Strange Tales Volume 2: Atlas Era Marvel Masterworks


Underrated Pre-code Horror from Atlas Era
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Strange Tales Volume Two collects Strange Tales 11-20 from the Atlas Era, cover dates October 1952-July 1953. Includes a fantastic 6-page introduction by Dr. Michael J Vassallo. Each issue includes 4 or 5 stories from some of the best artists in the business during the atomic age. I’ll give a non-spoiler teaser for the stories from each issue that were the best. Atlas horror had amazing coloring, using an expanded palette from their competition, and having a surreal mix of colors. Often, a figure would be cast in a single color with a tone for shading. Atlas stories usually had an economy of dialog and narration when compared to their contemporaries, but enough material to invest you in the characters and their world.

For the uninitiated, before calling themselves Marvel, the company was known as Timely through the Golden Age (1939 into the 50s) and then Atlas, after their distribution arm. Many comic collectors consider the Atlas era to be the entire period from 1950 (end of Captain America Comics) to 1961 with Fantastic Four #1, though technically, the Atlas globe only appeared on covers from 1951 to 1957.

11 – “The Devil and Donald Webster” by Stan Lee and Paul Reinman is about a brow-beaten worm that’s had enough and makes a deal with the devil.

“Darkness” by Jim Mooney is a fantastic idea about a convict who’s tired of being imprisoned. As he flees to freedom, a mishap finds him adrift in a dark sea. He wakes to an oppressive darkness that he can’t escape.

12 – “The Corpse” also by Jim Mooney. “Maybe the whole thing wouldn’ta happened if that crummy watchman hadn’ta spotted me before I finished my haul.” A three-time loser commits murder during a routine burglary and is now on the run. He has a slim chance of beating the rap but his soulless ways catch up with him.

“Graveyard at Midnight” by Bill Everett. The Man of a Thousand Faces disguises himself, holds up a bank, and then ditches the disguise in an old cemetary. A billboard outside his dressing room proclaims him as Charles Crew starring in “The Devil’s Alibi”, which also would’ve been an excellent title for this strange tale. Bill Everett’s art shines as always.

13 – “The Witching Hours” by Ed Goldfarb poses the dilemma of a young man who falls in love with a beauty queen but spies a witch trying to cast a spell in her direction. The young woman is thankful for the man’s attention. Still the skull-faced witch follows the couple. What is her sinister purpose?

“The Hiding Place” by Carl Wessler and John Tartaglione pits three greedy criminals against each other. They each make a pact to hide the loot until the heat is off but then they become increasingly suspicious of each other. The color scheme uses a controlled pallette, panel to panel, with lurid and haunting effect.

14 – “Horrible Herman” has terrific art by Joe Maneely. Maneely, paired with Stan Lee as they often were, tell the tale “Herman Hooper… small and ugly! But he was also the most dangerous man on Earth.”

“The Man Who Talked to Ghosts” by Stan Lee and Carl Burgos, the man who created the Human Torch. This 4-pager has some of Burgos’ best art of his career.

15 – “Mary and the Witch” has fantastically stylized art by Bernie Krigstein. Carl is a magician who appears to use real magic in his act, creating jewels from thin air. Mary is bent on discovering his secret so that she can shower herself with wealth.

“The Last Word” by Larry Womoray is an interesting story about Wilbur, a husband who married a rich wife in Minerva that he doesn’t find attractive. He really has eyes on broadway actress, Gloria. Wilbur begins to crack under the strain but thinks he has the perfect plan until it all falls apart.

“Don’t Look Down” by Silver Age Marvel mainstay George Roussos. “How far is down? To Benson, it could be a foot or a mile.. but even an inch meant a vast yawning chasm of death!”

“Afraid” has unique art by Sam Kweskin with primarily shades of blue and orange.

16 – “The Man in the Mud” by Sy Barry illustrates how fickle fate can be but how steadfast karma remains.

Stan Lee is paired with Harry Anderson in one beautifully drawn story called “You Can’t Kill Me” and then “They Made Me a Ghost” with Mike Sekowsky.

17 – “Feud” is by Stan Lee and Jerry Robinson, with a take on a McCoy-Hatfield style Appalachian family war, with the trigger for the feud told from each family’s viewpoint.

“Father-in-Law Trouble” by Dick Briefer has a twist on the man who marries into a wealthy family against the father’s wishes. Now he finds out that the daughter is cut off from daddy’s bank account. He thinks he has a way out, except he didn’t account for her father’s influence.

18 – “John Doe” by Stan Lee and Joe Maneely has an inventor that proclaims he can build a robot that can think and feel just like a human. His daughter, Erika, has a boyfriend, Danny, that figures this invention could be worth a fortune if he can discover how her father does it.

“Witch Hunt” by Larry Womoray and Matt Fox has fantastic art and colors. This strange tale is about a village that’s suddenly plagued by mysterious and ominous signs of witchcraft. An old hag promises to rid the town of the devil and his coven, but at what price?

“Boris and the Bomb” by Gene Colan is a wonderful cold war piece about.. “what happens when something goes wrong during an H-bomb test? When the bomb-button touches off nothing but an hour of horrifying suspense?!”

19 – “You Made the Pants Too Long” by Stan Lee and Fred Kida gives us another morality play about karma.

“Look Out” by long-time Marvel artist George Tuska has another swindler that’s about to get his comeuppance.

20 – “He Swallowed It Up” by Gene Colan is eerily drawn.

This collection also includes art from Joe Sinnott, John Forte, Bob Brown, and Werner Roth. Three excellent covers from Bill Everett and Russ Heath each with the collection’s cover for #16 drawn by Harry Anderson.

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