and Jack Seabrook
"Death, Come Walk With Me!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Art Saaf
"The Corpse Was the Star!"
Art by Rich Buckler
"The Map of Menace"
Art by Nick Cardy
(reprinted from House of Mystery #96, March 1960)
"Fame Comes to Killer Farnum!"
Art by Art Saaf
"The Carbon Copy Man"
Art by George Papp
(reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected #9, January 1957)
"This Tree Bears Deadly Fruit"
Art by Jack Sparling
|Not quite the Phantom Stranger|
|Buckler comes through|
Jack: An elderly actor begs Mr. Reynolds for a part in his new movie and gets it. The scene requires him to pretend to lie dead in a coffin. After the scene is filmed, the crew discovers that the old man has really died and "The Corpse Was the Star!" The director orders that he be buried in the prop coffin. This three-pager features some decent art by Rich Buckler. I saw the "unexpected" conclusion coming a mile away but it's better than the story that preceded it.
Peter: Um, Jack, I think you're starving for quality material. This ain't it. The art's pretty close to amateurish and the story's deadly dumb. A one-note joke that makes three pages seem long.
|Poor Phil Farnum!|
Peter: Oh, it makes sense alright. It's a "psychedelic phantasmagoria whirling through my mind." I'm beginning to wonder if Murray Boltinoff came into the DC offices on Monday morning, never mind editing this title.
Jack: Young Arthur likes to play in his backyard treehouse, but one day he learns that "This Tree Bears Deadly Fruit!" A strange and violent man is hiding up there and he makes Arthur bring him food, blankets, and the ledger from the safe in Arthur's house. Arthur does not know that his real father was suspected of being a homicidal maniac and has been presumed dead. When his stepfather finds Arthur in the treehouse and threatens to kill both the boy and the maniac, a fight ensues and lightning destroys the treehouse, killing both men. The ledger reveals that Arthur's father was unjustly accused by his stepfather, and his mother reveals that the man in the treehouse was Arthur's long-lost Pop. I thought it was obvious from the start that the man was Arthur's father but I liked this story, despite an ending that kind of falls apart. Sparling's art continues to grow on me and I'm a sucker for a Great Expectations ripoff.
Jack: Reprints this issue include "The Map of Menace," in which treasure hunter Jack allows his three comrades to be killed one by one so he can have treasure all to himself. When he is trapped in quicksand, he uses his one and only wish to bring his cohorts back to life so they can save him. Strangely enough, they then find the treasure anyway! I like Nick Cardy's art but this story is run of the mill. "The Carbon Copy Man" is Frank Dorne, who makes a living by seeming to teleport around the world. When his identical twin is killed, Frank thinks the jig is up, until the twin reappears at his next performance! Frank is killed due to his own evil deeds and, as he dies, he learns that he was a triplet, not a twin. Seriously? It's a sad state of affairs when even the reprints are lousy!
Peter: I find, once again, I cannot agree with you, Mr. Seabrook. The reprints this issue are a riot! At least they brought smiles to my face, a reaction not achieved by reading any of the new stories. I loved "The Map of Menace" and its goofy, ironic climax (the greedy explorer accidentally wishes unselfishly!) but then I'm a sucker for these jungle dramas. It sure was lucky for Jack that there weren't more than three partners with him or he'd have run out of traps. "Carbon Copy Man" is so desperate for a twist it had me laugh out loud with its final expository. 1950s parents were abysmal--imagine dumping your new-born triplets at three separate orphanages! There's got to be a really good story behind that.
|Michael W. Kaluta|
"The Shearing of a Soul!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Mike Sekowsky and Frank Giacoia
"A Deal with a Sorcerer!
Story by John Albano
Art by Nestor Redondo
"Stay Away From Me--You Might Die"
Art by Gene Colan
(reprinted from My Greatest Adventure #72, October 1962)
"Trick or Treat"
Art by Sid Greene
"The Poster Plague!"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Sergio Aragones
"The Phantom on Wheels!"
Art by John Prentice
(reprinted from House of Mystery #58, January 1957)
|"The Shearing of a Soul!"|
Jack: After a sharp cover by Kaluta and an even better splash page featuring Cain, the first story is marred by muddy art by Sekowsky and Giacoia and an equally muddy script by Gerry Conway. I'm not sure why the demons torture Carson Shrew every night--all I know is that his maid looks like a man in drag and suffers from the same problem that often plagues Sekowsky's stories: all of the characters look pretty much alike.
Peter: Franklin Owen has always been a weak man with a desire to be a strong man. Now, thanks to "A Deal with a Sorcerer," he can have all the power he wants. He just has to control his new-found bag of tricks as he very quickly learns through trial and error. Anything illustrated by Nestor Redondo gets a three-quarters thumbs up from me and the humorous Jack Oleck script provides enough oomph to elevate that score. House of Mystery caretaker Cain cameos as the sorcerer.
Jack: Well, that was a surprise! A funny story with the usual quality art from Nestor Redondo. I like that Cain is the sorcerer with whom Owen makes a pact. For a change, a DC horror story actually has a beginning, middle and end that make sense! I enjoyed this one.
Peter: "Trick or Treat" is a two-page waste of space in which Adolf Hitler is confined to a deserted island (with an unnamed crony), whining about what could have been. Who thought this kind of crap was a good idea? Editor Orlando? What does it even mean? That some secret force rescued Hitler from his bunker and deposited him on this little bit of sand in the middle of the ocean as punishment for his failures? Or are we to imagine this is the Nazi's afterlife?
Jack: Hitler again? The best thing about this short-short is the "Das Ende" balloon at the bottom of the reveal panel.
Peter: Who's behind "The Poster Plague" at Harold University? Why is the campus besieged by posters for events that never happen? One night, students Warren and Debbie decide to get to the bottom of the fanatic who thinks "Klop is Coming" is an important message. They witness a shadowy character plastering his posters all around but, when they give chase, the spectre vanishes in thin air. In the cafeteria next day, they are debating their next move when the earth begins to rumble. Nearby, a large boulder spurts out of a volcano and lands right on top of the school with a thunderous "KLOP!" Sergio Aragones had been entertaining us with his little bits of wackiness since the Mystery Line fired up but this was his first real shot at fame. Let's not forget Steve Skeates' wacky script, one that leaves us with no questions answered but not really caring a bit. With but a major change (one letter), KLOP soon became PLOP!, DC's answer to Mad, Cracked, and Sick, a comic title that would become famous for its covers featuring morbid, exaggerated-body art by Basil Wolverton (Nooly Nostrildamus and Nails Nittle being only two of the sideshow freaks paraded on the covers) and its darkly humorous horror stories within (many created by Skeates and Aragones). PLOP! lasted 24 glorious issues from October 1973 through December 1976).
Jack: Call me crazy, but this may be my favorite story of 1972! The art by Aragones is so goofy that I loved it, and the story is funny, too. I was swept up in trying to figure out what was going on and laughed out loud at the climax. Maybe Aragones should have done more long-form stories instead of always doing one-panel gags. As Peter notes, this story led to the creation of Plop! the next year, for which I am grateful. I bought and enjoyed every issue of Plop! when they came out.
|"The Phantom on Wheels!"|
Jack: As a big fan of Gene Colan's work for Marvel in the '60s and '70s, I was excited to see this story of his from 1962. His art here doesn't look like his art of five to ten years later in that it is not so full of shadows, but it is striking nonetheless. The story is exciting and holds a suspenseful mood from start to finish. I'll forgive the silly bits--did they have rockets just sitting around waiting to be shot into space?--because this one was satisfying from all aspects. As for "The Phantom on Wheels," all I can say is "not again!" Why is it that the folks who are supposed to carry out practical jokes always seem to arrive late?
|"Stay Away From Me..."|
"The Curse of Morby Castle"
Art by Jack Sparling
"Divide and Murder"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Jim Aparo
"The Tomb of Ramfis"
Art by John Prentice
(reprinted from House of Mystery #59, February 1957)
"The Day After Doomsday..."
Story by Len Wein
Art by Jack Sparling
"Dead Man's Diary"
Art by Ralph Mayo
(reprinted from House of Mystery #46, January 1956)
"Domain of the Damned!"
Art by Jose Delbo
|"...and starring Dom DeLuise as The Floating Head."|
Jack: Pity the poor hosts of the DC mystery line! From playing a big role in their books only a few years ago to being reduced to a tiny, floating head at the beginning and end of the story, as Abel is here! This story covers the same old ground and Sparling's art is a little more Grandenetti-sloppy than it is in this month's House of Mystery, but he still can drew a pretty girl, which seems to be a specialty of many a comic book artist.
|"Divide and Murder"|
Jack: Now we know that Dr. Strange isn't the only guy who can travel around on the astral plane. But how does Peabody take over Wilburn's body if he's a ghost? It's all a little confusing. Aparo's usual solid art makes it fairly enjoyable, though.
|"The Day After Doomsday..."|
Jack: Is this the end of Adam and Gertrude? I certainly hope so! But a note in the letters column suggests there may be another story, so we'll have to wait and see.
|"The Tomb of Ramfis"|
Peter: Professor Edson Daniels, Egyptology whiz, is accused of forging the document he found in "The Tomb of Ramfis." To vindicate himself, Daniels must use Ramfis' "cryptic formula which, if repeated in the original Egyptian, can transport a man forward or backwards in time!" to travel back to Egypt of the Sixth Dynasty and secure some sort of proof he didn't commit fraud. But, once there, Daniels discovers, to his amazement, that he himself is actually Ramfis thanks to the space and time continuum theory. Things heat up when the pharaoh discovers Daniels/Ramfis can foretell the future and things stop going the big man's way. Our hero has to hoof it back to the present but he manages to bring ironclad proof that he's on the up-and-up and the museum gives him a hero's welcome. The most astonishing bit of time travel to me is that, despite the story's dates being updated to 1972 by the contemporary letterer, the autos pictured are clearly from the 1950s! A fun time travel yarn but, like most such stories, not one to contemplate for too long lest the threads begin to unravel. "Dead Man's Diary" is a rambling, confusing story of revenge, containing one of my favorite comic book occurrences, the flashback within the flashback. Here, police receive a strange diary written by a man named Conrad Crane who's disguised himself as a food-tester for J.B. Dales, a millionaire who's been receiving death threats. Turns out our guy is the letter sender and he has big plans for the millionaire, who left a very young Crane and his father to die after a boating accident. Now, Crane will go to incredible lengths (putting himself into a coma!) to insure J. B. starves to death just like Conrad's old man did years before. Wacky isn't a strong enough adjective for this classic tale of manipulation and extremes.
|"Dead Man's Diary"|
"Death is a Demon in Disguise"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Nestor Redondo
"Beware the 13th Guest"
Story and Art by Howard Purcell
(reprinted from House of Secrets #59, April 1963)
"The Diamond Hands of the Sun God!"
Art by Bill Ely
(reprinted from House of Secrets #8, February 1958)
"Never Ride With a Stranger!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Don Heck
"Once Upon a Midnight Dreary"
Story by Bill Dennehy (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by John Calnan
Jack: Elsa is surprised when her husband Walter appears one day after dying. She does not know that "Death is a Demon in Disguise," since the ghostly Walter is actually a crooked mortician named Belding, who uses lifelike rubber masks to impersonate the recently dead in order to bilk their grieving widows out of large amounts of cash. His partner in crime is an old crone named Bridgit. When a man drops dead on the street right outside Belding's funeral parlor, he brings the corpse inside and discovers it's none other than Osmond, a famous fakir and stage magician. Belding makes a rubber mask and plans to impersonate Osmond, but he must first murder Osmond, who has inconveniently returned to consciousness, determined to expose Belding. Belding emerges from his funeral parlor in the Osmond mask but fools no one. He runs away and is killed when he darts in front of a horse-drawn carriage. As he dies, a mirror reveals that the Osmond mask was a failure, having reshaped itself into Belding's features. Why? How? Who knows? There is a lot going on in this story, and Redondo's art is top-notch, but the plot doesn't really hold together. It's nine pages long but I think it would have benefited from being longer.
|"Death is a Demon in Disguise"|
Jack: Having already picked up a hippie named Luke on his nighttime drive, Harry stops to pick up a pretty young woman named Nicole Wallace. But who will learn that they should "Never Ride With a Stranger"? The trio seeks shelter at an old house in a storm, but Nicole's sleep is interrupted by a figure who resembles the devil. When the figure appears again, Luke and Harry accuse each other, and appear to kill each other, allowing Nicole to reveal that she is the devil and the owner of the house her servant. I think that's what happened, though the script is a bit confusing, especially at the end. I don't think artist Don knew what the Heck was going on either.
|"Never Ride With a Stranger!"|
Jack: Lying helpless on the floor of the cellar of the summer home she rented, writer Jennifer thinks back to how it all started. She is desperate to escape, "Once Upon a Midnight Dreary," because the landlord is digging a grave and intends to put her in it. It seems that Jennifer's little dog dug up the body of the wife whom the landlord murdered. Jennifer uses her wits to turn the tables just in the nick of time and the landlord ends up in the grave he had dug for his tenant. Why is it that the worst stories in these comics often inspire the best covers?
|"Once Upon a Midnight Dreary"|
|"Beware the 13th Guest"|
Peter: "13th Guest" is the type of story I ate up as a youngster, full of wild fantasy and colorful characters. I loved how Jason managed his juggling trick by placing magnets in his walls "to counteract the unbalancing weights" Zaljaz put in the spheres. Thank goodness Jason is granted a reprieve from death in the end as I'm assuming he'll go on to cure cancer and invent cable TV. The plot of "Diamond Hands" is missing the magic of "13th Guest" but, if anything, the art is even better. I'm not familiar with Bill Ely but his pencils have an almost EC-ish starkness to them (in fact, in several spots, Ely's work resembles that of George Evans), an exciting quality that keeps the eyes interested. 1972 DC artists could have learned quite a bit from Purcell and Ely.
|"The Diamond Hands of the Sun God!"|
|Kaluta intro from HoM 202|
|COMING NEXT ISSUE!|