Monday, July 6, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Fifty-Six: February 1975

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

Nick Cardy

Unexpected 161

"Has Anyone Seen My Killer?"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Lee Elias

"The Haunted Dollhouse"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"The Face in the Ball!"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"The Supernatural Swindler"
Story Uncredited
Art by George Roussos
(reprinted from House of Secrets #11, August 1958)

"Ball of String!"
(reprinted from Unexpected #116)

"Roehmer's Revenge!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by George Roussos
(reprinted from Unexpected #106, May 1968)

"The Queen Who Lived Again!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira
(reprinted from My Greatest Adventure #8, April 1956)
(original title: "The Queen and I")

"The House That Hate Built!"
"Death of the Man Who Never Lived"
(reprinted from Unexpected #117)

"Wake Me Before I Die!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"The Menace of the Wrecker's Reef!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Howard Sherman
(reprinted from My Greatest Adventure #72, October 1962)
(original title: "We Mastered the Menace of the Wrecker's Reef")

"The Day Nobody Died!"
(reprinted from Unexpected #115)

"Mis-Judgment Day"
Story Uncredited
Art by Gerry Talaoc

Jack: Professor Hugh Tinsley has revived the Boynton Beast, which escapes his mansion and sets off on a reign of violence and destruction. The villagers try to track the Beast to kill it, but when everyone realizes that the real Beast lies decaying in its coffin, there is only one conclusion: Prof. Tinsley himself has become a replica of the Beast! Feeling kind of bad about the whole mess, the Prof. unplugs the generator that was supplying his life energy and keels over dead. My favorite moment in this Kashdan travesty is when the villagers are informed that the murderous, rampaging Beast has been revived and has escaped. "We understand, Professor Tinsley, but don't you worry about us!" says a kindly old villager. If only readers of "Has Anyone Seen My Killer?" could be as forgiving.

Peter revives Jack after another
issue of Unexpected

Peter: I'm coming to the conclusion that these 100-page Super-Spectacular DC mystery titles are like a three-CD set of The Bay City Rollers Greatest Hits: sure, if you dig deep enough, you're gonna find something good... maybe. It ain't the first story, let me tell you. George Kashdan's story just sits there, doesn't really do anything and has one of those wrap-ups that makes you seriously wonder if you got the copy without page nine. Jose Cruz and I have been raving about Lee Elias' 1950s work in our Pre-Code study but here it's just sketchy and lifeless.

Jack: Randall buys a dollhouse for his little girl but it turns out to be haunted by homely little folks who stay alive by kidnapping humans and draining their brain-wave energy. They try to zap Randall out in the woods but he kicks a hornet's nest and the bugs do away with the little creeps. Randall makes sure there won't be any more problems with "The Haunted Dollhouse" by setting fire to it. Once again, Kashdan has a few ideas but can't seem to stitch them together into anything resembling a good story.


Peter: This one's got a creepy set-up (and some really nice visuals from Yandoc) but the payoff is really weak. The panel of the little people under attack by wasps is a classic.

One of the panels where it's
not very clear what's going on
Jack: John Benson buys a crystal ball once owned by a warlock. Soon, he sees a horrible face in the ball and after that he sees visions of his business partner and his wife cooking the company's books. He attacks his partner but only manages to injure himself. After he recovers, he destroys the ball but the glass explodes in his face. When the bandages come off, he learns to his horror that "The Face in the Ball" was his own. Jerry's art is so wretched that, in one panel, a character cries: "You don't know what you're doing!" I agreed, because I couldn't figure out what the drawing was supposed to represent.

Peter: Oleck's been much better than this drivel and Grandenetti's at the peak of his awfulness.

Jack: Arthur Kinnison is terrified of falling asleep due to a series of terrible dreams. If only he had asked someone to "Wake Me Before I Die!" He falls asleep and thinks he's having a bad dream, but in the real world his doctor finds him dead in his bed. Three pages and a waste of space at that. The setup is as old as the hills and there's no point to the payoff.

More Grandenetti badness

Peter: Another weak Grandenetti art job illustrating yet another vignette that goes nowhere. I get a dusty whiff of "file stories" from "Wake Me Before I Die!" and "The Face in the Ball!"

Jack: A cult of people wearing robes and hoods rejoices when their savior arrives, not knowing that he's really a phony spiritualist named Simon. He begins to think he really has supernatural powers when he mumbles some magic words and a Satanic beast disappears, but when Doomsday comes the cultists fulfill their prophecy by tossing him off a cliff and saving themselves. "Mis-Judgment Day" is the best story in this terrible issue, but that's not saying much.

Prophecy fulfilled!

Peter: I doubt Michael Fleisher would go uncredited but "Mis-Judgement Day" sure reads like a Fleisher. It's easily the best story this issue, flipping the con-man evangelist cliché on its head and perfectly showcasing Gerry Talaoc's creepy art.

Jack: My favorite reprint this time is "The Queen Who Lived Again!" in which an actress hired to play several historical queens in a movie turns out to know more about them than she possibly could. For once, there is no rational explanation at the end, and Ruben Moreira's art is fine as always.

Peter: Three of the seven reprints are stories we've covered before. For us, that's a double-edged sword: it cuts down the sheer volume of reading and writing we're responsible for but then it narrows an already-emaciated field of material (emaciated quality-wise, that is). "The Supernatural Swindler" is cut from the same cloth (and, believe you me, the DC mystery writers of the 1950s had bolts and bolts of this cloth) as most of the other reprints we've been saddled with lately: some crazy event happens that nothing in science can explain so it must be supernatural only by the end of the story we find out it was actually the police trying to run down that mob of check kiters over in Mopeadope Bay but then... the office typist runs up and explains he had to wait an extra ten minutes for his cheeseburger so he wasn't able to make it in time to project the giant mushroom monster on the mountain so golly gee maybe there really was a giant mushroom monster! "The S. Swindler" is a con artist who sells supposedly magical-powered artifacts to eccentric millionaires and happens upon an alchemist's cauldron that may turn straw to gold. In the climax, the pot really pumps out the gold stuff but the scammer's arrested while trying to explain to the cops that he really didn't smuggle forty pounds of gold over the border. "Wrecker's Reef" is mindless fun as well but don't read too many of these in rapid succession as the repetitious nature of their plot lines and reveals may provoke a yawn or two.

"The Menace of the Wrecker's Reef!"

Jack: Wait, there wasn't really a giant mushroom monster?

Luis Dominguez
The House of Secrets 128

"No Way to Run a Railroad!"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Leopoldo Duranona

Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alex Nino

"Somebody's Listening"
Story by John Albano
Art by Joe Orlando and Bill Draut

Peter: Obadiah Haskin has got a major jones for railroads. Having retired after years of service on the Simsonhaven-to-Centerville line, Obadiah finds it a bit hard to let go of the life and has built a scale model version of the line in his home. One day, a hobo named Frank knocks on the door looking for food and, when the man turns out to be learned in the ways of railroading (having freight hopped for years), a quick friendship is struck and Frank is invited to live with Obadiah and keep the railroad running clean. A local toy shop owner gets wind of the paradise in Haskin's house and offers to buy the set up for a cool hundred thousand but Obadiah rebuffs him. Frank smells instant fortune and bashes Obadiah over the head but before he can claim his prize, the little men of the Simonshaven-to-Centerville railroad use all the small equipment available to them and avenge their maker. The revenge act of "No Way to Run a Railroad!" is a bit rushed but this is still an entertaining story and that final panel is vintage Fleisher via Leopoldo Duranona. There are a couple chuckles here, though: what train-hopping hobo is going to get to know the mechanical workings of the engine ("Have you checked your drive-shaft azimuth adjustment?" Frank says to an astonished Obadiah) and what toy shop owner is going to have 100K lying around to spend on a model train setup?

"No Way to Run a Railroad!"
Jack: I loved it! What a relief after that awful issue of Unexpected. Only in a Fleisher story would someone's first thought be to kill someone else rather than try and talk them into something. Fleisher has used little toys/dolls/creatures before, hasn't he? There's something extra creepy about miniatures fighting back. Duranona's art isn't that great, so I can't put this in my top ten of 1975 just yet, but it's a possible dark horse. The artist is from Argentina, so he's not one of the Filipino group, and his website shows some beautiful paintings.

Peter: Ronken has invited Carter to view his private museum of freaks and then offers Carter a one-million dollar contract if the man will bequeath Ronken his corpse upon death. Carter is puzzled until Ronken reminds him that he was in a deadly land-mine explosion in Viet Nam and that his face has melted away. Yep, that's it. On the surface, just a silly fragment, but when you step back you realize just how offensive "Freak-Out" is. Carter has become disfigured by war and that, according to writer extraordinaire George Kashdan, makes him a freak. Pity poor Alex Nino who, regardless of the rotten script, came to work prepared.


Jack: I was loving the Nino art but you're right, the conclusion is offensive. Mentions of the Vietnam War in DC horror comics are few and far between, but I can't recall another one that felt this wrong.

Peter: Jerry Johnson's son lies dying of a rare blood disease and if he doesn't get a transfusion of his equally rare blood type in the next few hours, it's curtains for the kid. Just as the doctor is about to leave, a hobo (not the same one who rode the railroads, mind you, this one's named Sketchman) wanders onto the Johnson estate and overhears the need for Type AB blood. Coincidentally, that's just what the derelict has flowing through his veins. The doctor informs Jerry that the boy will be all right and that prayer will help the family in this time of need. Being an atheist, Johnson scoffs at the idea of praying to a God he doesn't believe in, even if it means saving the life of his son. The next day, Jerry's wife begs him to accompany her to church but the man is having none of that and stays outside the building. The local newspaperman approaches and informs Jerry that he'd been doing some checking on Sketchman and discovered that the man had died a century before. Jerry laughs until the reporter shows him a picture he took of Sketchman, the doctor, and Jerry's wife the day before. The picture shows only Sketchman's clothing. That's enough to send Jerry into church and onto his knees. "Somebody's Listening!" is a bit of ridiculous preaching that, again, plays games with the rules of ghostliness. How does a specter give blood? Why are Sketchman's clothes photogenic? I believe this is the first we've seen of Joe Orlando's art in quite a while and Bill Draut is doing Joe no favors. Only in a couple of panels do we get flashes of the Orlando we once knew.

"Somebody's Listening"

Jack: A story that deals with some serious issues for a change is welcome, as is any new art by the great Joe Orlando. I liked this quite a bit.

Peter: Well, then let me be the first to say "You're just wrong, Jack!"

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 51

"The Phantom Theater"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"The Devil's Lottery"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Rico Rival

"Have a Good Die"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Fred Carrillo

Peter: Two killers duck into a movie theater and find themselves on trial for their crimes. Is it all in their imagination or are the vile creatures who sit on the jury for real? When they are rescued by a group of firemen, the only evidence that they'd been in a nightmarish predicament is their new snow-white manes. Oh my, Carl Wessler strikes again! How many times have we seen a variant of this idea in these titles (and how many more times will we see it again?). What's amazing to me is that the two dolts look fine when they exit "The Phantom Theater" but a page later, after they've been interrogated by police, they turn to face us and they've gone old. Was the twist not properly noted in the script or is this just something we don't need to ponder?

"The Phantom Theater"

Jack: You're right--although Yandoc tries to draw the men in shadows in order to set up the final panel, the colorist may have blown it by coloring their hair red and black in every panel but the last. Still, I enjoyed this story, perhaps because it actually has a plot. I was also intrigued by the theater, since I love old movie theaters.

Our sentiments exactly!
Peter: In an effort to drum up business, Satan decides to run a lottery, offering the proceeds to the last surviving child. Several people sign up and the obligatory bad apples turn up in the bunch (of course, entering "The Devil's Lottery" isn't exactly for church-goers, is it?). Racketeer Duke Slattery informs his son that he intends for the boy to be sole survivor and that he should carry on his old man's nasty ways. Slattery Jr. begins bumping off all the other sons and daughters until only two stand: Wallace Medgar and Madge Carter, who have married and lead a clean life, helping their fellow man and running a medical mission in Africa. Slattery travels all the way to Africa to kill the couple but gets a nasty surprise, via a poison dart, when he gets there. The couple smile and agree that the money will come in handy for the new hospital they hope to build. So, since Satan claims that the money will only go to the last surviving heir, why does Medgar receive Satan's dough while his wife remains alive? I'm a tad confused. I love Rico Rival's work but here it looks rushed and sloppy.

Jack: This story led me to do a little quick online research and discover that a Tontine is not only a real thing, but it has been used repeatedly in fiction, even turning up in an episode of The Wild Wild West! The comic story is a tad more graphically violent than we're used to and I thought it really worked well until the end, which has the major flaw you identified.

Peter: Jim Chalmers is attempting to murder his wife, Mamie, but every plan seems doomed to failure. All the while, without his knowledge, Jim is being tailed by a dark, mysterious man in a trench coat. Finally, thinking he's concocted the foolproof plan, Jim heads home, only to be met by his wife at the door. She shoots him, explaining she's met another man and that Jim would never let her go (irony, oh thy sting is so sweet!). Just then, the dark, mysterious man in the trench coat walks up and introduces himself: he's a detective who's been following Jim, suspecting the man was up to foul play. He arrests Mamie and books her for Murder One! The more you think about "Have a Good Die," the more stupid it becomes. The opening panel shows Jim throwing himself out of the driver's seat, hoping the car carrying Mamie will crash. When she simply tuns off the ignition before it crashes and exits the car, she shows no sign of suspicion! Say what? This tall, dark, and handsome detective that's sure Jim is up to no good; how did he come to this conclusion when we have no proof that Mamie has ever gone to the cops for help? He tells Mamie that he suspected her husband was trying to off her but what he neglects to tell the woman is that he was present at every attempt (and we've got the panels to prove it!) but, inexplicably, didn't haul Jim's ass down to the precinct. Not a good month for The Witching Hour.

Subtlety does not come easily to Jim

Jack: I was impressed with Mamie's speed in the car scene. In the panel reproduced here, she is in the passenger seat with the car speeding toward a tree only a few feet away. In the next panel, she's behind the wheel. In the third panel, she walks away from the car calmly, having turned off the ignition. The car stopped on a dime, never hitting the tree, and she was fine. Now that's a woman who can handle adversity! As is often the case with a Wessler script, the ending makes little sense, but I liked this issue better than you did and thought it was leagues beyond this month's Unexpected.

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 35

"Feud with a Phantom"
Story Uncredited
Art by Alex Nino

"The Ghost Who Possessed Lisa!"
Story Uncredited
Art by John Calnan

"The Demon's Inn"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"The Spite of the Specter"
Story Uncredited
Art by Frank Redondo

Jack: In 1891, Captain Dolan pilots a schooner toward America with a large number of illegal Chinese immigrants, each of whom paid $500 for passage to the U.S. He keeps them shackled together with leg irons and treats them cruelly, but when his first mate, Gantry, begs him to show mercy on the passengers, Dolan shoots Gantry and has his body thrown overboard. Soon enough, Dolan has a "Feud With a Phantom" when Gantry's ghost vows revenge. He pilots the ship into U.S. waters, where Dolan's crimes will come to light. Dolan orders the Chinese thrown overboard but is himself pulled down to a watery grave by a chain wrapped round his legs. Well done from start to finish but Nino's art isn't as stunning as we often see.

"Feud With a

Peter: Here's one with a nasty streak, a grit we don't usually find  in a title like Ghosts. Nino's exquisitely delineated art has loads to do with the darkness of "Feud with a Phantom" (which will surely land on my Top Ten list this year) but I'll bet you five mint copies of Doorway to Nightmare #1 that Oleck or Fleisher wrote this one. It's way too grim for the likes of Dorfman or Boltinoff.

Jack: Italy, 1939, and pretty peasant girl Lisa Marico suddenly transforms into Cesare Viraldi, an old man who was murdered two years before. He heads to the nearby village of Siano, where he identifies his killers and points out the location of his corpse. "The Ghost Who Possessed Lisa!" then disappears and Lisa has no memory of what happened to her. Lucky Lisa. I wish I had no memory of this one. And Peter, you who doubted that the first story was penned by Dorfman, I'll bet you have no doubts about this one.

Be afraid--be very afraid.

Peter: Oh, no doubt at all on this one, Jack. I think poor Lisa Marico said it best, "You mean, I turned into an old man? But that's ridiculous! It's some kind of joke!" Unfortunately, the maestro, John Calnan, never heard the old saying "In for a penny, in for a pound." Oh, Lisa/Cesare has a dress on and his legs are obviously still Lisa's but there are no headlights. That would have bumped my score up a half-star. Anyone have an idea why Cesare would opt for a female host in the first place?

Jack: If you had booked a room at ""The Demon's Inn" in early 1963, you might have encountered a ghost who tried to smother you with a pillow. When one guest fought back, it started a fire that burned the haunted place to the ground. Even Ruben Yandoc can't save this three-pager.

How to defeat a ghost!
Peter: A haunted pillow? I don't believe in ghosts but I do believe Ghosts was running out of ideas somewhere around the beginning of 1975.

Jack: It's 1945, and at the end of WWII there are just one American soldier and one Japanese soldier left on a Pacific island. The American proposes a truce, but the Japanese knifes him in the chest. realizing that the death of his enemy will leave him lonely, the Japanese tries to save him, but infection claims the American's life. The Japanese must then face "The Spite of the Specter," which eventually drives him to his death in quicksand. Above-average art by Frank Redondo lifts this slightly dull tale above the level of the two before it but, for the most part, this is a run of the mill issue of Ghosts.

"The Spite of the Specter"

Peter: With all the peacenik talk that came out of Norman's mouth before his Japanese counterpart buried a dagger in his chest, you'd think he might have been a forgiving ghost. Nah, but that makes for a better story than "Peace From Beyond the Grave." With the exception of John Calnan, this issue was stocked full of fine art. And about that cover; nice babe but who brings a cat (especially one with such long legs) on board a boat?

Jack: I love how Nick Cardy took the first story and replaced the captain and his first mate with a redhead in a bikini. The guy knew how to sell comics.

We've got a heck of a TNT line-up for you
in the 57th issue of Star Spangled DC War Stories
On Sale July 13th!

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