Placing it side by side with a Molno/Vince Alascia panel from the May, 1962 issue (#16) of Space War, we can see that it's the same composition, modified! (DC, left, Charlton, right.)
How about that? I knew I'd seen that monster (and those tiny people) before! (I borrowed the Charlton panel from Comic Book Plus after searching in vain for my copy).
Other DC/Charlton matches are just as revealing. Take the first panel on page 2 of "Asteroid":
Then, let's place it side by side with the next to last panel from the Charlton Unusual Tales #40 story, "Door to Door," which I judge to be Molno on both pencils and inks:
How could the Charlton panel not have been the template for the one in this story?
Here we see two highly similar rockets going in different directions, both panels featuring the usual Molno spacescape--cluttered and delightfully weird. That's "Asteroid" on the left (slightly truncated), and Charlton's "Space Dreadnought" on the right (Space War #9, Feb., 1961, Molno/Alascia):
Reverse the latter, and it could have been slipped into the DC story--with the fins modified and color changed, anyway.
Then there's Gol, the "cowardly Martian" of the "Booby-Trapped Asteroid." Here are three side-by-side comparisons of Gol's head to some Molno Charlton alien heads from roughly the same period (DC left, Charlton right):
Any resemblance to Jean-Luc Picard is purely coincidental.
And the hero of "The Booby-Trapped Asteroid," Dirk Duane (what a heroic-sounding name) is your typical square-jawed Molno/Trapani hero. The first two images below are from the DC story, and the third is from Space War #10 (April, 1961)--"The Mindlings," with art by "Moltra" (Molno and Trapani):
Pretty much the same guy. And compare this"Asteroid" panel--in which the green-caped Martian, Gol, stands with his back to the viewer...
... to these three Charlton Molno compositions featuring (you guessed it) aliens with capes facing away from the viewer:
So I'm 100 percent sure Bill Molno did the penciling on this DC story--if nothing else, the repurposed monster and space rocket panels clinch it for me.
But we still have the Gold Key feature "Hand to Hand" (Ripley's Believe It or Not! #5, June, 1967) to study. Like "The Booby-Trapped Asteroid," this is credited wholly to Trapani at GCD. But it contains a number of Molno-esque panels, including this one from the first page--so small, you could miss it on your way to page two. But sometimes big clues come in small panels:
This turns out to be a drawing that shows up constantly in Molno's Charlton war art. See the six Molno Charlton scans below!
Even the exhaust from the stacks looks the same (say that ten times). It was genuinely addictive, finding all these versions of the same starboard bow drawing. Who knows how many more are out there? But, as much as I love Molno, I can live without knowing....
Or can I?
And we have another stock Molno visual in the Ripley's story--the front view of the American ship:
Here's a closer view of the vessel:
Now check out these Charlton Molno images from Fightin' Navy #82, March 1958 and Submarine Attack #18, Sep. 1959, both of which have the same general shape and feel. I'll stop at two comparisons this time:
Meanwhile, we have an explosion on page two of the Gold Key story that is highly Molno:
Let's compare it to these Charlton Molno explosions of generally the same design--and, like the Gold Key panel, labeled "WHAM!" Or, as in the third panel, "WHAAM," minus the exclamation point:
...and place his face next to that of a Molno U-Boat captain from Fightin' Navy #82, March 1958 ("Deadly Rendezvous," Molno/Trapani):
Only the headgear has been changed to protect the identity. And we end where the story starts, with the "Hand to Hand" splash panel...
...which turns out to be another common Molno image. Compare it to the "Mission to Rabaul" splash page from Submarine Attack #18 (Sep. 1959). It's the same general layout, albeit more detailed:
And so I'm convinced that "Hand to Hand" is Bill Molno on pencils, and, of course, Sal Trapani on inks. I think the starboard bow drawings, in particular, make the case for Molno.
Thanks to Sal, Bill sure got around, even if he had to go without a byline. Heck, even at Charlton, his work mostly went unsigned. And that's where obsessive fans like us come in.
More to come!