Monday, January 19, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Forty-Four: February 1974

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

Special Giant-Sized 400th Issue! Best Issue Ever!

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 23

"Dead is My Darling!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Fred Carrillo

"The Spectral Avenger"
Story Uncredited
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"The Most Haunted House in England!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by J. Noriega and Alfredo Alcala

"The Jinx That Rode the Skies"
Story Uncredited
Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: The highlight of her Caribbean vacation comes when Paula Sands meets a dashing man at a masked ball. He tells her that his name is Armand Villon, but the next morning she learns that Villon was a buccaneer who plundered ships over two hundred years before. He was killed in a British ambush and buried in his estate on the island, his skeleton covered with silver coins that keep his phantom from rising to walk again. Paula takes one of the coins as a souvenir, and later Villon's ghost approaches her. She does not realize it's a specter and follows him onto his ship, where his death scene is reenacted and she is killed in the crossfire. Her body is discovered in the present day, mysteriously killed by an eighteenth century musket ball. "Dead is My Darling!" is an above-average ghost story with a heroine of below-average intelligence.

"Dead Is My Darling!"

Peter: Poor Paula. Trapped in a dream world within a mediocre story within a mediocre title.

"The Spectral Avenger"
Jack: The remote Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland are protected by "The Spectral Avenger," who dispatches first a thief and then a Nazi spy by tossing them off of a cliff to their death. The ghost is "one of a strange spectral race which lives in the remote mountain vastnesses of Earth." Nice Talaoc art but yet another by the numbers story in Ghosts.

Peter: Couldn't agree more, Jack (at last!). Talaoc's art almost makes you forget the story doesn't add up to much.

Jack: Raynam Hall in Norfolk is "The Most Haunted House in England!" There are ghosts everywhere! Yep, that's about it. No story to speak of, just panels showing varying ghosts doing what ghosts do in various rooms. Pencils by Noriega and inks by Alcala looks pretty much like every other story by Alcala, so I'm not sure what Noriega contributed. And why do all of the ghosts have skulls? I thought ghosts looked like they looked right before they died, not after they'd been decomposing for awhile.

Peter: If you have to have a disposable "non-fiction" story in Ghosts, at least it's illustrated by Alfredo Alcala. I'd swear that 50 Berkeley Square in London was deemed "The Most Haunted House in England" in a previous issue, so take this latest proclamation with a shaker full of salt.

"The Most Haunted House in England!"

Jack: Trouble followed the Akron, a blimp built in 1929, right from the start, so it was nicknamed "The Jinx That Rode the Skies." Crashes, deaths, you name it. One night, the wife of a crew member has an ominous dream, and at that moment the Akron goes down at sea in a storm, killing everyone aboard. Too bad Sam Glanzman's original art for this story was not part of the cargo when the blimp was lost at sea.

"The Jinx That Rode the Skies"
Peter: Good golly, this is the most amateurish art I've seen in... hang on, I said that about the last Sam Glanzman art we had to wade through, didn't I? I assume I'll say it again at some point. Do you realize, Jack, that Sam became one of the most prolific DC war artists of the 1970s, including a long run on (deep breath now) "The Haunted Tank"? I see misery and bad times ahead on our journey.

Luis Dominguez
The House of Secrets 116

"Like Father, Like Son"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Nestor Redondo

"Puglyon's Crypt"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Ramona Fradon

Peter: In 18th Century England, hunchback John Tarrant makes a deal with the devil. He'll deliver his soul and a young maiden to Satan in exchange for fifty years filled with wealth. The only way John Tarrant can get out of the bargain and keep the riches is to deliver the soul of a child he has sired to the devil by the due date. John brings gorgeous tavern maiden, Molly, to Beelzebub and agrees to pick her up in the morning. When he does, he finds that the girl has lost her mind and decides to keep her as a plaything. Soon, Molly delivers a baby boy to John and dies in childbirth. Tarrant raises the boy, Andrew, always with an eye toward cashing in on his savings bond but doesn't bank on Andrew sowing wild oats as he grows older. When his son announces he's met a woman and will be moving on, John snaps and brings Andrew to the devil a few decades early as a sacrifice. Satan gladly accepts the young man but confesses that he'll keep Tarrant's soul as Andrew was not sired by John but by the devil himself. Premarital sex? In a Code Approved comic book? Must have slipped that one in when the boys in the suits and ties were out to lunch. Gorgeous art and a top-notch script (with a humdinger of a climax) make "Like Father, Like Son" (not an apt title, by the way) another of the year's best (who'd have believed we'd have two four-star stories in one month?). John Tarrant goes down in DC mystery history as one of the most loathsome characters written, a man willing to give up his son so that he can enjoy wealth and save his own soul!

"Like Father, Like Son"

Jack: It's not easy to find something new to do with the old story about selling one's soul to the devil, but Jack Oleck manages to pull it off here. From start to finish, I enjoyed this story, and--like many of the best tales with a twist--I began to suspect the twist right before it occurred and was interested enough to keep reading to see if I guessed right. Redondo's art is, as usual, superb. Another candidate for the year's top ten list.

Peter: Millionaire industrialist (and really nasty guy) Jacob Puglyon has a fear of being buried alive. No, not a fear, more of a terror. He's convinced it will happen to him so he has a special tomb built with air vents and a lock that can be opened from the inside. Sure enough, Jacob is involved in a car wreck and thrown into a catatonic state, fooling all the doctors and morticians into thinking he's dead. He's interred in "Puglyon's Crypt" but things don't go the way he hoped. If Puglyon was so horrified of being buried alive, why would he have his body interred in a wall? Why not have it laid out on a slab? And how did he live through the embalming process? I'm not a big fan of Ramona Fradon's art but here it's perfectly suited; very cartoony art for a very cartoony script. This is the first glimpse we've had of David Michelinie (over at the Marvel University blog, we'll start seeing David's work pop up in the late 1970s), who would become quite well known for his long tenure on The Amazing Spider-Man. It's not a very original script; think "The Premature Burial" meets "Breakdown" (from Alfred Hitchcock Presents).

"Puglyon's Crypt"

Jack: I did not expect to like this story when I saw the credits but I found it very entertaining. One of the earliest examples of David Michelinie's work, it benefits greatly from DC mainstay Ramona Fradon's art, which takes on a distinctly 1950s-era look, especially in the last few pages. The panels where Puglyon is trapped in the crypt and turning green are terrific! This is a classic issue of House of Secrets.

Luis Dominguez
The House of Mystery 222

"Vengeance is Mine!"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Quico (Frank) Redondo

"The Night of the Teddy Bear!"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Peter: When two grave robbers accidentally dislodge the stake in his heart, Sandor, the Vampire is let loose on the world once again and he’s not very happy. The monster cries "Vengeance is Mine!" at anyone who''ll listen and heads straight for the house of the man who put him into his long sleep. There, he discovers an aged Cooper has a young son and Sandor fine tunes his revenge a bit: he will make little Peter one of the undead. Setting out his plan in front of his old adversary probably wasn’t such a good idea, though, since Cooper immediately goes to work vampire-proofing the house: he hangs garlic and crosses everywhere. The smug vampire knows there are other ways to take a victim and he attempts to lure the boy out of the house with his hypnotic powers. The boy only seems to ignore him so Sandor transforms into a pretty butterfly, thinking the boy will be attracted by his colors. The plan works but not as Sandor had hoped: turns out Peter is a butterfly collector and he adds Sandor to his pinned collection. Well, that wasn't all that much of a surprise, now was it? Take a gander at that cover above and tell me if you gasped at the shocking finale. Since Sandor had no idea that Peter was "slow" (Oleck's word, not mine; today we'd refer to Peter as autistic) and couldn't be lured out in the normal vampiric ways, why in the world would he change into a butterfly? A signed Hank Aaron baseball maybe... a mint copy of Action #1 possibly... a case of Dubble Bubble surely... but, a butterfly? I don't think so. And what's the story with Cooper Sr.? The flashback shows the modern day Van Helsing in a very 1970s turtleneck sweater (the perfect uniform for staking the undead) but obviously a couple decades have passed since then. And did Cooper make a habit of killing vampires or was this a one-off? And, most important of all, what vampire is going to stay a butterfly while the kid pushes in the pin? Quico Redondo's art looks like the undistinguished stuff that used to run in the Gold Key titles.

Sandor gets the point.

Jack: The opening scene, where the grave robbers accidentally knock the stake from the chest of the buried skeleton, reminded me of one of the Christopher Lee/Hammer/Dracula films, but I can't recall which one. I never bought Hammer's changes to the staking rules, such as having to pray when you stake a vampire. Stake him and he turns to dust. End of story. The second problem I had was with Cooper hiring a private eye to protect his son from a vampire. A private eye? Why not a priest? Or a vampire hunter? What does a private dick know about vampires? Not much, apparently--this guy tells Cooper, "Yep, looks like you've got it covered" and they then hang out in the den downstairs watching TV while the kid is alone upstairs. Finally, wouldn't the pin have to be wooden to work? Cain says it doesn't matter but I think the kid should've used a toothpick.

Peter: The Teddy Bear Killer, who has murdered eight poor unfortunate souls with a hammer, has all of 19th Century London terrified. That goes double for meek Casper Twinge, clerk at Barnaby and Walsh, Attorneys at Law. His colleagues love to tease and frighten Twinge and Casper's wife is convinced her husband is afraid of his own shadow. One night, after his wife Alice leaves to visit her sister, Casper hears a wailing plea outside his window. Investigating, he is set on by a tall man in a teddy bear mask. Believing this to be the killer, Casper whacks him across the head with a candlestick, killing him immediately. Elated, Twinge removes the dead man's mask to reveal one of the bullying clerks, Bob, obviously out for a night of fun. Casper is spotted over the dead Bob and chased under a bridge by the police. There, he stumbles into the real Teddy Bear Killer, and faster than you can say "Bang, Bang..." his silver hammer makes sure that Casper's dead. Leaving the scene of the crime, the killer is spotted and shot by police on the bridge and falls into a river, his body washing away. A constable laments that now they'll never know the real identity of The Teddy Bear Killer but a detective corrects him: "You're wrong, constable! We do know who he was...Casper Twinge!" "The Night of the Teddy Bear" adds more proof to Jack Seabrook's argument that Michael Fleisher was the best DC mystery writer and I'll add the two words "by far." This story is like a really good Alfred Hitchcock episode, with bad things happening to good Samaritans and a deliberately vague outcome. Casper's accidental murder of Bob takes the reader completely by surprise. Never mind that the police will never know who The Teddy Bear Killer was... we won't! Alcala's art is near-perfect, showing that he can indeed excel with a character-driven narrative lacking anything resembling a jungle or a voodoo medicine man. His image of the killer standing tall over poor Casper is truly chilling . Yep, it's only February, but I'm predicting "Teddy Bear" will land at or very near the top of my "Best of 1974" list in a few months.

Jack: Victorian London in the fog? Is this "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper?" Or "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole?" Nope, it's the Teddy Bear Killer! Michael Fleischer was one sick puppy, wasn't he? I think that, as of late 1973/early 1974, he was writing the largest number of quality DC horror stories, but if we look at the big picture so far, from 1968-1974, I think Jack Oleck is the best. I'm still waiting for the Steve Skeates renaissance you promised. And what's with Cain's beard in the intro--parted in the middle and curled up on the sides? Alcala's art is superb, proving that he could handle settings other than the swamp or the jungle.

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 155

"Non-Stop Journey Into Fear"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Don Perlin

"Good Night... Sweet Nightmares"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Abe Ocampo

"The Creep in the Caboose"
Story Uncredited
Art by Nestor Redondo

Jack: Ellie Forbes agrees to buy her boss's electronics business when he retires and plans to marry her sweetheart, Frank Wiley, but what she doesn't know is that Frank is a snake in the grass who is only after her money. He steals the $20,000 she has withdrawn from the bank but she spots him running away and alerts the police. Frank is shot by a cop and presumed dead, but he wakes up on a slab in the morgue, sneaks out, and catches the first bus to Limbotown. Attracted to the pretty girl in the seat next to him, Frank is shocked when she and everyone else on the bus transforms into a skeleton and they are on a "Non-Stop Journey Into Fear"! The bus arrives at its destination and Frank informs the old man at the gate that he is not dead. He gets a return ticket and takes the bus back to the world of the living, where he promptly drops dead and ends up back at the gate to Limbotown. About par for the course for Carl Wessler, but didn't I just ask DC not to print any more stories by Don Perlin? Hello? Is anyone listening in 1974?

We accuse DC of making us
endure more Don Perlin art!

Peter: It's not bad enough that I have to contend with Don Perlin's Werewolf by Night over at Marvel University, now the guy's popping up all over the DC mystery titles. Did Carl Wessler ever meet a cliche he didn't shake hands with at least three times?

Jack: Every night when Floyd Danford tucks himself into bed, he says "Good Night . . . Sweet Nightmares" because he knows what's coming--a recurring dream about not being able to save a family from their burning home. He searches for the house from his dream and finally finds it, but neglects to warn the happy family living inside. When the dream comes back, he fears he has made a mistake and returns to the house, only to find it a charred ruin. An old man sitting outside informs him that it burned down twenty years before and the only survivor was little Floyd Danford! A slightly confusing tale with a surprisingly pleasant ending and smooth art from Ocampo.

A nice panel by Ocampo

Remember the story with the
guys frozen on the totem pole?
(Unexpected 147, June 1973)
Peter: But I don't want pleasant endings to my DC horror stories, no more than I'd expect an axe murder in a Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge tale. "Good Night..." is just way too calm and sedated for my tastes. And, if you had a nightmare that upset you so much you spent your life tracking down a phantom house and family, would you show up, shrug your shoulders, and say "Hmmm, they look like they're okay to me!" and leave? Ocampo's art is perfect for this story: calm and sedated.

Jack: Railroad man Banning murders his former employee Troy rather than let him buy his railroad line. A new conductor, "The Creep in the Caboose," soon appears and Banning thinks he resembles Troy. A series of accidents nearly bankrupts Banning's train line, so Banning tries to murder the new conductor, but a train derailment sends them both into icy waters. When two bodies surface, frozen and dead, they are those of Banning and Troy, and the new conductor is gone. Leave it to Nestor Redondo to save this issue of Unexpected--excellent art from him is EXPECTED!

Peter: Best story of the issue! That's not saying much since the first two are instantly forgettable and this one wins by default but, you're right, Jack, the art is very nice.  If we found out that this script (yet another cliche) was actually written by Carl Wessler, that would not be UNEXPECTED!

Nick Cardy
Secrets of Sinister House 16

"Hound You to Your Grave"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Don Perlin

"No Coffin Can Hold Me"
Story Uncredited
Art by Vicente Alcazar

"The Haunted House Mobile"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ernie Chua

Jack: As summer comes to an end, another dog is abandoned by a vacationing family as they leave the countryside to head home. Who knew that it would "Hound You to Your Grave"? A pack of abandoned pooches terrorizes the local residents, leading the sheriff to posit that the leader of the pack is a dog belonging to old man Pleasants. The sheriff gets a bead on the pup through the window of the old man's shack and shoots it, but when he and his men venture inside, they discover that the one killed was the old man, who was a werewolf! Huh? We have a candidate for worst story of the month! I am sorely troubled by the amount of stories drawn by Don Perlin in early 1974 DC horror comics. This does not bode well.

Peter: This story was a dog. Is that werewolf (below) jumping out of the sheriff's television set or is he too cheap to put glass in his window? I think they made "Hound You to Your Grave" into a really bad ABC Movie-of-the-Week starring Doug McClure and William Shatner. I know what you're saying... has there ever been a good Doug McClure or William Shatner movie? Don Perlin. Ugh!

A super-scary werewolf attack as
imagined by Don "Rembrandt" Perlin

Jack: The Count of St. Germain brags that "No Coffin Can Hold Me," and he's right! He's been alive for 3000 years ago due to a potion that restores him to life each time he is killed and keeps him young. One day, he wearies of life and disappears. That's all, folks! Why bother with a plot? Alcazar's art is nice to look at but this story belongs in Ghosts.

Peter: Rather than a story, this reads like a Wikipedia entry but Alcazar's art is indeed gorgeous.

"No Coffin Can Hold Me"

Jack: Poor fella, he drives around in his car pulling a house trailer inhabited by the corpse/skeleton/ghost of his dead wife, Eloise! "The Haunted House Mobile" is spotted here and there and Eloise freaks out anyone who sees her until hubby happens upon the man who murdered her while committing a robbery. Eloise's ghost strangles her killer and soon the trailer falls off of a cliff and into the water below. And so ends as bad an issue of Sinister House as we've ever seen. Either DC knew it would be canceled after two more issues and was filling it with junk or else it was this very junk that led to cancellation. An editor's note reports that, with this issue, Murray Boltinoff takes over as editor from Joe Orlando.

Peter: Boltinoff as editor. Oh, that doesn't bode well either. But, back to the stupidity that is "The Haunted House Mobile!": can someone tell me why the trailer turned into a haunted house sometimes? I'm beginning to think, based on story content and execution analysis, that George Kashdan and Carl Wessler were the same person. Anyone have a photo of the two together? I thought not.

Go get 'im, Eloise!

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 39

"The Phantom Pharaoh!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art Uncredited

"Act of Vengeance"
"Frozen Stiff"
Stories Uncredited
Art by Art Saaf

"What Fiend Dwells in Me?"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by ER Cruz

Jack: Egyptologist Jon Scott is so obsessed with the mummy of Pharaoh Ras-Kati-Rah that he has nightmares and wakes up to discover that he’s starting to resemble “The Phantom Pharaoh!” His girlfriend Helen thinks he’s not getting enough rest but Jon worries that he’s losing his mind. Jon sees a shrink, who breaks the bad news to Jon that his life is actually the dream and in reality he’s the pharaoh. The artist is not credited in the comic or in the GCD, but it looks like John Calnan to me. The story, which is credited to Carl Wessler, is a mess.

We know how you feel!
Peter: One of the most confusing endings I've read in quite some time. Are we to take from the climax that Jon Scott was actually a character in the dreams of Ras-Kati-Ra and was so prescient he dreamed a world where people paid to see mummies? I've scratched my scalp raw after reading this one.

Jack: Larry is an actor who laments the fact that he only seems to be able to speak the words provided to him by playwright Arthur. In an “Act of Violence,” Larry murders Arthur but subsequently finds himself unable to speak. In the end, he confesses to the murder by writing it on his dressing room mirror. At three pages, this is too short to establish any rational motivation for the main character’s actions, but at least Art Saaf’s artwork is better than usual.

Jack and Peter discuss the latest issue of Ghosts
Peter: Another dumbfounding climax. Three pages too many. Saaf's... um, Art... looks like Vintage Tuska to me. Oh, and Saaf's one-page "Frozen Stiff" is just gawdawful as well. I assume the same (Uncredited) wrote both stories as neither makes a lick of sense.

"What Fiend Dwells In Me?"
Jack: Our story opens with a mysterious satanic ritual. Years later, pretty blond Wilma grows up with two sides to her personality—she’s either the bookish, studious type or the wild type who rides with bikers. As she is about to turn 21, her boyfriend Ted wants to wed but she knows that she’s not stable. Medical tests reveal that a horrible creature inhabits her body, but all the doctors in town can’t cure “What Fiend Dwells In Me?” Only an exorcism gets the dread beastie out, and it turns out to be a demon that was planted in her body when she was a baby, left to grow there to maturity. Along comes heroic Ted, who forces the demon worshipper to return the demon to a seedling, freeing Wilma to get hitched. This is hardly what I would call a good story, but E.R. Cruz’s art is the best we’ve seen in this disappointing issue.

Peter: I think Mildred sums up the first two stories in this issue of The Witching Hour with her opening monologue: "Don't you wish you could understand this witchly palaver?" Actually, the final tale wasn't that bad (close to four stars after the rot we had to read on the way) and it had a good, nasty twist in its tail. The fluoroscope is a fascinating machine; it perfectly captured the image of the demon inside Wilma, no doubt about it. I also found it amusing when a young guy asked "Who's that gorgeous chick?" about Wilma (a name guaranteed to announce sensuality) right over an illustration by ER Cruz that makes our devilish young maiden look like Paul Williams.

It's becoming more and more evident as each month passes that DC was sending their best talent and quality product to the two House titles and leaving the rest to Kashdan and Wessler to do as they please. It's a pity we only have sales records for WitchingSecrets, Mystery, and Unexpected for this era or, I'd wager, we'd see the other titles were selling near the bottom of the DC barrel (Ghosts won't post sales numbers until 1975).

1974 DC Sales Figures

Superman                               285,634
World's Finest                        242,726
Action Comics                        237,166
Superboy                                225,427
Tarzan                                     223,710
Batman                                   193,223
Brave and the Bold               191,722
JLA                                         189,392
The Flash                               184,749
Superman Family                 178,478
Our Army at War                 178,134
Witching Hour                       175,787
Unexpected                             175,016
House of Mystery                   174,504
GI Combat                             168,042
Our Fighting Forces             161,417
House of Secrets                    161,190
Wonder Woman                    149,917
Phantom Stranger                147,710
Detective Comics                  145,832
Star Spangled War Stories  144,765
Adventure Comics                144,055
Young Romance                    130,802
Young Love                           127,972

Yep! In our Next Sweat-Strewn Issue, You Can
Meet the Fokker!

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