Thursday, April 19, 2018



Fantastic Four Annual #1 hit the newsstands in July, 1963. It was that extraordinary issue that inspired me to want to write comic books as my career. In honor of that pivotal moment in my life, I’m collecting,  reading and writing about every one of the 136 issues released in that month. My first twenty columns in this series are available in July 1963: A Pivotal Month in the Comic-Book Life of Tony Isabella Volume One [Pulp Hero Press; $17.95]. The trade paperback contains revised versions of the columns that appeared in this bloggy thing as well additional material giving readers a glimpse into the world of 1963. My quest continues...

Brain Boy #6 [September-November 1963] was published by Dell, just another short-lived comics title from the company after its split with Western. The bulk of the profitable licensed features remained with Dell’s former partner, who continued publishing them under the Gold Key label.

Brain Boy first appeared in Dell’s Four Color Comics #1330 in 1962. Created by Herb Castle and Gil Kane, the title continued with issues #2-6. In 2013, Dark Horse revived the character for an even more short-lived run.

Brain Boy is Matt Price. His mother was pregnant with him when she and his dad crashed into an electrical tower. Dad died. Mom birthed a mutant with powers: telepathy, levitation, mind-control. He was recruited by another telepath and went to work for one of the many secret government agencies found in comic books from probably every comics publisher there ever was.

Vic Prezio painted the cover of this issue. The prolific Prezio did covers for Dell’s comics, a few for Warren’s black-and-white horror magazines and a great many for what we used to call men’s adventure magazines. The woman in the water would have been at home on one of the men’s adventure mags, though she would likely be menaced by a Nazi torturer or some such.

The inside front cover has “Escape,” a single -page science-fiction  drawn by Frank Springer. A man who wanted to get away from people crash lands on Mars. He figures that, at least, he won’t have to be around people. When he steps from the space ship, he cries out in horror, “ whole universe is full of people! There’s no escape...” Someone needs a hug...or not.

Brain Boy stars in “The Mindless Ones” by Castle with art by Frank Springer. The 27-page story has Matt’s boss ordering him to go on vacation after handling five of their agency’s most difficult cases over the past two years. Matt is totally on board with this order. He drives to the little town of Bondocks in the Canadian backwoods for fishing, hiking and sleeping.

Things get weird as soon as he gets close to the town. Asking a man for directions to the Blue Lake Lodge, he gets a rave review of the lake with the entreaty that he swim in said lake. The man speaks in a dull voice and shows no expression

When Matt asks the same of a pretty young woman and her younger brother, he’s answered with the same dull voices and the same lack of expression. But the woman offers to show him how to get to the lake in exchange for a ride.

A fallen log blocks the road. Then Matt watches as a weird funeral in the woods goes by. Grabbed by two pallbearers, he learns they’d blocked the road on purpose. Adopting the dull manner and voice of these odd people, he convinces them that he’s on his way to swim in the lake. They clears the way for him.

Once Matt gets to the Lodge, everyone is most interested in getting him in the lake as soon as possible. He puts them off and meets the loutish Carl Cherman, also a stranger to this place. The beautiful young woman Matt had met earlier has no trouble getting Cherman to join her for a swim in the lake.

Swimming in the lake turns out to be more of a demand than a polite suggestion. Cherman quickly becomes like the others and tries to pull Matt into the lake. Matt decks him.

Trying to row away, Matt is confronted by the unsettling sight of the entire town in the lake. He barely escapes, but they soon catch him and force him to go swimming. Something in the lake attempts to take control of Matt’s mind. He resists, but pretends to be under the control of that something.

That something are microscopic aliens who arrived in a meteor-like ball of metal. They need the townspeople to take them to the lake as part of their plan to conquer the Earth.

After trying dozens of poisons on the lake water, Matt lucks into the answer. Electricity kills the aliens. All it takes is a radio and an absurdly long electrical cord. The townspeople wake up from the mind control with no idea of why they are all at the lake or who Matt is.

Going back to the spaceship, Matt knows he must destroy the rest of the aliens before they can infect any other humans. Sensing Matt is near them, the aliens all leave the ship in a thick spray only to miss Matt entirely. Since they can’t live outside of water or the human bloodstream, they all die. An exhausted Matt falls asleep and vows to take no more vacations.

This is a quietly chilling story, made all the more so by the mind-controlled humans and settings being so mundane. With or without Brain Boy, it would have made a terrific horror movie in the 1960s.

“The Devil Worshiper” is a single-page prose story by an unknown writer. A young man comes to a German village near the Black Forest wanting to buy land for a store. An old man tells him the location he wants is cursed and explains his comment:

Many years prior, a ambitious but poor young man made a deal with the devil for the land and the money to open a store. On the man’s chest, the devil seared the words “Mr. Devil” and “Till Death Us Two Join!”

The young man built a fabulous store and became rich. Worried about the fate of his soul, he burned the store to the ground and threw away all his money. The old man is that young man. The would-be entrepreneur laughs:

“And if I examine your chest, I’ll see the name is gone and you’re free of the Devil, right? How stupid do you think I am to believe a child’s fairy tale!”

The old man opens his shirt and offers to sell his land. Which is when the visitor runs away and never returns to the village.

There’s a good reason I never read many of these prose stories back in 1963. The vast majority of them were as bad as this one.

The Strange Mr. Ozimandias was a back-up series unrelated to Brain Boy. These short comics stories were included in Dell and Gold Key comics to qualify them for second class mailing. “Devil’s Acres’ is drawn by Springer, but the writer of this four-page story has not been identified at this time.

Mike Ozimandias studied at a Tibetan lamasery and earned a red dot on his forehead, said to be the sign of the master. Vacationing at the remote backwoods summer home of a friend, Mike - that really is his name - sees a neighbor performing “the fertility rite of blood and growth” to turn his barren land into lush prime land. If this works, the man will buy every cheap piece of desert he can and do the same with them.

Mike warns him of the danger. The neighbor doesn’t care and pulls a gun on Ozimandias. Before their startled eyes, foliage begins to burst through the barren soil.

Mike races to the city to find a counter-spell. He succeeds, but, when he returns to the backwoods, the primitive foliage has grown to deadly proportions. The neighbor dies before the deadly plants are destroyed.

“Devil’s Acres” is has an incredibly wordy script. Even with all of that dialogue, the story still feels crammed into its four pages. As for Mike Ozimandias, he comes off like a third-rate imitation of Ibis the Invincible and other turbaned magicians of the comics and movies. Not a great piece of work.

The inside back cover ad offers 147 Famous Automobiles for $1.98. Made of pure plastic styrene, the cars come in a special garage box for easy storage. Buyers would get three each of 49 models, among them a 1915 Buick, a 1930 Cord, a 1943 Nash, a 1949 Hudson, a 1958 Ford Thunderbird and more.

The back cover was a Wallace Brown ad seeking salespeople to sell their Christmas cards and more. If you know 20 people, the company claims, you can make at least $50 and more likely $100 to $200 in your spare time. Gee, I have nearly 5000 Facebook friends. I could become a millionaire!

I hope you’re enjoying my “July 1963" bloggy things as much as I’m enjoying tracking down these old comes, reading them and writing about them. Look for another installment of this series in the very near future. 

© 2018 Tony Isabella

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