Adventures Into the Unknown #157: "Case of the Tittering Texan!"

Nemesis in "Case of the Tittering Texan!", written by Richard Hughes (as "Shane O'Shea," one of his many pseudonyms) and drawn by Chic Stone.  Story originally appeared in ADVENTURES INTO THE UNKNOWN #157, published June-July 1965 by American Comics Group (ACG), edited by Hughes.  This review by Bill Henley based on the reprint of the story appearing in NEMESIS Vol. 1, a "Dark Horse Archive" book published in 2008.  (It's not clear what a "Nemesis Vol. 2" would have consisted of, if it had been published, since this volume reprints the entire run of the Nemesis series from AITU #154, Feb. 1965, through #170, Feb. 1967.) 

(Yes, I know there's a certain irony in my writing this review now, since at the end of my last review I said I had no interest in reviewing "Nemesis"  Different "Nemesis," though-- DC's BRAVE & BOLD backup character from the 70's/80's, who had no relation nor resemblance to ACG's Nemesis. One thing both characters had in common, though-- they were the wrong gender.  The original Greek Nemesis, an avenging goddess, was female.)

When I saw this "Nemesis" archive book when it was published back in 2008, my reaction was along the lines of, "My God, they're reprinting EVERYTHING Silver Age these days-- whether it deserves it or not."  I never considered buying the book at its original $59.95 list price.  Even a few weeks ago when I saw a copy of the book marked down to $19.95 at a local Half Price Books, I wasn't inclined to shell out twenty bucks for it.  But when I picked up a 50%-off-one-item coupon for Half Price Books, I figured, what the heck, I'll spring for ten bucks-- the price of about two and a half current-day comic books-- for it.

Though I'm glad I didn't spend any more for it, I'll admit to getting at least ten bucks' worrth of kicks from the book.  These stories have a certain inspired goofiness and wacked-out imagination that almost make prime Silver Age Mort Weisinger Superman and Lois Lane look staid and mundane.

Costumed superheroes were hot in 1965 (and would become even hotter, briefly, when the BATMAN TV show debuted in Jan. '66) and nearly every comic book publisher that wasn't already publishing superheroes tried out the genre.  By all accounts, Richard Hughes, the editor/writer of the small ACG line, didn't have much use for superheroes and would have preferred to keep on specializing in the fantasy and sci-fi anthology stories appearing in ADVENTURES INTO THE UNKNOWN and two other ACG titles.  But he finally, reluctantly, introduced the costumed hero Nemesis into ADVENTURES INTO THE UNKNOWN, and another hero called Magicman into the anthology FORBIDDEN WORLDS. (A third anthology, UNKNOWN WORLDS, stuck with the pure anthology format.)  However, Nemesis-- written by Hughes as"Shane O'Shea" (except for one story, #161, where the Nemesis credit box bizarrely credited the story to "Richard E. Hughes, editor, pinch-hitting for Shane O'Shea"), and drawn first by Pete Constanza and then for most of his run by Chic Stone-- was designed to fit neatly into the shared universe of ghost and supernatural stories that were ACG's previous stock in trade.  Nemesis was originally Steve Flint, an FBI agent killed in the line of duty by a mobster named Goratti.  When Flint finds himself in "The Unknown" (ACG's version of the afterlife for the recently dead, before they receive a final judgment to Heaven or Hell) he insists on his right to return to Earth and continue his fight against crime and evil.  The Grim Reaper, the head honcho of The Unknown, consents for Flint to become Nemesis, a ghostly hero clad in a gaudy, goofy-looking costume with an hourglass emblem and striped shorts, and possessed of great though vaguely defined supernatural powers.

(The premise is very similar to that of DC's Spectre.  However, I suspect Hughes wasn't knowingly copying from the Spectre, who hadn't appeared in 20 years and had yet to be revived by DC when Nemesis debuted.  Rather, as I said, the idea of a vengeful-ghost superhero fit well into the fantasy world of Hughes' anthology stories which was full of avenging ghosts.  As his name suggests, ACG's other superhero Magicman was also supernaturally powered, though he was a living man.)

I don't own most of the run of AITU with Nemesis, but I do own his origin issue and I think I've reviewed it in the past.  So I'll pick another story to review, "Case of the Tittering Texan" from #157, which illustrates some of the weird and wacky elements of the series. It was Nemesis' fourth appearance and the first of his stories to be drawn by Chic Stone, best known to fans at the time as one of Jack Kirby's main inkers at Marvel.  The splash panel shows Nemesis hurtling through space helplessly bound to a rocket missile.  As the story begins, the denizens of The Unknown-- greenish-colored spirits wandering around on clouds-- are startled by a rocket ship blasting through their aerial abode!   Nemesis explains to the Grim Reaper that the rocket is part of America's new space program.  "You're our STRONGEST spirit, Nemesis!  You've got to do something about it!", commands the Reaper.  Obediently, Nemesis flies off to divert the latest rocket from crashing into The Unknown.  But after enduring a rough collision with one of the missiles, Nemesis reports back that "I can't take the wear and tear if they're going to keep firing those things off, Chief!"  The Grim Reaper orders that, in that case, Nemesis is to go down to Earth and obtain a schedule of upcoming U.S. space launches so that The Unknown can develop a defense against them.

Nemesis decides to take advantage of his mission to Earth to pay a quick visit to Lita Craig, a pretty dark-haired girl he met on his previous adventure.  The two are attracted to each other, even though romances between ghostly spirits and living humans are strictly forbidden by the rules of The Unknown!  Finding Lita pining over him, Nemesis appears to her to tell her that they can be only "distant friends," but they end up in an embrace anyway.  A bolt of lightning crashing through Lita's window into Nemesis' posterior reminds him of the rules and his mission!  He explains to Lita that his job is to enter the "government aerospace building" and get the space launch schedule-- "It's not spying, since I'm a good American!"  Lita suggests he may be more successful if he wears civilian clothes as Steve Flint rather than his attention-getting costume-- and if she accompanies him, to make them look like an ordinary couple.  As they arrive at the aerospace building, Steve is puzzled by the lack of exterior guards, but upon surveying the building with his "extrasensory perception," he finds the walls, doors and windows are protected by an elaborate web of electronic sensors.  Getting inside without detection will be a tough job even for his ghostly alter ego, but he'll come back that night and give it a try.

But Steve and Lita's reconnaissance is observed by an interloper-- a Texas native with ten-gallon hat, string tie and high boots-- and a cackling, tittering laugh and prankish sense of humor.  He notices that parts of Steve's body seem to disappear as he studies the aerospace building.  Steve and Lita want nothing to do with the "Tittering Texan," especially after Steve is splashed with water from a joke camera and blasted by an exploding cigar.  But the Texan wants more to do with him; "A man that's DIFFERENT from other men-- and he said he was coming back here to the Aerospace Building, ready for ACTION!  Well-  AH'LL BE HERE TOO!"

And indeed, that night Steve returns in his costumed Nemeis guise-- and the lurking Texan draws the correct conclusion that the masked and hooded Nemesis is the same man he met earlier.  Nemesis is able to become invisible and immaterial and pass through the wals of the building without tripping any alarms, though the guards feel an unexplained cold breeze as Nemesis passes them.   But apparently even spirits from The Unknown are subject to thirst, and a building guard is alerted to something peculiar going on when the invisible Nemesis takes a drink from a water cooler!  However, the watching guard only swears never again to take a drink of a certain different kind.  Our hero's ESP powers enable him to identify the vault where the space launch schedule is kept, and he memorizes the dates for five years ahead so that The Unknown will know when to take protective measures against the missiles.

But as Nemesis emerges through the walls of the building-- having resumed visibility for some unexplained reason-- he is spotted by the Tittering Texan and a gang of thugs he has brought along.  "If Ah could only use him, it would help me in mah plan to become the most powerful man in the world!  Get him-- and Ah want him ALIVE!"  (Sorry, guy, too late.  Nemesis is already officially dead.)  Attacked by the thugs, Nemesis makes short work of them with his abilities to disappear in one place and appear in another and to create decoy duplicates of himself.  He picks up one thug and hurls him atop an equestiian statue, and another through a movie billboard for "Kiss Me, My Fool!", starring Dora Darling.  Rather than being discouraged, the secretly watching Texan is both vastly amused and even more determined; "Ah never saw anything funnier!  Now I know Ah've GOT to have him!  HEE-HEEE!"

Apparently unworried about why a gang of unidentified thugs attacked him, Nemesis decides to pay another quick visit to Lita and then "call it a day".  But he is followed by the Texan, driving without lights, who spots him embracing Lita at her home. "No matter how strong and all-powerful Nemesis seems, Ah've got a way to strike at him!"  The next day, the Tittering Texan pays an unwelcome visit to Lita and, after politiely tipping his hat to her, has his gangsters kidnap her.  When Nemesis pays another visit, he finds "signs of a struggle" and a note addessed to Nemesis warning that if he ever wants to see Lita again, he had better use his ESP to follow the Texan's trail.  "I'M ON MY WAY-- AND I DON'T KNOW WHERE!  It's probably a trap-- BUT I CAN'T HELP MYSELF!"  Following the trail to an island in the South Atlantic Ocean, Nemesis finds the isle bristling with guards and armor, and decides to approach secretly from underwater.  However, the Texan spots him with a telescope and sends a giant octopus to attack him (I didn't know Texans were known for wrangling giant cephalopods as well as horses and cattle).  Nemesis manages to fight off the octopus, but notices that "Funny, but I don't have as much strength when I'm submerged".  (Later Nemesis stories established that being submerged in water was his special weakness, equivalent to Kryptonite for Superman or fire for Martian Manhunter.  Though why being submerged would be a special problem for a ghostly spirit, I don't know.)  Our weakened hero is left easy prey for a giant clam which captures him and delivers him to the Texan's minions.

With Nemesis now in chains, the Tittering Texan explains his master plan; "Ah'm one of the richest men in the world, son, but Ah've got AMBITIONS!  Ah've gathered mah own special group of scientists here on this island,  to build up a private supply of A-bombs!  When Ah've got 'em, Ah'll drop one each on New York and Moscow!  That'll set America and Russia at war!  By the time they kill each other off, AH'LL be the only strong atomic power left-- and Ah'll take over the world as INTERNATIONAL DICTATOR!"  Nemesis' role in this plan is to use his supernatural powers to obtain the "closely guarded atomic secrets" of both major world powers-- and if he refuses, the woman he loves will pay with her life!  (Hmmm... if she did pay with her life, wouldn't that just mean that she too would end up in The Unknown, and she and Nemesis could be together?)  In any case, Lita tells Nemesis to defy the Texan, since her life is no as important as the well-bieng of the whole world.  Nemesis breaks his chains, only to fall through a trapdoor and be submerged in a vat of "strong anesthetic ether".  If Nemesis won't help the Texan, he must be destroyed-- and the Texan intends to do so by tying the unconscious hero to an atomic warhead and shooting him into the upper atmosphere where the warhead will explode.  (Apparently being at ground zero of an atomic explosion will destroy even ectoplasm.)

But as the missile shoots higher into the atmosphere, toward the 100-mile mark where it is set to explode, a desperate Lita screams, "NEMESIS! WAKE UP! SAVE YOURSELF!"  And though our hero is far beyond normal hearing range, his ESP abilities pick up Lita's plea and rouse him to conssciousness.  Finding himself "tied to a runaway rocket," he works free of his bonds and then, "First time I ever WRESTLED A ROCKET-- BUT I'VE GOT TO CHANGE ITS COURSE!"   He gets the rocket turned around and on a course back for the Texan's secret island-- but now he must get there first!"  He is barely in time to grab Lita and fly her out of range before the missile explodes and wipes out the Texan and his henchmen.  The joke's on you this time, Tex... ((Though he's not as bloodthirsty as his DC counterpart the Spectre, this suggests that Nemesis doesn't subscribe to the strict no-killing code held by Superman and most other costumed heroes.  But maybe when you have personal experience that death isn't the end of existence, it changes your attitude about ushering other people into The Unknown.)   Observing the mushroom cloud from afar, Nemesis tells Lita, "See?  I--I spell nothing but DANGER to you!  I should never see you again!"  But Lita responds, "You just dare, you big lug-- you just DARE!"  As Nemesis flies off, Lita reflects, "I know I'm out of my head loving a GHOST-- but that's just the way the b-big ball bounces!"  (You might figure a visible atomic blast in the South Atlantic would be noticed and maybe even inadvertently set off that U.S.-Russia war the Texan tried to cause on purpose.  But I don't recall hearing of a "South Atlantic Missile Crisis" back in 1965, so I guess somebody wasn't paying attention.)

Back in The Unknown some days later, the spirits file into a bomb shelter to ride out the impact of one of the American rockets passing through the ghostly realm on its way to outer space.  The ghosts observe, "We're all scared pink (though at least by the coloring in this book, they're still a sickly green) but look at NEMESIS!"  Our hero is sleeping peacefully (okay, I guess spirits sleep) and dreaming of being together with Lita.  "You ain't seen nothing yet, readers!", promises the final caption.  "Watch our next issue for the thrillingest Nemesis adventure yet!"

According to the Grand Comic-Book Database, the original AITU #157 contained two other stories, "Strange Love of a Little Man", and "Guard Him With Your Life", featuring John Force, Magic Agent, a character who previously had a short run in his own title. (He was a James Bond-like secret agent with supernatural powers-- a weirder combination of concepts than the supernatural superhero Nemesis.)  But since I don't own the actual issue, I can't review those stories in any detail.