Monday, October 14, 2013

Do You Dare Enter? Part Twelve: February-March 1971

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

Neal Adams
The House of Mystery 190 (February 1971)

Story by uncredited
Art by Alex Toth

"A Witch Must Die!"
Story by Jack Miller
Art by Ric Estrada and Frank Giacoia

Peter: In 19th Century Bavaria, Gerald Rogers befriends Walter Heintze, a fellow student at Schmiedhausen University, and discovers that Walter has a yen for fencing. Gerald meets, and immediately falls for, Heintze's sister, Helga, but the girl refuses to give him the time of day until he gets himself some proper fencing scars. He convinces Walter to recommend him to the school's fencing fraternity and learns that to become one of the brothers he must spend the night in "the house of mystery." Overhearing plans for making his stay a little frightening, Walter girds himself and makes light of the various ghouls and ghosts that arrive during the night. It's only the next morning, when the brothers have come to see how he managed, that Gerald discovers he's stayed at the wrong house. A nice twisty climax and the typically stylish art of Alex Toth save what could have been a disaster. There's nothing wrong with a non-linear narrative if the reader knows what's going on. Here it's very confusing. Still, a passing grade for its plusses.

Jack: What can we say about Alex Toth that we haven't said already? I never liked his super-hero comics in the '70s but I love his horror work. The twist ending surprised me--I did not expect our hero to have been in the wrong house!

John: Maybe it's a generation gap, but I just don't understand the love for Toth's art in these tales. Fortunately, we get a palette cleansing thanks to a triple-dose of Sergio Aragon├ęs, who adds 'Cain's Gargoyles' to his repertoire.

Peter: In 16th Century Salem, the family of Jacob Walden must flee far into the woods when his wife, Ruth, is accused of being a witch. It's all the work of an evil neighbor whose husband has become smitten with Ruth but she's worked the entire village into a lather and the poor Walden family hightails it. Once in the woods, they meet a giant Indian tribal leader who claims the land is hallowed ground and threatens them if they don't leave. Jacob sniffs and stands his ground and the Indian has no choice but to fell a tree in the family's direction. Ruth's having none of this and bolts flying from her hands cause the tree to crush the Indian. Her family looks on in shock. A bit abrupt and the shock wasn't really too hard to figure out (I thought at one point the real witch might be Ruth's daughter, Hester) but the story's not bad, just chock full of very large holes. With the reveal, the big question becomes: did Ruth actually spin a spell on Esau? And why? If she was a super-powered witch, as opposed to one of those "eye of newt" cauldron loiterers shown in The Witching Hour, why didn't she get her family out of this jam? I love the very 16th century dialogue coming out of Jacob's mouth when he meets up with the Indian: "Wha-at? Don't make me laugh! You crazy old redskin!" The art is awful in that 1960s DC style that I'll never cotton to. Estrada would be perfect on a Lois Lane title, I'm sure.

Jack: That's one heck of a kite that resembles a witch on her broomstick! I marvel at Jennifer's string control. I was never a fan of Ric Estrada's work. I remember him from Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter in the '70s. However, a little research reveals that he had a long career drawing war and romance comics--he even drew for some EC titles in the early '50s! Still, his art seems wooden to me.

John: While HOM has normally been one of the more reliable books, neither of this issue's main tales left much of an impression on me.

The 16th Century's greatest kite or stupidest villagers?

Neal Adams
The House of Secrets 90 (March 1971)

"The Distant Dome"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by George Tuska

"The Symbionts"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Rich Buckler and Neal Adams

Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Gray Morrow

John: Before we even start, can I say what a cool cover this is by Neal Adams? I do think it works better in the b&w Showcase volume than with green Hulk arms.

Aqualad and Janet Pym
decide to bust out!
Peter: In the "distant future," mankind must live in domes or be killed by the "monster" which roams outside. Long before, contact had been shut down between domes so no one knows who's still alive. Two precocious teenagers, Thomm and Kathy, decide to escape their dome and find out what lies outside. They find a world destroyed by pollution (the "monster" their grandmother warned them about) but the duo decide to travel from dome to dome until they find more survivors. I'll reserve judgement on this story until I read the second part. What do you mean, there's no second part? There has to be, as this thing ends right in the middle of a scene. Steve Skeates (ever the eccentric) decides there's no reason to let us in on the reason our pair are dressed like superheroes and George Tuska... well, never mind.

Jack: They should have called this issue "House of Science Fiction Secrets." The first story reminds me of Logan's Run. I know the movie wasn't out yet but the book came out in 1967. The pollution monster idea is heavy-handed and why is the young hero dressed like Aquaman?

John: I recently read Logan's Run and was disappointed with it. That said, I would heartily recommend it over this story...

Buckler and Adams make a dyn-o-mite team!
Peter: In yet another distant future, convict Larry Herndon has been serving his sentence on a prison planet with only his computer, Laura, as a companion. On the day his sentence ends, he's to be picked up by rocket ship but discovers a nasty secret: his constant companion has fallen in love with him and will do anything to keep him imprisoned. Larry fights back but Laura is too strong and she drives the rescue party away, but not before they leave an incoming prisoner, a beautiful babe. When the girl enters the building she's greeted by the computer, now calling itself Larry. What a stupid climax to "The Sybionts." Marv Wolfman had me right up to the punchline and then he lays one of those dopey "the protagonist becomes part of the evil being" cliche eggs on his readers. How did Larry become the machine? I don't know. He just did. Wolfman revisits his early days on the DC mystery line by giving us nonsense disguised as cleverness. You can see why Rich Buckler succeeded Neal Adams on Marvel's The Avengers as their styles are so similar (too similar if you ask Jack).

In the far future, female computers will wear lipstick.

Jack: I was surprised to see Rich Buckler inked by Neal Adams. Buckler was accused of swiping from Adams so I did not realize they ever worked on the same strip. Some of the panels look to be all Adams but I can really see Buckler in others. The story is a dud.

Just two guys hangin' out
Peter: "Jedediah" Jones is on a mission for the Lord: he has to free Post-Omega II of all its fornicating, drinking, and general debauchery. To this end, he is teleported to Post-Omega II where he meets up with leader Paul Tarsus, who tells Jed that his citizens no longer fear death, experience greed, or watch Duck Dynasty, as they've discovered an element called Char-Ite (Charity, get it?) which keeps them calm and relaxed at all times. Wanting to get to the bottom of this situation, Jed busts his way into a Char-Ite mine and is buried under tons of rubble. He's fished out by Paul and admits he expected to be dead. Paul chuckles and tells him he is dead. So is everybody else on Post-Omega II.

Jack: Gray Morrow's art is cool but it made me think of the Spirograph toys we all had as kids, where you put the pen in the little hole and go around and around, making groovy designs. This story is a dud, too--how many times can we be surprised to learn that characters are dead?

John: I'd take Gray Morrow's Spirograph art over most everything else contributed this month—across all the Mystery titles...

Peter: That experimental art by Morrow, once pretty cool, is beginning to wear out its welcome. I still find his "normal" stuff above-average but here's hoping he got over his pretensions soon after. As far as the "twist" ending goes, I'm a little confused. At what point did Jed die? Before the teleportation? That would make sense as he's being beamed up to "heaven" or some such. If he dies when the mine collapses (in heaven), then I have a few more questions for Mr. Friedrich.

The Unexpected 123 (March 1971)

"Death Watch!"
Story by Charles Williams (Carl Wessler)
Art by George Tuska

"Man in the Attic!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Dick Dillin and Frank Giacoia

"Curse of the Sea Hag!"
Story by Cal Walker (Carl Wessler)
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Voice in the Night"
Story by Murray Boltinoff
Art by Rich Buckler

Jack: Charlie Miller's bad heart takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin' when treacherous employee Gil Darrow tries to scare him to death. Gil is tripped up during the "Death Watch!" when he asks lovely Leah to marry him and Charlie suddenly snaps out of his coma. This wretched story reminded me of the sketch decades ago on Saturday Night Live when John Belushi wakes from a coma right as his parents are about to pull the plug. The only good thing I can say about Tuska's art is that Leah is kinda cute.

"Man in the Attic!"
Peter: Even ghosts have buckteeth in George Tuska's warped world! While Charlie Miller is dying, does Gil really have that big grim on his face or is that just the way Tuska draws? I can't figure it out. With its goofball climax, this has to be front-runner for Worst Story of the Year!

Jack: Is "The Man in the Attic!" the strangler who has been terrorizing the city? Landlady Myrna Magloon has a crush on him but her elderly boarder, Lydia, finds him terrifying. Even more terrifying is the art on this tale by Dillin and Giacoia. Dillin is surely an acquired taste but Giacoia's inks look like they were applied with a trowel. I have to admit I did not see the twist ending coming. Peter, did you figure it out?

Peter: A truly dopey climax with a nonsensical reveal? Yep, Jack, I so saw it coming. You must have felt a bit of deja vu with that final "Here's what happened afterwards" tag-on a la Alfred Hitchcock Presents!

Jack: On the run from the cops, Jerry hides out on a ship, only to fall prey to the "Curse of the Sea Hag!" It turns out that pretty Roseann Mullen has been trapped on board due to past sins until someone more evil than she comes along. Surprise! In an UNEXPECTED twist, Jerry replaces her. Well, maybe not so unexpected.

Peter: Jerry Grandenetti's art, and this is truly Expected, is abysmal. Are these characters men? Women? Ugly? Human? Who knows?

John:  Might I suggest that they change the name of this title to EXPECTED. Of course, considering what I've come to expect in UNEXPECTED, I think I would have already dropped this title from my monthly reading.

"Voice in the Night!"
Jack: Tortured by a "Voice in the Night" after his wife dies in a car accident, Michael visits a shrink. Said shrink makes a house call, figures out that ventriloquist Michel is throwing his voice to imitate his dead wife, and has the poor guy locked up in the loony bin. At two pages this story is not much, but Rich Buckler's art is a welcome relief after what we've been subjected to this issue.

Peter: Whatever I have to say about this story will read as if I'm plagiarizing myself. Let me just say this: the entire print run of Unexpected #123 should have been pulped. The Direct Currents page tells us the editor on Unexpected is now Murray Boltinoff.

Jack: One of the great pleasures of doing this series is in discovering that I always liked a particular artist's work but never knew who it was. Nick Cardy, who drew so many DC covers, contributes another nice one to this issue. I now realize I always enjoyed Cardy's work without ever paying attention to his name.

Neal Adams
The Witching Hour 13 (March 1971)

"The Maze"
Story by Al Gold and Marv Wolfman
Art by Gray Morrow

"The Accursed Clay!"
Story by Jack Miller
Art by Jack Sparling and Frank Giacoia

"The Rush-Hour Ride of Abner Pringle!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Jose Delbo

Jack: It's the Witching Hour on New Year's Eve, and Neal Adams comes through with a great cover and framing sequence!

John: Morrow breaks out the Spirograph for the second time this month, with perhaps even better results than in HOS.

Jack: Middle-aged slob Harold Beedle finds himself trapped in "The Maze," a futuristic dimension where a mysterious voice tells him he must keep walking to find the exit. Little does he know he's like a rat in an experiment being conducted by a couple of aliens. This story has been told many times before, but Gray Morrow's expressionistic art is great to look at.

"The Maze"
Peter: Maybe it's because I'm starved for quality this month, but I really liked this story and didn't see the twist coming (despite the fact that I've seen that particular slant before). Morrow's art and the experimental formatting of the pages (some of the narration appears unboxed at the bottom of the page) keep your eyes dancing here and there. Our alien couple, by the way, answer to the names of Spa Fon and Squa Tront, sound effects used by EC in their science fiction comics and later adopted as titles for a pair of fanzines devoted to the company.

Jack: "The Accursed Clay!" is what makes Arthur Delano famous, when he sculpts statues that are the spitting image of people who die soon after their images are molded in clay. Though Arthur resents his fatal power, he cannot resist the orders of the man who gave him the clay. Arthur thinks he turns the tables when he makes his last statue resemble the clay's donor, but the man drops dead and as he dies he reveals that to have been his plan all along. It seems the donor was an ancient sorcerer named Rokk who had been cursed to live until someone cast his image in a statue. I kid you not. In this issue's Direct Currents, it refers to the author of this story as the late Jack Miller. The online DC Archives message board relates some interesting tales about Miller, a long-time writer and editor at DC. It seems he was known for asking his creative talent for kickbacks. That's more interesting than "The Accursed Clay!"

"The Accursed Clay!"
Peter: Speaking of EC (and I always am), Al Feldstein and Jack Davis did a much better variation on this theme way back in Tales from the Crypt #26 (October-November 1951) called "Drawn and Quartered." Unfortunately, I have to comment on the DC version, rather than EC, and "The Accursed Clay!" is not very good at all. I find it a bit lazy that some of the DC Mystery Line writers end their stories without an explanation built within the narrative and then tack on an expository in a final word panel. I don't mind when a writer deliberately leaves the reader wondering what's just happened but I find it works better in a story filled with characters and events I care about.

Neal Adams should draw everything.
Jack: In the Neal Adams frame story, Cain and Abel are visiting the three witches. All of a sudden, in bursts the Mad, Mod Witch, a character we haven't seen since an early issue of The Unexpected. The way Neal Adams draws her, she might actually be worth bringing back, but other than the one panel, she is absent from this issue.

John: If I never see the Mad, Mod Witch again it will be too soon. Unless she's drawn by Adam Hughes, Frank Cho, Paul Renaud or Milo Manara... in which case I might make an exception.

Jack: "The Rush-Hour Ride of Abner Pringle!" is not one of Len Wein's finest moments, as a Revolutionary War partner of Paul Revere falls off his horse, dozes off, and wakes up in 1970. He rides to Concord and tries to warn everyone that the British are coming. The conclusion, where he falls back asleep and a line of British soldiers marches toward Concord, makes absolutely no sense. To make things even stranger, the issue wraps up with a one-page text story written by Egor, whose spelling leaves much to be desired.

Peter: I couldn't figure out what Wein was aiming for in his climax. Is he inferring that the British were invading America again in present time? On horseback? Is it an alternate DC world? A very silly waste of space.

Oh boy! A Nixon hand shadow!

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