Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Invasions To Astonish!

Before Ant-Man returned in the fall of 1962 to monopolize the covers of Tales To Astonish, the title was ruled completely by stories both bizarre and eerily shocking, and all sharing a twist to their ending that hopefully took the reader by complete surprise--or at least left them in complete astonishment. The last issue still free of any super-hero influence played that concept to the hilt, with talent such as Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Paul Reinman, and Stan Lee all contributing to provide the reader with food for thought, and food for fright.

Following is a brief rundown of tales from this issue, a look at a genre that still had two years of life left to it but would eventually disappear and give way to costumes and super-powers, making way for different kinds of threats for a different kind of audience which traded terror for action/adventure.

"A Monster At My Window!"
Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers

In a story that reminds me of the episode "Nightmare At 20,000 Feet" which aired on "The Twilight Zone" program a year later, our frazzled protagonist, sci-fi writer Paul Marshall, is having fitful bouts of sleeping due to being amped up on the subject matter that is his stock in trade. But as he awakens with a jolt, a danger far more terrifying haunts his waking world.

Yes, Hannah's holiness was being exclaimed even before super-heroes made it fashionable.

Unfortunately, Paul can't chalk this up to his imagination running wild--because whatever it is that's watching him is still doing so.

Wherever Paul goes. Whatever he's doing.

That evening, however, things come to a head--because what's become Paul's worst nightmare is no longer content with playing peek-a-boo with him.

Despite breaking into Paul's home and coming toward him, this creature is still restricting its behavior to its unnerving, menacing stare--but since it's now within arm's length, Paul decides that he doesn't necessarily have to be around to hear it say something along the lines of YOU-MUST-DIE, and so he makes the smart move and bolts. Of course then the creature decides to give Paul a piece of its mind (and thank Hannah it knows enough about our language not to mean that literally).

Good grief, Paul--IF he breaks it down??

With Paul now a captive audience, our alien behemoth begins to explain how a writer of science fiction can make sure that the invasion from the sixth dimension succeeds. The problem is, the same insidious plan has already occurred to Paul, who reveals to his "captor" that the shoe is now on the other foot.

The Strange Fate Of The Statue Maker!"
Jack Kirby

This seeming adaptation of "Pygmalion" begins with inventor Luther Benedict, who believes he's successfully created a device that will increase the size of an object to twice its normal size, but instead discovers that it instead changes the target object to stone (à la the Grey Gargoyle but without the dramatic touch of the villain's hand). Considering the invention a worthless failure and lamenting the millions he could have made from it, inspiration strikes when he glances at a newspaper article and realizes that all is not lost.

Which leads to possibly the creepiest newspaper ad EVER.

But as we see, and as P.T. Barnum has noted*, there's a sucker born every minute--and so an eager model arrives at Benedict's home, not realizing that what waits behind the door isn't exactly a coat rack.

*The actual source of the quote remains up for debate, no matter what Commander Data believes.

But Benedict's scheme to make millions is foiled by his own heart--because the longer he gazes at this woman, the more he realizes that he's fallen in love with her. Regrettably, however, he had never developed a way to reverse his ray's effect. Fitfully, he wracks his brain for a solution, and reasons that a second dose might change her back to normal. (That's not exactly my idea of sound reasoning, especially when we're talking about someone who was going for a growth ray but ended up with a statue maker.)

Yet the process works, though Benedict makes one tiny oversight.

"Can't ya can't ya can't ya feel it... stoned love..."
  - The Supremes

"The Invaders"
Stan Lee, Steve Ditko

As our voyeur above discovered, alien invasions are often problematic in these stories, with the aliens usually only finding that out after the anvil lands on their plans. Take these guys, who conduct only enough research on our world to know that it's suitable for invasion and then launch their fleet without any further deliberation or planning. (They haven't even finished testing their weapons.)

As a result:
Give it up for the only invaders to ever land their way to defeat.

"Dance, You Fool"
Don Heck

Finally, meet Carlos Carter, who strikes out at one dance audition after another due to an utter lack of talent. Fuming in his boarding house, he's understandably bitter about his prospects--but thank goodness that boarding houses reportedly have thin walls, because this daddy really does need a new pair of shoes.

Yet when Carlos makes his move, he's given fair warning by the shoes' owner not to take them, since they've been cursed. Well, Carlos isn't having that--besides, he probably thinks the old guy is just telling him that to avoid having to hand them over. So with a hard slap, Clobberin' Carlos "convinces" his victim to part with the shoes--and he's eager enough for results to try them on then and there.

Nice work, Carlos! It looks like your instincts were dead on. Enjoy that new career--that is, assuming you only have your eye on winning dance marathon trophies from now on, jerk.


Anonymous said...

The cover made me think of "Nightmare At 20,000 Feet" too. And that episode was recreated for the Twilight Zone movie in 1982 starring John Lithgow as the passenger. In my opinion that segment was the only good bit of the film, along with the brief opening section where two men are driving along a dark road - "Do you want to see something REALLY scary?"

The story about the dancing shoes is clearly based on "The Red Shoes" by Hans Christian Andersen - the shoes are even colored red but maybe that's a coincidence?

Comicsfan said...

Colin, I thought Lithgow was awesome in that segment. :D

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