"The Haunted Horns of Death"
Art by Ernesto Patricio
"The Last Shrill Laugh of the Phantom"
Art by Jess Jodloman
"Omen from the Beyond"
Story by Murray Boltinoff
Art by Ruben Yandoc
|"The Haunted Horns of Death"|
Peter: I really liked this one for some strange reason (could it be "bad story overload syndrome" that makes me reach for anything readable?). Yep, it's a theme used countless times but it's got charm and great Patricio art going for it.
Jack: In the first half of the twentieth century, Italy was led by Benito Mussolini, a tyrant who was secretly guided by a ghost wearing a toga and laurel wreath. Mussolini's dream was to be the greatest Roman of all time, but when he is defeated and killed, he hears "The Last Shrill Laugh of the Phantom," which reveals itself to be Julius Caesar, proudly maintaining the title Mussolini coveted. An interesting history lesson, told Ghosts-style, but not really surprising at the end.
|Surprise! It's Julius Caesar!|
Peter: This is education disguised as entertainment and sometimes that works, sometimes not. The reveal, that Mussolini was counseled by great Caesar's ghost, might have been a little more surprising if we didn't know from the get-go who was popping in on Benito for gab sessions (the toga gave it away for me). Jodloman's art is a plus.
|"Omen From the Beyond"|
Peter: So Ma was so sweet and kind she wanted Rebecca to stay a spinster until Pop kicked the bucket? Not sure I'm in league with that moral but I'd give "Omen" a sideways thumbs-up if just for Yandoc's exquisite art. At times his style here is almost film noir (in particular the panels of Rebecca looking thoughtfully out a window and Ma's spirit rising from the smoke). Say what you will about weak scripting this issue but no one can fault the artists.
"Nobody Hurts My Brother!"
Story by Arnold Drake
Art by Alfredo Alcala
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alex Nino
"Every Man My Killer!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Nardo Cruz and ER Cruz
Peter: Louis and Al are born Siamese twins, joined at the skull. After the boys are successfully split, their mother sees a local spiritualist for some good mojo for the boys and the witchy woman accidentally prescribes what she would have given to a sick horse. We'll never know if it was the mistaken meds that changed the boys forever but whenever Al is hurt he feels nothing and the pain is transferred to Louis. And vice versa. Al, being the smart one, lives a life of danger and adventure, spitting death in the eye several times. Meanwhile, his poor brother, Louis, stands by as his scars and bruises increase. Eventually, Al works himself up in the underworld to mob boss (while happily taking a face full of acid) but the dangers increase. When Louis hears that a rival goon wants to do in his brother, he confronts the mobster face to face (or what's left of his face, that is, after the acid bath) and takes a full blast of shotgun to the chest. Miles away, while giving an important speech to his capos, Al suddenly blows apart.
A fabulously sick fable from the pen of Mike Fleisher... nope, it's Doom Patrol co-creator and mid-1960s X-Men writer Arnold Drake (who also wrote the screenplay for one of the great cult horror flicks of all time, The Flesh Eaters). Who'da thunk a writer responsible for such tame offerings as X-Men and Doom Patrol would have thought up this twisted tale? Usually, I'm not fond of the "talking heads" work of Alfredo Alcala, preferring his jungle and monster art instead, but "Nobody Hurts My Brother!" has it all, great art and great script. The boys' mother is a nasty piece of work, always shining when Al is around (despite the fact that he's a scumbag) and denigrating poor Louis (even though it's obvious he's got the heart of gold). The final panel, where Louis walks away from the rival mobster's corpse, muttering "Nobody hurts Al! He's all I got! And vice versa!" is deliciously ironic. There's a really funky panel where Al seems to be talking to the ten-year old version of brother Louis for some reason.
Peter: Hiram Phipps has developed a crush on Lizzie Borden. Well, he's fond of the Lizzie figure he guards down at the Wax Museum. When owner Mr. Wilson decides to upgrade the museum and melt the existing figures down, Hiram pleads with the man to hand Lizzie over to him. Happy as a pig in mud, Hiram creates a shrine to Lizzie back at the home front. Proof that romance comes even to wax enthusiasts, the next door neighbor comes to borrow a cup of sugar from Hiram and the two fall madly in love. Only one problem: as far as Edna is concerned, there's only room for one woman in this house and before she'll say "yes," her new beau has to take the old flame out to the dumpster. That's not going to happen. Some time later, Lizzie's back at the wax museum... along with a figure of Hiram, axe in his back. A somewhat weak ending to what was a very promising story. What happened to Edna? It goes without saying that Nino's work alone is worth the price of admission to "Remembered Dead." And heck, at least it's not a circus, right?
Peter: A man, suffering amnesia, is chased by several mobs of police officers until he's finally trapped in an auto yard. When he trips and falls into a compressor, the cops turn the machine on and the man is crushed into a mess of gears and circuitry. Three page stories, as a rule, are usually silly or inconsequential and "Every Man My Killer!" is not the deviation from the norm. Art by the Cruzes is functional but is nothing more than shadowy figures really.
Jack: A three-page waste of time. We would have been better off with gags by Aragones.
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Frank Thorne
"He Who Laughs Last..."
Story by Len Wein
Art by Berni Wrightson and Mike Kaluta
Peter: Coincidentally, at the same time he's been traveling around the countryside murdering pretty young girls, circus clown "Pingo!" finds his marriage taking a turn for the worse. Could it be that his wife, circus partner Margo, doesn't appreciate him? Well, no matter, as things turn from bad to worse when Margo finds evidence that Pingo! is the Mystery Strangler and she's going to spill the beans to the local gendarmes. No way, no how says Pingo! and Margo, decked out in her Raggedy Ann circus get-up, becomes the latest victim of the Mystery Strangler. Pingo! finds himself heavy with corpse but in a perfect position to ditch it since he and Margo ran "the high wire with no net" act and he'll simply dump her when he gets above the arena. The ruse goes off without a catch and, a few months later, audiences are astounded and amazed at the resilience found in Pingo! (now a solo act with a large Margo-esque doll). Margo's stand-in becomes romantic on their first night above the circus and drags Pingo! down to his doom.
|Pingo was his name-o|
Jack: Even when Fleisher misses the mark, the story is still above average for a DC horror comic. I had to laugh when his first victim was named Karen Hunnypott (a porn actress/Winnie the Pooh mashup??) but it was a little hard to believe that she had her name engraved on the arm of her glasses. The panel reproduced above recalls the famous shot in Strangers on a Train where the strangling is reflected in a fallen pair of specs. I'm sure that's what Frank Thorne was thinking when he drew this. I always liked Thorne's art, which was sometimes a little sketchy, but he sure could draw redheads (see Red Sonja, a few years later).
Peter: Dillon and Martin, the owners of a small-time circus are trying to strong-arm a little girl who owns a piece of the 3-Ring (her father was its star clown before he died), but a fairy godfather clown named Punchinello arrives on the scene to save the day. Turns out the cruel pair offed the clown, thinking the little girl would sell her share, but now their backs are against the wall. A big corporation wants to buy the land from Dillon and Martin but their time is running out so they decide to murder the little girl. Punchinello isn't going to stand aside while the men work their evil so he steps in and, in the end, all is right with the circus. Wein + Wrightson + Kaluta should = Classic but it's not to be. "He Who Laughs Last..." has more mold on it than my bathtub and Wrightson's usual creepy, icky self is hidden under Kaluta's inks (though I will admit to some flashes of brilliance such as the series of panels below). How many more circus stories are we going to have to endure this month?
|"He Who Laughs Last..."|
Jack: I was excited when I saw the Wein/Wrightson/Kaluta combo but you're right--the sum is less than its parts. There are panels where the underlying Wrightson pencils are clearly there, but most of the art is more Kaluta than Wrightson. The story seems like a good idea and it has it moments but in the end it doesn't make a lot of sense. How did the guy turn to dust on the merry-go-round? Who was Punchinello? Where did he come from and where did he go? I guess Wrightson was busy with Swamp Thing and didn't have time to do more than dash off some rough pages, but it's still good to see him any time.
"Murder by Madness"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Don Perlin
"The Horrible Harrow Formula"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Gerry Talaoc
"The Stalking Shadow's Prey!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Frank Redondo
Jack: Arriving at a spooky house the day before her wedding to Arthur, Ruth is frightened by a giant of a man who seems bent on attacking her. She passes out and awakens in the house, where her beau introduces her to his Aunt Erika and Uncle Solomon, whose son Egon looks just like the giant she saw outside. That night, she is awakened by bats trying to get in her bedroom window and she has to fight off an attacker. She passes out again and, when she awakens, Arthur tells her she stabbed Egon to death. It turns out that Arthur is insane and only a well-placed bullet from Uncle Solomon saves Ruth's life. Arthur and Erika tell her that they had hoped he was cured of his insanity, but his behavior was a bit more than pre-wedding jitters. "Murder by Madness" is a bad story with bad art. I am not used to seeing Don Perlin's work in a DC comic (he was a Marvel guy) and I hope we don't see any more of it.
|"Murder By Madness"|
Jack: New Yorkers Bruce and Ivy are getting back to nature in the bayou when a bad hurricane forces them to seek refuge in an old manor house, where their host Sebastian looks like he's been dead for awhile. They soon find that he has a way of getting to rooms before them and they discover a basement full of Sebastians. Bruce and Ivy learn that the men are clones who killed a scientist and now use "The Horrible Harrow Formula" to make more copies of themselves. They want to start cloning Bruce, so he and Ivy make a run for it. UNEXPECTEDLY, when they are back home, they head onto a train one day and find themselves surrounded by more clones of Sebastian! Huh? This is an even worse story than the one before it, though Gerry Talaoc's art is far better than the "plot."
|"The Horrible Harrow Formula"|
Jack: What unlucky pedestrian will be "The Stalking Shadow's Prey"? The Baytown Beast is killing people at night and Jan worries about her husband George, who works nights, until she looks at the bottom of the closet and finds a lead pipe with bits of blood and human hair on it. Thinking hubby transforms into the Beast at night, she heads out to save him before he can be shot by the police. The Beast attacks a cab driver and is shot to death, but when the post-mortem return to human form occurs, the Beast turns out to be Jan! Maybe I'm a little slow, but I was surprised by that. Add Frank Redondo's smooth art and this is the best story in a bad issue.
Peter: "Stalking" is yet another variation on a theme done to death. Why would the psychiatrist throw out the wild opinion that the killer probably doesn't even know he's killing, other than to further the plot contrivance? When the killer came home from her evil deeds, did she wash up, rinse her dirty clothes and then turn back into Jan Taylor (only to forget to hide the lead pipe from public view!). Hand an entire issue over to the dreadful pulp formulas of Wessler and Kashdan and this is what you get. Overall, probably the single worst issue of the mystery line I've yet read.
|In addition to "Good Lord--Choke," this story|
features a character exclaiming, "Ngyaaa!"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jess Jodloman
Story by John Jacobson and Robert Kanigher
Art by Nestor Redondo
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alex Nino
Peter: Hayes and Price have love for nothing but gold. After killing an innocent who knew about their pastime, Hayes and Price are on the run from the King's Guard. They hide in what they think is an abandoned castle but it turns out a family lives there: a man, his wife, and their son. The assassins witness the parents lock the boy up in their dungeon and, as Hayes and Price are fleeing the castle, the boy begs them to set him free. His parents are vampires, he tells them, and he'll lead them to "Vampire's Gold" if they'll only release him from the dungeon. They pay him no mind but, later, in a village tavern, the duo hear stories of the vampires in the castle and realize they're sitting on a fortune. They head back to the estate the next day and stake the parents in their bed, then free the boy from his prison. He leads them straight to the fortune but they've decided to eliminate any witnesses. The boy tells them it's a pity they're so greedy as he was going to let them go free. When he bares his fangs, the men realize they've been conned. A fairly clever script (though anyone could spot the "twist" half way through); I like these stories that take place in ancient times and are populated with villagers who just take for granted that vampires exist. No doubt in their minds. It's certainly preferable to the worn-down cliche of the protagonist who can't convince the rest of the world that evil exists. Jodloman's art is scratchy but very effective, especially the tavern sequence where the occupants look suitably worn.
Peter: The arrogant and insufferable Squire Kent has been mounting his horse, Merrymount, for years and riding to the neighborhood town to play a game of chess with Deacon Fitzhugh. Beating the Deacon has become an obsession with the Squire since they've been playing for twenty years and have never been able to finish a game, always ending in a stalemate. This day, Kent thinks he has the upper hand until the Deacon cries "Checkmate!" Without much hesitation, the Squire pulls his musket and shoots the man dead. While preparing to hide the body, Kent is stomped to death by a black horse. In the morning, the police find both men dead and blood on the Deacon's black knight! Though it's little more than a build-up to the shock ending, I have to say that "Checkmate!" is better than the usual Robert Kanigher mystery drivel. Yep, the guy can write circles around anyone when it comes to war stories but should have known better when it came to horror stories. The only problem (and it's a big one) is that the jump from Kent preparing to hide the Deacon's body to facing horse hoof is too abrupt and confusing. I guess it has to be since you're led to believe it's Merrymount who does the clomping (to avoid the glue factory). As is becoming the norm with (most of) these titles, the art is never a question. Nestor Redondo's art is brilliant, with his characters fully defined and, most importantly, looking human.
Jack: When the credits list someone as having a story idea and someone else as writing it, I don't usually pay attention. However, since this story is little more than an idea, I have to give credit to John Jabobson for it and assume that Bob Kanigher just fleshed it out with some dialogue and possibly instructions to the artist. Redondo proves for the umpteenth time why he was one of the best of the DC horror artists. Even a six-pager like this shows great attention to detail. I must admit I felt a little silly for not noticing that the squire's horse was white and the horse that killed him was black.
Peter: At the burial of his son, Floyd, Cliff Cliffton relates to his friend the "Evil Power" the boy possessed and held over his father from the day Floyd was born. Torturing cats and playing nasty pranks on the boy who dates the girl Floyd's fond of grows to murder and planned world dominance. When the boy threatens to send his father to hell, the man has no alternative but to shut his son down. Turns out dad is a more powerful warlock than the kid. Alex Nino's art, usually a high point of any issue, looks rushed and unfinished here (in particular, Cliff's friend begins as a stooped, veiled old woman and ends the story as a tall man shooting the bull on a gravestone) but that's in keeping with the script, which looks anything but finished. Daddy warlock is so concerned with the evils his son is perpetrating, he waits decades before shutting the kid down, all so that we'll scream in surprise. "Holy Snikeys! He's a Warlock too!" The definition of a padded story.
|Please don't reveal the secret of "Evil Powers"|
to your neighbor
Jack: The first entry in my "ten best of 1974" rough draft, "Evil Power" works on every level. Nino is back doing what he does best (unlike his story in this month's House of Secrets) with freaky monsters, babies and cats flying through the air, and a trip to Hades. Oleck's script is intriguing and it makes sense; there is a beginning, a middle and an end, something we can't always say about scripts in DC horror comics (see, for example, many scripts by Wessler or Kashdan). I did begin to suspect that there was something funny about Dad but the revelation at the end of the story seemed just right. Weird Mystery Tales is an underrated comic book, as we've seen over and over in the nine issues to date.
"Makers of the Mist!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Murphy Anderson
"'Til Death Us Do Join!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Pat Boyette
"The Ever Constant Drum"
Story by David Kaler
Art by Reginald Pitt and Stanley Pitt
"Save the Last Dance For Me!"
"The Perfect Surf"
(all three reprinted from The Witching Hour #1, March 1969)
"The Man with the Stolen Eyes"
Story and Art Uncredited
(reprinted from House of Mystery #47, February 1956)
"Brush with Death!"
Story and Art Uncredited
Story and Art Uncredited
(reprinted from House of Mystery #69, December 1957)
"The Demon in the Mirror"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Al Toth and Seymour Barry
(reprinted from Sensation Comics #109, June 1952)
"The Phantom Ship"
Art by George Papp
(reprinted from House of Mystery #68, November 1957)
"Round Trip to the Past!"
Art by George Papp
(reprinted from House of Mystery 8, February 1958)
"Trail of the Lucky Coin"
Story by Jack Miller
Art by Jerry Grandenetti and Bernard Sachs
(reprinted from The Phantom Stranger #4, March 1953)
|"Makers of the Mist!"|
Peter: Pedestrian art and a fragment of a story, capped with a vague and unsatisfying climax. How macho are the men in this village to watch a couple of kids investigate the mystery?
|Now that's ugly!|
Peter: Another really dumb story. I'm surprised all the barbs slung at "obesity challenged" people were allowed to stand, especially considering the readership. Couldn't get away with that today. Haven't seen Boyette around in quite a while. Could this be a file story?
|"The Ever Constant Drum"|
Peter: David Kaler was evidently having a hard time with a finish to his short story so he didn't bother. The layouts are bold and different, that's a plus, but you have to have meat to hang on the skeleton. That last panel, of the creature/mountain, looks torn from a pre-code horror story.
|That was a close one!|
Peter: "Brush with Death" is about as generic a horror story as we've yet seen. Everything about it screams "shelved story," only unleashed because of a deadline problem.
|"The Demon in the Mirror"|
|"Trail of the Lucky Coin"|
Peter: All of the reprints this issue are vastly more readable than the new material. This is not an epiphany, however, since we experienced this phenomena when the titles jumped to fifty cents and contained a good portion of reprinted material (not to mention the great Golden-Age stuff we were exposed to during the Batman in the 1970s series we wrote a couple years ago). Of the reprints this issue (and there are many!) I found "The Man with the Stolen Eyes"and "The Demon in the Mirror" to be the most entertaining. Yes, "Stolen Eyes" has a pretty familiar premise (well, now that we're looking back at it after fifty years) and some of the goings-on are a bit far-fetched (knowing where a plane is going to crash, our protagonist arranges to be there and go through the flaming wreckage for valuables). And, if he's seen his fate (dying in a car crash), he can surely change it: just don't drive the car! But it's stuffed with imagination and charm, like me. The real revelation is the Johnny Peril-starring "The Demon in the Mirror," a wild and fabulously fun little fantasy with dynamite visuals from Alex Toth (whose villains always seem to look a bit genus rodentus). My memory is so horrible that we may have already covered some Peril in the past and I've forgotten but, Jack, why are we bothering with Unexpected and Ghosts? Let's dig up some more old Johnny Peril. Please?
"The Doomsday Trapeze"
Story Michael Fleisher
Art by Dan Green
Art by George Evans
"The Honor of France"
Story and Art Uncredited
Peter: Jealous of the fame and fortune enjoyed by The world-famous trapeze act, The Flying Trampinis, lion tamer (and Wolverine twin) Nelson Armstrong sabotages the swing bar before the act goes on. Two of the Trampinis fall to their death and the third, the beautiful Maria, is crippled and confined to a wheelchair. With his top act out of business, Mr. Bangling (of the world-famous Bangling Bros. Circus, natch) has no choice but to elevate Armstrong to top billing. Several weeks later, Maria rolls into the big top to announce she's working on a new act and Armstrong becomes interested. The girl meets him in his trailer to confront the lion tamer about his role in the death of her father and brother, relating how she found incriminating evidence in the storage tent. Maria pulls a knife on the man and, several weeks later, she reveals her new act, bone juggling. A pretty silly climax to "The Doomsday Trapeze," a story I swear we've seen before (aside from the bone juggling, of course). It could be because I'm on circus/carnival overload this month (I wonder if Mike Fleisher pumped this one out while he was working on "Pingo!"). Our first look at newcomer Dan Green, who would go on to a long career at Marvel inking X-Men and New Mutants. Ironically, Nelson Armstrong has the mutton chops of Wolverine but the Marvel X-Man's debut was still months away. Green has a nice style and he has a way with the ladies, as witnessed by the gorgeous Maria.
|"The Doomsday Trapeze"|
Jack: Green's art strikes me as the kind of fan-turned-pro art we'll start to see a lot of in the mid-'70s. The story is slight but typical Fleisher: a little cruel, a little gruesome, and kind of fun in the end. It looks like his better stories went to the House titles.
Peter: Bagiacalupo, "The Alchemist," wants nothing more in life than to turn lead into gold but the local Anti-Wizardry chapter is threatening to shut him down. When he runs them off his property, the local constable arrives to haul Bagi off to jail, but not without a fight. Unfortunately, Bagi is taken away before he can witness two spilled pots combining to make... Gold! A silly, harmless three-pager that might have been scheduled and should have appeared in Plop! but ended up here instead. Evans' art is evocative of Sergio Aragones, who at this time had become a mainstay of the aforementioned Plop!.
Jack: The alchemist's first name is Sergio! The splash page is signed by George Evans, so it may be that he's the writer as well as the artist. I recall Plop! fondly but I hope this isn't indicative of what the stories were like, because this one's not very good.
|"The Honor of France"|
Jack: I didn't like this one at all! I thought it was one of the worst of the month. Who drew it? The girl looks like Talaoc drew her at one point and the soldiers look like Redondo. I really have no idea. We can rule out Nino.
|In Our Next Explosive Issue|
On Sale January 12th