Monday, January 27, 2014

Do You Dare Enter? Part Nineteen: December 1971 / Best and Worst of 1971

The DC Mystery Anthologies 1968-1976
by Peter Enfantino
and Jack Seabrook

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 130

"One False Step"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Murder Spree"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by John Calnan and Vince Colletta

"Death Mask"
Story Uncredited
Art by Rich Buckler

"The Man Nobody Could See!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Mort Meskin
(reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected #3, July 1956)

"The Ghost Who Laughed at Locks"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira
(reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected #5, September 1956)

"You Don't Dare Dig the Gruesome Groupies!"
Story by Jack Phillips (George Kashdan)
Art by Art Saaf

Compare to Cardy's cover
Jack: Horace Palmer is a chemist whose nagging wife Mildred thinks his hobby of exploring caves is a waste of time. One day, he takes "One False Step" and falls into a deep cavern. He makes his way down a ledge to the bottom, where he finds a race of people with blank eyes who have been living down there for centuries. They forbid him to leave but he escapes, determined to get rich off the Titanium he has found in the cavern walls. Back at home, he brags to Mildred, who quickly tells the neighbors. Unexpectedly, the neighbors appear to be from below, having come to collect Horace or to exact their revenge.

Peter: Dopey rip-off of H. G. Wells' "Country of the Blind" starts off promisingly (especially the scene where Horace is stuck on the ledge) but quickly deteriorates and leaves us shaking our heads after its inexplicable climax. Are we to believe that the "people underground" somehow knew Horace would be arriving so they had two of their folk move in next door to him beforehand? And why would Horace's wife invite over a couple that have no eyes? Is it really any wonder that no one has stepped forward to claim credit for some of these stories? Jerry Grandenetti just gets better (sarcasm).

That "Crunch!" is harsh!
Jack: The three Wharton sisters come into millions when Daddy dies and Edward Kelsey decides he'll marry one and hope to inherit. He marries homely Claudia but when the will is read she's last in line. He kills Claudia, then takes her sister Amanda out for a boat ride and kills her too, extending his "Murder Spree." At last he marries Kate, who unexpectedly falls ill and dies of a fatal disease. The police arrest Kelsey for her murder and it turns out she took an overdose of pain pills in order to frame her hubby. This is a surprisingly violent little story, especially the panel where Claudia meets her maker.

Peter: It's never made clear that Edward has fallen in love with Kate after dispatching her two sisters. Not that the info would have made the story any better but it might have made the climax a bit more effective. This is a trip we've taken way too many times. Oh! The irony! The art looks as though Calnan and Colletta were given two days to produce it and they wrapped it up in two hours.

Jack: A thief steals a collection of "Death Mask"s intending to make copies and sell them as originals. Unexpectedly, he has a heart attack and collapses into his own soft clay, where he is smothered to death. One question: why make copies to sell as originals after you've stolen the originals?

Peter: "Death Mask" is another one of those one-pagers that make me wish there were more ads in these books. If you're a DC editor and you've got a page to spare, give it to Aragones.

"The Ghost Who Laughed at Locks"
Jack: "The Man Nobody Could See!" is this issue's first reprint and it features some pretty nice vintage 1956 art by Mort Meskin. Meskin's work sometimes resembles that of Kirby and, in a comic with work by Grandenetti and Calnan, it looks awfully good in comparison. The story is a blatant rip off of the Claude Rains movie classic in several aspects. Ruben Moreira's art on "The Ghost Who Laughed at Locks" is even better and looks like some of the best work from the Golden Age of comics.

Peter: Yet again, I find myself with more to say about the reprints than the new material. It's not that either one of the stories is any good but both have some charm to them and neither conveys an arrogance on its creator's part. I don't get the vibe there was someone sitting at a typewriter chanting the mantra, "These stupid kids will eat up anything!" I could be wrong, of course, and evidence of that is on view in the two reprints this issue.

"Gruesome Groupies"
In "The Man Nobody Could See," Mr. Conn is genius enough to invent a formula to make himself invisible but dumb enough to use the wrong bottle when trying to become visible again! And how smart is this guy if he's only got a little bit and can never recreate it? Not to beat a dead horse, but why would the money he stole from the bank and stashed in his invisible clothes (!) disappear? When he steals a heavier coat, it becomes transparent as well. Oy, my head is hurting. I need some rules here. Well, how about "The Ghost Who Laughed at Locks"? A very elaborate set-up and a climax pulled right out of an episode of Lights Out! All that was missing were Shaggy and Scoob.

Jack: Lemuel and his friend Chad are making peanuts playin' and singin' their music deep in the hills of Tennessee. They run off with the money from their latest gig and are picked up by a station wagon full of sexy groupies. The head gal, Melba, promises Lemuel that he will be famous and, unexpectedly, that comes to pass. However, when she takes him to her coven to be married at the altar of Satan, he balks, and he soon learns that "You Don't Dare Dig the Gruesome Groupies." I was eight years old when this comic was published and I think that this story would have appealed to me then. Forty-two years later it seems a bit childish.

Peter: The worst was definitely saved for last. A horror story so tame it could have been printed under the Archie banner. At least we're spared the lyrics from Lemuel's songs.

Neal Adams
The House of Mystery 197

"Ghost Ship"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jack Sparling

"Mr. Mortem!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Leonard Starr
(reprinted from House of Mystery #20, November 1953)

"I Wish I May, I Wish I Might"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Dick Dillin and Frank Giacoia

"House of Horrors"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Nestor Redondo

"The Guardian of the Past"
Story Uncredited
Art by Nick Cardy
(reprinted from House of Secrets #11, August 1958)

"Ghost Ship"
Peter: A power-mad Captain drives his crewmen to mutiny but the ship meets with a violent end. There are only three survivors--one of whom is the Captain--when a "Ghost Ship" materializes and picks them up. Realizing they've been rescued by the legendary Flying Dutchman and that they're in grave danger, the crewmen jump ship and leave the Captain aboard. The ship disappears and the crewmen are saved by a less ghostly boat but, when they're examined, they discover they've aged forty years! A nice change of pace from writer Jack Oleck, an intelligently written ghost story with a genuine surprise climax that doesn't outwear its welcome despite its length (13 pages is a tad long for a DC mystery piece). Jack Sparling's art is perfect and his use of odd-shaped panels is also a breath of fresh air.

Jack: I really liked this elegiac, wistful tale and I thought Sparling's art worked for a change. Especially good were the occasional panels without any word balloons or captions. The beautiful cover by Adams replaces the sailors with children (of course) and serves as a great introduction to the story.

"Mr. Mortem"
Peter: Our two reprints this issue are, as usual, a mixed bag. Both have decent art but tired plots. First up: Drew Wilson can't shake the funny feeling that the strange man in the hat and black overcoat he's been seeing around has something to do with all the catastrophes Drew keeps happening upon. When a safe nearly falls on his head, Drew realizes that "Mr. Mortem" is after him now! Mr. Mortem! Get it? In "The Guardian of the Past," a crew of Egyptian excavators unearths the tomb of Khardis III, guarded by a statue of the Cat-God, Set. When one of the members steals jewels from the idol and tries to escape, he's thrust back into ancient Egypt, where he is captured. Only through the help of a kind-hearted colleague and a lucky black cat can the thief re-enter modern times. More of an adventure story, I wouldn't consider this a "mystery," but it's certainly more enjoyable than "Mr. Mortem."

"Guardian of the Past"
Jack: "Mr. Mortem!" has some amusing puns, such as "I wouldn't be caught dead in that man's company" and "I decided I'd kill some time." The three locations mentioned--Millburn, Livingston, and Boonton--are all near each other in northern New Jersey. I actually liked the plot of the "Guardian" story more than the art, though there are some glimpses of the Cardy magic. I am a sucker for anything having to do with Ancient Egypt. By the way, the main character asks, "Do I Dare Enter?" anticipating our blog many years later!

"I Wish I May, I Wish I Might"
Peter: Mark Wagner's had it up to here with his nagging wife and all he wants is just a little peace and quiet. One day, while walking on the beach, he happens upon what looks like a genie's bottle. Saying the magic words "I Wish I May, I Wish I Might" indeed brings the obligatory genie, this one a little more hip than those we've been exposed to in the past. This genie cons Mark into trading places with him in the bottle and goes out into the world, where he's quickly accosted and arrested by police as a hippie. Meanwhile, Mark's being nagged by the genie's old lady in the bottle. The moral: be happy with what you got, yadda yadda. Len Wein, probably in the midst of his fist-pumping, down-with-the-establishment phase, can't help but get in a dig at the fascist cops who exist for nothing but putting down the poor, long-haired peaceniks. That nonsense doesn't age well but, otherwise, this is a pretty funny, harmless bit of silliness.

Jack: Oh boy, I thought this was awful. The corny hippie dialogue and the mediocre art make for a painful experience or, as the genie says, "one big drag." I really try to like Dick Dillin's art because of his tenure on the JLA but stories like this try my patience.

"House of Horrors"
Peter: Frank Cannon is convinced that the "House of Horrors" on the hill is inhabited by vampires! So sure is he that he drives up one night and plunges a stake into the heart of one of the occupants. But is Frank a hero or a loon? I've gotta admit that I've read stories like this dozens of times--the old "are they or aren't they" trick--but I also have to admit that I liked the heck out of this one. It had just the right mix of familiarity and surprise to make it worthwhile. Nestor Redondo is fast catching up to Bernie Wrightson for the DC Mystery Line Gold Medal. He's not flashy and his details, especially in the background, are on the money.

Jack: A great story with great art! I can't say that I've often been this intrigued by a DC mystery story, but this one had me going right up to the last panel. I'm a little fuzzy on how the vampires are going to dig up their comrade in a few months and remove the stake from his heart, but I can live with it. Didn't that happen in one of the Christopher Lee movies? Was it Dracula Has Risen From the Grave where Drac pulled the stake out of his own chest because the vampire hunter didn't pray over it? Or did I make that up?

Peter: You make up so much stuff, Jack, that I can't keep up with you.

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 2

"No Grave Can Hold Me!"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by John Calnan and George Tuska

"Mission Supernatural!"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Bob Brown and Wally Wood

"The Sorrow of the Spirits!"
Story by Jack Miller
Art by Curt Swan and Ray Burnley
(reprinted from House of Mystery #21, December 1953)

"Enter the Ghost!"
Story by Joe Samachson
Art by Ruben Moreira
(reprinted from House of Mystery #29, August 1954)

"Galleon of Death"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Tony DeZuniga

"Lantern in the Rain!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Irwin Hasen
(reprinted from Sensation Mystery #113, February 1953)

"The Ghost Battalions"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Sam Glanzman

"No Grave Can Hold Me!"
Jack: Carpathian Mountains, 1923: Istvan Behn is haunted by the ghost of Old Zenna, whom he had put to death as a witch the year before. As she burned, she cried out that "No Grave Can Hold Me!" and it came true. Her spirit destroys all of his ill-gotten gains and finally takes his life, but his torture does not end as his ghost remains haunted by hers after he dies. This is not an auspicious way for the second issue of Ghosts  to begin, with a four-page story by the dubious art duo of Calnan and Tuska.

Peter: I hope I'm wrong (for the sake of my sanity) but Ghosts is shaping up to be DC's answer to Gold Key's Ripley's Believe It or Not, which specialized in true ghost stories and the like. I'm not sure I'll be able to stay awake through 50 issues of this stuff. Evidence that I may be on the money comes fast and furious with "No Grave Can Hold Me," which has no story to speak of and seems "based on true events." At least, the art's serviceable (a gift when dealing with anything George Tuska gets his pen or ink on).

"Mission Supernatural!"
Jack: 1970, London: at Gorham Airport, the skies are still haunted by a ghostly airplane that could not land in 1942. It seems that turning on the lights in those days would have exposed the landing strip to Nazi bombs, so the poor pilot was left flying above for all time. Now, a 747 is running out of fuel and needs to land, but a storm has knocked out power on the ground. Guess which ghostly plane comes to the rescue, on a "Mission Supernatural," leading the jet to safety and crashing to create a flaming beacon? You guessed it. This story is better than the first one mainly because of the serviceable Bob Brown pencils that are perked up in spots by the inks of the master, Wally Wood.

Peter: If a ghost airplane crashed, would it go up in a flame of orange or white? This story gives us the answer we've been seeking all these years. Regardless of the goofiness (or maybe because of it), I liked this one.

"The Sorrow of the Spirits!"
Jack: The reprints this time around start with "The Sorrow and the Spirits," a tepid tale of a man who discovers that the ghosts of those long dead are hanging around waiting to pounce on our bodies as soon as we die. It's his bad luck that the spirit after his corpse is that of Genghis Khan. Like Peter, I got a kick out of this story, mainly for the Curt Swan art. This is one of the places we diverge, as I always liked Swan and many of the other classic DC artists. "Enter the Ghost!" is another one of those stories where we are told that there's a rational explanation, but then they throw a twist in the last panel. I found the whole thing sort of confusing. "Lantern in the Rain!" is only two pages long and has some nice art by Irwin "Dondi" Hasen in a quick tale about a ghostly lantern that prevents a train crash. This story has been told once or twice before, I think.

You be the judge--ghost or reflection?
Peter: Having said that "Mission Supernatural" was my favorite this issue, I feel I should put an asterisk after that statement since I enjoyed the heck out of  "The Sorrow of the Spirits," a "so bad it's good" pre-coder with decent art by Superman artist Curt Swan and Ray Burnley. It's the dialogue that  Jack Miller provides, however, that kept me giggling through its spare six pages. I could spend the rest of this blog's space filling it with quotes pulled from this alternative classic but my favorite bit would have to be from the climax, in which the coroner presents his report: "Ganges' case is not unique in police medical circles. His condition was brought on by a combination of overwork and concentration on a mystical subject! Even his amazing ability to ride the horse while under the illusion that he was Genghis Khan follows a familiar pattern!" Mind you, this after the protagonist, a direct descendant of Khan, rides a stolen horse through the town square while bystanders remark how much the chap looks like Genghis Khan! Priceless. Just give me an entire issue of this stuff and I'll be happy. Unfortunately, our second reprint is "Enter the Ghost!" a tedious "fake supernatural thriller" that dips into more than one well of cliches, saddled with lifeless art by Ruben Moreira (whose oeuvre seems to consist of two heads talking in every panel). "Enter the Ghost, Exit My Patience." The third reprint this time out, "Lantern in the Rain!" is an effective chiller about a ghost who stops a train wreck that manages to get done in its two pages what none of the new stories could do in triple the length.

"Galleon of Death!"
Jack: 1965, Tobermory Bay, Scotland: treasure hunters Val Connors and Dan Keith see a ghostly ship and recount the story of how it went down with Spanish gold aboard. It turns out to be the "Galleon of Death" for Val after he falls for a beautiful female ghost and ends up joining her underwater, glorying in a chest filled with coins. At eight pages, this is the closest to a sustained narrative we'll get in this issue. DeZuniga's art is very impressive.

Peter: With nice art, a well-written story with several surprises (raise your hand if you were fooled, as I was, into thinking Val's partner was faking ghosts and would end up the bad guy) and a surprisingly bleak finale (or is it a happy ending?), "Galleon of Death" confounded all my expectations. There could be a hint of sunshine through the clouds now and then, I guess.

"The Ghost Battalions"
Jack: Selby, a patient in an East Coast Veterans Hospital, is haunted by the memory of his Company, which disappeared while they were fighting in Korea twenty years before. His helpful doctor tells his colleague about a series of other "Ghost Battalions" that have disappeared in the heat of battle. That's it. Not much of a story, is it?

Peter: "The Ghost Battalions" suffers from the same malady that afflicts "No Grave Can Hold Me." There doesn't seem to be a story here so much as a series of incidents disguised as a narrative. Two doctors discuss soldiers who have vanished onto thin air throughout history but it doesn't tell us what happened to Selby's comrades. Selby, in fact, is reduced to nothing more than a face in a handful of panels, more of an afterthought to a catalog of oddities. How can a reader become involved in a story if there's none being told?



Best Script: Len Wein, "Swamp Thing" (House of Secrets 92)
Best Art: Gray Morrow, "A Girl and Her Dog"(House of Mystery 196)
Best All-Around Story: "Swamp Thing"
Best Reprint: Robert Kanigher/ Alex Toth & Sy Barry "Queen of the Snows" (Unexpected 127)

Worst Script: Uncredited, "Farewell to a Fading Star" (Unexpected 129)
Worst Art: Bruno Premiani, "Please Let Me Die!" (Unexpected 126)
Worst All-Around Story: Uncredited/Jack Sparling, "The Man With My Face"                                
(House of Secrets 94)


Best Script: Jack Oleck, "House of Horrors" (House of Mystery 197)
Best Art: Berni Wrightson, "There's More Than One Way to Get Framed" (Unexpected 128)
Best All-Around Story: Jack Oleck/Nestor Redondo, "House of Horrors" (House of Mystery 197)

Worst Script: George Kashdan, "Seek Your Own Grave!" (Unexpected 126)
Worst Art: Bruno Premiani, "Please Let Me Die!" (Unexpected 126)
Worst All-Around Story:  George Kashdan/Dick Dillin/Vince Colletta, "Phantom of the Woodstock Festival" (Unexpected 122)


AndyDecker said...

After reading so many of these tales, do you think there was an editorial concept behind each book or did they just commission a bunch of stories and filled the different books randomly? It is hard to see a difference in the content.

Jack Seabrook said...

House of Mystery seems to receive more of the quality stories than the other books. House of Secrets seems like a copy of House of Mystery, though it occasionally gets great stuff (Swamp Thing, for example). Unexpected seems to be the lowest quality. Ghosts had a strong theme in the first issue but it was already dissipating by #2. The Witching Hour had a lot of witch stories and seems to me to be the most thematically consistent due to the frame stories. I think that the year or so when the books all expanded to 52 pages made it hard to keep anything straight, since they had to shove 2 reprints in every issue. It will be interesting to see what happens in 6 months when the books shrink again. Thanks for reading!

Todd Mason said...

Well, the reprints usually made for the best reading. Much as the best Marvel horror comic of my youth was their Atlas/Timely precode reprint book TOMB OF DARKNESS...

Peter Enfantino said...

Good question, Andy.
There were different editors for each book but I get the distinct impression that the quality stuff was offered to HoM first and then went on down the line. The Unexpected material is so awful I get the feeling that Boltinoff would have bought anything (a shame I didn't know that at age six or I might have found a new vocation in life). Funny thing about these 52 pagers, of course, is that the reprints are better than most of the new material. I'd love to know how they came to choose their filler stories but I suspect it was blindfolded.

mikeandraph87 said...

The comic industry used to have a diverse selection in War,Mystery, Horror, and Romance or Funny titles. The cornerstone has always been superheroes however. I realize the unfortunate reboot attempted to bring back diverse selections with three of those five above genres well covered but it did not pan out. What do you gentlemen believe happened to the market to maek it big evetn superhero titles or nothing?

Jack Seabrook said...

The cornerstone wasn't really superheroes for much of the '50s, but since then you're right. I think it's all based on what sells. The main reason I haven't bought a new comic in decades is the price. I can't see paying $4 for something that I used to pay 25 cents for. I haven't kept up since about 1980, so maybe Peter knows more. I don't even know what the unfortunate reboot was!

mikeandraph87 said...

DC haulted everything it was publishing and a Barry Allen cnetric mini-series called Flashpoint rebooted the DC Universe into a new reality. Its very diviisive and I dropped most titles with it bcause I liked what iwas reading not what was put ini ts place with the new number ones.