomposition moving in the stomach… moving the body like a rag doll whose lips flutter and belch… »
Atlas anthology Men’s Adventures (25 issues, 1950-54) was a pretty schizoid entity, with an editorial emphasis waffling from your typical would-be rugged he-man stuff (issues 4* to 8) to battle action (9 to 20) to mild horror (21-26) to, as a last resort, superheroes (27-28).
In the mid-1970s you could tell that Marvel was running low on reprintable pre-Code material when items from Men’s Adventure began to pop up in its mystery anthologies.
A more haunting variation on the “trapped in the morgue with the not-quite-dead” theme is Nostalgia Press’ historically significant Horror Comics of the 1950’s (1971, edited by Bhob Stewart, Ron Barlow and original publisher Bill Gaines), which gathered, in full colour, 23 classic EC stories, including the previously unpublished story, “An Eye For an Eye.” The cover revives (ha!) Al Feldstein’s Tales From the Crypt #23 art from 1951.
*the actual first issue… typical 1950s comics numbering scheme.