Journey into Mystery Volume 2: Atlas Era Marvel Masterworks

Classic Pre-code Horror from pre-Marvel Atlas Comics

Journey into Mystery Volume 2 collects #11-20 of Journey into Mystery from the pre-code Atlas Era (pre-Marvel) cover dates from August 1953 to December 1954. What a great collection of artists in this edition: Russ Heath, Bill Everett, Pablo Ferro, George Tuska, Paul Reinman, John Forte, Harry Anderson, Dick Briefer, Don Perlin, Robert Q. Sale, Dick Ayers, Doug Wildey, Mort Lawrence, Bob Powell, Pete Tumlinson, Tony DiPreta, Vic Carrabotta and more.

Many modern readers dismiss any horror material from the 50s that’s not EC. Yes, EC was the pinnacle of horror, but Atlas had some good stories as well. The art and the page counts had more variety. Atlas/Marvel in ’52-54 didn’t have a set style and allowed artists great liberties.

Atlas was truly prolific in the amount of content it produced during the 50s, having converted much of their line to horror to catch the popularity of the genre. Joining Journey into Mystery and Strange Tales, which both survived into the Marvel Age were Uncanny Tales, Adventures into Weird Worlds, Adventures into Terror, Mystery Tales, Astonishing, Journey into Unknown Worlds, Mystic, and the venerable flagship title Marvel Mystery Comics, which had been renamed Marvel Tales since 1949. Suspense had been cancelled and now Menace was an attempt to replicate EC’s formula of a small stable of top-drawer artists working on a title. Of course, with this high volume of output, the quality of stories will have greater range.

The coloring was tops in the industry and would maintain that standard well into the Marvel Age. Led by Stan Goldberg, Atlas and Marvel titles had a unique look to them. If anything was a house standard, it was the dramatic coloring that went uncredited through the Marvel Age. Stan Goldberg was the color department manager from 1951 to 1958 for Atlas/Timely/Marvel and also penciled many titles.

Take a look at the splash page for #11 “The New Look” to see the bold coloring common to many Atlas titles. The cover to #14 has a muted green on red logo border with a blue background.

The reproduction quality is high, as are all Cory Seldmeier edited Masterworks. The table of contents lists the cover date per issue and has as much credits as they were able to verify (all art is credited). Even the covers get artist credits, which is fantastic and not often done for the Marvel Age material.

Now for the highlights per issue:

#11 – “If the Coat Fits” with art by Russ Heath is an excellent concept about Harry who runs a used clothing store and his wife Sarah. The paper reports eleven people disappearing. Harry dismisses the news until a mysterious man wants to pawn his coat for $20. He instructs Harry not to let anyone try it on. Can the luxurious coat be connected to the odd disappearances?

“The Other Face” by George Tuska. When a man wakes up he discovers that his face is not his own. Ruth, his wife, is having an affair with a plastic surgeon. The surgeon decides to surprise his lover by switching faces, only she’s in no mood to listen.

#12 – “A Night in Dragmoor Castle” by Al Eadeh. A petty thief meets a young woman at the Blue Bottle Inn in the gloomy village of Glenkay. When he finds out she is a maid at Dragmoor Castle, he tricks her into gaining him access to the old castle. What dark secret will he uncover at Dragmoor?

“A Witch in Love” by Dick Briefer. The ugliest witch in the world is a simple-minded witch. She has to stay behind when the other witches fly through the black air. She sneaks into the village and spies the most handsome man. She elects to give up her immortal life and powers to be transformed into a human woman so that he will love her even though she will only have a few hours of life as a human. She’s transformed into a beautiful woman and races back to town in the hopes of knowing true love.

#13 – “What Harry Saw!” is a sci-fi tale about a jealous husband, Harry Thorne and his adoring wife, Nora. Harry constantly sees infidelity in his lovely wife even though she remains faithful. His distrust mounts until he decides to use the “Futurescope” to view events in the future. What he sees panics him into action.

#14 – “Where the Vampire Flies” by Robert Q. Sale has a husband who is secretly a monstrously large vampire that takes the shape of a man-sized bat. Each night he sneaks out to stalk the countryside, unbeknownst to his wife. He tries to hide the paper from her, but when she sees the headline in the paper about a murdering vampire, he covers it up by saying he’s trying to protect her from the gruesome descriptions. He goes to great lengths to hide his nighttime habits from his wife, Jenny.

#15 – “Satan Can Wait” by Paul Reinman. This is a fantastic tale with some of Reinman’s best horror art. I love the splash page with the haunting form of Satan leering over Danny as he calmly walks down the quiet village street on a chilly night. A cold rain unleashes just as Danny enters the Bar and Grill. Talk over beers quickly turns to the almost supernatural gloom of the evening and of pacts with the Devil. A mysterious man turns from the bar to enter the conversation unbidden. Danny doesn’t believe in a personification of evil. The man at the bar goads him into signing a piece of paper committing his soul to the devil in exchange for one million dollars. When a mysterious death leaves Danny with sudden wealth, he writes it off as coincidence. But now the mysterious man is coming to talk to Danny. What does he want?

“The Face That Followed” by Al Luster takes a hardened criminal escaping from death row and encountering a strangely disheveled hermit. The hermit offers to hide the criminal from the fast-pursuing police, but he wants a price for his help.

#16 – “Vampire Tale” by Doug Wildey. A bandaged man comes before the court to plead the case of murdering a man in cold blood. He admits he did it but asks for mercy from the court given the fact that he didn’t murder a man, he murdered a vampire. The real catch is the proof that he produces as he recounts the last terrifying week.

“The Man Who Wasn’t” by Bill Walton is a creepy tale about a doctor who’s invented a youth-restoring serum. He takes it to a hospital to test it on the oldest patient there. When he tells the decrepid man what his wonder serum can do, the old and withered man panics, refusing the treatment. When the doctor looks up the man’s records, he realizes that the man was admitted in 1854 (that must be some bill!) What truth is the ancient figure hiding? Why does he fear becoming young again?

“The Question” by Vic Carrabotta is a sci-fi tale similar in structure to “What Harry Saw” in that a man has access to a wonder machine that can foretell future events. He uses it to ask when he and his wife will die. The machine replies that his wife will be murdered at midnight tonight. He races home to prevent his wife’s death, but we know that fate can’t be cheated, right?

#17 “He Took It With Him” by Paul Hodge is another wonderfully colored tale about a wealthy old man that doesn’t want to leave his fortune behind. He has a sinister plan to avoid that happening by faking his own death. When it starts to rain and no one shows up for the miserly old fool’s funeral, his plan starts to unravel in the thick muck.

“The Thing That Walked” by Robert Q. Sale uses the same visual for the robot as Robot Man in Menace that later became part of Roy Thomas’ “What If the Avengers Had Fought Evil During the 1950’s” and then the Agents of Atlas retconned super team. This is a gruesome tale about two partners that didn’t trust each other. The mastermind gets the idea of having his diminuitive partner climb inside a metal suit and terrorize the city with some daring robberies, however things go wrong when the armored man decides to start murdering people. The writing and the visuals are top-notch on this one.

“The Death of Danny” by Harry Anderson is a fascinating idea about a devilsh TV set that causes the images on his screen to become real. Now, he can conjur up a fortune just by tuning his set to the right channel. When he spies a beautiful woman, he wants her to be his wife, but love is not the only thing making her tremble.

“Midnight on Black Mountain” by Mort Lawrence has some excellent imagery and intense colors. Paula is a beautiful woman who casually discards the hearts of those she entrances. She finally falls in love with Walter Mead, the only man who’s head she can’t turn and then finds out she has an incurable disease. Walter, a worldwide adventurer, accuses Paula of being a witch, telling her he’s seen her kind in deepest Africa. She denies it adamantly. He tells her there is a mountain on which witches and demons gather. If they rejected her, then he’ll believe her. She climbs the perilous peak.

#18 – “The Worst Thirst” by Ed Winiarski is a tale about a pair of mountain folk that try to outwit themselves to obtain water during a drought.

#20 – “Hector” by John Tartaglione is a witty tale about a woman with the perfect husband, so perfect that the other wives in town are starting to ask their husbands to be more like Hector. How did Edna Bonner luck into such an ideal man or is there something more to it?

“The Crazy Car” by Bill Everett is beautifully rendered as usual by the master of the brush. A man creates a fantastic invention of a car that doesn’t run on petrol. When the accidental inventor stops the wrong man, he winds up losing more than his invention. Now that wrong man has dreams of a master crime spree but something is happening to the car the faster he pushes it.


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