The Monsters are Coming!
‘Tis the Halloween season. It is time for stories of ghosts, ghouls, and things that go bump in the night. I picked up this issue of Beware over the weekend at the Baltimore Comic Con (hopefully more on that in another post). Beware is an anthology comic and, at least in this issue, contains all reprints from older Atlas and Marvel comics. I’ve read a fair amount of horror anthologies and I have to say this one was really good. Very often the stories are pretty predictable with twist endings that the reader can see coming a mile away. That was not the case with this comic.
The Helping Hand
Pencils – Vernon Henkel
Reprinted from Marvel Tales #129 (1949 Atlas Comics)
The story begins with a couple standing in front of a creepy old house with a for sale sign in front of it. The man is telling the woman that the house is perfect because it is far from the neighbors and the police will never find them there. The woman is not so convinced and does not like the house. The couple are quickly identified to the reader as George and Jean, and that they are on the run from the law. Time passes and George fixes up the place enough to make it livable.
Meanwhile Jean is still unhappy and explains to George that she feels as if she is being watched. She is so disturbed that she forgets to do the shopping and they run out of sugar. Just as George is berating her for doing nothing while he breaks his back to fix the house up there is a knock at the door. George starts to freak out thinking it’s the police but when he answers the door it is just a friendly neighbor with some sugar to give them. George and Jean are both worried about how that happened so quickly, the neighbor showing up just when they needed something.
After more and more occurrences of people showing up with items that they needed almost as soon as they need them George and Jean are getting pretty distraught. Jean wants to leave but George has to know what’s going on. He decides that they will throw a party and invite the neighbors. On the night of the party, after dinner, George mentions that he wants his pipe but cannot find it. One of the older guests tells him that it is behind the desk where it had fallen. When George confronts the old man on how he knew that the old man simply states that he knows everything that goes on.
After all the guests have left George is all the way freaked out and thinks their neighbors are aliens in human disguise and says he’s calling the cops. At this point the reader must know this will go poorly for George but let’s see what he does.
The police show up and surround the house. They call for George to come out and he does so, happily, and proceeds to tell the officers about the aliens in the town. The head of the squad does not believe George and asks for one of his men’s binoculars. He’s able to easily confirm his suspicions about George and decides to show him what he’s found. When George looks through the glass he sees one of the neighbors spying on them with their own binoculars.
It seems George and Jean had come across a very small town where the residents have nothing to do but spy on each other and newcomers. George, like many small time hoods, starts to recant and complain about being framed and tricked as he is lead away in handcuffs.
Artist – MIke Sekowsky
Reprinted from Mystic #2 (Atlas comics 1951).
The Black Dungeon is the longest story in the issue and is also the most reminiscent of the “golden age” of horror comics with large narration dialog boxes at the top of each panel above the word balloons and illustrations. It is the most engaging story in this issue largely because of Sekowsky’s beautiful and dynamic art. The opening splash is a eerie picture of a dungeon door surrounded by hooded and masked figures. There is a dragon and woman in a pink dress who appears to be curious about the dungeon door. There are grim warnings about secrets and death, all of which have no actual bearing on the following strip.
The story begins in some Eastern European village where a small disfigured man with a hunchback is being tormented by the local youth. The heroine of the story, Helga, chases the young men off and asks the picked on man, Otto, if he is okay. She then offers to care for Otto and let’s him live with her father and her. Otto feeling indebted goes everywhere with Helga and helps her with whatever she needs.
Helga informs us the reader that she loves everyone in her village with the exception of one man who happens to be the richest man in town and the local tailor, Herr Gruber. Of course Herr Gruber becomes interested in Helga and asks her father for permission to marry her. Helga does not want to marry Gruber and Otto does not want him to marry her either. Otto decides he’s going to take matters into his own hands.
Otto takes Gruber out to the cemetery, to Gruber’s family mausoleum, and tells him that he’s found gold and jewels inside and since it is his family Gruber should have them. Greed, a common failing in golden age villains, is too much for Herr Gruber. Inside the crypt he’s digging when Otto attacks him with a shovel. Gruber turns the attack around on Otto, repeatedly strikes him with the shovel and locks him in the crypt. Helga, who followed her companion, has witnessed the whole thing and is quickly discovered by Gruber. As Gruber drags Helga from the cemetery they are followed by the screams of Otto cursing Gruber that he will always protect Helga.
Soon after Gruber and Helga are married and he takes her away to America. They move into a large creepy house where Gruber keeps Helga isolated from the outside world telling neighbors that his wife is an invalid and by doctors orders she is not to have visitors. In Helga’s boredom she eventually comes across a storage room and finds one of Gruber’s old tailoring dummies. The dummy has a face that reminds her of Otto. She decides to dress the dummy up and treats it a little bit like a doll. She spends time with it and talks to it. This makes her happy which makes Gruber suspicious. When he interrogates her, thinking there is another man, she says that she never leaves the house. He hits her.
She does not return to her “companion” until the next day when she thinks her husband has left the house. She tells the dummy everything that has happened. Gruber has tricked Helga though and bursts into the store room. When he sees the dummy dressed like Otto he attacks Helga. Helga cries out Otto’s name and the dummy comes to life. It attacks and kills Gruber. Helga says that just before collapsing to the floor she could swear that she saw the dummy smile. In the final panel Helga tells us that the police attributed Gruber’s death to a prowler. This is happening as she is talking to the Otto dummy and showing him the new sweater she has made him.
The Things that Stalks Skull Valley
Artist – Mort Lawrence
Reprinted from Mystic #37 (Atlas 1955)
This story is the weakest of the bunch. The premise is that a bunch of obnoxious New Yorkers are being lead on a tour of a Grand Canyon type location called Skull Valley by a Native American. The guide tells the tourists about the gods and spirits that were worshiped in the valley and they scoff and make fun until they are proven wrong at the end. The whole story is very insensitive to Native Americans to say the least.
The best part of the story is the end, when after making fun of Native American culture for three pages, the tourists actually see one of the ancient gods. In fact they only see the foot and it’s never really said as to what they see, it is left to the reader’s imagination.
They Walk Thru Walls!
Artist – Paul Reinman
Reprinted from Astonishing #56
This was another gem and is the only story in this comic where the creator is credited. The story begins right away with two men in overcoats and hats walking through a wall behind a megalomaniac character going on and on about their organization ruling the United States. The men warn the guards to not draw their guns, that they only want their leader, Clayton. The men who walked through the walls indeed take Clayton and bring him to an airfield where they board a plane headed toward a mountain top compound.
While on the plane the men explain to Clayton that they are guardians of mankind dedicated to the “cause of peace and contentment”. They explain that Clayton will be kept at the compound for the world’s safety, that he’ll be treated well, but he’ll never leave. As they are bring him in Clayton suddenly rebels, attacks his captors, and runs off. They warn him that they are miles from civilization but they don’t pursue him. After some time passes Clayton finally gets to a road and is picked up and is brought to a hospital.
As Clayton is recovering he is recounting the story to his doctors including about how the men walked through walls. His doctor thinks he is crazy and refuses to release him until he agrees to be examined. The new doctor hears Clayton’s story and tells him he believes that he is sane and will have him released. Instead he meets with Clayton’s doctors and tells them the exact opposite and that he is to confined indefinitely. As the good doctor is leaving he leaving he thinks to himself that he feels bad for Clayton but that mankind must be protected and he proceeds to walk through the wall.
Despite the caption on the cover about monsters coming there are almost no monsters in the book. Instead Beware collects reprints of some really excellent golden age thrillers. All the stories with the exception of the Skull Valley story feature well written and well drawn tales of suspense.
I particularly enjoyed that the Black Dungeon story featured a female character as the narrator and focus of the story. As I said Mike Sekowsky’s art was fantastic and went a long way to keeping the reader engaged.
The final story, They Walk Thru Walls, felt like something right out of the Twilight Zone. It was short but really packed a lot in. I really felt like the Clayton character was a real threat, similar to the way Johnny Smith feels when he meets Greg Stillson in the the “Dead Zone”
My copy of this comic is beat to heck and the cover came off but I still had a great time reading it. If I were to find other issues in this series in the wild I would pick them up.
I’ll close with a couple of great ads.
The first is for Bronze Marvel coins featuring Spiderman, The Hulk, and Conan the Barbarian. Please note that one of the holders that can be purchased is a belt buckle and another is a bolo tie. Imagine being a 12 year old in 1974 wearing a bolo tie to school with the a Conan Bronze medallion on it.
The second ad is a pretty standard ad for toy soldiers. What makes this one exceptional is that one of the sets you can buy is for exploding tanks. I have no idea how they accomplished that with heavy card stock flat soldiers.