"Dark City of Doom"
Story by Gerard Conway
Art by Tony de Zuniga
"House of Madness!"
Art by Bernie Wrightson
Peter: In "Dark City of Doom," Tal, son of Toltec, can't wait to take over the reins from his old man and become high priest of Uxmal, an ancient Mayan city. Only one thing bothers Tal: the barbaric sacrificial rites pop engages in to keep the sun from burning the village to a crisp. One day, while wandering in the forest, Tal bumps into Kallana, a pretty maiden who introduces the young warrior to her father, a rival high priest in a neighboring 'burb. This shaman uses a completely different method of keeping the sun god at bay: herbs and lotion. When Tal returns to his father to share the great news, he discovers that the latest dish being served is Kallana. He curses his people and they suffer a fiery doom. Why? Who knows? This is another of those abrupt tales that starts promisingly and finishes with a big question mark as if the writer wasn't sure exactly how he'd end this fabulous set-up.
John: While the story didn't do much for me, I really liked de Zuniga's art.
Peter: Obviously we don't agree on the climax, Jack, but one thing we agree on is the fabulous art. I'm not familiar with the work of Tony de Zuniga (1932-2012) but he's immediately gone into my "keep an eye out for..." file. de Zuniga would later go on to co-create (with John Albano) the popular weird western character, Jonah Hex. Like Gerry Conway, who wrote "Dark City," the uncredited writer of "House of Madness!" doesn't seem to have worked on an outline before putting pencil to script. This is a head scratcher if there ever was one. Mark Chase gets lost in foggy London, opens a red door, and finds himself in 16th Century Bedlam. The master of the legendary asylum, Barnabas, obviously takes pleasure in torturing the inmates and makes Mark feel at home. At first our hero fights back but finally gets wise and plays possum, waiting for his opening. He overpowers his guard, nabs Barnabas, and heads for the red door. Once back in present-day London, he has his former master committed. What was the red door? Where is it located in London? Can anyone use it? How is it that Mark was able to stumble on it but not some other poor soul? Who knows? It's almost as though the first part of this tale was lopped off for space. Wrightson's art here looks rushed as well.
John: I thought that Wrightson's art was some of the most detailed we've seen in a while. Just look at the details in the background above as an example. But it does appear he ran out of steam toward the end, certainly the last two panels on the second to last page.
Jack: Another very nice, ghoulish story, with Wrightson in full Ghastly mode. There are a couple of panels with open-mouthed characters where the spittle lines connect from top to bottom, just like in the good old Ingels days. Adams cover, de Zuniga debut and a long Wrightson story--a top-notch issue!
"The Morning Ghost"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Dick Dillin and Frank Giacoia
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Bill Draut
Peter: In "The Morning Ghost," beautiful Casandra is out walking one morning when she's nearly run down by a car driven and occupied by a gaggle of ghosts. Only the quick thinking of a handsome passerby saves Cas from tire tracks across her mid-section. Cas tells her savior her story: she had met a young man and agreed to marry him but her rich family objected to his nobody status and, after a heated argument, an accident burned their mansion to the ground, with family intact. After several run-ins with the spirits, Cas finally gives in and joins them back at the mansion (now suddenly in one piece), revealing to her new beau that she also died in the blaze. That's okay with him, though, since he's a ghost as well. Only one aspect of this mammothly dopey story surprised me and that's the fact that it got published in the first place. Makes you wish you were a comic writer in the early 1970s. I knew right from the get-go that the guy who comes to Cas's rescue was a ghost. I assumed that it was the girl's dead lover (who was also burnt to a crisp in the fire but apparently forgotten quite soon after), but the "double twist climax" only made me wince longer. This was an easy payday for all three gentlemen involved in the "creative process."
John: Forgetting the predictability of the story, there's something about the way the ghosts are drawn that makes them (and the story) cooler than it deserves to be.
John: That Adams cover looks like it would have been more at home on the Secrets of Sinister House. Or a Marilyn Ross gothic paperback.
Peter: Blind old Silas is convinced his nephew is planning to kill him and take over the family business. When he overhears the young man telling a customer that he's got a well-deserved surprise for his uncle, Silas cracks the kid over the skull and, basically, wanders around for 4 pages (stumbling into the edges of the panels) convinced his nephew is a/ not dead or b/ a ghost. Silas works himself into a heart attack and the police bust in, ostensibly when the smell gets too nasty, only to find two dead men and a seeing eye dog. I figured out the "twist" fairly early but I suppose it might have surprised youngsters and, ahem, older comic critics (see below). Bill Draut's art is nothing spectacular but he manages to win "Best Art of the Issue" by default.
John: Am I the only one who thought Uncle Silas looked a little too much like Uncle Creepy? Someone get Jim Warren on the phone!
|Cardy or Adams?|
"The Mark of the Witch"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alex Toth
"The Sands of Time, The Snows of Death!"
Art by Geoge Tuska
Jack: Poor Thomas, wrapped in a straitjacket and locked in a cell for the murder of a young girl! If only someone would pay attention to his raving about "The Mark of the Witch." A doctor finally listens as Thomas relates the story of his discovery of a witches' ceremony and his attempt to rescue a young girl from being sacrificed. Sadly, the witches put a hex on Thomas and he woke up next to the dead lass, holding a knife. The sympathetic doctor promises to help, but after he leaves the cell we see the telltale marks on the back of his neck that show him to be a member of the coven. This is a fairly obvious story by Oleck with merely average art by Toth. I was a bit puzzled as to when it was supposed to be taking place. The surprise ending is not much of a surprise.
Peter: The oldest punchline in horror comics (or science fiction comics as well, as evidenced by the number of times Stan Lee used it in the Marvel pre-hero anthology titles) caps a very average witch tale. Not a lot of characterization, not a lot of info provided on who this guy is or why he's involved with the witch's cult. Yet another dull script highlighted by Alex Toth's atmospheric art.
John: Toth's art is a bit too stark for me. This might have benefited from color, but in black and white it's not particularly effective (Note: John is reviewing these issues from the Showcase collections, published in black and white).
|"The Mark of the Witch"|
|"The Sands of Time, the Snows of Death!"|
John: If you're going to send characters back to the time of the dinosaurs, I expect that they'll be around for more than just a couple of panels.
Jack: When I was a kid, I did not notice the bad art. I think that's a sign of maturity or crankiness.
Peter: I'll let our readers decide that one, Jack.
|Quality art from Jerry Grandenetti!|
John: Perhaps it worked back in the day, but I couldn't get past the Eddie Munster/Spock crossover kid.
Jack: Phil and Mary Coyle buy a big old house in the country, only to find that the locals do everything they can to scare them and drive them away in "Within These Walls Dwells Fear." Unfortunately for Mary, the main problem seems to be that hubby Phil has a split personality and is trying to kill her--and himself! Judge Gallows returns after several issues on sabbatical to tell this story, which is almost as obvious as the one before it. I had guessed that Phil was the culprit long before the big reveal, though Dick Dillin's art makes it a little bit unclear that Phil is the bad guy, at least until the writer spells it out for us.
|"Within These Walls Dwells Fear"|
John: I seem to recall suggesting how it would be cool to see Judge Gallows again. Is it too late to take that back?
Jack: In "Would You Want to Know the Day You Die?", Don Young lives it up until he falls in love and has a family. He then works so hard that he drops dead. End of story. A ghostly green figure narrates this tale and tells us that Don's fear of dying young killed him, not his overwork. The whole thing is a waste of four pages, illustrated by the no-star team of John Calnan and Vince Colletta. A couple of single-page throwaway stories round out the issue; one is drawn by Berni Wrightson and, though it doesn't make a lot of sense, at least it (and the Adams cover) serves to elevate another mediocre issue of Unexpected.
Peter: I think I'd much rather see four more pages of swell advertising than something as stupid as "Would You Want..." Early in the story we're told that Don had a "Fatalist philosophy--and it became stronger each time death appeared..." but we're not told exactly why Don is constantly around when someone dies. The story's a dud but the art isn't bad. A surprise to me since I remember not caring too much for John Calnan's work on the Batman titles. We get a "Coming Attractions" on our letters page this issue, promising all kinds of delights in the future. One, a Dave Wood "super-supernatural saga" tentatively tiled "The Ferris Wheel of Fear," might have been retitled or canned. I don't find any record of that appearing. Stay tuned.