"Grave of Glass"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Abe Ocampo
"Maniac at Large"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ralph Reese
"Newton Northrup's New Brain!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Sid Greene and Frank Giacoia
Jack: Brutish middle-aged Arnold strangles his elderly, wheelchair-bound wife Lillian and buries her under her own prize tomatoes in a "Grave of Glass" inside her own greenhouse. Arnold thinks Lillian's hot young nurse, Pamela, will return his affection but when she spurns him he locks her in the greenhouse. That evening, after she begs him to let her out, he whips up a tasty dinner using some of the very plants his late wife cultivated. After he chokes and dies, the coroner reveals that he ate poison mushrooms, which the late Lillian had been growing for the state agricultural college.
|"Grave of Glass"|
Jack: Is Judd Donner, held in an insane asylum and known as "The Choker" for how he supposedly killed his victims, really a "Maniac at Large" after he escapes from the bughouse? Private eye Oswald Gibbs is determined to find out and claim the $5000 reward. He follows Judd's elderly sister home and discovers Judd and his two sisters hiding in a sub-basement. Unfortunately for Oswald, Judd merely holds the victims while his sisters do the choking--which is not necessary this time, since Oswald drops dead from fright. I can't decide if Ralph Reese's art is really cool or really awkward!
Peter: The only thing of interest I pulled from "Maniac at Large" is that, in 1972, psychiatrists could still refer to their clients as "maniacs." That's something I guess. Oh, and thanks to the unseen horror host for explaining the story's climax to us right after we saw the whole thing with our own eyes. Ralph Reese is so much better than this.
|"Maniac at Large"|
Jack: Nora Worley is the strong-willed boss's daughter and, at the advanced age of 28, she decides that she wants to marry his meek bookkeeper, Newton Northrup, certain that she can make a man out of him. Things don't go so well after the wedding, and Newton is a big disappointment. Nora happens on the idea of a brain transplant, but after she arranges "Newton Northrup's New Brain," she discovers that the brain used to belong to a homicidal maniac. Wessler has written a dreadful story and the art is bottom of the barrel to match. What happened to Sid Greene? Ten or fifteen years before this he was one of the folks responsible for bringing superhero comics back from the dead. Though the comic credits him as the artist, the GCD says inks were by Giacoia, so maybe we can blame that old punching bag, Frank.
|"Newton Northrup's New Brain!"|
Peter: An incredibly stupid story closes yet another bad issue of Unexpected. So, no one knew that the guy who was to get the brain swap was an escaped lunatic? No interviews before such a dangerous and ground-breaking experiment? Unexpected is a comic book, you're supposed to cut it some slack and enjoy the fanciful treks, but plot devices as inane as this tend to stick in your craw for the duration.
Jack: Say, Peter, what can you tell us about the 1973 circulation report for Unexpected?
Peter: The always-fascinating circulation figures pop up in a couple of titles this month. Unexpected was selling 168,430 copies on average during the year 1972 while The House of Mystery bettered that a bit with 175,134. In comparison, DC's Stable Studs, Superman and Batman were selling 317,990 and 185,283 respectively. Hard to believe Batman, once the best-selling comic book in America (1966 and 1967, with nearly 900,000 copies a month!) had dropped down to near-equal numbers with the lowly mystery books. Oh and, over at Marvel, The Amazing Spider-Man was moving 288,379 a month.
Art by John Calnan and Murphy Anderson
"Oh, Mom! Oh, Dad! You've Sent Me Away
to Summer Camp... And I'm So Sad!"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Maxene Fabe
Art by Alex Nino
"Halfway to Hell"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ruben Yandoc
Peter: American gigolo Warren desperately wants Cheryl's millions and, now that her father is dead, he's escalating his plan. Out for a fast ride in his sports car, Warren misses a hairpin turn and he and Cheryl slide off a cliff to their deaths. Or so Warren thinks until he wakes up in the company of some very strange people at Cheryl's house. When he tells her he wants to leave, Cheryl tells him he's not going anywhere and soon he discovers that's true. There's an invisible barrier around the house and Cheryl has fangs. In both story and art, "Ever After" is just about unbeatable... for #1 on the Worst of the Year list. Calnan and Anderson team up to produce art amazingly bland and lifeless. Perhaps the most important question would be: what the hell is that ending all about? We never see Cheryl's father. She's got an invisible wall around her house. She's a vampire. Right, how could I not have connected the dots? This would have been a good time for one of those afterword expositories Cain usually gives us.
Jack: For much of the story, Cheryl is pretty darn cute for someone whom Warren describes as a "square broad" whose "face and figure" bug him. The story does take some turns that make no sense but you have to admit that Murphy Anderson's inks improve John Calnan's pencils over what we've seen Calnan do on his own.
Peter: Stuck at summer camp and stuck in a wheelchair are double doses of dread for little Richie, especially when he meets the rest of the kids at the camp. When one of the boys drowns in the lake, Richie is told the boy was drowned by one of the counselors. The next day, Richie witnesses another boy pull a switchblade on one of the men. Has the entire world gone insane? When our little mop top happens upon a cache of axes, knives and kerosene, Timmy, the only boy in the camp who is kind to Richie, explains that the entire camp is actually a front for outer space aliens who intend to kidnap the boys and take them to their own world for experiments. The boys are planning to kill all the counselors. Not believing a word of it, Richie tells his favorite counselor, Mr. Ressler, all about the plot and is then chased by the enraged mob of pre-teen campers. Richie manages to escape to Ressler's office where he spies an alien monster, now having doffed his Mr. Ressler disguise, reporting to his superiors. Richie hangs on as the entire camp lifts off into space. Fabulously stylized Nino art and a wonderful Bradbury-esque story by future superstar Michael Fleisher. "Oh Mom!... " has a very wordy script (at times, the words threaten to envelope the panel completely) but the story never lags or hits the wrong notes. Are these kids homicidal lunatics or on the doorstep to interstellar travel? You never know until the last few panels. Disney could have done wonders with this on their Sunday television show. Seriously though, I thought this was how all summer camps were.
|"Oh, Mom! Oh, Dad!..."|
Jack: This was so close to a great story, but the ending was a dud. Nino's art is fantastic and the idea of a group of little kids murdering their counselors is wonderfully sick, but the "surprise" that the counselors were really aliens was no surprise to me. I was really hoping for a better ending but it didn't happen. The title is a takeoff on Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad, a black comedy that played on the New York stage in 1962 and was made into a movie in 1967. It had nothing to do with summer camp.
Jack: Easily the best story in this issue, even if it doesn't have the best art, "Halfway to Hell" held my interest and I did not guess the ending. If only we could match the best stories with the best artists!
Peter: The circulation statement published this issue shows that House of Mystery was selling an average of 175,134 copies per month in 1972.
"The Curse of Harappa"
Story by Maxene Fabe
Art by Ruben Yandoc
"The Island of No Return"
Story by John Albano
Art by Alex Nino
"This Will Kill You"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alfredo Alcala
Peter: When Frank O'Connor was a boy he watched his superstitious mother avoid walking under a ladder and get run over by a truck. Now he devotes his entire life to eradicating superstition throughout the world. In the Far East, he hears rumors of "The Curse of Harappa," a village that hides a dangerous secret: a woman known as "the Bride of Death." One look at this woman will capture a man's heart and, before long, he will dig his own grave. Laughing at the old wives' tales, Frank spends weeks searching for Harappa and, when he finally finds it, he discovers the rumors are true. The woman sitting atop her throne is the most beautiful he's ever seen. Frank becomes obsessed and begs the girl to marry him but then keeps her captive, jealous of the affectionate looks she gives other men. One night, "The Bride" announces she's leaving and Frank follows her to a rendezvous with another man. In a rage, Frank murders both and then begins digging their grave. When he's finished, he's a bit taken aback by two observers: his wife and her lover. Shaken, he steps back into the open pit, effectively having dug his own grave. Yandoc still has his problems with faces, especially those of his male characters, but the guy definitely knows his way around a woman's anatomy. I find it hard to believe that anyone would spend their life traveling the world, debunking myths but then, I guess we'd be shy a few DC mystery stories if we stuck to realism.
|"The Curse of Harappa"|
Jack: Immediately on finishing this story, I clicked over to YouTube and put on Dr. Hook's classic, "When You're In Love With a Beautiful Woman." The lyrics fit this story perfectly! Holy smoke, you're not kidding about Rubeny's way with the lady's anatomy. She looks quite a bit like the dame on the cover, and Berni Wrightson gives us his own take on Ms. 36-C on the splash page. Maxene Fabe is writing some pretty good stories lately, isn't she?
Peter: The captain of a shipwrecked yacht lies dying in a hospital bed but before he expires he tells the police and a newspaper reporter a fantastic tale. The captain had skippered a boat owned by a millionaire couple, The Craxtons, and a couple of their close friends. When a terrible storm sank the boat, the five were lucky to make it to a small deserted island, where they quickly made huts. That night, the captain awakened to find the Craxtons, now vampires, feeding on their friends. Rather than face a nasty death, the captain swam out to sea where he was rescued. Fascinated by the tale, the reporter convinces his editor there may be a story behind all the scary nonsense and he hires a pilot to fly him out to "The Island of No Return." Once there, the men split up to search the island. When the pilot finds a fish on the beach with two small holes and drained of blood (!), he goes in search of the reporter, only to find him being drained by the Craxtons. As the pilot hoofs it back to the plane, the Craxtons smile and hope a few people believe his wild story so they'll have more guests. Not a bad story (in fact, I quite enjoyed the conversation between cop and reporter that opened the tale, moreso than the "scary stuff") but there are a few (pretty large) holes and a few liberties taken with the vampire legend. Vampires can't swim and they don't hang out on the beach to work on their tans, but the Craxtons do. The biggest question I have that's not answered is: was this the grand scheme of the Craxtons, to end up stranded on this island? Far-fetched (are they able to summon storms as well?), yes, but, taken with the rest of the fancies put forth, I just thought I'd ask. As usual, I have nothing but praise for Nino's art. That last panel, where Abel puts an Alfred Hitchcock Presents bow around the package by reassuring us that the Craxtons wouldn't be feasting for very long since the U.S. Air Force had just targeted their island for H-Bomb testing, is really dopey and only serves to let the air out of a nice, nasty climax.
|"The Island of No Return"|
Peter: Practical jokesters Pete and Dolly have their favorite mark, poor simple-minded Charlie, who works in the town's funeral parlor. When old man Hanley dies, Pete comes up with the best prank of his career: he tells Charlie that Hanley was a vampire and then dresses up as the old man, taking his place in his coffin. When Pete begins his eerie howling, Charlie enters the room and, seeing Dolly, knows he must protect the pretty girl with his handy wooden stake. "This Will Kill You" has far from the most original script (it's a combination of Robert Arthur's "The Jokester" and Robert Bloch's "The Living Dead") but its charm and great art make up for its predictability. Pete and Dolly are one nasty couple! Why the DC mystery writers were zeroing in on practical joker storylines in 1973 is itself a mystery.
|"This Will Kill You"|
Jack: This one is a dud, despite the quality art, which is far from Alcala's best work. Vampires, vampires, vampires! Way to pound a theme into the ground, DC. By the way, for a couple living in 1900, they sure are hip talkers: "It, baby--is an idea!" Pete says at one point. I can't really see the point of setting this story in 1900. House of Secrets blew away House of Mystery this month, even though both comics continue the trend we've seen in the DC horror line of art being much better than story.
"It's Your Funeral!"
"To Perish by the Sword"
Story by Murray Boltinoff
Art by E.R. Cruz
"A Time to Live--A Time to Die!"
Story by Bill Dennehy (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Jerry Grandenetti
Jack: Ray Karns is a murderer on the run after escaping from prison. He finds himself by the docks and steals a solar ship from a crate labeled "Todd Museum of Natural History." When he sails off, he passes through a strange fog and emerges in Ancient Egypt, though he doesn't realize it. He is treated as a welcome guest and the Pharaoh's daughter agrees to marry him, but when the time comes for the wedding ceremony Ray learns that "It's Your Funeral!" He is killed so that he can join the rest of the dead. Over 2000 years later, the solar ship, which had been missing since Ray stole it, suddenly turns up in the museum's Egypt exhibit, complete with a deceased Ray at the helm. Despite the groovy lingo that Cynthia uses to narrate this story, I thought it was pretty good, but then I'm a sucker for anything involving Ancient Egypt.
|The Gil Kane of the Philippines!|
Jack: Famous bullfighter Luis Domingo is about to retire and wed the lovely Carmelita the next day. His beloved is afraid that he will die in his last fight, but he goes through with it and emerges victorious. After the battle, he tosses aside his sword, cape and hat and rushes to embrace his fiancee, but he trips over his own cape and learns what it means "To Perish By the Sword." Solid art by E.R. Cruz enlivens this rather straightforward tale of a bullfighter who is graceful in the ring but clumsy when he shouldn't be.
Peter: Fabulous art and an ironic twist ending make this a winner for me. E.R. Cruz is fast ascending the ladder of top-tier DC mystery artists. His five-panel bull-fighting sequence is nicely choreographed and, since we really have no idea where this story will go, generates mucho suspenso!
Jack: Ever since young Nicholas Croft disappeared three years ago, his father has been angry and his mother's health has been failing. Now, Croft Senior has a plan--he has a boy of about his son's age brought home to soothe his wife in her last days. The boy has lost his memory and believes he's the missing lad. The tenant farmers on Croft's property hate their cruel master, so one of them tells young Nicholas that he must kill his father. Nicholas obliges during a hunting trip in the fog, but then he surprises the tenant farmer by turning into a demon and disappearing. The police find the farmer holding the rifle and babbling about a young man who is no longer there. "A Time to Live--A Time to Die!" seems to be making sense at first but loses its thread somewhere toward the end and ends up making about as much sense as Jerry G's usual, awful art.
|Mordred's baby picture|
Jack: By the way, that great Nick Cardy cover has absolutely nothing to do with any of the stories in this issue, which is unusual. The covers usually illustrate a scene from one of the stories, or thereabouts.
"The Nightmare in the Sandbox!"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Bob Brown
"Voice of Vengeance"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by John Calnan
"Have Tomb, Will Travel"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Gerry Talaoc
"Hell is One Mile High"
Story by Bill Dennehy (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Nestor Redondo
Jack: Dr. Allan Jonas moved his family to Haiti to help the people improve their farming techniques, and what does he get in return? "The Nightmare in the Sandbox!" occurs when an angry witch doctor curses his childrens' sandbox! Evil Baron Samedi tries to yank the kids into the sand and succeeds in pulling the family dog under, so Dr. Jonas hires a competing witch doctor to throw a curse. The bad witch doctor ends up getting dragged under the sand and the kids avoid the sandbox forever after. At least this story makes sense and has a beginning, middle and end. Bob Brown's art is above average for him. That's about all I can say!
Peter: When I saw the dog on the cover I naturally assumed we were talking about a different kind of "Nightmare" in the sandbox but, no, Leo Dorfman resorts to the laugh-out-loud concept of a voodoo-cursed sandbox. Knowing he may have something fatal to his children (and little doggy) in his backyard, Dr. Jonas naturally takes steps to rid himself of the box (or at the very least, cover the damn thing), right? Nope. And if you're a voodoo medicine man, do you tempt fate by walking through the very item you cursed? Supremely dopey!
Jack: The people of a little Italian village wait anxiously for the annual visit of Signor Giovanni and his marionettes. During the show, the puppets tell secrets of the local folk--some nice, like a wedding engagement, and some not so nice, like Signor Gardella, head of the local bank, stealing his depositor's money. Late that night, Gardella strangles Giovanni enough to destroy his voice but spare his life. Yet the next evening, who is providing the voice of the marionettes as they tell of Gardella's evil deed? It's not Giovanni's son, whose bus arrives too late, so it must be the "Voice of Vengeance." How many times will we have to endure the character whose bus arrives too late?
Peter: More pulpy nonsense from Carl Wessler. Why in the world would crooked banker Gardella leave the puppeteer alive after strangling him within an inch of his life? They do have paper and pen in Italy, don't they? And leave it to Wessler to end the story with the creaky old "sorry I'm late, I couldn't man the puppets because the bridge was washed out!"
Peter: A silly bit of fluff but certainly more enjoyable than the first two stories (although my sides are still aching from "the sandbox nightmare"), if only because of Gerry Talaoc's distinctive art style.
Jack: Near the end of WWII, a couple of GIs struggle through the Black Forest. Bill is helping Jim, who is badly wounded, and they climb a high hill to a castle, only to discover that "Hell is One Mile High." Bill leaves Jim there and Jim soon meets an ex-Nazi and his beautiful daughter who live in the castle. The Nazi plans to kill Jim but his daughter helps Jim escape and gives him her ring as a souvenir. Jim makes it back to his unit and they come upon the castle the next day, but now it is ruined and uninhabited. Jim makes it to a field hospital, where doctors fail to save his life and a nurse removes a ring from his finger. I'm always happy for any work by Nestor Redondo, but this story is all over the place. Is the war over or not? Jim and Bill say no, but the Baron tells Jim that it is. As usual, I'm confused. One good thing--maybe Redondo will draw some war comics?
Peter: The premise is an old one but "Hell is One Mile High" actually works in some tweaks that make the story involving right up to its disastrously abrupt climax. Was the ring on Jim's finger in the final panel supposed to be a twist? Why would it be when his fellow GI, Bill, acknowledged its presence? Regardless, this is a classic compared to most of the stories published in Ghosts. Savor it. And savor Nestor Redondo's exquisite art as well.
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Alfredo Alcala
"The Cards Never Lie!"
Art by Gerry Talaoc
"Losing His Head!
Art by Larry Hama, Neal Adams and Rich Buckler
Peter: A peasant farmer learns that he has inherited a castle and a title from an uncle he didn't even know. Once he and his wife move, however, he learns that he has also inherited a "Castle Curse." Soon after arriving, the newly minted royalty begins to have blackouts and women are murdered in the village by a werewolf. His wife, fearful she'll become a victim of the werewolf, begs him to give up his title so that they can return to their farm. Scoffing at his wife's fears and handing her a gun loaded with silver bullets, the man buries himself in the castle library, where he finds a manuscript which backs up the story of the curse. As he heads up to his bedroom, he becomes a werewolf and launches himself at his terrified wife. She shoots the werewolf and, once the creature regains the form of her husband, shoots herself. A patchwork of so many other curse/inheritance/werewolf stories, "Castle Curse" is a beautifully illustrated piece of fluff. Not one original word could be found in my reading of the story so this must have been a case of Steve Skeates fighting a deadline. The other strange aspect of "Castle Curse" is that there is no attempt to convince the reader that the werewolf is anyone else than the main protagonist (this despite the fact that the werewolf is shown in tattered garments and "The Man"--he is never given a name--wakes up refreshed and perma-pressed). As much as I love Alcala's work, his werewolf looks like The Fantastic Mr. Fox!
|"The Fantastic Mr..." um "Castle Curse"|
Jack: Not one of Alcala's better efforts, "Castle Curse" plods along from start to finish with nary a surprising moment. Won't these people ever learn that it's a bad idea to scoff at a curse when you're in a horror comic? I will say that the page-long wordless sequence of the werewolf's first kill is nicely done.
Peter: When mobster Stab Digby is told by a dying fortune teller that the King of Spades or a tall, dark man, will be his murderer, he rubs out anyone who fits the bill. His chief rival, Tommy Flannigan, is a blonde so he escapes the machine guns but when the two decide to merge their businesses Stab takes a ride to Tommy's nightclub and discovers Flannigan's trademark is... The King of Spades! Digby has his new partner ventilated and then takes over the club but dies in an explosion. In the afterlife, Stab meets up with the fortune teller and has cross words with her, insisting he wiped out all the kings of spades. The old woman shows him his body in the rubble of the nightclub, surrounded by the club's marquee, the King of Spades, and assures him that "The Cards Never Lie!" A crafty, humorous little slip of a tale, with an ingenious last panel. Talaoc's art just gets better and better. This is the second "mobsters go to a fortune teller" story we've had in just the last few months, which leads me to believe that the DC mystery office had a chalkboard with all the possible scenarios on them. Luckily (uncredited) got this assignment.
|"The Cards Never Lie"|
Jack: I'll go out on a limb and credit this story to editor E. Nelson Bridwell, since it is more of a gangster story than a horror tale. The sudden appearance of the ghosts at the end was jarring and didn't work for me, but I'm right there with you on appreciating the artwork.
Peter: Every night, The Great Claymore, a carnival ventriloquist, plays to packed houses. Watching from a distance is hunchbacked Onappo, who has a certain fondness for Claymore's assistant, the gorgeous Esmeralda. Attempting to impress the girl with ventriloquism skills, Onappo asks Claymore for some tips, only to be rebuffed rudely. Esmeralda decides she's a free spirit and can love anyone so she becomes friends with the hunchback but, one night, Onappo overhears an argument between the girl and Claymore and the word "pity" is used more than once. Slipping a gasket in his brain, the scorned lover decides money is much more desirable than a woman anyway and so breaks into Claymore's wagon to steal his "box of secrets." Claymore discovers Onappo and a fight ensues, with Claymore taking a nasty blow to the head. The hunchback watches in awe as Claymore's head shatters, revealing that the man was actually the dummy in the act. Opening the "box of secrets," Onappo is attacked by a creature that latches onto his head and, very soon after, the carnival welcomes The Great Onappo to its stage. There's an obvious bit of homage to The Hunchback of Notre Dame in "Losing His Head" but a there's also a whole lot of hazy stuff going on in the story. Is Esmeralda leading her new friend on? What is the thing in the box? Does this mean that Onappo has a ceramic head now? Since she's up on stage at the climax, Esmeralda must know what's going on so is she ceramic as well? Why didn't the artist paint a light bulb over Onappo's head when he declares, "Well, if I can't have love, I can at least have money!"? All these very good questions shall remain unanswered but I'll give "Losing His Head" a thumbs-up anyway for its grisly and creepy climax.
|"Losing His Head"|
Jack: I didn't get it at all. Is Onappo a hollow dummy at the end? How did Claymore walk and talk if he was a hollow guy with a ceramic head? It makes no sense. I wasn't impressed by the art. This looks like one of those apocryphal stories where Neal Adams stopped by the DC offices one day and polished up a few panels here and there on this story. Some of the faces are obviously his work but overall the art is pretty blah. I vaguely recall Larry Hama from mid-'70s comics but that's all I remember. I liked his work on Iron Fist and the Atlas comics.
|"Losing His Head"|
Peter: A note on the art of "Losing His Head!": GCD, an essential tool we could not do this blog without, will list questionable credits at times (that is, credits with a question mark). It may be wrong, but we ignore the question marked artists and writers and only credit those which the GCD has listed as confirmed (Since when?--Jack). For instance, Larry Hama is listed as a possible artist on "Losing His Head!" and Adams and Buckler are confirmed as inkers. You can definitely see traces of Adams and Buckler but I'm not an expert on Hama's work so we'll err on the side of caution.
Jack: Wikipedia says Hama was a Crusty Bunker, so I think the credit is believable.
|IN OUR NEXT BATTLE-TORN ISSUE!|