Atomic Werewolves and Man-Eating Plants (2023) Edited by Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle

Through the tireless efforts of pulp-renaissance men Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle, the world is once again a brighter place for those with a predilection toward the Men’s Adventure Magazines (MAMs) of a bygone era. The duo’s ability to mine the depths of the MAM archives to pull together these themed editions is unparalleled and the riches of their efforts is a gift to those like myself, who generally missed out on these magazines in their original incarnation.

The hook this time around is an entire edition built around stories that are much more clearly fictional with supernatural overtones. This makes it similar in some respects to the authors’ earlier Cryptozoology Anthology. Whereas much of the popular MAM stories at least dipped a toe into the real world, albeit it in greatly exaggerated tales of manly men and their adventures, often while at war, this collection revels in tales of sci-fi and horror featuring (as announced loudly in a list on the front and back covers) werewolves, man-eating plants, vampires, ghosts, rats, cannibals, giant lizards, devil worshippers, and more...MUCH more!

The book itself is simply gorgeous, but that’s to be expected by this point in our relationship with these editors. Lavishly illustrated with many covers reproduced in full color, this is essentially a coffee table book dedicated to “when men’s adventure magazines got weird,” as the cover’s subtitle aptly describes. I also appreciate the effort that has gone into identifying the artists whose work adorns the covers and interior illustrations; all in all, this book is an effort of pure love for the genre.

Things start off with a series of essays that detail how the MAMs started as a direct outgrowth of the pulp magazines of a couple of decades earlier, and more specifically their relationship to Weird Tales. The best of these essays is one by editors Deis and Doyle that really digs deep into the specific subject matter of this collection, complete with a rundown and background to the stories and actual authors (where attributable) found herein. It’s incredibly informative and authoritative while also putting a spotlight on just how elusive hard facts can be within this particular subset of popular early 20th Century publishing. As was common to the MAMs, the stories contained within are purely made up fiction, masquerading as insider asides presented by someone who was there to witness “what really happened.”

In typical fashion for these collections, the stories themselves are presented in chronological order, starting with “The Flag of the Stonewall Brigade,” by Ronald Adamson, from the March, 1953 edition of Action. This one centers on a confederate flag that may provide a legitimate dose of supernatural good luck to a platoon of US soldiers fighting in the then current Korean War. And when that lucks appears to be running low and the battle is on the verge of being lost, the ghosts of the Stonewall Brigade personally show up to tilt the battle in the favor of one of their descendants in the platoon. A fun if somewhat silly conceit to “true” first-hand storytelling.

Things take a darker turn with “When the Vampire was Captured,” by Ward Semple, from the March 1953 edition of True Weird. Here we are treated to a straight up horror story dealing with the tale of a genuine and quite gruesome vampire preying on the sister of two brothers who have moved into the ancient estate of Croglin Grange. After repeated attacks on the sister over time, the brothers track the culprit to a cemetery vault belonging to a family whose last member died over a decade previously. With villagers in tow they enter the vault, expose the vampire, and vanquish it with stakes and fire and exclamation marks aplenty!

Vampires (of a sort) appear again in the next story, “Vampires Ripped My Flesh,” by Lewis Greer, from the March 1956 edition of Man’s Life. This story continues a long-running staple of the MAMs—survival of the fittest (or smartest) with man against some form of natural enemy from the animal world—in this case a Colombian cave filled with bloodthirsty vampire bats. As the editors explain their foreword, these types of tales eschewed classic square-jawed heroes in favor of relatable “everyman” heroes who fought against impossible odds, blue collar normal Joes who find the intestinal fortitude to come out on top.

We then get to one of my favorite stories collected here, “Island of Doom,” by Bill Wharton, from the Spring 1957 Sport TrailsA casebook example of telling a story without actually giving any real details, this one gets by on mystery and atmosphere as we are introduced mid-action to a trio of men who have come to the island of Aldabra to acquire the indigenous giant tortoises, which fetch a large bounty from zoos. They instead run into the other main life form on Aldabra, giant 15’ tall, 50’ long dragons. Though the true identities of these carnivorous giants are never fully revealed (Komodo dragon? Iguana? Inexplicably living dinosaur?), only two of our would-be turtle snatchers escape with their lives. We even get some historical tidbits of other expeditions which have met their own grisly fates.

That ‘man versus nature’ vibe carries through into “Trapped by a Man-Eating Tree,” by Robert Moore, from the March 1958 edition of Man’s Life. This one chronicles the first-person account of one of three Dutch sailors who escape a Japanese prison camp in 1943 and end up beached on a tropical island in the East Indies. There they encounter the flesh-eating plants of the title, which proceed to devour all but our narrator in detail after they try to cultivate its tobacco-like leaves for a smoke.

Manly Wade Wellman’s “Song of the Slaves” from the April 1959 edition of Cavalier is up next. Originally published in 1940 by Weird Tales, it details a slave ship that has forcibly captured as prisoners a tribe of young men to sell back home. The ship’s captain is a heartless and vile man who sees the slaves as less than human. What follows is a tale of misery, death, and ghostly comeuppance, all served up like a nasty ghost story. It’s quite effective.

This is followed by yet another story reprinted from a much earlier publication, “The Rats in the Walls,” by none other than H.P. Lovecraft. Originally published by Weird Tales in 1924, it was resurrected for the January 1959 edition of Sensation. This story is chock-full of great pulpy concepts—ancient castle dwellings, secret servitude to ancient evil gods, insanity, plenty of rats, and cannibalism.

“The Man Who Couldn’t Die” from the August 1961 edition of Adventure, is by the ever-prolific pulp and comic book author, Gardner F. Fox. This represents the first of two futuristic science fiction tales. This first one deals with a man rebelling against the authorities that put his criminal brain into a robot against his will and his willingness to destroy the entire Earth in order to get his revenge, with the help of some war-hawk aliens to boot. It may be a bit out there but reads like the stuff of classic MAM.

The robot theme continues in “The Hunted” by Rick Rubin from the October 1961 Adventure. Once again, we are flung into the future to a time when robots keep humans in slave pens. Our main protagonists are a male and female human who, along with others (ill-fated though they may be), escape from their confinement and embark on a perilous trek across hostile terrain while being pursued by robots. Everything in this one is so much fun that an odd (okay, downright silly) twist ending can’t even derail it. It all feels very much like an old EC Comic.

Things slide over into the sleazy with “Mad Doctor of No-Name Key,” a horror tale by Peter Aldridge from the December 1961 Adventure Life. Though not particularly detailed in its descriptions, this one concerns an old doctor who falls for a young girl. The catch? His passion leans into necrophilia, a subject that was certainly regarded as quite taboo in 1961. 

Next up we have “Her Body Belonged to The Devil,” by George Venner and from the December 1961 Man’s Look. This one predates the Satanic Panic of the 80s by a couple of decades as it relays the story of how our narrator discovers that witches are everywhere when he’s taken by a pretty girl to a party that turns out to be a black mass. He barely escapes but now carries “the mark” on himself that is evident to any other practitioner of the black arts he may come across. And worst of all, they are actively on the prowl to find him!

“The Blonde with the Mysterious Body” by the incredibly prolific Sci-Fi stalwart Theodore Sturgeon, is from the April 1962 edition of MEN. This is a strange little tale about a highly curious voyeur of a man named Slim Walsh who develops an unhealthy fascination with Celia, his neighbor in their old apartment building. He goes from simply observing her to going into her apartment when she’s out. This behavior culminates in Slim cutting a peephole to observe her unnoticed when she is home. This leads to a shocking surprise as to the nature of Celia that remains wonderfully abstract and obscure but is genuinely unsettling in its weirdness.

“Their Bodies Glowed with Fire,” by Dave Marshall from the December 1961 Peril, is a sideways version of an alien abduction story, detailing the late-night adventures of one Joe Rainwater, a Native American ex-G.I. who experiences a close encounter of the third (and sexy) kind when he’s approached by the inhabitants of a flyer saucer that lands in the desert. These aliens are all buxom ladies who each take a turn with our narrator, who is left empowered by the encounter and is now ready to exact righteous payback on those racist bigots back in town who have troubled him in the past.

With “Fowl Play” by William Bayne, from the May 1962 Escape to Adventure, we are once again in classic EC Comic territory with a tale about a man whose job is to chop the heads off chickens. He also just so happens to be plotting to kill his wife and mother-in-law. Overall the tone of this one leans toward pitch-black comedy as everything culminates in a scene (illustrated on the splash page) of our “hero” strapped down and getting ready to experience what all those chickens have previously felt. High irony ensues.

“Strange Cult of the Vampire Tarantulas,” by Rick Manners hails from the September 1962 edition of Peril. Here is another example of how the upcoming sexual revolution and free love era of the 60s was directly impacting the world of the MAMs. Our narrator, a marine doctor, is on an expedition with his sexy subordinate Elaine (she of the “luscious breasts”). As fate would have it (and without which our story would have no point), their ship crashes (apparently this has been a pattern with previous expeditions) and they’re washed up on an island overrun with both giant vampiric tarantulas and a psychotic doctor with the Bondian name of Unicorn who does his dastardly deeds from within the confines of his own personal castle, assisted by his hunchback dwarf! It’s absurd and laughable, especially when we discover the source for the blood-drinking tarantulas. 

“Soft Nudes for the Nazis’ Doktor Horror,” by Martin Bowers from the September 1964 Man’s Story is next up, offering a staple of the MAM publications: modern Nazis and their abominable human experimentations. We open with the scene depicted in Norm Eastman’s splash page illustration—a buxom blonde babe strapped to a table with a Nazi sadist about to saw off the arm of his beautiful captive. It seems our Nazi doctor is attempting to replace the girl’s arms with the arms of an ape because, well... just because. It’s all pretty ghastly and a little more overtly gory as the whole thing eventually drifts into the grand guignol territory of the Herschell Gordon Lewis movies from the same era.

Next up is “Stone Age Lust – Today,” by Geoffrey Costain from the July 1965 Man’s Daring. Our narrator is Geoffrey, a British anthropologist who is tasked with looking into a recent string of possibly cult-related killings. His sexy colleague Doris wants to accompany Geoffrey, who, but Geoffrey tells her the dangers are too high. Doris changes his mind with some hanky-panky at the office and we’re on our way into the thick of Druid cultists looking to hold their sacrificial rituals. Things get perversely more intense, especially by earlier standard set in this same volume, as Doris is gang-raped by the priests before Geoffrey is able to rescue her.

“Killer of The Cave” by Gene Preen from the April 1966 edition of Adventurebrings us into purely fictional third-person narrative territory as we are thrust into a post-nuclear tale. Don Newman is spelunking with eight friends in some caves deep underground while the world experiences a nuclear holocaust. In fact, in the opening paragraph Newman is at the mouth of the cave surveying the atomic waste that our world has become and thinking about the six companions who have already been killed by the mutant beast that comes at night and is killing them one by one. The twist ending isn’t too hard to figure out as it’s hinted at pretty strongly in the accompanying Basil Gogos illustration, also featured on the front cover of the dust jacket for Atomic Werewolves and Man-Eating Plants. I’m reminded all over again that Basil was an amazing artist and that model Steve Holland is the epitome of MAM pulpy goodness. 

And that wraps up Atomic Werewolves and Man-Eating Plants, which is quite simply spectacular. If you have any affinity at all for the MAMs of a bygone era, then this volume will scratch that itch and then some. Bob Deis and Wyatt Doyle have put together yet another archive of great worth, both for collectors and fans. I cannot recommend this collection highly enough and would go on record that it is essential to the preservation of the historic MAM as a uniquely American literary institution. 

It is available from Amazon in both hardback and paperback. It can also be purchased directly from the publisher.


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