Monday, September 22, 2014

Do You Dare Enter? Part Thirty-Six: June 1973

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

House of Mystery 214

"Curse of the Werewolf"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"The Death Clock"
Story by Mark Evanier and Robert Kanigher
Art by Sonny Trinidad

"The Shaggy Dog"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Nestor Redondo

Peter: Paul Dunstan summons his brother-in-law, John, to his vast estate when he suspects his wife may have fallen victim to the Langley family curse of lycanthropy. Several deaths in the nearby village point to a hairy fanged creature and a young woman fitting the description of Carla has been seen fleeing the scenes of the crimes. In the end, it's actually Paul creating an elaborate ruse (including dressing as a female werewolf and hypnotizing his wife!) in order to gain access to Carla's inheritance. The wrinkle in the plan is the fact that John is a real werewolf and is none too happy about Paul's deception. Very elaborate plot on Paul's part that hinges on everything going just right (it's tough to get a nice-fitting female werewolf costume, after all) and it seems he could have done something a little more simple, such as murdering Carla. But then I'd be complaining about the stale plot (I'm never satisfied) so let's just be happy that, yes, it's an elaboration on the centuries-old cliche but at least Jack Oleck throws in a curve ball or two. Ruben Yandoc's art, as usual, is phenomenal. The panel of Paul confessing his plot to John, all played out within John's eye, is a classic, very clever! More and more, the art is becoming the draw to pick these titles up.

Jack: I didn't think the art was so hot. Yandoc is not one of my favorite of the Filipino crowd. One thing that bothered me about this story was that, if John loves his sister so much, why does he shoot her? He must have known that he was the werewolf, not she. The big ruse by Paul to convince John that Carla is a hairy beast sort of falls apart if John knows that he's one himself, doesn't it?

"Curse of the Werewolf"

Peter: Cub photographer Willie Beldon is covering the crazy stunts of The Red Devil, an acrobat who cheats death time and again. At dinner after a 10,000 foot plunge into a lake, The Devil reveals to Beldon that the secret to his death-defying feats is a special stop watch he carries which tells him exactly what day he'll die. Time's up, it seems, because The Devil is shot to death in an accidental mob hit. Willie makes off with the stop watch and when he reads it, "The Death Clock" tells him he has 79 years left to live. Convinced he'll make a fortune just as The Red Devil did, Willie Beldon begins life as a daredevil. The watch holds true and Willie manages to avoid death during several nutty stunts. His audience doesn't escape the same fate though and casualties mount. The widower of one such casualty takes umbrage at the daredevil's seeming nonchalance towards the fate of his fans and tosses a grenade at Willie. Though Beldon escapes death, he'll live the next 79 years as a vegetable. If you don't think too hard or try to fill in the missing pieces, this one's a real hoot. A lot of fun with fabulous, almost retro, artwork. Okay, let's nitpick. If The Red Devil knew the day of his death, wouldn't he have made some mention of it at dinner? He seemed pretty calm for a guy who's going to die that night. Why, all of a sudden, do the spectators start dying? Is it simply a matter of precaution and conscience on the part of The Devil and none from Willie or is there a deeper meaning? The first we'll see of Mark Evanier's writing, "The Death Clock" comes off as a nod to the pre-code horror comics that ruled the newsstands of the 1950s. Evanier would later become Jack Kirby's biographer and historian.

The bleak outcome of  "The Death Clock"

Jack: I must be in a bad mood because I didn't think this story was very good, either. What kind of an idiot would put his body through all sorts of abuse just because he knew he couldn't be killed? If someone told me I had another, say, 30 years to live, I would not become a daredevil. I would buy some insurance and find a bookie to place a bet on the date of my death. They'll take bets on anything these days, won't they?

Peter: Maggy's always hated her husband's dog, Morgon, so one day she gets the urge to run "The Shaggy Dog" over in the driveway. After hurriedly burying the mutt in the backyard, Maggy finds she can breathe fresh air and live in a clean house once again. That is, until strange scratchings at the back door and the growing patch of dog hair on the carpet drive Maggy to the conclusion she may be going nuts. Unfortunately for the pretty housewife, that's not her problem. Turns out Morgon is possessing Maggy's body and she's turning into a real bitch. The bottom of the barrel done been reached. Hands down, the worst story of the year and monumental in its stupidity. A big disappointment from Mr. Skeates and Mr. Redondo. Lately (I'm talking 1973 here), a lot of these writers seem to be building up to a twist ending and the "surprise" is anything but. We know Maggy is turning into a dog (but hoping it's not just that simple) so the final "reveal" panel, of Maggy on all fours, is nothing but silly.

"The Shaggy Dog"

Jack: Funny, but my reaction on reaching the end of this story was also "Now that's just silly!" I enjoyed the ride more than you did, mainly because Redondo is such a good artist. That last panel really is awful. I guess they were thinking about the end of the movie Freaks with the lady who turns into a chicken (my thought as well, Jack-PE). This story is like "The Tell-Tale Pooch" except in Poe's original the murderer did not turn into an animal at the end. I guess I just had it in for Maggy because she ran over her husband's cuddly canine!

Unexpected 147

"The Daughter of Dr. Jekyll"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Rico Rival

"The Totem's Threat"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"The Terrible Wheel of Fate!"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Ross Andru and Tony deZuniga

Jack: It can't be easy being "The Daughter of Dr. Jekyll." First, she drinks a potion that Pop gives her and turns into a hag. Then, she returns to her beautiful, blonde self and has no memory of the transformation. Unfortunately, Pop picks that moment to fall over dead from a heart attack. Fortunately, Elsa's boyfriend Bruce is a medical doctor and deduces that the potion is the only thing keeping Elsa normal. It seems that when she was a child, she took a trip to the Amazon with her dad and was cursed. Now, without the potion, the curse turns her into a cackling hag. Lucky for her, Bruce figures that if she keeps taking the potion she'll stay hot and eventually be immune to the ugly transformation. So much to love here! Right from the start, the men treat Elsa like she's a moron.

Elsa: Why won't you tell me what this is, dad?
Dr. Jekyll: It's too technical for you to understand, Elsa . . . just drink it.
Elsa: Why not? It's not every girl who can claim she was a human guinea pig for science!

Now that's the kind of daughter a scientist needs! Later:

Bruce: His notes . . . maybe they can tell me something!
Elsa: Bruce! My father just died before your eyes! Is that all you can think of? His notes?
Bruce: I know what I'm doing . . . just trust me dear!

Elsa also looks very cute in a mini-dress, which is a plus.

Peter: This one feels like a holdover from the gothic titles. Why would a scientist/father who's got a bad ticker not tell his daughter what was going on? Not like she's ten years old. I thought we'd get some kind of humorous climax where we find out this was the origin story for one of the old hosts over at The Witching Hour. Rico's pencils here are ugly and jagged, not like the work he's turned in recently.

Jack: Brad and Wally are a couple of greedy hunters who sell seal skins to a dealer in Alaska. When they realize that there is no limit on the number of seals that the natives can kill and give to them to resell, they come up with a nasty plot and hide a tape recorder behind the natives' sacred totem pole to make it sound like the ancestors are commanding the natives to bring the men more seal skins. Eventually, one of the natives catches on and ignores "The Totem's Threat," and the two hunters' corpses become the new figures atop the totem pole. Not bad at all, and I like the natives' revenge.

Peter: An Unexpected treat this one, a really good "just desserts" tale! Of course, if this was an EC Comic, these two would have been disemboweled before being "totemized" but we take what we can get and that final panel still evokes gruesomeness. I'm going to sound like a broken record but, man, this art is really hitting the right notes.

"The Terrible Wheel of Fate!"
Jack: When heavy fog forces a bus to stop on a midwestern highway, the five passengers walk over to a carnival and take a ride on a Ferris wheel, only to discover that it is "The Terrible Wheel of Fate!" As the wheel spins, the passengers disappear into another place where each of them has a glimpse into the future. A woman who thought she did not have the dedication to be a nurse saves an injured miner, a young man realizes that he can't get a good job without an education, and so on. They manage to get back to the Ferris wheel before it is dismantled and they vow to change their lives based on what they have seen. I enjoyed this story, simple as it was, especially because Tony de Zuniga's inks buried almost all traces of Ross Andru's pencils.

Peter: I thought for sure this was going to be the 647th version of "they're all dead" but, nope, it's something even more insidious: pretension. When one character says to the bus driver in the final panel, "We've changed our minds! We're all going back --", what does he mean? Are they going to hitchhike home? Get back on the Ferris wheel? Clarity is all I ask for sometimes. This smells like a shelved 1960s story, Ross Andru art and all.

Jack Sparling
The House of Secrets 108

"Act III Eternity"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Jess Jodloman

"A New Kid on the Block"
Story by Maxene Fabe
Art by Rico Rival

"The Ghost-Writer"
Story by Bill Riley
Art by Gerry Talaoc

Peter: Aging matinee star Morgan Stoddard has seen his career dwindle, the roles dry up, until a spark of hope arrives in the guise of a strange man offering Morgan a new role. Stoddard must travel to the small village of Tyndallsville, where he's told the town holds a monthly pageant with a strange gimmick: the town chases an actor portraying a vampire until the sun comes up and they stake him. The role sounds like a plum to Morgan and he quickly takes to it until sunrise arrives and he realizes the "stakes" are for keeps. We never know why the town of Tyndallsville needs to stake a faux vampire every month and I think that's to our benefit. Try applying logic to silliness like "Act III Eternity," and you ruin the sheer fun of it. Newcomer Jess Jodloman's pencils are amazing; realistic and creepy. Add his name to the stellar roster of fine artists the DC mystery line is employing right now and Warren has some stiff competition.

Jodloman scores a bulls-eye!

Jack: The story was predictable but very entertaining and the art, as you say, is gorgeous. I like the up-to-date lingo Morgan's agent uses: "I wish you luck, baby!" Kashdan also does a nice job of keeping Morgan from figuring out what we all know is happening by showing how his huge ego gets in the way of his understanding. Nice work all around.

Peter: "A New Kid on the Block," poor little Abdul, son of a museum curator, is constantly picked on by the neighborhood boys. So what if Abdul is a little weird and really skinny (the kid looks like a bat)? After a particularly nasty row, the boy's uncle tells Abdul that he's special and shouldn't be playing with the commons anyway. He shows the kid a sacred dagger and tells him that it will be his upon his 18th birthday. Thinking this is the way to impress the leader of the gang, Abdul shows Joey the dagger and the little hood convinces Abdul that they should pawn it for ice cream money. The deal goes sour when they bring the knife to the pawnbroker and he steals it from the lads. Not wanting Abdul to get in trouble for his own mistake, Joey sneaks back into the pawn shop to steal the dagger back and witnesses an ancient mummy killing the owner. The mummy then heads for Abdul's place. When Joey arrives, the bandaged beastie already has Abdul in arms so Joey thrusts the dagger into the mummy, reducing it to ashes. Abdul confesses the mummy was his mommy. An enjoyable piece, for the most part, marred by a really dumb final panel. Rival seems to have had fun with this one, his mummy a great, snarling, fanged beast. What's with little Joey's abrupt change of heart? After torturing Abdul for the first three quarters of the story, he suddenly becomes the shrimp's bodyguard.

"A New Kid on the Block"
Jack: I let out a big laugh when I read the last panel. Maxene Fabe is becoming one of my favorite writers of these DC horror tales! I enjoyed this one from start to finish. The art is great and, while I knew there was some connection to the kid and the mummy, I didn't know what it was till the end. "Now who will wrap me up at night?" Priceless!

Peter: Best-selling author Keith Godfrey doesn't want his secret to get out. He's got a ghost-writer, has for years, and he's afraid the G-W will want a bigger piece of the pie at some point in the future. Godfrey decides it's time to change typewriters. He's just sold a few books to movies, royalties from the older books are keeping him fat, life is good. Killing "The Ghost-Writer" Armand proves difficult because, as Armand confesses, he's already dead. This pushes Godfrey to insanity. A bit vague, that climax, but the story (by one of our favorites, Bill Riley) is well-told and the art perfectly illustrates the sleaziness of our lead character. I wonder, since Godfrey holds what looks like a huge manuscript in the final panel, if he's picked up writing again. Perhaps new staff scribe for Unexpected and Ghosts?

"The Ghost-Writer"

Jack: What really struck me about this one, aside from the mostly good script and outstanding art, was how suave Abel looks in the last panel! Hardly the terrified little fat creep we're used to.

Abel gets a makeover!

The Witching Hour 31

"Red is for Dead!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Alex Nino

"A Badge of Courage!"
Story by Bill Dennehy (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by John Calnan

"Hold Hands--And Die"
Story Uncredited
Art by Buddy Gernale

"The Scent of Death"
Story Uncredited
Art by Art Saaf

Jack: Unhappy teenager Orville tells his pretty stepmother Doreen that he has been dabbling in black magic and "Red is for Dead!" He has learned how to draw a red line through a person's name in the phone book and kill them instantly. Doreen can't stand Orville and the feeling is mutual. Doreen uses her feminine wiles on her older husband Ed to get him to have a talk with the boy, but it ends badly when Dad slaps Son. Just as Doreen is about to convince Ed to have Orville committed, Orville angrily draws a red line through another name and Doreen collapses dead on the floor. Not realizing what he has done, Orville decides that the black magic stuff doesn't work and tears up the book. Alex Nino's art is, as usual, very impressive and the story is not bad until it comes to a bit of a sudden end.

The Enfantino household circa 1974

Peter: I thought this one was chugging along in both art and story department until that wacky and wholly unnecessary expository.

Still pretty foxy . . .
Jack: Sylvester is a knife thrower and his partner Lisa is cheating on him with a handsome dude named Leonardo. Sly catches them smooching in the alley and takes out his jealousy and anger on Lisa. As the last knife flies toward her face she turns her head suddenly, taking the knife in the cheek. At the hospital, her face in bandages, Lisa tells Sly that his career as a knife thrower is over due to the accident. Off come the bandages and Leonardo still loves her. He is not repelled by her scars but rather sees them as "A Badge of Courage!" What a dopey story. John Calnan's best talent lies in his ability to draw pretty girls like Lisa. She sure had some quick-healing skin, since her wound has scarred over nicely in very short order.

Peter: Thanks to John Calnan's art, it's unclear whether the blade finds its mark or just misses Lisa's "kisser"... until we turn the page and find her face completely bandaged. Coulda fooled me! Then to heap even more ludicrosity onto the pile, we find out this dopey gal caused the errant throw so she could put an end to Sylvester's career! Her scar bears no resemblance to what damage the blade would have done. And what a wimp Leonardo is, standing off to the side, shivering in his boots while the love of his life is having knives thrown at her by a guy he knows is raging mad. An utterly stupid story altogether.

Jack: A skeptical husband accompanies his wife to a seance but finds out that he has to "Hold Hands--And Die" when the ghost that is conjured up is his own after he keels over during the ceremony. This story is mercifully brief.

Peter: "Hold Hands--And Die" is another one page non-story livened by nice art. Why would editor Murray Boltinoff bother with these short-shorts rather than padding one of the other longer stories?

We reckon this story is a dog!
Jack: Deep in the hills of Kentucky live Pa, Ma and Boy, a big dumb ox who can't talk and wears a cowbell around his neck. When a local man is found murdered, Boy is immediately suspected and makes a run for it. He manages to trap the real culprit and bring him to justice because he recognizes the man's smell and had smelled the same "Scent of Death" near the scene of the murder. This is not the way to demonstrate that DC horror comics are starting to get better!

Peter: The Beverly Hillbillies was graced with better scripts than this. What makes this awful slice of the deep south suitable for a comic magazine that's typically filled with supernatural tales? Jethro's great sense of smell? Call me a nut but the work of John Calnan and Art Saaf this issue makes me pine for the days of Jerry Grandenetti.

Ghosts 15

"The Ghost That Wouldn't Die"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Buddy Gernale

"A Phantom in the Alamo"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Who Dares Cheat the Dead?"
Story Uncredited
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"Hand from the Grave"
Story Uncredited
Art by Rico Rival

Jack: Claire Medwick is a lonely, middle-aged widow whose husband left her a bundle. She makes the mistake of falling for and marrying Ambrose Marner, who quickly turns into an abusive husband and father. After Claire takes her daughter and leaves, she surprises Ambrose by returning and telling him she'll never leave him. He does what any enterprising husband would do and sends her off down the basement stairs into a pit of lime. When she returns a few days later, he is so stunned that he turns into a model husband and father, thinking Claire is "The Ghost That Wouldn't Die." Ambrose dies four years later and, twenty years after the fact. Claire relates the story to intrepid journalist Carl Wessler, who shares it with the readers of Ghosts. Does anyone know if quick lime really works that fast? In this story, it dissolves a human body in a few days. It never seemed to work that well on my lawn.

"The Ghost That Wouldn't Die"

Peter: Since he was the inquisitive journalist of the story, why didn't Wessler ask Mrs. Marner how the heck she got out of the basement?

Jack: Craig Phillips, a dishonest rancher, betrays the stalwart men of Texas at the Alamo and leads them to their massacre by Santa Anna. Phillips is prevented from recovering the gold that the Texans had hidden in the fort by "A Phantom in the Alamo," the ghost of Jim Bowie. As someone who has lived with the belief that two of my ancestors died at the Alamo, I was excited to see this story but my ardor dimmed quickly when I gazed at Sam Glanzman's terrible art. "Ngyaaa" is becoming the sound effect of choice for DC horror comics.

"A Phantom in the Alamo"

Peter: I enjoyed this for what it is: a history lesson with a ghost thrown in. If I'd read this in 1973 (at the age of 11) I'd have wanted to learn more about Bowie and The Alamo but I'm afraid my teacher might have been nonplussed when I explained the ghost. Why could Bowie's spirit toss a knife but not pull it out of the wall afterwards?

Jack: During the terrible plague of 1911, a good man named Stefan walked the streets of the little village of Ostraska in Moravia, collecting the dead and accepting donations for the poor. His greedy assistant Ivor never could understand why Stefan did not keep some of the money to improve their standard of living, so when Stefan dies, Ivor takes over and gradually begins to enjoy the money a bit too much. Soon enough, the ghosts of those dead whom he did not send properly on their way begin to haunt their families and the bereaved demand that Ivor explain "Who Dares Cheat the Dead?" Ivor grabs his heavy bag of gold and escapes, only to fall to his death from a rickety bridge that could not support the combined weight of man and treasure.

"Who Dares Cheat the Dead?"

Peter: The best story to appear in Ghosts in quite some time (and not just because of the art!), "Who Dares Cheat the Dead?" tells a nice, compact little tale with a good twist ending. It's a shame we don't have a name to apply to the writer credit here. As usual, Alcala's art is exquisite. Just check out that atmospheric first panel with its dark cobblestoned village road and its ominous hooded figure beckoning to the soul of the departed. Art in 1970s horror comics didn't get any better than Alcala and I'll argue that to my grave.

Jack: A surgeon strangles a blackmailer to death only to find that his own hands begin to rebel, finally causing him to strangle himself with his own necktie, guided by "A Hand from the Grave."

Peter: Not much to get excited about here but then that may be as a result of a three-page restriction. Nah, it wouldn't be any better if it was nine. This is just a cliched "hand with a mind of its own" time-waster. More sub-par work for Rico Rival. By the way, for those who were wondering, you didn't miss a post for May 1973. For some reason, no books were published that month. It was very Unexpected!

Jack: We all know that comics were always dated a couple of months later than the month in which they actually appeared on the stands so that they would not look outdated after sitting there for awhile. In his book,  75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking, Paul Levitz explains: "by 1973 Marvel's cover dates made them appear newer than DC's, so DC decided to skip using May 1973 and go straight to June." The DC Comics Database shows 14 comics with May 1973 cover dates, but none of them are the horror comics we cover, which did skip from April to June.

Peter: Ah, so that's what happened to May 1973! Thanks for the explanation, Jack, but you could have just put those words into my mouth and made me seem smarter than I am.

In Our Next Battle-Blazin' Issue!

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