Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
"Diary of a Dead Woman!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Jose Delbo
Peter: Psychic Karl (only his name has been changed) Burkel has been assisting the police with various crimes and doing a very good job. His latest premonition leads the police to the victim of the Sand Dune Killer, a discovery that might have taken the authorities years to stumble onto by themselves. Very quickly thereafter, the daughter of influential businessman Benton Cowell is kidnapped and Karl is called back in to do his schtick. Police accidentally kill the kidnapper at the ransom drop but our psychic hero saves the day when a vision of a movie theater marquee leads to the discovery of Cowell's daughter, safe and unharmed. The police keep the particulars under wrap but are beholden to Karl Burkel for his fascinating abilities. Okay, there's a lot of back story to this one and I can only touch the surface (visit this site for a whole load of info), so be patient.
|Kirby's goosebump-inducing opener of the victim of a serial killer|
Back in 1971, DC released an experiment called Spirit World, a black and white magazine written and drawn by new DC bullpenner Jack Kirby. Given a lousy distribution, the zine was seen by pert near nobody and was canned after one issue. Unfortunately (or fortunately, for us), Jack had a load of inventory for the second issue and, rather than let it gather dust on a shelf, the powers-that-be at DC decided to find the material a home. The first inventory story to pop up would be "The Psychic-Blood-Hound," a schizophrenic quasi-reality tale featuring meandering pencils by the King but a fascinating, exciting script as well. Kirby's art had taken a couple steps back since his flight from Marvel but there are still traces of genius to be found (that opening panel of the "Sand Dune" victim is a chiller) and the real gem here is the character of Karl Burkel, the troubled psychic who can't explain his gift (other than to offer up that it began when his "rifle backfired during combat action in World War II"). It's obvious Kirby was setting up Burkel for his own series but this was to be the psychic's only appearance. Kirby invests real life into what little bits of Burkel we see during "Blood-Hound" and it's a shame the feature wasn't carried over. As mentioned, Kirby's art is all over the place; there are flourishes of the "cosmic visions" we knew and loved in Fantastic Four but, for the most part, his panels lack any of the dynamic the King became famous for. The kidnapper is the prototypical Kirby bad guy, unshaven and hairy-armed, and there are several panels of people simply milling about. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the story, though, is the fact that the Sand Dune Killer is introduced (we never see the killer, only his handiwork) and then forgotten, a bit of oversight that might annoy others but I find to be a plus. That's what detective work is all about, working on one case when another rears its ugly head. I might be reading too much into this and the King might have intended on revisiting the Sand Dune Killer in a later chapter, but I prefer to think otherwise. This is a solid mystery story, easily the best of the month. Incidentally, Spirit World's "host," parapsychologist Dr. E. Leopold Maas, has an uncredited cameo at the climax of "Blood-Hound."
Jack: This is an exciting, fast-moving story, but it's also weakly written, as was so much that Kirby wrote by himself. The art is full-on '70s DC Kirby/Royer blockiness, and very like what we would later see in Kamandi. It's not really a horror story, though--more crime/suspense. I do recall the ads for Spirit World in DC comics but I never saw the actual magazine.
|Meet the New King... Same as the Old King|
Peter: Sadie Lennon is walking home through a cemetery when she twists her ankle and is assisted by a handsome gentleman by the name of Paul Hawkins. Paul takes a shine to Sadie and soon the two become lovers, with the only downside being Sadie's bedridden husband. Turns out Paul is a dabbler in the occult and has various talismans meant to perform sorcerous acts. Sadie uses one to kill her husband and rushes back to Paul. The two are married and, very quickly, Sadie discovers that her new hubby is Satan. The placing of "The Psychic-Blood-Hound" in Dark Mansion changed the dynamic of the magazine from Gothic Thrillers to Hodgepodge, a transformation that will become complete next issue. The last holdover from the Gothic period, "Diary of a Dead Woman," is an awful waste of space and time, all build-up and no pay-off. We literally find out Paul is the devil in the final panel, with no explanation for his fascination with Sadie (who, in case you didn't follow, becomes Sadie Hawkins by marriage) nor why he'd be setting up this elaborate charade all for the benefit of one soul. Don't the townsfolk suspect there's a bit of funny business going on when Sadie walks the streets arm in arm with Paul? Jose Delbo's art (usually quite stirring) is drab and boring; Sadie is homely (perhaps the aim?) and his depiction of Paul as the devil is laugh-inducing rather than eerie. If this was the direction the Gothic Formula was heading (rather than the well-written epic, "Death at Castle Dunbar," in last month's Sinister House #5), thank goodness the tombstone was etched and planted.
|Could this be love?|
Jack: Ugh. The art is homely and the story meanders on for too many pages. I do like the skull-head Pez dispenser that Sadie uses to work magic, though.
|We doubt it!|
"Strange Secret of the Huan Shan Idol"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Wally Wood
"The Murder Machine"
Story by Al Case (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Art Saaf
"An Old Chinese Custom"
Story by Bill Dennehy (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Fred Carrillo
"Shadow of the Devil-Doll"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alfredo Alcala
|"Strange Secret of the Huan Shan Idol"|
Jack: Craig Kohlar is a man thirsting for power. He happens into an Oriental curio shop, where the proprietor, Choong Sun, and his lovely daughter Li lead Craig through an underground maze looking for the "Strange Secret of the Huan Shan Idol," a statue that will bestow a gift on the person who finds it. After some spooky moments they find the idol, but in Craig's haste to grab it it smashes. Choong Sun punishes him by branding a Chinese character on his forehead, but the whole thing may be a dream. Or maybe not. I'm not sure. The story is muddled but the art is excellent!
Peter: Wally Wood's art is the only saving grace of this really silly story. The obligatory "shock" ending is not a shock at all and I'm not clear what happened to Choong Sun and his daughter in the climax. Have they been banished to some purgatory for failing to secure the Buddha? Kohlar's character, determined to rule the world, would have come off a little more realistic if he'd been mentally imbalanced. As he's written he's just an ass who becomes dangerous. I had to laugh out loud when the shop owner obviously doesn't notice the symbol branded in the middle of Kohlar's forehead!
|"The Murder Machine"|
Peter: I've a sneaky suspicion that I'm never going to warm to Art Saaf's work, which looks like so many other DC artists of the period, bland and unexciting. My laughter from the first story had just subsided when I got to the exchange between Kenneth Saxon and his psychiatrist:
Doctor (complete with coke bottle glasses that have little spinning circles in them): Don't you realize you're fantasizing... mixing reality with unreality? That you've fallen in love with nothing but a figment of your imagination?
Saxon: Yes, your explanation makes me realize that was the root of my trouble! You put everything in focus... everything in its proper perspective!
One session and he's cured! Saxon's editor looks like Humpty Dumpty and Boltinoff can't make up his mind whether Saxon writes novels or scripts. Ostensibly, Murray knew the difference.
|"An Old Chinese Custom"|
Peter: "An Old Chinese Custom" is nothing more than a fragment but it's nicely illustrated by newcomer Fred Carrillo, another Filipino immigrant who will contribute quite a few jobs to the horror and war titles before moving on to Disney and television.
|"Shadow of the Devil-Doll"|
Peter: Though "Shadow" isn't a ground-breaker, it's probably the best story we've seen in Unexpected. That's not Unexpected to me though since it sees the debut of my favorite comic horror artist of the 1970s, Alfredo Alcala (1925-2000, here billed as Alfred P. Alcala). No one drew murky swamps, humid jungles, or haunted castles like Alcala. Even as a youngster I marveled at the detail put into every single panel the artist contributed here at DC and over at Marvel (in particular, his work on Tales of the Zombie) and Warren. I don't guarantee Alfredo will light up the sky every time out (even Neal Adams had his off days) but I do promise you'll never mistake his work for that of Grandenetti, Tuska, Saaf, or Calnan on any of the 57 stories we'll have the honor of covering in our tenure. The Art of Alfredo Alcala is a book long overdue in this world of whole volumes dedicated to John Byrne.
"The Coffin Creature"
Story by Mike Fleisher and Jack Sparling
Art by Jack Sparling
Story by E. Nelson Bridwell
Art by Gerry Talaoc
"Over the High Side"
Story by Lore Shoberg
Art by Alan Weiss and Ralph Reese
Peter: Gator poachers Stinky and Pierre stay out a wee bit too long one night and have to stay at the old deserted La Plat plantation, a swamp fixture most locals say is haunted by "The Coffin Creature." Once a beautiful newlywed bride who had married into wealth and who was murdered at the hands of a jealous relative, it's rumored that the ghost will haunt the swamp until she is reunited with the jewels that were stolen from her coffin. Stinky gets a bright idea and finds where the jewel box was hidden but then gets a case of "the greedies" and kills his partner to avoid the fifty percent luxury tax. Attempting to escape the swamp, Stinky runs smack into The Coffin Creature, who demands her goodies back. This one ticks all the cliche boxes: flashbacks, swamp ghost, greedy partner, etc., etc. With its sputtering, expository climax, how did this not end up in Unexpected or Ghosts? Sure doesn't read like a Michael Fleisher script to me.
Jack: I liked the bayou setting and most of the art, though Sparling's human faces still leave something to be desired.
|"The Coffin Creature"|
Peter: America's "most wanted criminal," Grant Weymore, is having a hard time hiding from the law until a stranger approaches him and introduces himself as a plastic surgeon. For a fifty percent cut of the cool million Weymore ripped off, the good doctor will change the villain's kisser so that no one will recognize him. Figuring he'll ice the doc after the operation, Grant gives a big thumbs-up and goes under the knife. Just before succumbing to the ether, he dreams the doctor has three arms. When the bandages come off, however, the criminal finds a grisly visage--he's been the butt of a joke by an alien from another world! I wonder if Bridwell thought about writing a climax to "Phony Face" or possibly filling in the blanks at all. Too much trouble, maybe? Why would a space critter come all the way to earth to perform plastic surgery on a criminal? I'm sure there's a very good reason but, if so, it's not forthcoming. This is the first American work by Gerry Talaoc, another member of the Filipino comic artist wave of the early 1970s. While lacking the detail of Nestor Redondo and Alfredo Alcala, Talaoc's a decent artist and I look forward to his continued participation in the DC mystery line. Slowly but surely, we'll see the old boys like Grandenetti and Sparling put out to pasture to make way for the new talent like Gerry Talaoc.
Jack: Bridwell's story is an old one but the art makes this gruesomely cool! The doctor refers to himself as Magog, which is an ancient name for an evil, "other" land that threatened the Israelites and is mentioned at various times in the Bible. It's a fitting moniker for an evil plastic surgeon from another world!
Peter: Hard-ass biker Dave the Buck won't take no sass off no one nor will he stand for any guy tryin' to make time with his biker gal. Swearing he'll even fight the devil for her, Dave heads down the road to a wake for a fallen hog comrade. On the way, he's assaulted by a rider wearing a helmet with horns (hmmmm), but the mysterious two-wheelin' dervish gets away. Later, at the wake, the horned biker (hmmmm) returns and challenges Dave to a series of stunt rides, the last of which sees Dave take a tumble over the cliff on Demon's Road (hmmmm). No problem for The Buck's chick, though, since she's found a seat on a new bike, that of the devil! What a dopey story. We're in The House of Mystery so any surprise coming our way may be a bit muted by the constant Satanic references, wouldn't you think? Weiss and Reese pair up to present an almost underground look to the art, very pleasing to the eye and a nice distraction from the words. Overall, one of the poorest issues of HoM in years.
Jack: A website called Citizens For A Wilder West tells us that Lore Schoberg is supposedly the "pseudoname" of Lore Orion, "an artist, songwriter, and author with successes in all three fields." I have a hard time believing that someone born with the name Lore Orion would pick a pseudonym (or "pseudoname") like Lore Schoberg. I hope that the rest of his work is better than this poorly-written story. You can listen to his album called "Beach Bums and Saddle Tramps" if you're so inclined.
|Surprise! He's really the devil!|
"Beyond His Imagination"
Story by Bill Meredith
Art by Nestor Redondo
"Beat the Devil"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jack Katz and Tony de Zuniga
Story by John Albano
Art by Vic Catan, Frank Redondo and Abe Ocampo
Peter: Comic book artist Alex Thorsten is washed up. The editor of House of Secrets won't even look at his work again and they've given his office over to
|"Beyond His Imagination"|
|"Beat the Devil"|
Jack: I read a very long but fascinating interview with Katz in an issue of Alter-Ego (#92, March 2010) that my pal Peter sent me. It made me appreciate his art much more than I used to do. I always just thought of him as the guy who drew The Last Kingdom, a comic that was advertised in fanzines in the 1970s and seemed to go on for many, many volumes. His art here is pretty good but, as Peter notes, the story is a cliche. We're seeing a lot of the devil this month!
Peter: Why is little Nancy trying so hard to kill her childhood chum, Andrew? First, she gets him to jump rooftops, then she wants him to play with dynamite, Most kids would get the feeling Nancy is up to no good but little Andrew's either too gullible or a bit tetched in the head. Things come to a head when neighbors rat to Andrew's father about his boy's new playtime habits and dad calls Nancy's parents, only to find out that the girl has been dead for some time. Father and son confront the ghost and say "Goodbye, Nancy." A real twisted concept, a juvenile ghost who's lonely and only wants her friend to join her again, is marred by a real dopey climax, complete with the obligatory final panel expository. I find it hard to believe Andy's dad wouldn't know Nancy was dead. This guy doesn't know what's going on with the kids who play with his son? In my neighborhood, that would have drawn a bit of attention. And did we really dress that like that when we were that young? Who the hell wears a wool sweater to play baseball?
Jack: The kids are weirdly proportioned and look like miniature adults. I knew there was something fishy about Nancy from the start. The strangest part of this story is that Dad marches right out and tells that bad Nancy to leave his son alone! And she does! Some malevolent ghost. I had the most sympathy for the poor parrot who eats Nancy's poison cookies and drops dead.
"13 Rue Morgue!"
Art by John Calnan and Jack Abel
"The Haunted Hands of Guilt"
Story by Bill Dennehy (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by J. Winslow Mortimer
"Pity Me . . . Please, Please Kill Me!"
Art by Bob Brown and Dan Adkins
Jack: Leon is an aspiring writer in Paris who rents a house that had been occupied by Jacques Tremaine, the late, great writer. Little does Leon know that the address is "13 Rue Morgue!" Poor Leon gets a little too wrapped up in his idol, writing obsessively and fixating on solving a mystery left by the dead writer. He finds a roomful of treasure that Tremaine had stolen and hidden, then decides that the only thrill left to him is to take a human life. His girlfriend Christine nearly becomes his victim, but a handy gendarme happens by and saves her. A convenient tumble down a flight of stairs and a conk on the head return Leon to his right mind and he and Christine look to a bright future together. I think that a fall down the stairs and a conk on the head would have been preferable to reading this story. John Calnan is fast becoming one of my least favorite DC artists.
|"13 Rue Morgue!"|
Jack: Peter Goslar used to be a great classical pianist, but he's getting old now and his manager, Herr Schroeder, wants to replace him with the young hotshot, Johann Brenner, a gypsy with talent beyond his years. Goslar murders Schroeder and then has a car accident in which his hands are destroyed. Brenner, wrongly jailed for the murder of Schroeder, curses Goslar. After Brenner is hanged, Goslar has the young man's hands transplanted in place of his own, mangled ones, but they become "The Haunted Hands of Guilt" right before his first concert performance. The gypsy curse has turned the hands into those of a bear! Got all that? Sometimes it's a good thing when a twist ending is unexpected. Then there are stories like this, where it's just ridiculous!
|"The Haunted Hands of Guilt"|
Jack: Former Nazi Col. Shreiker is living in Buenos Aires as Ludwig Weber but can't hide from his former victims, who capture him and take him back to Germany, where he is forced to live in a Concentration Camp among other prisoners. The experience is so horrible that he begs, "Pity Me . . . Please, Please Kill Me!" He is kept alive but finally hides in a garbage pile, where he is accidentally incinerated. I'm not sure whether to be offended or not at this rather disgusting story. Who are the folks who are playing along with this charade and why do they still have to live like Camp prisoners? Having the Nazi incinerated at the end is going a little too far.
|"Pity Me. . . Please, Please Kill Me!"|
Jack: The most frightening aspect of this issue was the "Now Monthly" blurb on the cover!
"Horoscope Phenomenon or Witch Queen of Ancient Sumeria?"
Story and Art by Jack Kirby
"The Brothers Beaumont"
Story by Howard Purcell
Art by Howard Purcell and Jack Abel
Peter: Visions concerning the astrological signs haunt the dreams of three individuals. Police detective Kenneth Landry has an odd premonition concerning a telephone, a gun, and a beautiful goddess representing the sign Pisces. Next day on the job, Landry's skill is put to the test when a crazed gunman begins shooting at police. Kenneth calls the man on the phone and police are able to swoop in and capture him. The man's gun somehow triggered a psychic connection with the phone. While Diane Parker is searching for something valuable in the house willed to her by her late uncle, she has a vision of a crab woman (Cancer) who urges Diane to "find the door." Once she and her husband tear the place apart, they discover a priceless Oriental statue they're able to sell for a fortune. Writer Robert Baldwin is relaxing on a weekend vacation when he gets a vision of a lovely flower-crowned goddess (Virgo) who warns him of danger just before an electrical storm strikes the mountain beside him and hurls tons of rock at him. Miraculously, he escapes, unhurt. All three have been saved by the miracles of astrology.
Jack: And here we get to the heart of Kirby's problem at DC and why he never should have been writing his own stories. The art is pure Kirby, to me more DC Fourth World than Marvel, but the story is dull (or nonexistent) and the dialogue stilted. If Kirby truly plotted all of those great Marvel stories in the mid- to late-sixties, why did his writing skill suddenly desert him when he went to DC? Perhaps Stan Lee had more of a hand in the plotting and writing than Kirby fans would like to admit.
|The remarkably boring art of Howard Purcell and Jack Abel|
|The true WMT #1: DC 100-Page Spectacular #4|
Peter: The latest expansion in the DC mystery line, Weird Mystery Tales took its name from the DC 100-Page Spectacular from the previous year. WMT will see 24 issues published, with the final number seeing the light of a comic rack cover-dated November 1975. The first three issues featured the Kirby inventory but with the fourth issue (an issue that sees Joe Orlando take over from Bridwell as editor), the title will fall in line with the other mystery titles, showcasing tales of horror and dread.
Jack: That was the first of the many DC 100-Page Super-Spectaculars, some of which we'll be looking at when we get to 1974. All of the stories in this issue are reprints, but there are a few full page drawings by Berni Wrightson of himself, including one where he talks about how he loved to read horror comics as a kid!
"A Specter Poured the Potion"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Art Saaf
"Ride with the Devil"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by John Calnan
"Death Awaits Me"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti
"Ghost Cargo from the Sky"
Story by Richard E. Hughes
Art by Jack Sparling
Jack: Pharmacist Anton Drucker (who looks a bit like Ben Franklin) is the biggest creep in Silesia in 1659. He fires his assistant Johann Kant for giving away free medicine to a poor old woman even though he had taken Kant's money for years and promised to leave him the shop when he dies. The injustice causes Kant to suffer a fatal heart attack, but his ghost returns a year later and mixes a special prescription to save a dying old woman. When a skeptical Drucker comes to investigate how "A Specter Poured the Potion," he finds that everything in his shop has turned to dust, and the shock turns him into a "mindless human vegetable." He then started writing stories for Ghost comics. Actually, I made that last part up.
|Leo Dorfman relaxes after a|
hard day writing for Ghosts
Jack: When Mark Alden's wife Kathy fails to pick him up at the bus stop (Concord, Mass.: 1969) he catches a ride with a gruff man and his little daughter in their antiquated one-horse carriage. He makes it home safely, only to learn that the man was Hiram Dunn, an arrogant man who took a "Ride With the Devil" in 1791 and has been trying to get to Boston in his phantom coach ever since. Fortunately for Mark, he had a ghostly taxi driver, because the bridge between the bus stop and home had washed out! Kind of like this story.
|Trust me, it's not worth the trip.|
Jack: Baron Charles hears a terrible pounding in his head during his train ride to Nice to hook up with his honey, dancer Isadora Duncan. He is certain that she is sending him a message that "Death Awaits Me" on the train, but it turns out that she was predicting her own death in an open car. The story of Isadora Duncan is sad but true, though she probably would have died of shame if she had seen her death illustrated by Jerry Grandenetti.
|"Great art" by|
Jack: That explains a lot! It's the 1950s and, on the Pacific island of Jammur, the natives are tired of working hard for the rich white men with nothing to show for it. They determine that the secret to their masters' success is in the piers and landing strips they build, which allows the "Cargo Cult From the Sky" to come and deposit wealth. To the boss's surprise, it works and the natives cash in! This is a pretty good story, with art by Jack Sparling that almost looks like that of one of the Filipino artists.
Peter: Save the abrupt climax, "Ghost Cargo" becomes the third thumbs-up in one issue, surely the first time I've gotten through Ghosts without throwing the comic in the swimming pool. Could this be a premonition of good times ahead? Cross your fingers, Jack!
|Never underestimate the power of the|
bones of the ancestors
|One more look at 1972's Best Dressed Sportsman from "Goodbye, Nancy"|
|Kirby art from Spirit World #1|
|The sparsely distributed first and only issue|