Monday, September 16, 2013

Do You Dare Enter? Part Ten: October-November 1970

The DC Mystery Line 1968-1976
by Jack Seabrook,
John Scoleri,
& Peter Enfantino

Neal Adams
The House of Mystery 188 (October 1970)

"Dark City of Doom"
Story by Gerard Conway
Art by Tony de Zuniga

"House of Madness!"
Story uncredited
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.

Jack: Good story, excellent art! This was Tony de Zuniga's first story as penciller for DC, ushering in a new era of Filipino artists in American comics. Kallana looks like she stepped off the cover of an old SF pulp, and he draws Cain as well as anyone I've seen. I liked the twist ending, too!

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!

Neal Adams
The House of Secrets 88 (November 1970)

"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.

Jack: Dick Dillin's art does not lend itself to spooky ghost stories, and I feel like we've seen this twist ending before. I was not very surprised when Casandra revealed herself to be a ghost but I admit I was a little surprised to see Rich do the same. The story ends rather abruptly. That Neal Adams cover painting is very impressive; was it used as a paperback cover later on?

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.

Jack: This story did not start well but it got better as it went along, especially once blind Uncle Silas started stumbling around in the shadows. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the source of the frightening sounds was just a new seeing-eye dog. You know how easy it is to fool us old folks! This story had a "Blind Alley"/EC vibe to it. As for the frame, a visit by Egor and Cynthia to the House of Secrets is always welcome.

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 Witching Hour 11 (November 1970)

"The Mark of the Witch"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alex Toth

"The Sands of Time, The Snows of Death!"
Story Uncredited
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"
Jack: In "The Sands of Time, the Snows of Death," a weary traveler in the Arctic seeks refuge in a cave and finds an opening to the Hall of Time, which allows him to escape his snowbound prison and travel back countless years to the time of the dinosaurs. He tries to return to the future but finds the passageway closed. He sits down in the cave to die. Millennia later, it all happens again. Never mind the usual terrible art by Tuska, this story is so confusing that I have to guess Gerry Conway as the uncredited writer. As I read it, I wondered if the pages might be out of order, because it makes so little sense. I have come to expect better tales from Cynthia, my favorite witch! By the way, the protagonist wants to get back to 1968 but this comic came out in 1970. I suspect this was a story from the files and no one noticed the date discrepancy.

"The Sands of Time, the Snows of Death!"
Peter: The masters of time must have foreseen someone stumbling onto their clock since they were smart enough to label their switchboard! Yet another of the fossilized cliches Stan Lee used to milk (remember when the Mole Man would tape labels like "Off" and "On" across his doomsday machines?). I'm completely confused by this climax. Hasn't Anderson placed his warning plaque on the opposite side of the door it was on at the beginning of the story? And doesn't showing the plaque at the beginning of the story kind of ruin any suspense the writer is hoping for? How could he have seen it? Again, this is another of those cliched "it was the character warning himself of his own doom" climax. And, like "House of Madness," this tale almost seems to be the second half of a (god forbid) longer narrative. When we first meet up with Anderson, he's already killed his partner for the gold. I can't emphasize enough just how awful  George Tuska's art is. Makes me appreciate Don Heck and Frank Robbins much more. You're on the money, Jack, when you question the actual date this story was produced but, if not for the presence of Tuska, I'd say it was scheduled for one of those awful mid-60s DC sf titles.

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.

Neal Adams
Unexpected 121 (November 1970)

"Daddy's Gone A-Haunting!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Within These Walls Dwells Fear"
Story by Jack Phillips (George Kashdan)
Art by Dick Dillin

"Would You Want to Know the Day You Die?"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by John Calnan and Vince Colletta

Jack: Daddy Jonah is an old-fashioned healer, and the more modern doctor and townspeople hate and fear him in "Daddy's Gone A-Haunting!" Things only get worse when Daddy Jonah finds an abandoned boy in a crater and takes him home to heal him. Everywhere the boy goes, death and destruction follow, which doesn't make Daddy Jonah any more popular. Only when he cures the doctor of a heart condition does everyone leave him alone. The boy then recalls who he is, reconfigures his body into a meteorite, and speeds home into outer space, leaving Daddy Jonah alone and lonesome. Jerry Grandenetti's art gets more bizarre with each passing month. It seems like we need to start judging it on a scale of its own and not in relation to anything else. This story is rather obvious from the moment Daddy Jonah finds the boy in a crater and we see that he has pointy ears.

Quality art from Jerry Grandenetti!
Peter: Obvious maybe, but I enjoyed the heck out of it. Take my pulse. It's a jumbled mess that could do with a re-write and a couple extra panels of info but it works anyway. Jonah's story almost brought a lump to my throat. As usual, Jack, you are right on the money as far as Grandenetti goes. No artist I've run across in the years we've been doing these things is more hot and cold (well, maybe, lukewarm and cold). Here, his pencils are just fine and, in spots, really nice. The shot of the emptying lake (above) is pretty creepy!

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"
Peter: I'll buy that Phil has a split personality (and I admit to not seeing that one coming) but what does that have to do with the creepy townsfolk at the beginning of the story who are trying to scare the couple away? And why would anyone punish Judge Gallows for committing an obviously insane man? I also had trouble recognizing Phil as the bad guy but then maybe that's deliberate--Mr. Hyde and all. The wreck that Phil and Mary move into looks exactly like the house that burned to the ground in "The Morning Ghost" and I thought, for an instant, "Hey, that's cool! A cross-over sequel!" Unfortunately, it was only a case of "Limited Dick Dillin Architecture."

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.


de Zuniga


Greg M. said...

Hey, guys! I'm enjoying the columns very much, and have to share in the love of de Zuniga's work. As you say he was one of the creators of Jonah Hex. Those are some of the best looking comics out there. If you've never read it, check out the 2010 Jonah Hex No Way Back OGN. It's a great look at Jonah's origin, and it brought de Zuniga back one last time.

Keep up the great work!

Jack Seabrook said...

Great to hear from you again, Greg! Sometimes we wonder if anyone is out there!

Greg M. said...

Oh, I'm always reading. It's just that, unlike the Batman stories, I've yet to see most of these stories and comics (save in repeats). :-)