August, 2023 New Texture
Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle knock it out of the park again with another gift-quality hardcover anthology of vintage men’s adventure magazine yarns. The theme this time is similar to their earlier publication Cryptozoology Anthology, but whereas the men’s mag stories in that one at least attempted a “realistic” vibe, the stories in the fantastically-titled Atomic Werewolves And Man-Eating Plants are for the most part straight fiction with a supernatural bent. That so many such stories could be collected for this 300-page tome once again indicates how fertile the men’s mag genre really was; it wasn’t just all war stories and the like.
Publication quality is phenomenal, with thick, pulpy paper and full-color art reproduced throughout the book, as well as copious black-and-white illustrations. If you are looking for a nice Christmas present for that men’s adventure magazine lover in your life, then Atomic Werewolves And Man-Eating Plants would make for a fine gift. Or if you’re still in the Halloween spirit, pick up a copy for yourself; I read my copy around that time, and it made for a perfect seasonal read. For indeed herein you will find werewolves, man-eating plants, bloodthirsty stone age cults, and even post-nuke mutant hellbeasts.
The book opens with a few well-written essays from various sources, going over the connections between the pulps of the early 20th Century and the later men’s adventure magazines, noting how some of the latter would even reprint stories from the former. As ever Bob Deis’s intro was my favorite, as he provides an overview of every story collected along with what’s known about the writer. In most cases not much at all is known, likely because the author was a pseudonym; especially true in Atomic Werewolves because so many of these stories are the b.s. “as told to” yarns that constantly ran in men’s magazines – meaning a fictional narrator tells you “what really happened” directly. Bob also does a great job giving details on the various men’s mag artists who worked on these stories.
As usual the stories are arranged chronologically by order of publication. Thus first story “The Flag Of The Stonewall Brigade,” from the March, 1953 Action, is the earliest, taking place while the Korean War was still going on. This fun story, credited to Ronald Adamson, really comes from a different era, as Bob alludes to in his intro: the gist of it concerns an old Confederate flag which brings luck to a battered platoon in the thick of it in Korea. Hoisted by a new guy from deep in the South – the flag belonged to his grandfather – the flag seems to keep the soldiers from any casualties. And when things get real bad, the ghosts of the old Stonewall Brigade show up to help! A fun, goofy tale, one that tries to retain the “true” conceit of most men’s mags – our narrator just knows that no one will believe him, but he knows what he saw, dammit!
“When The Vampire Was Captured,” by Ward Semple and from the March 1953 True Weird, takes a page from Bram Stoker (again as noted by Bob!). This one tells us of “England’s famous Croglin Grange vampire,” told in an expose sort of style. The titular vampire gets his fangs into a local virgin, and some concerned folk set a trap for it. Very gothic story, and worth noting that the vampire isn’t the lothario type that woos his female prey but is instead a decayed and repugnant freak.
“Vampires Ripped My Flesh,” by Lewis Greer and from the March 1956 Man’s Life, features a title that calls back to a more famous men’s mag story (even though as Bob notes in his intro, this one was published first), and the story could’ve come right out Bob and Wyatt’s I Watched Them Eat Me Alive anthology (review forthcoming!). It’s 1946, the jungles of Colombia, and the narrator tells us how he and his companions had just “escaped the spears of the savages” when they ended up in a worse predicament – a cave filled with blood-thirsty vampire bats.
Up next is one that could’ve appeared in Cryptozoology: “Island Of Doom,” by Bill Wharton and from the Spring 1957 Sport Trails. This one’s in third person and concerns a trio of guys on an island with a fifteen foot high, fifty foot “dragon,” one that has a taste for human flesh. (A recurring theme if ever there was one in this anthology!) Wharton plays fast and loose with his “true” vibe, telling us at the end that the dragon might’ve been a really big iguana!
Those “man-eating plants” of the book’s title appear in the ghoulish “Trapped By A Man-Eating Tree,” by Robert Moore and from the March 1958 Man’s Life. Another “as told to” yarn, this one purports to be the account of a Dutch guy who escaped a Japanese camp in 1943 and ended up shipwrecked on an island. His two companions, hungering for a smoke, set upon a tree with tobacco-like leaves…but it’s a tree that friggin’ eats people, setting off a gharish story – one with very nice, Hannes Bok-esque art that is nicely rendered in green-and-black duotone on the front and back covers of Atomic Werewolves And Man-Eating Plants.
One of my favorite stories here is “The Hunted,” by Rick Rubin and from the October 1961 issue of Adventure. Decades before he produced the Beastie Boys, Rick Rubin turned out this piece of fast-moving sci-fi. (Just kidding – it’s another guy of the same name…or pseudonym.) It’s a third-person tale in which a male and female, both described as “big” and “rugged,” escape the slavepens humans are kept in by robots in this grim future – where “The strong will survive” is emblazoned on posters everywhere. The two lose some comrades as they make their way across harsh terrain, occasionally chased by robots, while also (inevitably) becoming close with one another – not that the story has any naughty stuff. Indeed, their relationship is based off mutual need for survival, then blossoms into respect for one another. This one also features a goofy “surprise” ending that, despite being goofy, just feels right. Oh, and a great line’s in this one: “Maybe brutality is the price of freedom.”
We get the titular “werewolf” of the anthology next, in “The Werewolf And The Cowboy,” from the November 1961 See For Men and written by Stuart Evans. Set in 1937, this one’s about a werewolf plaguing a rural area, showing up each fool moon and killing sheep or people. Features an evocative finale in which the protagonist sets up a trap for the werewolf and waits for him with a .44 magnum; if Stephen King had ever written expressly for men’s adventure magazines (not withstanding the stories he had printed in girlie mags and whatnot), it would’ve been something like this.
“Mad Doctor Of No-Name Key” is really along the horror lines; it’s by Peter Aldridge and from the December 1961 Adventure Life. This one was pretty ghoulish, but not done in a very exploitative style, concerning an old doctor who falls in love with a young girl – a love that spans into necrophilia (helpfully explained for us…a sad indictment of our times that “necrophilia” no longer has to be explained!).
Probably the most (intentionally?) funny story in the book follows: “Her Body Belonged To The Devil,” a paranoid trip into the narrator’s psyche, courtesy George Venner and from the December 1961 Man’s Look. This one’s really over the top – “You see that pretty girl over there? She could be a WITCH!” and the like. I got a good laugh out of it, particularly how the narrator informs us that a sexy young gal back in Omaha once took him to a party…one that turned out to be a Black Mass, and he ran away from her in a panic. Now he has “the mark” on him, and witches and warlocks all over the world are coming for him…maybe!
“Their Bodies Glowed With Fire,” by Dave Marshall and from the December 1961 Peril, is my favorite story in the collection. This one almost seems like an abdridgement of a longer work: told in first person, it concerns Joe Rainwater, an American Indian ex-GI who sees a UFO land in the desert and is soon approached by its occupants – a trio in form-fitting metallic spacesuits that glow. But things are getting more risque here in the early ‘60s, as these aliens are hotstuff women of the most curvaceous sort (indeed, with “voluptuous breasts”)…and buddy they each want a go at Mr. Rainwater. The one in charge tells Joe he will become their “high priest,” after which the three alien babes take him through “the rites of love.” It’s all pretty crazy, but also pretty vague given that it is just the early ‘60s, but features a crazy ending where Joe Rainwater tells us that, like Nietszche’s Zarathustra, he’s now coming down the mountain and he has “plans” for those yokels who used to race-bait him. Man, I almost wish this one was a novel.
“Fowl Play” by William Bayne, from the May 1962 Escape To Adventure, is like an EC Comic without the art. It’s also very much on the Stephen King tip, about a guy whose job it is to chop off chicken heads plotting to kill his wife and mother-in-law. The dark comedy is thick in this one, climaxing in a scene as illustrated in the splash, of our “hero” strapped to a bed and about to find out how those poor chickens feel.
“Strange Cult Of The Vampire Tarantulas,” by Rick Manners and from the September 1962 Peril, again shows how things are getting a bit more risque in the world of men’s mags here in the early ‘60s: our narrator, a “marine growth” researcher or somesuch, is sent on an expedition with his colleague Elaine who has “luscious breasts.” Hey, my favorite kind! There’s a lot of heavy petting between the two (“My hands sought the twin globes of her breasts…”), but no sexual hijinks – the two keep putting it off, wanting it to be “good” when they finally do the deed. Meanwhile we’re in sweat mag territory, as their ship crashes, same as the previous expeditions did, and they’re washed up on an island with…giant tarantulas! And there’s a psycho named Dr. Unicorn who runs his own castle! It’s all straight out of Ed Wood, and also ends on a humorous final note about there not being any cobwebs in the narrator’s apartment these days.
Up next is a sweat mag yarn I’ve wanted to read for a while, if only for Norm Eastman’s typically-crazy cover art: “Soft Nudes For The Nazis’ Doktor Horror,” by Martin Bowers and from the September 1964 Man’s Story. True to the men’s mag style, the story opens depicting Eastman’s illustration: a hotstuff, half-nude babe is strapped to a table while some deformed Nazi sadist saws off the arm of an ape…and then proceeds to saw off the babe’s arm. Why? So to see if the sutures and whatnot will work and the ape’s arm will latch onto the girl’s body. From here we go into an almost perfunctory overview of the “Traveling Circus” of Nazi doctors who went all-in for sadism; typical of a lot of these sweat mag yarns, only the opening itself is a piece of horror fiction – likely catered to the art – after which the story becomes a dry sort of overview on the topic. I personally hoped for a story of a Nazi-brainwashed babe raising havoc with her surgically-implanted ape arm! Oh and also, there’s no character named “Doktor Horror” in the story!
Next up is another sweaty one: “Stone Age Lust – Today,” credited to Geoffrey Costain and from the July 1965 Man’s Daring. Another first-person yarn in which “Geoffrey,” a British anthropologist or something, is tasked with looking into a recent string of cult killings. His sexy colleague Doris wants to come along on the trip, but Geoffrey tells her it will be too dangerous. The future #metoo movement be damned, Doris changes our hero’s mind the old fashioned way: she offers herself to him in his office. We already know Doris should’ve heeded our narrator’s initial refusal, however; typical of men’s mag yarns, this one opens en media res, with Doris the bound victim of a cult of druids – and indeed she will be gang-raped by them before Geoffrey manages to save her. Interesting note of comparison here: in “The Strange Cult Of The Vampire Tarantulas,” Elaine is not raped after being captured – she is about to be, but the narrator saves her. And remember, the narrator and Elaine have not had sex yet. But here in “Stone Age Lust – Today,” the narrator has already had his way with Doris before she is captured…and in the climax she is gang-raped by the villains. So it’s very similar to the slasher movie gimmick of the ‘80s in which the girls who have sex are the first ones to be killed.
We’re in post-nuke pulp territory next: “Killer Of The Cave” by Gene Preen and from the April 1966 Adventure. This one doesn’t even fool around with pretending to be true: it’s a third-person tale concerning Don Newman, one of the few survivors of an atomic war. Spelunking in some caves with a handful of others, Don came out to find the world destroyed. They try to survive in this hellish new world, living in the safety of the caves, but something keeps killing them one by one every night. It’s more of a suspense yarn, one with a shock twist ending that becomes more and more apparent the longer the story goes on. But special mention must be made of Basil Gogos’ art, featured on the front cover of the dustjacket for Atomic Werewolves And Man-Eating Plants; it almost looks like a still from a never-made film in which John Philip Law played a werewolf.
This hardcover edition contains a bonus story that is not featured in the other editions: “Tonight Satan Claims His Naked Bride,” by Ted McDonald and from the December 1971 Man’s Story. This one is definitely in “sweats” territory, part of the hippie-killer craze of the early ‘70s; I reviewed a few such yarns in a previous sweat mags round-up post. Bob provides a special intro for this one, but one thing I wondered was if “Ted” McDonald was a pseudonym for Jim McDonald, a prolific sweat mag writer of the day. And this one follows the same template of the other such yarns: our narrator, a doctor, tells us of how a mind-blown hippie girl was brought into the hospital one day by the seductive and mysterious Monique…who kept coming by to check on the girl’s condition. It all leads up to the narrator’s lovely and innocent girlfriend, Alice, about to be the sacrificial victim of a cult of Satanic hippies! Overall a fun one, not too exploitative but still with more of a sleazy and lurid vibe than the earlier stories in the collection; I know these sweat yarns aren’t Bob’s favorite, but it might be fun to do a special Halloween edition or somesuch devoted to them.
In addition to all the above we also get vintage pulp stories from Manly Wade Wellman and Gardner Fox, as well as frequent pieces of art from assorted men’s mags that fall within the collection’s theme. All told Atomic Werewolves And Man-Eating Plants is yet another stellar publication from Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle, and as mentioned would make for a great gift this holiday season – even if it’s just a gift for yourself! Here’s hoping there are many more of these collections on the way.