"A Carnival of Dwarfs"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Arthur Suydam
Story by Mike Pellowski and George Kashdan
Art by Alfredo Alcala
Peter: In 19th Century Europe, carnival co-owners Hans Grettel and Fritz Koosman, happen upon a small band of unusually small people in the woods. The men decide these oddities would be the perfect freaks for their carnival sideshow and force the head of the group at gunpoint to go along with their wretched plan. With "A Carnival of Dwarfs," Hans and Fritz quickly become rich but an odd thing begins happening in the towns they frequent: corpses are found, drained of blood. Immediately suspecting the leader of the little people to be a vampire, they kill him and prepare to bury his body in the woods before their new employees find out what they've done. Too late, the evil men discover it wasn't just the old man who was vampiric. Our first good look at the work of future fan favorite Arthur Suydam, whose art will blossom into something special one day. At this time, in early 1974, it just looks like early Wrightson to me (with heaping helpings of Winsor McCay and Al Williamson). Many of Suydam's figures look painfully arthritic (Fritz, in particular, looks like he could use a good chiropractor as his spine bends in ways no human should). It's tough to make out what's going on in a lot of the sequences. It's unique but it's not necessarily good storytelling. Hans Grettel?
|And it's off to the chiropractor he goes!|
Jack: It looks like Suydam became famous after I quit reading comics on a regular basis, but the Comic Book Database says this was his first published story, and it's definitely something different. Fleisher's story is nothing special. In addition to the artists you mention, I also see a Graham Ingels influence in some places, especially at the end. I suspect that the oddly-named character "Fritz Koosman" was a mashup of Fritz Peterson and Jerry Koosman, pitchers at the time for the NY Yankees and Mets.
Jack: I'm surprised that you liked a Kashdan script. I thought it was just weird and the ending was a disappointment. Why are we getting Kashdan in House of Secrets? I thought he was usually relegated to the lesser titles. And what was the "idea" contributed by Pellowski, whom we've seen contribute ideas before? A gorilla monster falls for a guy in a suit? Not terribly original.
|Gerry Talaoc, Bill Draut,|
& Alfredo Alcala
"Night Stalker in Slim City"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Frank Robbins
"The House of Endless Years"
(reprinted from House of Secrets #83, January 1970)
"The Dead Man's Lucky Scarf"
Story by David Izzo and Michael Fleisher
Art by Alfredo Alcala
"The Reluctant Sorcerer"
Art by Howard Purcell
(reprinted from House of Secrets #49, October 1961)
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Berni Wrightson
(reprinted from The Spectre #9, April 1969)
"The One and Only, Fully Guaranteed, Super-Permanent, 100%?"
(reprinted from House of Secrets #82, November 1969)
"The Gift that Wiped Out Time"
Art by Mort Meskin and George Roussos
(reprinted from House of Mystery #120, March 1962)
Story by Sheldon Mayer
Art by Gerry Talaoc
"The Claws of Death!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alex Nino
"Mystery in Miniature!"
Art by Frank Giacoia
(reprinted from The Phantom Stranger #6, July 1953)
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Mike Sekowsky
Jack: If the machine works so well to melt away pounds and inches, as demonstrated by that final panel, why does Neil look just as chubby every time he gets out of it after a demonstration? While I'll agree with you that Robbins's art sort of fits this story, I still find myself squinting at it much of the time to try to figure out what he was trying to accomplish. It always seems to be somehow unfinished to me, with too many black blotches.
Peter: In the Old West, Deadman's Gulch is plagued by a series of brutal wolf attacks, leaving several dead and an entire town gripped in fear. Amblin' into town, a gambler buys into a game with a handful of locals but when he loses his stake he's more than a little angry at the big winner, a likable old-timer named Ferdie. When the saloon closes up and the game is finished, the stranger follows Ferdie back to his cabin, where he robs and murders the old man. Seizing upon a genius idea, the man uses a wolf pelt on the wall to mutilate the corpse and throw the blame on the killer wolves. Unfortunately for our murderous protagonist, a trio of Ferdie's friends happen upon the crime and, in an attempt to coerce a confession of murder, tie the man to a tree and tell him the wolves will tear him to shreds before they get back. The wolves appear shortly after but the harried stranger manages to fight them off, only to face the real menace: a werewolf, wearing Ferdie's tell-tale scarf. An interesting depiction of a werewolf in "Dead Man's Lucky Scarf": more caveman with a hairy mid-section and gigantic wolf head. The panel depicting the attacking Ferdie elicits gasps as well as guffaws; Alcala draws one mean werewolf but that pink scarf is a hoot. I'll accept that a werewolf can't die unless he's killed by a silver bullet, so that explains why Ferdie didn't expire when the stranger "killed" him. What I can't accept is that, upon reviving transformed, the lupine version of Ferdie grabbed his pink scarf, tied it around his neck, and headed out for vengeance. The other aspect that makes no sense is that the friends who hunt for Ferdie's death should also be the ones hunting for the murderer of five of their fellow townsfolk. When they realize, in the end, that their buddy was the killing monster, they pert near sigh and wonder out loud that Ferdie was such a good guy he'd never hurt his friends. None of this makes sense but it shore looks purty.
Jack: I had no problem with the scarf because we saw Ferdie's dead body lying in the cabin with the scarf still tied around his neck. I assumed it stayed there when he revived and transformed into a werewolf. I was more puzzled by Ferdie's strange way of speaking that makes him sound like Yoda. Cain mentions in the final panel that Ferdie was a Transylvanian immigrant, which I guess explains it all.
Jack: "Sheer Nonsense" is right. Gerry Talaoc is one of my favorite artists working in the DC horror line and, as usual, he doesn't disappoint, but Shelly Mayer's story doesn't make a lot of sense. That's odd, because Mayer's stories in these comics are usually above average.
|"Claws of Death"|
Jack: How did that last panel get by the Comics Code? I was VERY surprised to see that in a DC comic. I know I sound like a broken record, but I love Alex Nino's art. Even though it sometimes can seem a bit sketchy and unfocused, it almost always elevates the story it illustrates. In this case, it is gritty and gruesome. It's neat to be able to compare werewolf stories in the same issue by Alcala and Nino. I think Nino comes out on top this time.
|"The Reluctant Sorcerer"|
Jack: Howard Purcell's art was the best thing about "The Reluctant Sorcerer," which barely qualifies for inclusion in a horror comic. The Spectre story is excellent, mainly for the fabulous Wrightson art; this is one of his first published comic stories. The reprint from 1969 was a way of promoting the new Fleisher-scripted Spectre series that had just started running in Adventure Comics. I liked "Photo Finish!" due to the funny ending. By the way, the circulation report is in this issue and House of Mystery was selling about 178,000 copies a month, if I understand the somewhat confusing wording of the report. Of that number, about 300 were mail subscriptions. No wonder they put a billboard in the last story trying to drum up subscriptions! The circulation report is signed by Bernard Kashdan, Business Manager--George's brother.
Peter: As a kid, I loved these 100-pagers and wished the similar plan had come to fruition over at Marvel. These packages just felt special in that stack you took up to the counter at Pronto Pup. Now they represent lots of reading and writing, but I'm hoping the reprint selection in the future will be more interesting. In all, there would be 12 100-page "Super Spectaculars" evenly divided between the House of Mystery and Unexpected titles.
Jack: I loved them, too, though I bought mostly the super-hero titles--Batman, JLA, etc. It's unusual that the new material in this issue is better than the reprints, with the exception of the Wrightson Spectre story. Usually, in the DC giant-size comics, we complain that the reprints are better than the new stuff.
"The Freaked-Out Wheel of Fortune"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Bernard Bailey
"Blood of Our Fathers"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ruben Yandoc
"The Head That Haunted Gerald Hess"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Frank Redondo
Jack: At a carnival, Marsha Thomas spins "The Freaked-Out Wheel of Fortune," which guarantees a date and eventual marriage. Her first date is Jarvis Frink, who is nice and gentle, just what the swinging chick does not want. Her second date is the dashing Roald Von Donner, M.D. Marsha is taken with the exciting Von Donner but M.D. stands for Master of Diabolics! He takes Marsha to a Black Mass and she splits the scene, but Satan commands Von Donner to find her and shut her up. She races back to Jarvis Frink, anxious to wed him quickly and get Von Donner out of her hair, but it turns out that Frink is really Von Donner. Marsha also has a surprise, and at midnight she transforms into an old hag! Satan performs the marriage ceremony, though Marsha seems more pleased with the match than Roald. Wow! That was awful. At least there are pretty colors. Carl Wessler manages to jam a lot of plot into five pages, even if it doesn't all make much sense.
|"The Freaked-Out Wheel of Fortune"|
Peter: Carl Wessler's laughingly bad script and Bernard Bailey's achingly dull visuals combine to make this an early contender for Worst Story of the Year. Who couldn't predict the reveal at the climax? Oh Marsha, Marsha, Marsha.
Jack: Good looks and wealth can't overcome a family curse, as Janos learns in "Blood of Our Fathers." A giant bat kills a caretaker's dog and old Magda tells Janos that he carries the curse that guarantees he will turn into a giant bat each time there is a full moon. Janos convinces himself that his jealous cousin Ferenc is setting him up, but when a giant bat attacks Janos's bride-to-be Lili on the eve of their wedding, Janos turns out to be cursed after all, and Ferenc saves the day by stabbing him to death. Definitely a step up from the story before it, and Yandoc's art is great, as always, but the need for stories with a surprise twist ending sometimes makes these writers stretch a point.
|Don't you hate when that happens?|
Peter: Great Rubeny art can't save a cliched story. A few too many twists in the end ruin what little suspense might have been built up.
Jack: Ambitious D.A. Gerald Hess fails to convict Walter Magnus on a murder charge, and Magnus rubs salt in the lawyer's wounds by confessing privately to him after the verdict that he was really guilty. Hess becomes obsessed with making Magnus pay and ends up framing the man for murder, securing a conviction, and sending him to the electric chair. Magnus vows revenge beyond the grave and his pate becomes "The Head That Haunted Gerald Hess!" Hess sees Magnus everywhere and ends up confessing to the frame up, only to learn that Magnus is really a police detective with a very lifelike mask. This is twice in this issue that Carl Wessler has written a mixed up story where the wrapup is sudden and outlandish. The art by Redondo and Lofamia is better than what Baily put down on paper in the first story, but overall this is another dud.
|"The Head That Haunted Gerald Hess!"|
Peter: That final expository is a doozie. So, Frank believed the accused killer, set up all kinds of coincidental appearances as Magnus for Gerald, and then convinced the cops to set up an elaborate trap for the real murderer. Yeah, happens all the time. Well, one only has one's self to blame when beginning a story written by either Wessler or Kashdan is my motto.
|An actual letter from The Witching Hour 42|
"Island of the Damned"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Abe Ocampo
"The Child is the Father of the Man"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Frank Redondo
"The Root of This Evil Curse"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by ER Cruz
Peter: Desiring a life of comfort, gorgeous gypsy Irena plots, with her lover Corvio, to marry the hunchbacked (but extremely wealthy) Count Phillipe. Irena travels to the "Island of the Damned" where Phillipe lives with several very loyal outcasts and convinces the Count that she loves him and they should be married. Irena asks only that Phillipe drive away his merry band of monsters. Though it hurts him to do so, he sends his subjects off the island and prepares for a happy life of wedded bliss with the village babe. That happiness lasts about ten minutes, until Corvio arrives on the island and strangles the Count. The two lovers then head to Phillipe's castle to raid the pantry. En route, Corvio is murdered by a shadowy figure that resembles Phillipe. Enraged, Irena heads to the castle for a showdown where she finds the Count upon his throne. The befuddled girl asks her husband how he could have survived his throttling and he unveils his secret: he has two heads. Another right out of left field climax (well, to be fair, the guy was supposed to be a hunchback and that's how he hid his other dome but how did the other head breathe under all that fabric?) kind of works and kinda doesn't. There's real edge of your seat suspense here and that reveal just can't cap the build-up. If you live on an island of freaks, why hide the second head?
Jack: Ocampo draws quite a gallery of grotesques, some with a single eye, more than two arms, and so on. I was enjoying the story up till the end, though it did seem a bit padded, until I got to that big reveal and did a double-take--no pun intended. I flipped back through the earlier pages and, what do you know, Philippe was drawn so that there could have been a second head under the cloth. But as you point out, why bother?
Peter: John kills his wife Marsha because she's constantly nagging him and closing the door on her corpse reminds him of his childhood. When he was young, John believed a giant creature was out to get him. Later, when he prepares for disposing of Martha's body, he's a bit surprised to find the childhood fear standing over his wife's dead body. A silly bit of three-page nonsense with a clever, very-Skeates-ian finale. As far as these short-short shockers go, "The Child is the Father of the Man" is fairly good.
|"The Child is the Father of the Man"|
Jack: Skeates's title quotes Blood, Sweat & Tears, who were quoting Wordsworth, but the story is predictable and uninvolving. I'd rather listen to Stan Freberg's record, "John and Marsha."
Peter: Bank thief Rigby is stupid enough to tell two of his friends about his latest heist and the couple head him off at the pass and steal the briefcase full of dough. But soon after, the pair begin seeing the dead Rigby walking along the side of the road, no matter what path they turn down or how fast they drive. Deciding to put an end to the haunt, they drive straight at him but pass through him and over a cliff. A passing motorist stops, sees the briefcase full of money, and leaves the two to die. Heading back into town, the man is stopped by the police, who arrest him for murder and robbery. As the arresting officer hefts the case full of money, he dies of a heart attack. Is the money "The Root of This Evil Curse" or is it just a strange sequence of coincidences? Could it be the low-grade briefcase the dough is stashed in? Fairly dull and routine. The tradition of illustrating the splash with an expository scene found further on in the narrative not only ruins any surprise these things may hold in store but it also proves confusing for the poor synopsis writer. One other aspect of "The Root..." that proves confounding is ER Cruz's decision to make Rigby and his male betrayer almost identical in appearance. It almost appears that Rigby is in the car driving while he's also out having his desert stroll.
|So who's driving and who's walking?|
Jack: Terrible! Steve Skeates was hanging around with Carl Wessler and George Kashdan, from the looks of it. He wrote two below-average stories in one issue. The highlight of the issue for me is the letters column, in which Eve has taken over from Destiny and the battle is being waged to see which host the readers prefer. Elliott Hudes of Ontario, CA, thinks Eve is a hack who does not belong in this comic, while Paul Edwards of Bellmore, NY, is ready for Destiny to meet his doom! Now, THAT's entertainment.
"Death's Last Rattle"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ramona Fradon
"Death Has Five Guesses!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Giacoia and Sy Barry
(reprinted from Sensation Mystery #112, December 1952)
Jack: Lawyer Claud comes up with a novel theory when defending his partner Jeremy, accused of murdering their partner Hiram. Suggesting that the coroner might have reached the wrong conclusion about the cause of death, Claud convinces the judge to march everyone in the courtroom over to the graveyard for an exhumation of the victim's body. But when the coffin is dug up and opened, the body is gone! That night, Hiram's ghost visits Claud and takes him to the place where the body is now buried. Claud digs it up and sets fire to it, confessing to the ghost that he was the real killer and now he can dispose of the only evidence that could point his way! The trial reaches its conclusion and Jeremy is found guilty, but wait--the ghost appears in court and, with "Death's Last Rattle," testifies to the identity of the real killer, who left a telltale footprint next to the charred corpse. Lots of fun, and I'm really enjoying Ramona Fradon's art lately. This is a very lenient judge to move the trial to the graveyard and let a ghost testify post-verdict.
|"Death's Last Rattle"|
Peter: Of course it's incredibly silly but at least it's a bit original and there's the Fradon artwork to entertain. Her bug-eyed characters never fail to amuse me.
Jack: Driving down a deserted road one foggy evening, Johnny Peril comes upon a pretty young woman who tells him that she left her purse inside a spooky mansion and needs his help to go and fetch it. Inside the mansion, they encounter all manner of strange things, from scary wax figures to a giant spider web to a murderous hatchet man. It turns out that everything is part of a plan by the Eternal Man, who wants Johnny's body as his latest host. After an apparent body switch, Johnny discovers that the man is a big phony and a wrestling match ensues, during which Eternal Man--really actor Karl Kandor--falls to his death. Johnny reports the incident to the local police, only to learn that Kandor died in an insane asylum ten years ago. "Death Has Five Guesses!" is long, involved, entertaining, and makes absolutely no sense if you devote a single brain cell to it. Giacoia and Barry combine to do a decent Alex Toth imitation and Kanigher must have been getting paid by the word.
|"Death Has Five Guesses!"|
Peter: I love Johnny Peril, can't get enough of him, but this is an overly long tale and Bob Kanigher seems to want to throw everything at the wall and make it stick with that climax. It's odd that DC would choose to run a reprint in this title but it may be that the writing was already on the wall. #18 (the final issue) will feature reprints as well.
"The Freaky Phantom of Watkins Glen"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Don Perlin
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by ER CRuz
"The Specter in the Flames"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Ernesto Patricio
Jack: Karen and Sue are a couple of swinging young chicks on their way to the big music festival at Watkins Glen in the summer of '73. The traffic is so bad that they decide to hoof it the last bit of the way, but when it gets dark they lay down to sleep in the great outdoors. Karen is frightened by "The Freaky Phantom of Watkins Glen," so they seek refuge in a cave, but a local hick farmer with a scythe threatens to kill them if they don't go along with his kidnap and ransom scheme. With the help of the phantom, they trick the farmer into thinking he's been poisoned and they escape and head to hear some groovy tunes. This story will be in the running for worst of '74 when we get to the end of the year list. I think the panel reproduced here gives a good sense of the dialogue and atmosphere created by Dorfman and Perlin.
|Yes, this is where it's at.|
Peter: Truly bottom-of-the-barrel dreadful. Take out the scythe and the threats of death and you've the perfect script for a Scooby-Doo adventure. You have to laugh out loud in the scene where Karen's trick works and the hillbilly hoofs it to the water. The two dumb blondes (I have to believe the redhead has golden roots) settle back down for a rest rather than hightailing it. Don Perlin's art is about as primitive as it gets.
|Compare this to Cardy's cover|
Peter: A horror writer like Poe wouldn't be even the least bit suspicious of a stranger named Thanatos? Not a very bright guy. The climax makes no sense. Death makes a bargain with Poe and then comes to collect? When does Death make bargains? Interesting concept, bad delivery.
|Patricio was not quite at the|
level of Alcala or Nino
Peter: It strikes me once again, while reading this issue, that either DC head honcho Carmine Infantino really liked Joe Orlando and sent all the good stuff his way or Ghosts/Unexpected editor Murray Boltinoff was just a lousy editor and Leo Dorfman was able to slide all his submissions under the door late at night just before the deadline. An argument could be made that Ghosts was a kiddie book whereas House of Mystery and House of Secrets catered to an older crowd. The scripts for this title sure bear that theory out.
|In Our Next Issue...|
You Won't Believe Your Eyes!
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