Monday, April 21, 2014

Do You Dare Enter? Part Twenty-Five: June 1972

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

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 136

"An Incident of Violence"
Story by Bill Dennehy (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Lee Elias

"Don't Let Me Die!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by George Tuska

"The Curse of the Kung Lo Diamond"
Story by Jerry Case
Art by Howard Sherman
(reprinted from House of Secrets #52, February 1962)

"Die a Deep Death!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Artie Saaf

"The Exile from Earth"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Sheldon Moldoff
(reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected #16, August 1957)

"Please--Kill Me Once More"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"An Incident of Violence"
Jack: Bannister has lost an arm to an alligator in an accident in the Florida Everglades, so he vows revenge on the scaly beast. He becomes obsessed with killing the creature and does not realize that his daughter is in love with Frank, who plans to kill him and take over his mill. Bannister turns the tables on Frank during a climactic "Incident of Violence" and sees to it that the man and the gator both end up dead. We're not off to a good start with this issue of Unexpected, as Murray Boltinoff gives us another run of the mill revenge tale.

Peter: I love when, after Bannister spends the first three pages raging about how he'll get that alligator, his doctor says, "Something's seized control of his mind, and I think I know what it is! He's determined to hunt down that alligator... to wreak his vengeance!" Brilliant! Elias' art is awful, with Frank (you know, Frank, "the migrant worker"!) looking as skinny as Mick Jagger in one panel and normal the next. If I was Boltinoff, I'd be angry that, years later, someone dug up the fact that he actually wrote this dreck.

"Don't Let Me Die!"
Jack: Ignoring his partner Jack Hurley's plea of "Don't Let Me Die," Lloyd Garber lets the man drown and keeps the fortune in silver they've discovered. Lloyd does not get away from his conscience, however, and tries to escape the dreams that haunt him by going on an ocean voyage. When the ship hits an iceberg, Lloyd sees the face of his late partner staring at him in the ice and knows death has come. I think Lloyd may have been the lucky one--at least he didn't have to read this story!

Peter: I think we bring it upon ourselves when we see the names Carl Wessler and George Tuska on the splash and still turn the pages. Recipe for disaster. I gave Wessler an extra half-star (for a total of one-half star) for having the nerve to pump out the line: "There's a feeling of doom hanging over me... but why?", after Lloyd has murdered his partner and been cursed to die.

"Die a Deep Death!"
Jack: Manuel loves Dolores but can't win her on his poor miner's salary, so he robs the payroll. An explosion in the mine traps him and it looks like he will "Die a Deep Death!" To add insult to injury, one of his co-workers grabbed the money he stole from his lunchbox. I thought the art by Lee Elias on the first story in this issue was pretty run of the mill, but following it up with new efforts by Tuska and Saaf has made it look good in comparison.

Peter: I was completely confused by the climax. Did Jose take the time, while the roof was coming down around him, to shuffle the money out of Manuel's lunchbox, transfer it to his own, and then fill Manny's box with rocks? Why not just grab Manny's lunchbox and head out the door? I tell you, Jack, the one thing I bring away from these DC horror stories is that dames just ain't good for ya.

"Please--Kill Me Once More"
Jack: When Cronin is killed in an accident, he travels to the afterlife, a world of shadowy figures with secrets to tell. Among them is Willie Wilson, who reveals that he hid millions and even his best friend Doc Karnes doesn't know where the money is. The doctors bring Cronin back to life, so he seeks out Karnes and asks him to "Please--Kill Me Once More" for five minutes so he can go back to the afterlife and find out where the money is hidden. Karnes complies, but just as he is about to revive Cronin the cops bust in and arrest him for practicing medicine without a license. Unexpectedly, this story is not half bad. Maybe my expectations are getting too low. I knew what was coming a mile away, but Grandenetti's art works strangely well when he's depicting the shadowy afterlife. Too bad his living characters look just as bizarre as his dead ones!

Peter: I think we've been working together too long, Jack, because I really liked this one and I can't decide if that's because Unexpected has an unusually high moronity rate or because it's a good story. Like you, I think Jerry's art works perfectly... in most spots. We still get a panel where Cronin's face seems to be melting and the cop who busts in on Dr. Karnes seems to be doing a boogie dance but, otherwise, he's aces. I especially liked that innovative panel. Sure, we've seen the same a zillion times before from Jim Steranko but when you're talking about Jerry Grandenetti you count the little things as a big plus.


"The Curse of the Kung Lo Diamond"
Jack: What are we going to do next issue when Unexpected shrinks back to normal size and there are no more reprints to bail out the new stories? At least we have some oldies to enjoy in this issue! "The Curse of the Kung Lo Diamond" follows an Asian jewel to the West and results in the death of those who possess it--or does it? Howard Sherman's art is always a pleasure, and this story takes a lot of twists and turns that are explained in long captions. I am beginning to suspect that '50s and '60s DC mystery comics may have been more entertaining than the superhero comics! In "The Exile from Earth," amateur archaeologist Kirk Randall unearths an ancient Egyptian magic ring that makes him invincible as long as he does not set foot on land. He steals everything he can get his hands on but loses his powers when he accidentally steps in a garden. I love it! Sheldon Moldoff is one of the best DC Golden Age artists, and this crazy story allows him to have fun. It's hilarious to see Randall hopping over patches of dirt to retain his powers!

"The Exile From Earth"
Peter: Well, Jack, I have to agree with you about the reprints. They've been a breath of Unexpected fresh air. Who'd have known we'd be dissing the new stuff and extolling the virtues of 1950s and 1960s DC reprints? Not me! Having said that, I do have to note for the record that "The Curse of the Kung Lo Diamonds" is pretty silly stuff, and not very exciting at that. These have to be the most free-thinking cops of all time to put three and three together and come up with "Hey, I think these guys are dying because of these diamonds!" Then writer Jerry Case tops it all off with a Scooby-Doo expository wherein the dirty diamond dealer (who's pretty calm while confessing to murder) explains how he staged all the drama (including a giant wind machine somehow hidden off-panel!). Not much better is "The Exile from Earth," which confused the heck out of me with rules that seemed to change constantly. Or maybe I just fell asleep?

Jack: Perhaps this month's most frightening news comes in the letters column, where the editor announces that The Witching Hour and Ghosts are about to go from bi-monthly to monthly!

Peter: I'll go get the coffee and Excedrin.

Russ Heath
The House of Mystery 203

"The 1000 Eyes of Death"
Story by Bob Kanigher
Art by Ernie Chua

"The Golden Doom"
Story Uncredited
Art by Nick Cardy
(reprinted from House of Mystery #64, July 1957)

"Almost Human"
Story by John Albano
Art by Jack Sparling

"The Tower of Prey"
Story Uncredited
Art by Nestor Redondo

Peter: Sheep rancher Mark Dawson has an unreasonable hatred for eagles that no amount of bloodlust will truncate. Despite the warnings of his Indian employees, Mark continues his systematic erasing of the eagle population. Unfortunately for Mark, he kills one bird of prey too many and the late king of the sky's mate comes a'callin. It's then that Mark realizes he's facing "The 1000 Eyes of Death." Bob Kanigher once again proves that, as mystery writers go, he's one hell of a war comics scribe. I'll sound like a broken record but this one's incredibly stupid. We're never clued in to just why Mark is so obsessed with killing eagles (was his father mauled by one? His baby daughter carried off and fed on?) so there's nothing to lay the hate on. You have to laugh out loud at the panel where we find out Mark has anticipated an all-out attack by a convocation of eagles and electrified his front window! Dawson just comes off as what he is: a badly-written character. And what's the deal with the eagle who can suddenly turn into a squaw? Rules, Bob? At least we never saw the Great Spirit of the Sky, a la Johnny Cloud! Gorgeous cover by another DC war vet, Russ Heath.

Jack: Bob Kanigher obviously did not have his fill of corny Injun mumbo-jumbo with Johnny Cloud, since this story features another noble savage babbling about the Great Spirit. How many of these stories do we have to endure where a nut is obsessed with killing something and eventually gets killed by the thing itself? At least there's a relatively foxy squaw ghost to ogle. And by the way, do giant eagles really make off with full-sized sheep in their talons?

Peter: The Morrisons don't go out much as they're busy keeping their deaf mute son, Donald, locked in the basement. One day, Donald breaks loose, kills both his parents, and emerges into the "real world." He's hit by a truck and arrested but befriended by a prison guard who recognizes the "Almost Human" prisoner as nothing more than an overgrown child. The guard gives Donald a red ball and it quiets the giant. The next morning, sounds of rage are heard from the cell block and, when the guards enter, they see the brute bending his bars back. Donald is shot and killed and it's only then that the guards realize the giant was only trying to retrieve his ball. Could this be John Albano's "homage" to Richard Matheson's "Born of Man and Woman"? Not a very good one. Would being born a deaf mute also give you super powers? Or a misshapen face and large tufts of hair over your body? I'm fairly certain I don't even have to Google that question.

Jack: Another story that doesn't make a lot of sense, but at least Sparling's art is bearable in a quirky sort of way. As is so often the case, they telegraphed the ending in advance.

Peter: Developer J.J. Rahtlar will do anything to see the building of his 504-story skyscraper,
including evicting tenants from the apartment building he's leveling. One such tenant, the portly Mary Q. Lardly, takes umbrage at the loss of her living quarters and curses J.J. with her raven's claw. Leaving the building, J.J. accidentally runs the woman over with his sports car and, as she lays dying, she once again promises J.J. will die a horrible death. Years later, after seeing the fruition of his hard work, the tycoon moves into the brand new skyscraper's penthouse suite, only to be ripped to shreds by a one-clawed raven. There's nothing here we haven't read dozens of times since we started this journey: curses are a dime a dozen it seems. The monikers attached to the characters, Rahtlar (like a snake) and Lardly (like the cooking fat, duh!) lack anything resembling irony or wit (or subtlety, while I'm at it) and a 5300 foot tall building defies logic and architecture even in a comic book. What does make you turn these pages is the exquisite art of Nestor Redondo, still in search of a great script.

Jack: Nestor Redondo always seems to lift the material he draws to a higher level with his beautiful draftsmanship. The script is cliched--an evil man named Rahtlar and a fat woman named Lardly? But the last panel is a nice touch, with the dead fat woman among the crowd of onlookers gaping at the dead man. So ends this special bird issue of House of Mystery!

"The Golden Doom"
Peter: Murderer Emile Marlez must get out of Paris pronto so he joins the Foreign Legion. While posted in the desert, Emile happens upon a man in a cave who claims he's got the Midas Touch but is about to perish because he hasn't eaten in a week. Thinking he's smart enough to avoid "The Golden Doom," Emile gorges himself on food and drink and then takes the potion. Sure enough, he's able to turn everything he touches to gold and he's a rich man. Trouble is, when the week is over, he still can't touch food without turning it to gold. Seeking help from Dr. Devin, Marlez learns all he has to do is touch the golden food again and it will become normal. Unfortunately, he'll have to enjoy solid food in prison. I love how Emile is reading a newspaper that's been turned to gold but conveniently contains information about Dr. Devin, living in Morocco, who can help the poor sod find a cure. As reprints go, this one is squarely on the bottom of the pool. So bad, in fact, I mistook it for new material.

Jack: I can buy that Emil would not know that touching food a second time turns it back from gold into its original form, but how could this be beyond the ken of the archaeologist who found the elixir in the first place? You'd think he'd know that salient fact. I do love the panel where Emil gorges on food before drinking the elixir!

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 5

"Death, the Pale Horseman!"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Art Saaf

"The Hands from the Grave!"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by John Calnan

"The Telltale Mirror"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jerry Grandenetti
(reprinted from House of Mystery #13, April 1953)

"Caravan of Doom"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Jack Sparling

"The Phantom from the Fog"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira
(reprinted from House of Mystery #123, June 1962)

"The Hearse Came at Midnight"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Now that's one pale horseman!
Jack: China, 1939, and Col. Tanaka's Japanese forces are overrunning China. The Colonel defiles the tomb of a great Mongol warrior and makes off with an ivory carving of a warrior horseman who is shooting an arrow. But Tanaka ignores the warning of an old Chinaman at his peril because soon he learns that "Death, the Pale Horseman" will come riding and looking for him. When a horde of ghostly riders attack the Japanese troops, guess who the only one killed turns out to be? Yep, it's Col. Tanaka, and the ivory carving is now missing its arrow. I kind of like these stories in Ghosts that take place in far-flung countries and other times.

Peter: I haven't liked too many stories published in Ghosts as I'm not fond of the "Believe It or Not" style but I do have to say this one kept my attention throughout. I would imagine that the soldiers could have withdrawn the Ming Chi's arrow from Tanaka's back and found it to be ages old but they seemed pretty convinced it was the work of a ghost without needing proof.

Not what you want to
see right before
brain surgery.
Jack: London, 1969, and Val and Joanne Barton enjoy their honeymoon in the London fog until Joanne trips on a curb and falls, sustaining a concussion. Desperate for help, Val happens on the home of neurosurgeon Dr. Markham, who performs emergency brain surgery with the help of Val, who is a medical student. Once Joanne is safe, Dr. Barton dematerializes and Val realizes he was a ghost. Next morning, Val wakes up on a park bench with Joanne, whose head is wrapped in bandages. He makes his way to a hospital, where he learns that the only man who could have done the tricky operation was the late Dr. Markham, who was killed in a Nazi bombing raid in 1940. Did Val receive help from "The Hands From the Grave" to save his wife's life? I must be in the mood for Ghosts today because this was a fun story, despite Calnan's wooden art.

Peter: Here we part, Jack, as this was pure hokum with typically lazy art from John Calnan. I love how the doctor who's been assigned to Joanne exclaims that "only one man could have performed that operation... Dr. Markham" after not having seen any of Markham's work for thirty years! Then two very sane doctors agree to go check Val's story and bump into a bobby who knows everything about the spot where Dr. Markham died (again) thirty years before! You just don't get that kind of tourist info in the States. My biggest guffaw was reserved for the scene where Val tells Markham he casts no reflection and the ghost says, "That's true... you see I'm not here!" Does Dr. Markham show up now and then to keep from getting rusty?

Jolly helpful, those blacks!
Jack: German East Africa, 1917, and two British soldiers are lost in the jungle after escaping from a POW camp. They are captured by slave traders and forced to march with the slaves, but when they escape during a slave revolt, everyone fades into nothingness and they realize that they have been led to safety by ghosts. This four-pager has nice art by Jack Sparling but is too short to be little more than an anecdote.

Peter: I don't believe in Ghosts.

Dear God! It's Jerry!
Jack: Harkness University, 1903, and Colin Miles loves to play practical jokes. A fellow student named Denny has a weak heart and dies but it doesn't stop Colin. A year later, on the anniversary of Denny's death, Colin is kidnapped by spectres and whisked off when "The Hearse Came at Midnight." His friends follow and find that poor Colin is already dead and buried in the graveyard right next to Denny. This issue of Ghosts gives us the opportunity to compare 1953 Grandenetti with 1972 Grandenetti and, believe me, it ain't a pretty sight.

Peter: The problem I have with stories like these is that I tend to look at the points that make no sense. When his buddies make it to the graveyard, they find a tombstone with Colin's name etched into it. Who put it there? Did Death ring up Busy Bob's Tombstone Shop and order a marker? Did the three bozos really climb into the casket (below) or is Grandenetti just that poor an illustrator? Come back, Frank Robbins, all is forgiven.

Not a midget, just more Jerry G.
Jack: This month's reprints open with "The Telltale Mirror!" in which a tramp named John Bowers finds a mirror that foretells disaster. He uses his knowledge of the future to make a tidy sum until the mirror predicts his death and, despite his best efforts, the prediction comes true. Well, it had to happen. Now we can see what early Jerry Grandenetti art looks like, having endured his scribblings in the early '60s with our war comics blog and the early '70s with this blog. And you know what? He wasn't very good in 1953, either. I still find it hard to believe he was ghosting The Spirit in the early '50s. As for "The Phantom from the Fog," I frankly have no idea what the heck was going on. Some sort of rebel patriot is helped to escape a dictator's clutches by a phantom who rises from the sea mist, or maybe it's an actor impersonating the phantom, or---oh, I give up.

Peter: My head still throbs from the 7-page expository (to an 8-page story) but I think I can explain it to you, Jack. The actor who was playing the Mist Phantom was... no, wait, the Mist Phantom kidnapped the actor for ten minutes while he did some supernatural stuff and then brought the actor back around for the non-supernatural stuff and then re-materialized just long enough for our hero to see him... no, wait, our hero imagined all the supernatural stuff and only saw the real stuff... no, wait... Well, at least we have Ruben Moreira's pretty pictures to look at long after we've given up trying to figure out just what they illustrate. Am I the only one who sees a lot of Milton Caniff in Moreira's work? There's no chance I'll see any of Caniff's work in Jerry Grandenetti, be he 1953 or 1972. If I had the time and the inclination, I'd chart the course of Jerry and find out exactly when his style took such a dramatic turn for the... different. Having just read an interview with Grandenetti (here) in which he's very humble about his own career, I feel badly about taking so many potshots at the man's art but a lot of his work really is awful (or at least an acquired taste), right up there with Frank Robbins and Jack Sparling. The most amazing thing to me is that this is the same guy responsible for the awe-inspiring DC war wash tone covers. If the credits weren't there, I'd never guess.

At least this time the actor wasn't late for his gig!

Nick Cardy
Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion 5

"They All Came to Die!"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Don Heck

Peter: Four strangers are invited to Crag Island under mysterious circumstances by a man none of them know. Once there, they discover the island is home to the infamous Cragmore Sanitarium, owned by their host, the reclusive John Ames. One by one, we meet the five and discover exactly why each was beckoned to the island: beautiful Judith Fremont, whose very existence was torn apart by a jilted lover who took his own life; reporter Frank Morton, who isn't the man he claims he is; Dr. Mark Richards, who was devastated by the overdose death of one of his patients; and "The Hanging D.A.," Miles Branche, dying of cancer but still proud of sending nineteen guilty men to the gallows. The four are met by caretakers Carl and Anna Geller (who, it becomes clear, have a few skeletons in their own closet), who bring them together in the dining area where they are all met by a rude shock--notes at their place settings accusing each of murder. It becomes quickly apparent that Ames is an angel of vengeance and seeks payment for each guest's sins: a payment in blood! One by one, the guests drop like flies until only gorgeous Judith stands before the real killer! Luckily for Judith, the men she surrounds herself with are very resilient and she's saved at the last moment from a death worse than fate. Love conquers all. -sigh-

Peter: Way too long (at 36 pages, the longest tale we've had to digest so far) and yet still jam-packed with cliches and purple prose, "They All Came to Die" is a fascinating failure despite above-average work by Don Heck. Well... above-average for Don Heck. Despite the rank smell emanating from this bloated carcass, there are still some bits of enjoyment to be picked off the bones. Since I've read really good writing from Jack Oleck during our journey, I have to believe he had his tongue firmly in cheek and a gleam in his eye as he typed:

The horror that was to come lay in their future...


His kiss was harsh - a defiant gesture torn from the tortured depths of his soul...


while sodden leaves like skeletons of lost dreams whirled...

Damsel in distress Judith exists only to change wardrobe, scream and accept harsh but warm kisses. She pinballs between Mark and Frank and back again, culminating in a laugh-out-loud "contemplation of options" finale that had me standing up and cheering. In Oleck's words: (Judith) "had known this man's lips, his arms and... she was a woman!" She might be a babe but she's about as dumb as a Vince Vaughn flick to go hiking up a mountain in go-go boots. Thanks to the Heck art, Judith is also, at turns, a dead ringer for Natasha/The Black Widow (a character Heck was more than familiar with) and Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (a character he'd become familiar with recently). If we can assume "They All Came..." is indicative of the type of story that will run in this title and its sister, the upcoming Secrets of Sinister House, we're in for some interesting reads to say the least.

Jack: I really enjoyed this, even though it was quickly apparent that it is a brazen ripoff of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None--more the 1945 movie than the novel. Judith's eyes go from green to blue and back to green, depending on the page, and her go-go boots sometimes have cutouts up and down the sides and sometimes not. It's all a lot of fun and moves very fast. Best of all is that every few pages, one man or another takes Judith in his arms and passionately kisses her! And whenever anything scary happens, she gets hysterical!

Peter: Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion began life as the straight gothic comic title, The Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love (and originally blurbed in ads as The House of Forbidden Love) and only added elements of horror (as tame as they are) with this issue. The idea was to present each story as a novel, complete with chapter titles, giving the writer more space to flesh out his characters. Well, that was the idea anyway.

Babs or 'tasha?

Thank heavens!

Professor Jack's summer hang-out!

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