"A Girl and Her Dog!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gray Morrow
"The Alien Within Me"
Art by Alex Toth
(reprinted from My Greatest Adventure #60, October 1961)
"Child of the Dead!"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Wayne Howard
Art by Nick Cardy
(reprinted from House of Mystery #72, March 1958)
"The Little People"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia
|"A Girl and Her Dog!"|
Jack: Good art, good story, weak ending--like so much of what we're reading lately in 1971 DC mystery comics. The red double-decker bus in 1941 London appears to be an anachronism, since I don't think they appeared till the '50s. Conway gets off to a shaky start with some overdone cockney dialect, including "All those H'expiditions 'e was always takin'." I agree with you, though, that this is very good overall.
John: I agree it's nice art and an okay story, but I don't see what Peter saw in this one to rate it so highly.
|"The Alien Within Me"|
John: This one is no better or worse than I've come to expect from Toth.
Jack: I'm with John for once. This is unexciting art from Alex Toth, who is usually so much better. The story is more sci-fi than horror, despite the presence of the monster.
|"Child of the Dead!"|
Jack: Wayne Howard's art is even more wooden than usual, but the real story behind this quickie is even better than what we get here. Legend has it that the grave robber was trying to cut a ring off the poor woman's finger when she woke up from the pain and "came back to life." This story was also told by Kirby in "Birth After Death," featured in the January 1953 issue of Black Magic (#20).
John: Let me just say that Lore Shoberg is no Sergio Aragones. Whereas every panel of the latter brings a smile to my face, there is nothing in the former's Cain's Room 13 worth recommending.
|"The Little People"|
Peter: When his wife dies during child birth and leaves him with a screaming daughter to feed, Michael O'Bannion makes a pact with "The Little People" to replace the girl with a son. The munchkins keep their word but in keeping with their "sense of humor," they give O'Bannion a boy who resembles an ape. The boy grows strong and labors hard on his father's farm but his freakish appearance weighs on Michael, who finally goes back to the little guys and demands his daughter back. Being the generous people they are, they grant his wish. A variation on The Monkey's Paw, "The Little People" is entertaining enough, nothing challenging, but I can't get over the feeling that it's a "vault" story. It looks like something that would have made one of the 1960s issues of HoM.
Jack: A forgettable story with sub-par art by Gil Kane. You know you're in trouble when even Gil Kane's art isn't exciting. This was a pretty bad issue of House of Mystery, despite another great cover. No wonder DC's 25 cent experiment failed. They padded the page count with reprints that should have stayed in the archives.
John: I had to double check the credits on this one, hoping Peter had incorrectly attributed the art to Gil Kane.
"Farewell to a Fading Star"
Art by John Calnan and Vince Colletta
"The Brain Thief"
Art by Nick Cardy
(reprinted from House of Secrets #2, February 1957)
"Beyond the Shadows"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jerry Grandenetti
"The Menace of the Maze"
Art by Mort Meskin and George Roussos
(reprinted from House of Mystery #70, January 1958)
"The Deadly Widow's Web!"
Art by George Tuska
|"Farewell to a Fading Star"|
Peter: We've read some unreadable junk before but this is near the top of the heap. There's no flow to speak of and the climax shifts locale without alerting us to several essential facts, chief among them being whether Norma was being sought for murder and how the heck did she get to the hall of mirrors? Teleportation chamber? "Farewell" reads as though it was written by three writers who had no idea what the others were writing.
John: The sad thing is, this is the caliber of work I have come to expect from Unexpected.
|It's fun to try to pick the|
most awkward panel!
Peter: I actually thought Grandenetti's art was the highlight of this waste of time. Not saying much, I know, but when you're dealing with a story that's been done a zillion times before, you have to latch on to something to get you through the pages, right? At this point, should we be retitling this comic The Unspectacular? The Unoriginal? No one reading a DC mystery comic should be fooled by this one.
John: I'm trying to figure out how Grandenetti's art could be the highlight. I wouldn't say it's so bad that it's good. Although I think you're on to something with the 'most awkward panel' award.
John: Oh, silly me. I actually thought, going into this tale, how could one go wrong with a spider-story? Well, now I know. Unexpected.
Peter: Tuska's patented "crazed faces with arms akimbo" art is just as abysmal here as over at the Marvel University. I thought it kind of extra creepy that the little girl was wearing a dress decidedly too small for her. I love how, even though the story's title is "The Deadly Widow's Web" and the old lady's name is Arachne, we're supposed to be shocked by the finale! I laughed out loud when Gustave's wife, Laura, sobbed to his doctor that she should have told her husband he had a weak heart. How does Laura find this out without Gustave's knowledge? Some secret heart testing while the man is snoring away? Then the doctor says they couldn't tell Gustave, as he would have died of fright!
Jack: This issue's reprints include "The Brain Thief," with early art by Nick Cardy, and "The Menace of the Maze," with art by Mort Meskin that is pretty sketchy and looks like it could have come from the Simon & Kirby studio, where he worked till 1956. The stories are sub-par 1950s DC mystery fare. Too bad this issue was such a letdown after that terrific Cardy cover!
Peter: "The Brain Thief" provides a few laughs, chief among them the x-ray machine inside the doctor's office that gets struck by lightning, and did hospitals in the 1950s really refer to their mental patients as "imbeciles"? It's harmless fun with a nice Nick Cardy art job. A much more pleasant surprise is our other reprint, "The Menace of the Maze," which is not too taxing, very entertaining, and climaxes with an honest to goodness unexpected twist! Who'da thunk one of the reprints would end up taking "Story of the Issue" honors? Me.
|"The Menace of the Maze"|
"The Man with My Face"
Art by Jack Sparling
"Hyde--and Go Seek!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Tony DeZuniga
"The Day Nobody Died"
Art by George Roussos
(reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected #9, January 1957)
"Track of the Invisible Beast"
Art by Alex Toth
(reprinted from House of Mystery #109, April 1961)
"A Bottle of Incense.. A Whiff of the Past!"
Story by Francis Bushmaster (Gerry Conway)
Art by Alan Weiss and Bernie Wrightson
|The rich, nuanced artistry of one Jack Sparling|
John: You have to be really hard up to want to change places with a Fred Gwynne-looking dude. Of course, Sparling's rendition of Albert isn't much to look at, either.
Jack: This is one of those instances where Jack Sparling's art works for me. The story looked like it might be good but it ends suddenly with no explanation. Even poor Abel doesn't know what happened. Too bad!
|"Hyde--and Go Seek!"|
John: I think this is the best of the bunch this month. I've seen no better art than the night scenes by de Zuniga. And a twist that is actually effective for a change! Go figure.
Jack: I thought that this was going to be a perfect example of "great art, bad script," but it did take me by surprise. Wein steals from Bloch and moves the scene from London to San Francisco. The art is beautiful and de Zuniga makes great use of grays and blues for the night scenes. I wish the story were a little more coherent, but overall I enjoyed it.
|"The Day Nobody Died"|
|"Track of the Invisible Beast"|
Jack: "The Day Nobody Died" was already an old story by 1957 (see, for example, the 1939 film, On Borrowed Time) and it wasn't any fresher in 1971. "Track of the Invisible Beast" is a forgettable story that recalls any number of '50s monster movies. The art by Alex Toth is above-average, as usual.
John: On Borrowed Time is a personal favorite of mine. This particular take on Death taking some time off, however, is forgettable.
Peter: Cecilia Graves was once a beautiful girl who collected lovers and discarded them at the drop of a hat, but now she's old and alone and only wants to relive some of those bygone days. She recalls Osmodeus, the only man she might have truly been interested in, a man who tried to involve her in the black arts but was tragically killed at a very young age. Now, through satanic spells, she hopes to raise him from the dead and stave off the aching loneliness she feels. Cecilia succeeds but not according to her plan. Osmodeus comes back as a very hungry demon. "A Bottle of Incense... A Whiff of the Past" is just what the doctor ordered after so many awful Jerry Grandenetti and Jack Sparling stories: a nicely written, beautifully penciled cautionary tale. Jack notes that it's tough to figure out how much is Weiss and how much Wrightson and he's right on the money. It's not classic Wrightson but glimpses peek through. All the same, the two combine to deliver gorgeously detailed panels. Conway's dialogue and narrative are filled with lots and lots of words but none of them are wasted space. There's a layered back story being told here and we can almost forget that there's some supernatural shenanigans going on as well. "A Bottle..." and "A Girl and Her Dog" give me hope that the really good, consistently good, material is right around the corner.
Jack: The second highlight of the issue is this mixture of Sunset Boulevard and H.P. Lovecraft by Conway, Weiss & Wrightson. I am not familiar enough with Weiss's art to know how much of this is his and how much is Wrightson's, but there are panels that look very Wrightsonesque. I don't know why Conway wrote this under his goofy pseudonym but it's better than the reprints and better than this issue's lead story. Why put it in the back of the book?
John: I thought the Wrightson bits were very few and far between. I probably would have missed them had I not known he was involved. Overall, I was less impressed by this than my colleagues.
"This Little Witch Went to College"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Don Heck
"Fingers of Fear!"
Art by Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella
(reprinted from Sensation Comics #109, June 1952)
"The Second Life of Simon Steele"
Art by Howard Sherman
(reprinted from House of Secrets #46, July 1961)
"The Corpse Who Carried Cash!"
Story by Bill Dennehy (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by John Calnan and Vince Colletta
"The Man in the Cellar"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jerry Grandenetti
|"This Little Witch Went to College"|
Peter: I thought Don's art was very good here as well but the story confused the hell out of me. I couldn't keep up with who was a witch and who wasn't!
John: Bless you Jack for accepting the witch-trio framing stories. I still cannot stomach them. Fortunately, it makes the transition to Heck's are all the more impressive.
|"The Second Life of Simon Steele"|
Jack: The reprints this time around include a crazy little story called "Fingers of Fear!" After killing his five partners in the Brazilian jungle to keep the treasure they've found, Albert Tisdale wades through the River of Death on his way out. When he gets home, the fingertips on his left hand grow little heads of the men he's killed. The heads talk to him and make him try to kill himself in ways that mirror the ways he killed each of the men. My favorite line comes after he puts a glove on the hand: "Once the fingers of fear are screened from sight, Albert Tisdale resumes a normal life." Are you kidding? He has these five little guys on his left hand talking to him and trying to kill him, but once he puts a glove on all is forgotten? Priceless.
|"Fingers of Fear!"|
Peter: Both reprints were wacky and fun this time out (a trend that doesn't really bode well since it's the new stuff we're supposed to be getting excited about). I kept hoping that the five little finger men would grow a little bit more since they were wearing their wife beaters and I wanted to see if they wore tighty whiteys. Couldn't get past that next knuckle though. There's a real sleazy feel to this story, one that I must admit to loving the heck out of. The other reprint, "The Second Life of Simon Steele" had the kind of storyline that only a 1961 DC editor would accept: a ghost comes back from the grave to avenge a 150-year old slight committed by a fellow lawyer. It's fairly forgettable if not for the gorgeous Howard Sherman art, who had a style that brings to mind Al Williamson.
|"The Corpse Who Carried Cash!"|
Peter: This is a very silly story and I'd say it's predictable but that may because I've read the exact same story somewhere else before. Don't ask me where but perhaps a reader out there with a better memory than mine might chime in?
John: It's one of those stories that's so predictable that you don't have to have read it before.
Jack: Ephraim Dark is "The Man in the Cellar," a miser who hides with his money. One day, a well-dressed man comes and invites him to journey through a mirror to the man's home, where he and his family welcome Ephraim with kindness and food. Ephraim repays the man by sealing money from his safe and fleeing back through the mirror. Afraid of being caught, Ephraim burns the cash and smashes the mirror, only to discover that the other man is a representation of how he might have lived his life differently and he has burned his own greenbacks. This story is completely befuddling, but Jerry G's usual bizarre art makes it strangely satisfying in a perverse way.
|"The Man in the Cellar"|
John: Funny. Grandenetti's artwork made my head hurt.
Jack: In this issue's letters column, we are told that they will continue to reduce the appearances of the three witches who have hosted The Witching Hour since its inception. I think that's too bad, because I always enjoyed their little framing stories and thought they were good fun.
John: Hey! Something for me to look forward to.
Peter: With all the negativity regarding the new stories that are appearing in the "current" DC horror titles, I'm sure some readers are wondering why the three of us bother. Yes, we're coming across some really bad stuff but I believe the quality stories are just a few months away. Back in 1997, when John and I were co-editors of The Scream Factory Magazine (The Best Of which will be winging its way to bookstores hopefully in 2014), I commissioned DC expert Jim Kingman to select his favorite DC mystery/horror stories. Of the 25 he picked, not one was published before March 1972. Tellingly, only one story each originally appeared in Unexpected and The Witching Hour. I began my journey down the DC horror path in 1973 and, back then, everything seemed fresh, original, and scary. Hopefully, some of that aura will still be present when we get there.
Peter: We should also mention that November 1971 saw the publication of the first issue of The Sinister House of Secret Love, a gothic romance title that, thankfully, falls out of the perimeters of our voyage . An expensive experiment (its premiere cover was painted by paperback artist Victor Kalin), SSHoSL would see only bi-monthly issues before a title and format change. We'll be covering the book when it becomes Secrets of Sinister House with #5 in July 1972. Those fearful of missing anything from that landmark first issue will be pleased to know the lead story, the 25-page "The Curse of the MacIntyres," complete with Don heck art, will be reprinted in House of Mystery #225. I, for one, cannot wait.
John: Um, I can.