Monday, November 17, 2014

Do You Dare Enter? Part Forty: October 1973

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

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 151

"Sorry, I'm Not Ready to Die!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ernie Chua

"Act of Vengeance"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by ER Cruz

"Grave in the Sky"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Jack: Jamison's horoscope warns him that an enemy will kill him tonight, but he thinks, "Sorry, I'm Not Ready to Die!" so he kidnaps his three enemies and traps them in a room in his house, intending to set them free in the morning. As the night wears on, he begins to think that his wife is planning to kill him, so he throws her in with the other three. Finally, he believes a mysterious intruder is after him, so he tries to escape from his own house but is killed when a poison crab attacks him. A poison crab? Where did that thing come from? It flew out of nowhere, latched onto his throat, and injected its deadly poison. Was it one of his booby traps or did a flying crab just happen by at the right moment?

Peter: Groan! Some of these Unexpected stories are so bad that I've run out of synonyms for "lousy." This one smells like it was pulled straight out of the shudder pulps (except for Jamison's trap-filled mansion, which is straight out of the 1960s Batman). I guess "Groan!" is about as good as I get with this one.

Jack: Raoul Boldin's brother is put to death but left a message for his surviving sibling: commit an "Act of Vengeance" and kill the man who did this to me! Raoul tracks down the very man and tries to kill him. He is arrested and sentenced to death. Only as he is about to die does he notice that the man he was convicted of killing did not die but is his executioner! Peter, do you think the DC horror editors piled all of the stories each month on a desk and picked out the worst ones for Ghosts and Unexpected?

Shouldn't be hard to find---

Peter: This one was pretty silly but the end twist is effective, albeit a twist that doesn't hold up to scrutiny. That Gauchon is one tough cookie. Bludgeoned and tossed from a bridge and he still swam back to execute "his would-be assassin." I assume the authorities who hired Gauchon have no idea what the guy looks like, no street address, etc., and that's why they aren't standing off to the side of the guillotine saying "Hey, hang on a minute! How could Raoul be accused of murder if the victim is standing right in front of us?" Cruz's art is effective.

The scary sock puppet
Jack: In a little Mexican village, Ramon tries to convince the other villagers that the American engineers who plan to drill for gas will bring prosperity. Ramon's old grandfather climbs to the top of the volcano that sits near the village in order to  beg forgiveness from the buried spirits. Just then, the engineers set off explosions with TNT, inadvertently causing the volcano to erupt for the first time in many years. The lava and gas spewing from the volcano take on the shape of phantom spirits and the face of Ramon's grandfather, who is by now a piece of burnt toast in a "Grave in the Sky." The engineers drop bombs into the volcano and quiet it, but one last bit of lava catches up with the head engineer and kills him. This is another example of Alfredo Alcala's lesser work. The story is ludicrous.

Peter: The volcano erupts and out pops a sock puppet? Not one of the most effective smoke demons I've seen nor is it close to Alfredo's best but, as the old cliche goes, bad Alacala is still light years better than the best Grandenetti. I was surprised to see this was written by George Kashdan since it's more the forte of Len Wein, Gerry Conway, or Doug Moench; mid-1970s rebels with a cause, a typewriter, and four colors.

George Evans
The House of Mystery 218

"The Abominable Ivy!"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"An Ice Place to Visit"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Frank Thorne

Peter: Garbage has been very, very good to Bob French (the garbage business that is) but he's tired of pulling his partner Sid's dead weight around all day. When the city comes to Bob guaranteeing a new contract worth millions, Bob knows Sid has got to go. Fittingly, Sid has an "accident" one day while fixing one of the firm's trucks and his body is dumped in a landfill. Bob makes his millions, moves to a ritzy part of town and encounters ivy that refuses to grow. One day, a mystery bag of fertilizer composed of "reprocessed garbage" appears on the tycoon's doorstep and Bob applies it to the stubborn plant. The ivy goes wild, so wild that it wraps itself around Bob and hangs him outside his bedroom window for all to see. Definitely a Fleisher script! You can spot the nastiness a mile away. "The Abominable Ivy" isn't anything spectacular but Fleisher's dark humor and Talaoc's nice art make it an enjoyable read. That climax, with a full page panel of the hanging, is ostensibly a shock twist but halfway through the tale you know what's going to happen so it's not much of a surprise. It is gruesome.

Jack: We need to see more stories like this one! The scene where poor Sid gets squashed in the garbage truck was an "EC moment," and the story was going great guns up till the reveal on the final page, which I thought was a bit disappointing. A for effort, though!

Peter: Al Lavers runs the most popular ice house in 1938 Texas but good times could come to a screeching halt if John Percival, the state water inspector, has anything to say about it. Seems as though Al has been pumping water from a contaminated well to manufacture his ice and Percival is going to sing to his higher-ups. Of course, this being a DC mystery comic story, Percival doesn't get the chance as Al stabs him with an icepick and proceeds to make little square Johns out of him. Not long after, townsfolk begin coming down with a nasty virus and, after a young girl dies, the local doctor puts two and two together and comes up with Al's Ice House. A mob of angry villagers heads up the hill with torches and clubs but an unknown spectre gets there first, putting Al on ice forever. "An Ice Place to Visit" is Michael Fleisher's way of squeezing blood from an overused formula. This strip is pretty much the same story as "The Abominable Ivy" right down to the unseen hand of justice at the climax (well, to be fair, we do see a hand but that's about it). Who exactly doled out the justice? Was it Percival's ghost? And why do we keep getting "shock" climaxes that don't actually shock? The final panel, of Al as a huge, bisected ice cube, resembles the kind of images Michael Fleisher would cook up for The Spectre in Adventure Comics in 1974.

Holy Mackerel! The ice maker has been made into ice cubes!

Jack: Another story that comes very close to being very good. How did they get Al's body into two giant ice blocks? Wouldn't it make more sense if it was one big ice block? I always liked Frank Thorne's art on Red Sonja and I just looked him up online and found out that he's 84 years old and lives in the town next to the town where I grew up. Heck, I probably rode my bike past his house on my way to the stationery store to buy Red Sonja!

Luis Dominguez
The House of Secrets 112

"The Witch Doctor's Magic Cloak"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Rudy Nebres

"The Case of the Demon Spawn!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Luis Dominguez

Peter: Escaped bank robber and murderer Dirk Travers crashes his light plane in a remote part of Africa (nope, Mexico wasn't far enough for Dirk) and must shoot his arm off with a revolver to escape the explosion. Found and nursed back to health by a witch doctor and his Bandari tribe, Dirk discovers the man used a magic cloak to reassemble Dirk's missing arm. Not one to pass up a quick buck, Dirk steals "The Witch Doctor's Magic Cloak," killing a guard in the process, and heads out into the jungle. It's not long before Travers falls into an animal pit and the witch doctor finds him. The medicine man is not so kind to Dirk this time. The final sequence shows the witch doctor dropping his cloak on Travers and the man screaming that it's alive but I'll be darned if I know what happened. In the epilogue, we see Dirk as a circus sideshow freak with human feet sprouting everywhere on his body. Did I miss something important that would signify all the feet? Dirk Travers' mastering of the Bandari's language after just a few weeks (peaking with a laugh-out-loud translation of the witch doctor's gibberish, reprinted below) is simply incredible, a feat you'd never expect of a common bank robber. Three scripts from Michael Fleisher so far this month and only one slightly good one in the bunch. I'll be patient though as I know what the guy's capable of.

Bandari made easy
Jack: It was just sick that he had to shoot off his own arm to get out of the plane! Nebres's art is very nice and it is in line with the work we've been seeing by the other Filipino artists. I too was shocked at Dirk's amazing ability to translate the native tongue. What a shame such a genius turned to a life of crime! I thought the story was over when he was in the pit, but then I turned the page and saw the sideshow reveal. Three Fleisher stories, and all are trying for the EC-type of revenge tale with a gross-out twist at the end. He doesn't quite have it down pat yet but I like where this is going.

Peter: In 1894 London, Private Investigator Roderick Doyle and his partner, John Winston accept the beautiful Ms. Christine McBain into their parlor and begin "The Case of the Demon Spawn." Ms. McBain tells a terrifying tale of familial ghouls at her vast estate and wishes the heroic pair might come to her aid. Once Doyle and Winston arrive, however, the very bright and observant Doyle recognizes details that differ from the heroine's story. When he runs across a collection of Winston's published memoirs of their celebrated cases ("The Wound of the Drescervilts" and "Study in Crimson" amongst them) in the family library, Doyle is on to the clan. Too late, alas, since the family pick exactly that moment to spill the beans: they are all vampires and they wanted to show the famous Mr. Doyle that the supernatural truly exists. The next day, back in their parlor, the pair reminisce about the case and look forward to solving more crimes as vampires. Tongue firmly in cheek, Gerry Conway delivers a fun homage to Holmes and Watson with stylish Dominguez art to boot. I'd love to see further adventures of Roderick Doyle, Vampire Investigator.

Jack: One of the worst stories of the year! The art was almost as bad. Roderick and Winston? Come on! Haven't we had enough corny stories where someone turns out to be a vampire? What was the point of writing this story? DC would pick up the rights to Sherlock Holmes and publish a real Holmes comic two years later. Once again, Gerry Conway shows me why he was the most overrated comic writer of the '70s.

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 35

"The Dread of Night"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Luis Dominguez

"Cry in Car 13"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Norman Maurer

"Child of Evil!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Lee Elias

Jack: Poor Nina Hollister. She has a heart condition, she's in a wheelchair, and her step-sister Bridget wants to kill her to collect the money left to them by their recently deceased old man! Bridget's boyfriend Jamie has been dressing up as a green, scaly monster and skulking around in "The Dread of Night" to try to scare Nina to death. When Bridget and Jamie decide to poison Nina's cup of tea, Jamie pulls the old switcheroo and knocks out Bridget. Turns out he's really in love with Nina! He puts Bridget's unconscious body in the car and starts the engine with the garage door closed, ensuring her death by asphyxiation. But when Nina has an episode with her bad heart, he doesn't know how much medicine to give her and mistakenly provides an overdose that kills her. The cops don't buy his story and he's found guilty of a murder he didn't commit! Kind of an old story, though Dominguez draws a hot Bridget.

Hubba hubba!

Peter: So, at what point did Jamie jump ship and trade sides? The intro shows the guy coming through Nina's window dressed as a monster and the woman clearly frightened out of her wits. If they were in cahoots against Bridget the whole time, why the show? Nina's personality turns on a dime from poor helpless maiden to saucy, bitchy co-schemer but that's how these things always play out when the author is trying to trick you. Usually, it's a cheat but for some reason I bought it here. The ironic climax is a big plus as well, with Jamie screaming out his undying love for Nina (and the whole time I thought it was nothing but the Benjamins). That's a puzzle piece you don't see often.

Jack: On a train ride from Virginia to New York, Lucille seems to be the only passenger who feels sorry for little Millie Bly, a girl left alone to "Cry in Car 13." Millie insists that her mother is on the train and the passengers assume she's back in the club car getting soused. Only when they arrive at their destination is the truth revealed, as the coffin of Millie's mother is unloaded from the train. First of all, it's a lot further from Virginia to New York than 120 miles, no matter how you slice it. Second, that's one nasty bunch of folks on the train, telling people to shut up! Finally, this is the second story in a row where the artist is just identified by last name. First "Dominguez," now "Maurer." Kind of like "Picasso," only worse.

Peter: Obviously "Cry in Car 13" is all about the pay-off, the final panel (one that I must admit to not anticipating), but who would leave a little girl alone on a train journey? Pretty silly.

Jack: Jebediah Wilkes is a plantation owner and slaveholder who spends $5 to buy old Liza to look after his pregnant wife Lavinia. Over time, Lavinia takes to Liza, and Jebediah discovers one night that his wife and the old slave are spending time together in the slave's cabin, where she uses charms and potions to help Lavinia have a healthy pregnancy. Liza makes Jebediah promise to free her if the baby is born alive and healthy, but when the fateful day comes, the wee bairn pops out looking just like Liza, who says she always wanted a child of her own! Jebediah sends the old slave woman and her baby packing. What a creepy story! Who thought it was a good idea to set a story on a plantation in the ante-bellum South? Strangest of all is the lack of any vengeance on the cruel plantation owner. Instead, the old slave woman gets the baby she always wanted and gets her freedom as well. A bizarre tale.

"Child of Evil!"

Peter: "Child of Evil!" has a real sleazy, oily feel to it, and I'm surprised there wasn't a skirmish with the CCA over its general vibe and message. There's not one decent character to be found here, not even new mother Lavinia Wilkes who, when confronted by the child she's just given birth to, tells the old witch, "Take her... she belongs to you! Get out of here --- you and the child! I never want to see that ugly little creature again!" No chance of a Rosemary's Baby situation here. Lee Elias is not a name I'd immediately conjure up as a go-to guy in the DC mystery bullpen but his work here is atmospheric and detailed. The panel of Lavinia on the wooden floor with Liza above her, working her black magic, is visually stunning, almost resembling a screen capture.

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 19

"The Dead Live On"
Story Uncredited
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"The Specter From the Bog"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Sam Glanzman

"The Body in Mystic Lake"
Story Uncredited
Art by Rico Rival

Jack: When Angela's Aunt Rachel dies, her Uncle Neville promises to look after her. Right after the funeral, Neville discovers that "The Dead Live On" when Rachel's ghost takes possession of Angela's body and threatens to expose Neville as her murderer. A fall from their speeding carriage snaps Angela back to normal, but Neville isn't one to take chances, so he takes her to Old Joachim and has Rachel's ghost exorcised. The spirit announces Neville's guilt, so the schemer murders Joachim, who saw and heard it all. Over the ensuing months, Neville courts Angela, but at their wedding another ghost--that of Old Joachim--takes over Neville's body and announces both murders to the assembled guests. Oops! What have we here? A really good story in Ghosts? What next?

"The Dead Live On"
Peter: Now here's one story that (Uncredited) really should have taken (Credit) for, the best I think I've read in Ghosts thus far. No, seriously! "The Dead Live On" should have been saved for House of Mystery or House of Secrets; it's that good. Alcala, as I've noted at least 3,000 times, is my favorite horror artist but, aside from the Ghosts story, this was not a very good month for AA despite the fact that he's represented by four entries. I think, however, that "The Dead Live On" is some of his best work, very detailed, and his human characters  (always a thorn in Alcala's side) have never looked better. A big thumbs up all around.

Jack: On a military mission for the Dutch High Command in 1939, Col. Borgen sees a skeleton of a man riding a skeleton of a horse and screeches his jeep to a halt, avoiding a patch of quicksand that had been hidden by fog. He learns the legend of Hans Vertig, who died in the quicksand 50 years ago and now rides out as "The Specter From the Bog" to warn travelers away from danger. A year later, the Nazis have invaded and they capture Col. Borgen to use him as a guide. They see the ghostly rider but think it's a trick to lead them toward the quicksand, so they ignore the warning and drive right into their own doom. For a story written by Leo Dorfman and drawn by Sam Glanzman, this is pretty darn good! It makes sense and is interesting, which is not always true in Ghosts. When I see Glanzman's art, I always think that maybe I could have been a comic artist.

"The Specter From the Bog"
Peter: Another very good story with above-average visuals from Sam Glanzman, an artist I've found it hard to warm up to. Glanzman's "death on horseback" is chilling while his human characters look like they've sprung from an underground comic. The climax, with the double (or is it triple) twist, is needlessly complicated but, otherwise, a very solid strip.

Jack: It's 1968, and Roy and Norma Craven's date in the swamp is interrupted by Rita, who yells at Roy for breaking his promise to marry her. She then hops in a canoe, bumps into a log, falls in the water and disappears, presumably drowned. The police never find her body and assume she swam to shore. Months later, Roy and Norma marry and spend their honeymoon in--you guessed it--the swamp!

We don't understand what's going on, either!
Norma is fishing from their boat one day and hooks a wig, which looks suspiciously like the late Rita's long blond mane. Norma is so taken with the wig that she starts wearing it all time time, including to bed at night, but in the mornings she wakes up with her head soaking wet. They decide to go over to Mystic Lake and, when they are out on the water, a skeletal hand reaches up and snatches the hair off Norma's head. Somehow, Rita's skeleton is lying at the bottom of Mystic Lake and it has now reclaimed its hair. This is one of those stories that just makes me shake my head. The main problem I have is with Norma, who fishes a hunk of blond hair out of the swamp and decides to wear it to bed every night! What's with that?

Peter: The weak link this issue, "The Body in Mystic Lake" suffers from blandiosis, a malady that has killed many a DC mystery strip. I thought, for a brief spell, that Rita was a wood nymph, dressed in that gown as she is and lobbing curses. Who dresses up in a white gown to go canoeing in the swamp? And, seriously, what woman is going to don a hairpiece fished out of the swamp?

Luis Dominguez
Secrets of Sinister House 14

"The Man and the Snake"
Story by Ambrose Bierce
Adapted by E. Nelson Bridwell
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"The Roommate"
Story by Fred Wolfe
Art by Mike Sekowsky and Bill Draut

"The Glass Nightmare"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Peter: As a guest of Dr. Druring, Harker Brayton lounges on a sofa in his room, reading about the marvels of the snake when he happens to notice, under his bed, a snake! Since Druring is a collector of reptiles, Harker assumes the creature has escaped from its pen and decides that now is a good time to test the myths he's heard about snakes. Not a good idea. Quickly, he becomes enthralled by its eyes, forcing him to come even closer. From downstairs, the doctor and his wife hear a blood-curdling scream and rush upstairs, where they find their guest dead of "a fit." The doctor notices the snake under the bed and grabs hold of it, wondering aloud how the stuffed toy managed to get in the room. Yeah, it's Ambrose Bierce so I'm probably expected to acclaim aloud what a classic story this is but it didn't do a thing for me. Where did the stuffed snake come from? Did Harker have a pre-existing condition that may have been kept from us and did he do something to deserve this fate? I thought we'd learn that Harker was spending a little time with Mrs. Druring and the doctor meted out a bit of revenge. That would have made a little more sense.

Jack: Simply dreadful. I went back and read the Bierce story and it is much better than this illustrated version. I think that the problem is the need to add pictures. The words alone by Bierce conjure up a tense situation and the ending works well, as is usually the case with Bierce. In the story, they had to draw a real snake, and that spoils it. Alcala's art is good, especially when he draws the hypnotic snake with the sunshiny eyes. The panel of Brayton frothing at the mouth is unintentionally hilarious.

Peter: Priscilla loves David! David loves Priscilla! But something may be coming between the two, a pretty little something named Ariadne, "The Roommate." When Priscilla has to study for finals, Ariadne agrees to show Priscilla's beau around the college campus and, very quickly, David becomes entranced and falls in love with the beauty. Ideally, Priscilla dies soon after, her blood drained and the only marks on her are two small puncture wounds on her throat. Driving away from the funeral, David professes his love to Ariadne and she confesses to a yen for human blood. Rather than become one of the undead, David crashes the car and Ariadne is impaled. The horror is ended. You could have knocked me over with a feather when it's revealed that "The Roommate" is a vampire! You'd be forgiven for not picking up on all the clues (the way Ariadne looks at David's finger when he has a mishap with a rose; her fascination with the veins in a leaf; it's all there for the alert reader) while you're distracted by Mike Sekowsky's poor excuse for art. Easily, and consistently, the worst artist working the DC mystery line.

Jack: Gee, Peter, the fangs on Ariadne in the FIRST PANEL didn't give it away? This is some weird art. Usually, when I see a credit that lists two artists, I assume one did pencils and the other inks. In this story, it looks like Sekowsky did some panels and then Draut did some panels. I'm not kidding! Sekowsky's heavy black lines are easy to spot, but in other places it's obviously Draut's Archie Andrews-type work. This story is goofy but I found it less annoying than Gerry Conway's Holmes takeoff in this month's House of Secrets. Having Ariadne thrown from the car and impaled on a fence post is beyond belief. And enough with the vampires already!

Peter: While out for a drive in the country, successful businessman Thaddeus Ressler breaks down and goes looking for help. What Ressler finds instead is his next gold mine: an old man who makes incredibly realistic snow globes. Seeing dollar signs flash before his eyes, Thaddeus attempts to talk Mr. Weaver into an exclusive contract but the old timer ain't budgin'. Thaddeus flips and Weaver trips. With the old man dead, Ressler calls up his workers to come clean out Weaver's house before the cops arrive. While he's waiting, he falls asleep in a hammock in the back yard and awakens to find several feet of snow covering the landscape. Very soon, he discovers he's trapped inside one of the old man's globes. "The Glass Nightmare" is one of those stories that makes my head hurt trying to work out the small details. When Ressler fights his way through the snow and gets back to Weaver's house, he finds the old man's body just how he left it. Just then, two of the neighborhood kids come in to play with some of the globes. How could this house be inside the globe when it's also outside the globe? Michael Fleisher sets up an intriguing scenario but falls back on the old EC Comics cliches. Thaddeus Ressler is just such a rotten guy you're supposed to be glad he ends up as part of the collection; all I can think is "how can there be such a rotten guy?"

Jack: What a master salesman is Ressler, telling the old man: "Don't you see what I'm offering you, you old buzzard?" Smooth talk like that wins 'em over every time. Alcala's art is very sharp in this story, better than the one that opened this issue, but Fleisher's story is his weakest of the month. The revelation that the guy was trapped in a snow globe should have come at the end, but they must have had to pad the page count because the story keeps going for another page although nothing happens.

Coming in the Next Sweat-Soaked Issue!
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