In a previous post I mentioned that some of the stories for the two final issues of Alarming Tales had an Atlas flavor to them. My understanding of Atlas comics of this period is limited so I would not want to over emphasize this similarity. I guess I should give some examples of these Atlas-like stories, but instead I want to comment on three stories that engage me one way or another when I read them.
Alarming Tales #5 (September 1958) “12,000 To 1” by unidentified artist
A man sets up some sort of television or radio station deep in the jungle. He encounters an unexpected opponent to his efforts. What follows can only be described as warfare. The man uses a number of ingenious methods to defeat his enemy, but to no avail. In the end only the appearance of another target for his opponents saves the man. The hostile enemy are driver ants. The story brings to mind Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, “The Birds”. That movie was released in 1963 so there can be no relationship between this story and the film. Rather the story’s author had probably viewed a nature program about driver ants, which are also known as army ants. The writer gets some of the facts correct. The swarming of the ants and the fact that they are actually blind. The scripter does not call them army ants but he obviously must have heard the term. But the writer takes the name literally as the ants seem to act as a military unit. While reading I kept wondering if these were meant to be real army ants or whether some radioactive origin would be revealed. Would normal driver ants be expected to pause and contemplate an obstacle that the man has created? Would the male drones for the colony actually be expected to attack and destroy a radio/tv antenna? Would real ants care to reek havoc on electronic equipment? The whole story is so preposterous that it keeps you reading as you wonder what next peak of absurdity would be attempted. Because of, not despite, the peculiarities of the story I actually enjoyed it.
Alarming Tales #6 (November 1958) “King of the Ants”, art by Al Williamson
I guess one ant story was not enough, Alarming Tales #6 includes “King of the Ants”. A tropical plantation is attacked by some raiders. As a result of some gunfire our hero is accidentally showered with chemicals. He awakens to find he has shrunken to a very small size. Ants seize him, presumable for food, but after the man defeats an enemy, a beetle, the ants bring the man back to rule the colony. I wonder what the mystery food that the ants provided the man was? Perhaps it is bests not to know. Eventually the man returns to normal size while the plantation is still fighting the raiders. The hero uses a tactic he learned from the ants to defeat his human foes. The plot of a man shrinking to a small size and his encounter with an ant colony would appear in Marvel’s Tales to Astonish #27 (January 1962). The similarities of the two plots maybe significant or may just be a coincidence. Ultimately the inspiration for this plot may have been the movie “The Incredible Shrinking Man” that was released in 1957. As I remember it, that movie did not include any ants. But it was common to describe something that looked very small as ant-size so it may not have been too surprising to connect a shrunken man with ants. This story does not have any of the entertaining excesses of “12,000 To 1” but having Al Williamson as the artist more then makes up for that.
Alarming Tales #6 (November 1958) “The Strange Power of Gary Ford” by unidentified artist
Next I want to write about “The Strange Power of Gary Ford”, another weird story. A man, Gary, finds a city in the desert where none should be. Here he discovers that he now has the ability to walk through walls and other solid structures. The man credits this to the local water, adding that the city’s citizens do not share this ability because they probably are used to the water. (I do not know what seems odder, that the man made this conclusion or that the water allows the man’s clothes to go through walls as well). The town people welcome Gary and introduce him to their ruler. Gary captures the heart of the shieks’s daughter and professes his love. But actually Gary becomes enamored with another outsider, an attractive redhead. Gary convinces her to leave with him, but not before Gary, using his power, helps himself to the ruler’s jewels. The two escape separately, Gary on his motorcycle and the lady on a horse. No sooner does Gary evade his pursuers then the city disappears and he finds the jewels have turned to sand. Gary regrets that it all was an illusion since the redhead was just the sort a girl he could have married. We next see the redhead also alone in the empty desert, also saying it was too bad it was all an illusion because she really would have liked to marry Gary. This is another of those stories so odd that you just have to shake your head go along with its goofy premise.
At the time that Alarming Tales #6 was published the Comic Code had been in operation for a few years. The Comic Code purpose was to insure that susceptible youngsters did not fall under the comic books bad influence and become delinquents. So here is “The Strange Power of Gary Ford” where the hero rewards the welcome he has received from the city’s inhabitants by leading on the sheik’s daughter and stealing a ruler’s jewels. That sounds to me like just the type of morals Comic Code was trying to protect developing minds from. Oh I forgot, the citizens of the city were Arabs, I guess that made it all right.