"Wrath of the Ghost Apes"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Alfredo Alcala
"The Phantom Fists of Calvados"
Art by E.R. Cruz
"The Yawning Mouth of Hell"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti
Jack: It's 1954, and Lt. Victor Arlen is a British soldier and ladies man who is transferred to Gibraltar, where his grandfather has served in the 19th century. Gramps had loved and betrayed a local lass and killed some of the local apes that live in caves nearby, leading to his having been haunted by the "Wrath of the Ghost Apes." When young Victor follows the same path, the apes attack and he kills them. To the surprise of no reader, he is then tortured by ghost apes himself and disappears. Is the wild-haired savage man later seen hiding in the caves Lt. Arlen himself, driven mad by the apes? NOW do you believe in ghosts?
|Don't you hate when that happens?|
Peter: Not one of Alfredo's best, I'm afraid, but that may be due to a lack of inspiration. I know it's silly to point out useless plot points but how is it possible that Captain Edgar Arlen got married and impregnated his wife in between the the few panels that he killed the apes and went bananas himself? Did he bed a fellow inmate? The best thing about "Wrath of the Ghost Apes" is its title, which evokes those great old shudder pulps from the 1930s.
Jack: In 1937, Alan Walters visits the Halls of Calvados, a castle in France. When a storm comes, they close and bar the doors and windows before "The Phantom Fists of Calvados" pound away, trying to get in. Alan learns that this ghostly occurrence dates back to a 13th century land grab, and the man who was betrayed has been trying to regain his property ever since. Fast forward to WWII, and Alan is a prisoner of Nazis who hole up in the Halls of Calvados. A storm comes up and the pounding begins, but this time Alan throws open the doors and lets the ghost in to ravage and kill. Fortunately, only Nazis are targeted, since the ghost "wants revenge against those who would steal, who would spill the blood of others in their greed to rule." Not sure how Alan guessed this, but he's lucky the ghost wasn't a bit more reckless in its destruction!
|The ghost only goes after Nazis|
Jack: In 1902 Martinique, Auguste Lipare dreams that the local volcano will erupt and cause widespread destruction. He tries to warn the villagers but no one listens and he is thrown in jail for his trouble. Of course, the volcano erupts, unleashing "The Yawning Mouth of Hell," and 40,000 people die, but not Auguste, who was protected by the jail's stone walls. Nary a ghost to be seen here, just a premonition.
|Jerry G strikes again!|
"The Headsman of Hell"
Story by Marv Wolfman and Len Wein
Art by Abe Ocampo
"A Test of Innocence!"
Story by Mike Pellowski
Art by Mike Sekowsky and Bill Draut
"Death on Cue!"
Story by David Michelinie and Russell Carley
Art by Ruben Yandoc
Peter: In 18th-Century France, the guillotine and axe are a daily rite but Andre LeBlanc has had enough. One night, out with his friend, Jacques, Andre also has too much wine and mouths off in public about the beheadings. Later that night, the "committee of public safety" sends their henchmen round to Andre's to collect him to stand trial for treason. Andre manages to elude his would-be captors and hightails it to Jacques' house, only to find his friend has already ratted him out. A swift trial and then on to the blade. Swearing he'll see the face behind the headsman's cowl, Andres swipes at the mask, only to find the headsman is headless! I expect dopey material like this from Boltinoff or Wessler but not from writers who should know better. A complete waste of paper, "The Headsman of Hell" is punctuated with one of the silliest climaxes of all time. Should I remind Len and Marv that headless men can't laugh? "But, Peter..." I hear Jack sigh, "Headless men can't wield an axe, either!" As usual, my colleague has a point.
Peter: Harry Sykes has happened into a good situation: he's murdered a friend who held a treasure map and headed off into the jungle, searching for millions in emeralds. When he finds a tribe worshipping a jewel-laden statue, Harry hatches an elaborate plot, involving "A Test of Innocence," that enables him to get away with the jewels. What he didn't count on was an Amazon full of piranha. The DC Universe seems to be filled with jungle tribes just waiting to be bilked out of their treasure by nasty American con men. I think I'd rather dip my head in the Amazon and take my chances rather than read another story illustrated by the team of Sekowsky and Draut.
Peter: Small-time pool hustler Eightball O'Brien has run into a bad bit of luck and can't seem to win a game to save his life. Threatened with broken legs if he tries to hustle again, Eightball falls into a fit of depression until he happens upon an old man with a magical pool cue that seems to make any shot possible. O'Brien liberates the old man of both his cue and his life and heads down the road to recovery. Soon, Eightball O'Brien is a name to contend with and the only hustler in town left to beat is "Slim" Scarfield. A match is set and Eightball arrives early to the pool hall, only to find the ghost of the old pool player, challenging Eightball to a game for the highest stakes. The specter wins and reduces Eightball to a miniature, placing him on the table that the match was to be held on. Warming up, "Slim" breaks and then notices an odd red splotch on the cue ball. "Death on Cue" is a hum-drum ghost story, enlivened by a genuinely sick final sequence of panels, one of the nastiest in recent DC history. We don't see the graphic "CLUNK" but we sure can imagine it! This Michelinie must have studied under the great Michael Fleisher.
Jack: Better than average, but not a four-star effort, either in story or in art. It's funny, when Ruben Yandoc's art graces a terrible story by Wessler or Kashdan, it's the best thing about the story, but when it comes to deciding whether a tale gets four stars in my notebook, I don't think Yandoc's work will ever earn that rating. The story is well-told and the ending is nice and yucky but, as you point out, it's basically a hum-drum ghost story.
"Those Eerie Eyes in the Grinning Skull"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Fred Carrillo
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ruben Yandoc
"Let the Hangman Wait"
Story and Art Uncredited
Jack: Fresh out of prison, Roland Coe does what any self-respecting DC horror comic crook would do when trying to locate his old partner and the $50,000 they stole in a heist seven years before--he visits a boardwalk shop called Magda's Coven and steals a skull with one red eye and one green eye. Like a traffic light, "Those Eerie Eyes in the Grinning Skull" lead him on an accident-filled quest for the money, one which ends in a swamp, where he discovers that Magda followed him. Now pay attention: Magda grabs the $50,000 being held by the skeleton of Roland's dead partner, Roland sinks into the muck and dies, and an undercover cop dressed as a hippie arrests Magda. You have to read this stuff to believe it, and you have to read it at least twice to try to summarize it.
|We have reached this point!|
Peter: Any month that features both "Those Eerie Eyes..." and "A Coffin for Bonnie and Clyde" (see House of Mystery #228) proves one thing: Jack and I are working too cheaply. Awful script, inane climax, and butt-ugly art.
Jack: Chester Butts convinces the inhabitants of a certain village to let him build an amusement park called The Haunted Village on their land in order to take advantage of the local history of vampires. Soon, a visitor is killed by a real vampire, and it's up to Angus MacDevit, descendant of the local vampires, to take a wooden stake and end the new menace in this "Nightmare Village." He finds Butts resting in his coffin but Butts turns into a bat and flies away. Unfortunately, this bat appears to be nearsighted, because he flies smack dab into a very pointy tree branch and ends up with a makeshift stake through his batty little heart. Just then, underground gas tanks explode and a fiery conflagration destroys the amusement park. This story topped the prior one in this issue for two reasons: Yandoc's usual decent art and the utter hilarity of a vampire bat flying into a pointy tree branch.
|See, we didn't make it up!|
|"Let the |
Jack: Roy Mackey decides to "Let the Hangman Wait" and escapes from prison before he can be executed for murder. He hides out in the cabin of a witch who tells him that, for 50 pounds, she can send him back in time so he can avoid the killing. He does so and she brings him back to the present, where he is no longer a murderer. That doesn't last long, as she demands payment and he kills her. Her son arrives right then and he is arrested and right back where he started. Well, at least this one is only four pages long.
Peter: A witch who has "vast powers" and can manipulate time and yet needs to pimp out her talents for 50 quid? Smells fishy to me.
"Doom on Vampire Mountain"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russ Carley
Art by Jess Jodloman
Story by Paul Levitz
Art by Frank Redondo
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Ruben Yandoc
Peter: Caroline and Herman have come to the small village of Gazebo Junction to claim Caroline's inheritance of her Uncle Phil's estate. Arriving in town, they are immediately told by the sheriff that Uncle Phil's house is no longer safe as a bevy of vampires is nesting in its rotting corridors and it would be certain "Doom on Vampire Mountain" should they ignore his cautions. Caroline is understandably skeptical and she harangues Herman into driving up the mountain anyway, since it was long rumored that Uncle Phil buried a treasure in the stairway of the mansion. The driveway ends at the bottom of the mountain, so the couple must camp out in the woods overnight and hike up in the morning. After Caroline falls asleep, Herman becomes convinced he can hear noises in the woods and explores, witnessing several vampire bats taking wing, heading straight for Caroline. Though his wife has cuckolded him for years, Herman is still in love with her so he distracts the bats before they can discover Caroline. The vampires rip the man to shreds and head back up the hill, sated. The next morning, Caroline wakes and, finding Herman gone and thinking the man had lost his spine, heads up the hills and digs out the treasure. Heading back down the cliff, and blissfully ignorant of Herman's shredded corpse, Caroline muses that, as soon as she gets home, she's dumping her husband since he's never done a thing for her in their entire relationship.
|"Doom on Vampire Mountain"|
Here's where Michael Fleisher shows us how good a writer he is. Fleisher takes a cliched plot and a cliched character (the shrewish wife) and works them both into an engaging story and effective climax (not so much shocking or twisted as dripping with irony). The vampires are almost an afterthought here; we get nothing of their backstory or why they're terrorizing this village in particular (and that's a stunning splash, by the way), only bits of information provided to move the story along. Never mind those vampire questions, the most obvious head scratcher, to me, was that this gorgeous, buxom blonde (albeit a ball-crushing babe) was married to schlemiel Herman. Usually, there's a reason for that, be it family fortune or... well, that's the only reason, isn't it? Here. the opposite is true; it's Caroline who's about to be the zillionaire and Herman will remain a dork. Some readers might have been disappointed by the rather abrupt climax (where the greedy party escapes scott-free while the good soul is trampled) but I appreciated its nastiness.
|The ironic climax of "Doom..."|
Jack: I thought that the highlight of this story would be the way Jess Jodloman lovingly depicts how well Caroline fills out her tube top and bellbottoms, but then I got to the ending and was impressed by its subtlety. Having read countless DC horror stories for this series of posts, I was expecting Herman to return as a vampire and menace Caroline in the last panel. But no! Something much more understated and well done. The vampire bat attacks on humans are also rather brutal.
Peter: Chemist Henry Cooper only wants to live the good, simple life but wife Sarah is hounding her husband to hire a chef. She's tired of cooking and now that Henry has been promoted to Chief Chemist, it's about time they took the plunge. Henry insists they can't afford a chef and so Sarah effectively goes on strike, refusing to cook. Henry seems okay with the prospect of eating out every night until the shrew he's shackled to insists they eat nowhere but Happy Harry's Hamburger Heaven, a fast food dump with very familiar golden arches. After an extended period of time, Henry decides he's had enough and Sarah has to go so he kills her with a slow-acting poison that leaves no trace and buries her huge corpse in the woods. Dining in French restaurants follows but, very soon after, Henry experiences the same symptoms Sarah exhibited after her poisoning and becomes convinced his wife somehow guessed what was going on and set into motion her revenge before she died. Henry visits his doctor and confesses to his heinous act but the doc insists his patient must confess his sin to the police before he's cured. In the end, Henry is off to jail and the doctor confides in police that Henry has nothing more than a bad cold.
"Drive-In Death" is a badly-illustrated hunk of junk. I might be a little more tolerant of its inane plot and silly wrap-up if it wasn't for the amateurish scribbling that's meant to show us what's going on. Obviously meant to be a cautionary tale of the perils of fast food decades before Super Size Me, told by yet another young writer convinced he could save the world (hence the witch above the golden arches). A couple of silly questions: Are we to infer from Harry's suspicion that he told his wife about the poison? Why else would he suspect she had poisoned him? And, if you murdered your wife, would you confess it to your physician? There's no need to. All Herman would have to do is tell the doc he thinks he's been poisoned. Did I mention the lousy art?
Jack: Henry sums it all up with this remark: "it's a wife's duty to feed her husband properly." I think we can give Paul Levitz a break here, since this may be his first published story. He was probably all of 18 years old when he wrote it. Gerry Conway's work at that age wasn't much to write home about, either.
Peter: Oil man Harper Grey can only watch helplessly as a werewolf maims and kills the men of his team in the Florida marshlands. Harper is convinced that local activist, John Littletrees, is responsible and guns the man down. Turns out lycanthropy runs in the family as Mrs. Littletrees and the little ones all sprout fangs and tear the oil man limb from limb. "Blood Moon" has a very amusing twist (Harper is stuck in a cabin, with mama werewolf outside and little wolves at his heels) and gorgeous artwork but it suffers a tad from "mean SOB employer" syndrome. These heartless oilmen/architects/ railroad guys are getting to be a dime-a-dozen. I should at least thank David Michelinie there's no shrewish wife on display (yet another cliche overworked this month).
Jack: Ruben Yandoc's artwork never quite rises to the level of gorgeous for me. I thought this story was over at the end of page four when the wife turns out to be a werewolf, but it dragged on for two more interminable pages before ending with a thud. Initially, I thought Harper had killed an innocent man when he shot the husband, but if the wife and kids are all werewolves then it stands to reason that the husband was, too, and Harper made the right call in putting a silver bullet through his heart.
|Frank Robbins & Luis Dominguez|
"The Wisdom of Many, the Wit of One"
Story by Doug Moench and Frank Robbins
Art by Frank Robbins
"Stamps of Doom"
Art by Ruben Moreira
(reprinted from House of Mystery #23, February 1954)
Story by Michael Pellowski and Maxene Fabe
Art by Alan Kupperberg and Neal Adams
"The Wizard's Revenge"
Art by Bill Ely
(reprinted form House of Secrets #41, February 1961)
"The Man Who Murdered Himself!"
(reprinted from House of Mystery #179, April 1969)
"A Coffin for Bonnie and Clyde!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jack Sparling
"The Dragon of Times Square"
Art by Bob Brown
(reprinted from House of Mystery #74, May 1958)
"Seven Steps to the Unknown"
Art by Bill Ely
(reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected #4, August 1956)
"Wheel of Fate!"
Art by Carmine Infantino and Frank Giacoia
(reprinted from Sensation Comics #108, April 1952)
"The Fireworks Man!"
Story by Russell Carley and Michael Fleisher
Art by Gerry Talaoc
Peter: Scott Caswell just wants to protect his gorgeous wife, Martha, from the vampire who's been terrorizing the city. Little does Scott know that Martha's already fallen under the bloodsucker's spell and the two of them plan to off the caring husband. Carswell buys the necessary tools to rid the world of evil but, upon arriving home one night, he must reluctantly use them on his dear Martha when she attacks him, fangs bared. Once he's put his wife down, he heads for the vampire's tomb and dispatches the monster. "The Wisdom of Many, the Wit of One" (a really stupid title, by the way) provides yet another classic example of the DC mystery pointless plot device, when the vampire admits that taking Carswell's wife is a means to get to the man's money. What does a vampire need with money? Can't he get just about anything he desires with his teeth? I'm not sure if it was Doug Moench or co-writer Frank Robbins who came up with the bright idea of peppering the captions with proverbs ("Recklessness needs no restraints"-Scotch proverb) but my money's on the Moenchster, who liberally doused most of his Marvel work with such pretensions. I've got one for Doug: "The House of Mystery is like a box of chocolates..." - Peter Enfantino
|"One man's trash is another man's..."|
Well, how could this be anyone's treasure?
Jack: For some reason, Martha is dressed for an evening of B & D. The captions with proverbs are intrusive and the story is dreadful, matched by the art. Why do Scott and Martha live in a "pop-art pad"? Who was using the term "pop-art" in 1975? Frank Robbins, that's who.
Peter: In an apocalyptic future, David Armstrong is "The Rebel" and the bad guys are going to catch him this time. When they do, they transform him into one of them. "The Rebel," despite having some nice Kupperberg/Adams art, is really nothing more than an idea rather than a story. That final panel, of a David who's been freshly operated on, is pretty potent but why not take a few more pages (say, five or six from that opening nonsense?) and give us some back story?
|He's a "Rebel"|
Jack: Even though the story is slight and predictable, being a takeoff on Twilight Zone's "Eye of the Beholder," it's such a pleasure to see any work by Neal Adams that I'll take it.
Peter: Undertaker Caleb Thorne hires the notorious Bonnie and Clyde to stand guard over his newest invention, an indestructible coffin. Unfortunately for Caleb, the machine gun-toting couple decide that this should be "A Coffin for Bonnie and Clyde!" and they always get their way. Here it is, only January, and I'm convinced the Worst Story of the Year contest is already wrapped up. This train wreck smells like a shelved story to me since we haven't seen much of Kanigher nor Sparling in these parts for quite a while and Bonnie and Clyde are strictly Faye and Warren. I'm at a loss as to how anyone in the DC mystery offices, let alone legendary editor Joe Orlando, would okay cutting a check for this disaster.
|Bottom of the barrel|
Jack: A bad story with ugly Sparling art, this looks like one pulled from the files. Why would Thorne need to summon Bonnnie and Clyde to test whether his coffin is bulletproof, and why would he lie in it while they riddle it with bullets in case it was NOT bulletproof?
Peter: Timothy has come up with an amazing formula for designer fireworks that can splash any image across the sky. Partner Carl sees dollar signs and doesn't want to share the wealth with Timothy so he scotches the brakes on the company bus, killing Timothy and several employees. The ghosts of the dead rise and take their revenge on Carl when they strap him to one of the rockets and decorate the sky with the murderer. I love how, after the crash, the ghosts have a discussion about what went wrong with the bus and one of the spirits pipes up, "someone drilled holes in the brake cylinders..." Here I thought that, once you died and became a ghost, you knew everything. "The Fireworks Man" is a decent distraction (with nice Talaoc art) but it plays fast and loose with the ghost mythology. These specters can drive cars and strap folks to rockets!
|When ghosts gab|
Jack: Fleisher and Carley were churning them out at this point, and this is not one of their best. I found the ending predictable which, in a good Fleisher story, is not the case.
A treasury-sized collection of stories reprinted from the first six issues of Ghosts. Three groups of stories are original to this volume.
"A Specter Poured the Potion"
New group one:
Stories by Leo Dorfman
Art by Gerry Talaoc
"The Horrors of Witchcraft"
|"The Horrors of Witchcraft"|
Jack: A sweet-faced little girl uses her magic doll to see to it that anyone in her Irish village who denies her meets a speedy demise. Finally, the villagers use her doll to end her reign of terror.
"The Witch Who Would Not Die"
Jack: A witch protects African natives against government soldiers until the soldiers grab her, toss her in a sack, throw her in the water and riddle her with bullets. Yet her spirit appears to live on.
These three stories take up a total of four pages and all deal with witches who ravage villages. The tales are brief but Talaoc's art is rather splendid.
Peter: Yep, the art is great but why bother? These are mostly just random stream of consciousness-type contributions rather than stories. Why not run these as they were meant to be "enjoyed": as one-page fillers?
"The Dark Goddess of Doom"
|"The Witch Who Would Not Die"|
"Death, the Pale Horseman!"
"The Spectral Coachman!"
"The Crimson Claw!"
New group two:
Stories by Leo Dorfman
Art by E.R. Cruz
"Famous and Infamous Ghosts"
"Screams of the Ghost Queen"
Jack: The ghost of Henry VIII's fifth wife, Katherine Howard, still haunts Hampton Court Palace, running from the guards who drag her to her beheading.
"The Bloody Boots of Houndswood"
Jack: A man tries to spend the night in a haunted bedroom but runs in terror when ghostly boots appear from nowhere and leave bloody footprints.
|"Screams of the Ghost Queen"|
Jack: Whenever the White Lady makes a ghostly appearance, a member of the Hohenzollern family is sure to die in a short time. She also pops up in advance of WWI and Hitler's rise to power.
These four stories occupy a total of five pages and each sketches the comings and goings of a ghost tied to historical events. Like the short pieces with art by Talaoc earlier in this volume, the stories are not much to read but Cruz turns in pretty pictures.
Peter: (Comments continued from Group One) The best thing about these disposable wastes of space is the titles. I get the feeling Murray Boltinoff came up with some lurid title ("The Horrid Haunted Underpants of Wisdom Gulch") by throwing together random adjectives and nouns and then assigned poor Leo to write "stories" around the titles. Murray Boltiinoff: The Roger Corman of Funny Books (now in paperback from Random House).
"The Fanged Spectres of Kinshoro"
"Death Awaits Me"
New group three:
Stories by Leo Dorfman
Art by Frank Redondo
|"The Diabolic Cult of Voodoo"|
"The Priestess of the Damned!"
Jack: Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau has the ability to preserve or take life in 19th century New Orleans.
|"To Raise the Dead"|
Jack: Mexican soldiers in 1968 discover a boatful of Haitian zombies and think they'll make great soldiers.
Three one-pagers with slick art by Nestor Redondo's brother Frank.
Peter: Jack, would you say the victims of Dr. John were in the right place but it must have been the wrong time?
"Ghost Cargo From the Sky"
"Death is My Mother"
|What a dog!|
|Make sure to keep June 29th in your sights!|
That's when the 56th issue of Star Spangled goes on sale!