"The Gardener of Eden!"
Story by John Albano
Art by Jim Aparo
"Image of Darkness"
Story by Bob Kanigher
Art by Gray Morrow
"Nobody Loves a Lizard!"
Story by Virgil North
Art by Don Heck
Peter: Doctor Adam Eden (you heard me) and his beautiful wife, Eve (yep!) move into their brand new mansion, only to find it already inhabited by a slow-witted hunchback named Boris. The doctor tells Boris to get out immediately but his wife takes pity on the malformed dimwit and hires him on as the "Gardener of Eden." After a few weeks, the doctor notices Eve enjoying quite a bit of time with his new employee and decides to bury the hatchet... in Boris's skull. Eve confronts her murderous husband and tells him she's never loved anyone but him. Ashamed of his rash act of violence, the doc decides to make Boris the recipient of a new synthetic brain he's been working on.
The experiment a success, the exhausted surgeon hits the sack, only to wake later to find himself strapped to a gurney and prepped for surgery. Boris has relieved Eve of her maiden brain and replaced it with a similar plastic one and is now about to do the same for Adam. John Albano had obviously been watching a lot of late night horror movies as he hits every brain transplant cliche right on the head. Why the dopey doc would want to put a super-high-intelligent brain into a man he'd just tried to kill is not really explored. Nor is the very fast transformation Adam has from respectable doctor who ignores his wife most of the time to jealous, salivating murderer. Jim Aparo does his best with what little he has to work with (I picture the story notes something like "Boris is a big, ugly hunchback") and at least we've got that fabulous Neal Adams cover. Do you think Neal would have liked to read one of these scripts that actually involved kids in danger?
Jack: I thought it was kind of rude of Dr. Eden to make a snap judgment that Boris must be retarded and then hand him a wad of cash and tell him to go live somewhere else. We are told that Dr. Eden is "usually charitable," but he sure acts like a jerk. Fortunately, the always-reliable Jim Aparo makes this ridiculous story nice to look at. And what exactly is a plastic brain?
John: There's something particularly odd and yet creepy about the way Aparo drew Boris. Thankfully, the depiction really helps the story.
Peter: 19th Century Andrew's got a problem: he's a really ugly, malformed hunchback with bad teeth (think, I don't know, Boris from the last story), but things may be looking up. He's found a mirror that transforms him (in his words) into a "Young... Handsome (and) straight" man. Setting aside his preference for men, Andrew travels through the mirror into our present day and falls in love with beautiful Susan. They take up residence at the House of Mystery and all seems wonderful until he discovers that he has to go back through the mirror every night at midnight or face transforming into the ugly princess before Susan's eyes. Susan puts up with it at first but then has her suspicions until one night she witnesses Andrew changing back into Boris. End of story. I've dozed through probably half a dozen Robert Kanigher horror stories and not one of them is half as good as the worst Kanigher war story I've read. There's some confusion here as to how much time elapses between the day Andrew heads through the mirror and the first night he discovers the drawback to his paradise. The guy does all kinds of interesting things, hits parties, discos, night clubs and meets and woos Susan and convinces her to live with him. Did this all happen in one day? How could he not have known he'd turn back into his old creepy self? Was he drunk all those nights? The Morrow art is steadily declining, going from what I once thought of as stylish to a more by-the-numbers look. One more thing: this gimmick of Cain popping up as a character in these stories doesn't make sense. Granted, Andrew is a supernatural presence but Susan seems to be a nice lass. Doesn't she think it's weird that Andrew has no visible means of support and they're living in the House of Mystery with a graveyard caretaker?
Jack: I'm surprised at your negative reaction to this story. I thought the story was decent, until the corny ending, and I liked Gray Morrow's art better than I've liked it in other stories recently. I thought it was nice how he was starting to get away from the overly freaky designs and just draw characters and scenes a little bit more realistically. I even liked his depiction of the swingin' seventies lifestyle. I'll admit it's a little jarring to go from a Jim Aparo Cain in the first story to a Gray Morrow Cain in the second story, especially since Morrow's version of the caretaker looks like a college professor. By the way, while we all know it's really the House of Mystery, Andrew refers to it as the House of Cain.
Peter: "Nobody Loves a Lizard" is a four page piece of fluff about an orphan, constantly berated by the orphanage director, who has a fondness for reptiles. All ends happily when he's adopted by a beautiful lady with a giant tail. Don Heck's art here is actually palatable and the story, such as it is, is pretty harmless. By default, "Lizard" is the best story in the issue and that's not much of an endorsement.
Jack: I liked "Image of Darkness" better but I agree that this is above average art from Don Heck. It doesn't make much sense as a story but I like the talking lizard. Little known fact: this was the first credit (per IMDB) for the diminutive actor who would later go on to work for GEICO.
John: Better than a Humpty Dumpty appearance, for what it's worth.
Story by Len Wein
Art by Berni Wrightson
"After I Die!"
Story by Jack Kirby and Mark Evanier
Art by Bill Draut
"It's Better to Give..."
Story by Virgil North
Art by Alan Weiss and Tony deZuniga
Peter: History (and some of the creators involved) tell us that it was simply a coincidence that Man-Thing and Swamp Thing appeared on the newsstand virtually at the same time. Len Wein wrote "Swamp Thing" (introducing a quite dissimilar character than the one who would later garner his own title), then took a taxi over to Marvel, where he wrote an installment of the Man-Thing series (originally slated for Savage Tales #2 but eventually surfacing in Astonishing Tales #12, June 1972), and then basically re-wrote the House of Secrets short, mixing in some very similar elements from the Marvel series. Way too close, says Roy Thomas in an interview in Alter Ego #81: "Gerry and I thought that, unconsciously, the origin in Swamp Thing #1 was a bit too similar to the origin of Man-Thing a year-and-a-half earlier. There was vague talk at the time around Marvel of legal action, but it was never really pursued... We weren't happy with the situation over the Swamp Thing #1 origin, but we figured it was an accident. Gerry was rooming with Len at the time and tried to talk him into changing the Swamp Thing's origin.
Len didn't see the similarities, so he went ahead with what he was going to do." Roy goes on to say that his monster was a knock-off of the Heap, a swamp creature that had a back-up strip in Airboy Comics during the 1940s. In any event, this particular issue of HoS quickly became sought after on the collector's market, and one of the most expensive single issues in the entire mystery line. So what about the story itself? It's a bit different than the origin story related in Swamp Thing #1 (which is more of a reboot of the short story) but the skeleton remains the same: Alex Olsen (later rechristened Alec Holland) and his partner, Damian Ridge, are dabbling in some sort of chemistry (the formula the pair are working on is not the only vague plot point in this story--the characters are dressed in what appears to be 19th Century clothing) in a huge estate on the edge of a swamp.
Unbeknownst to Alex, Damian secretly covets his partner's wife, Linda, and rigs the laboratory equipment to explode while Alex is working. Damian tells Linda that Alex is dead and then buries the man (alive) in the swamp. Linda and Damian soon marry but it's a strained relationship. Believing that his new wife is suspicious of his friend's death, Damian decides to off her but Alex, now risen as swamp monster, arrives in the nick of time and gets his revenge. The obvious highlight here is Bernie Wrightson's dark, moody art but Wein's simple story works well enough that we empathize with seven feet of moss and muck. Even if this story had not spawned the multi-armed Swamp Thing franchise, this would still have been one of the best, most atmospheric short stories DC ever ran in their mystery line.
John: A great story, worthy of its classic status, but honestly not Wrightson's best work, in my opinion.
|The rest of this script maybe?|
Jack: Oddly enough, the story ran without any credits at all. One would think they would have wanted to promote Kirby's involvement. I did not mind the story as much as you did, possibly because I was so elated from reading "Swamp Thing" that I gave this a pass. I will say that the brother-in-law, Hal, looks much too young.
John: If you hadn't pointed out it was Kirby, I think I would have read it and moved along, without even realizing it.
Peter: Smilin' Sam, a hobo, discovers a crying child in the junkyard he lives in and helps the little runt. Suddenly, his luck turns good and he discovers a veritable money machine: a faucet that spits out dimes. When another vagrant gets wind of this, he murders Sam but then has to face the wrath of the little boy, who's come back to visit Sam. Yet another of those yarns that either has you scratching your head or burning the comic book in disgust (since this particular issue is worth so much, I'd vote the former). Who exactly is this little kid and when he exacts revenge for Sam by absorbing the man into a balloon and popping it, does the bum explode as well or what? I have no idea! The murderous "bum" by the way looks like a dock worker rather than a "malicious tramp." The final two pages are given over to a short-short called "Trick or Treat," of which the less said the better.
John: I thought the balloon popping was a cool idea.
Jack: I guess I was on such a high from "Swamp Thing" that I liked all of the stories in this issue! The kid turns out to have been a baby warlock, according to Abel. He would later grow up to star in a Marvel series of his own but he had absolutely nothing to do with Jeff Jones.
"Screech of Guilt!"
Story by Jack Phillips (George Kashdan)
Art by Art Saaf
"Escape Into the Unknown!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Sid Greene
"Know No Evil!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Jerry Grandenetti
Jack: Nicholas shoots and kills his business partner, Clinton, after the man discovers that he has been embezzling from the company coffers. Clinton's pet parrot heard the whole thing and with a "Screech of Guilt!" squawks out the final verbal exchange between the two men. Nicholas tries to kill the bird but it escapes. It then follows him, driving him slowly crazy until he is attacked and killed by a company of parrots at a bird sanctuary. They should have called this story "The Tell-Tale Parrot." The art isn't half-bad for an issue of Unexpected but the story is predictable.
|This is why you're not supposed to get out|
of your car at the drive-through Jungle Safari Park
John: Okay, I figured you guys were talking up an issue of Unexpected to get me to give it another chance. I'll be darned if this isn't the most entertaining tales to come out of these pages. That said, I'm still not ready to give Unexpected another chance.
Peter: The set-up is pretty lame (security is hilariously bad at this rocket launch and I'm not sure the scientists would launch a rocket knowing there was an ex-con hiding somewhere on the base) and the pay-off is tired but the story’s pretty harmless. Sid Greene’s art resembles that of a reined-in Jerry Grandenetti. The edges are still a bit rough but it’s not as exaggerated.
Peter: I’d have liked to see more of the trial (I mean, you’ve got this eerie judge, why not use him?) but this was certainly better than the other Judge Gallows stories we’ve been subjected to. The empath idea is a sophisticated one and I’m fairly sure it was lost on most of the ten year-olds who might have picked the issue up, but I certainly applaud writer George Kashdan for attempting something a little more adult than haunted mirrors and cursed felines. The real Jerry Grandenetti (as opposed to his twin, Sid Greene) turns in an acceptable art job as well.
By the way, a letter from Ted Moynihan on the Unexpected Mail page reminds us we forgot to mention a couple of Super DC Giants published in late 1970 and early 1971 that concern us around this blog. Super DC Giant was a 68-page special that was published sporadically beginning in October 1970, with 15 issues appearing through Summer 1976. The numbering was funky but number S-20 (actually the 8th issue) was a special House of Mystery issue. That issue reprinted:
1/Black Magic for Sale (from HOM #46, January 1956)
2/The Second Death of Abraham Lincoln (from HOM #51, June 1956)
3/The Thing in the Box (from HOM #61, April 1957)
4/The Laughing Ghost of Warwick Castle (from HOM #56, November 1956)
5/Riddle of the Red Roc (from HOM #63, June 1957)
6/The Lady and the Creature (from HOM #63, June 1957)
7/The Thief of Thoughts (from HOM #66, September 1957)
8/The Ghost Snowman (from Sensation Mystery #114, April 1953)
3, 5, and 7 feature art by Jack Kirby while 8 is drawn by Mad (and Mademoiselle Marie) legend Mort Drucker. Jack Sparling provided a new framing sequence for the reprints.
Super DC Giant #s-23 was a special Unexpected number, reprinting:
1/The Demon in the Mirror! (from Sensation Comics #109, June 1952)
2/The Man Who Walked Like a Mummy! (from HOM #48, March 1956)
3/The Thing from the Skies (from Tales of the Unexpected #13, May 1957)
4/The Face in the Clock (from TOTU #14, June 1957)
5/Captives of Creature Castle (from HOM #104, November 1960)
6/The Secret of the Little Black Bag! (from HOM #9, December 1952)
7/The Girl in the Iron Mask (from HOM #66, September 1957)
On that same Unexpected Mail page, editor Murray Boltinoff gives us the wonderful news that the title has been promoted to monthly status. Oh happy day!
"Freddy is Another Name for Fear!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Wally Wood
Story by Phil Seuling
Art by Gray Morrow
"I Married a Ghost"
Story by Al Case (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Art Saaf
Jack: Oversized simpleton Freddy ("Freddy is Another Name for Fear!") has wrecked another dormitory and can't be trusted anywhere but in the home of Dr. Sherman, who tells young colleague Dr. Barnes that he's sure he can cure the big lummox. A ghostly figure appears at Freddy's window to tempt him to escape, but Freddy keeps his promise not to try and tells Dr. Sherman about it. What Freddy does not know is that Dr. Sherman plans to use his patient to kill ambitious young Dr. Barnes. Turnabout is fair play when Barnes has Freddy kill Sherman and Freddy then kills Barnes too for good measure. George Kashdan's script is terrible and Wally Wood's art is below average for the great Mr. Wood. There are atmospheric panels here and there but even he couldn't do much with this story.
|"Freddy is Another Name for Fear!"|
John: Fortunately Wood left much better stuff for us to remember him by.
Jack: When Heck Belleau claims Old Yeller Maggie is a "Bayou Witch," the backwoods folk turn on her and their luck becomes all bad. They head out with a lynching party but instead of the witch, they try to lynch Heck, until Maggie puts a stop to it. This dreadful story is told in rhymed stanzas in captions with no word balloons, which is a good thing because they would get in the way of Gray Morrow's art. Phil Seuling was a comic dealer who basically started the big Comic Con movement that led, decades later to the current annual behemoth in San Diego. As a writer, he makes a great salesman.
Peter: I think you're being a bit hard on this one, Jack, but it may be because I'm starving for something that's not horrible. Nice EC-ish art by Morrow (much better than the work he did on "Image of Darkness" in HoM #192) highlights an awkwardly-phrased horror poem. I’m sure pop singer Jim Stafford read this story just before writing his own ballad to a “Swamp Witch.” The DC writers had a thing for backwoods escapades and swamp creatures, didn’t they?
John: Did anyone else think that the art really suffers in the reproduction here? I'd love to get a glimpse of the originals, which I imagine must have looked pretty sharp.
|"I Married a Ghost"|
John: Another story bettered by the Nick Cardy cover art. On the bright side, Swamp Thing proves that every once and a while, something good will crawl out of the dreck...
We somehow managed to forget our time-honored tradition of picking the best and worst stories of the year so we'll kind of make up for that here. The following are our picks for the Best and Worst Script, Art and All-Around Story for the first 3 years we've covered: