Monday, August 3, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Fifty-Eight: April 1975

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

Luis Dominguez
Unexpected 163

"Room for Dying!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Dick Dillin and Vince Colletta

"Break In"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Fred Carrillo

"It Takes a Ghost to Scare a Ghost"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Jack: Edmond is engaged to Katie but, when her wealthy father Jeremy Cathcart catches Edmond in the act of trying to rob him, he proposes a deal: Edmond will stay locked in a tower for ten years and Cathcart will give him a million bucks per year for as long as he lasts. After some initial jitters, Edmond settles in for the long haul, not even leaving the room when his fiance dies.

"As he strode
boldly toward me
across the windswept
moor, I suddenly
knew I could love
no other."
He begins to study the books in the room and, when the ten years are up, informs Cathcart that he doesn't want the money and prefers to remain with his books. Cathcart goes mad and Edmond keeps on reading. Not a bad little story, especially for those of us who might not mind being locked in a room full of books. Oddly, Edmond develops into a romance-novel cover model after ten years in the tower. I predict Peter will complain about Dick Dillin's art for the umpteenth time.

Peter: Interesting that the typical hero/villain roles are reversed by the story's climax. That, however is where my interest ends with this badly-illustrated yawn-inducer. Why is it that Edmonds actually looks younger as the years roll on?

Jack: Caught in the prison laundry when he's not supposed to be there, Clem Marney makes a run for it but is caught and taken before the warden. He claims to have broken into prison for three squares and a bed but is tossed out on his ear. Soon, the warden discovers that Marney really was a prisoner who came up with a clever ruse to leave the jailhouse. He's picked up riding the rails and tossed back in the pokey. Carrillo's smooth lines are wasted on this three-pager that goes nowhere.

Peter: Well, that was short but dumb. And, Unexpected for a funny book that specializes in spooky stuff, the second yarn in a row that contains no supernatural elements.

"Break In"
Jack: On a rocky cliff in a thunderstorm, rich Mr. Welles threatens hired killer Mr. Fletcher at gunpoint until a sudden bolt of lighting sends Fletcher tumbling over the side. Welles is certain that Fletcher is dead but Fletcher survived when he was caught in a tree. Fletcher returns home to his girlfriend Paula and cooks up a scheme to haunt Welles into giving him loads of cash.

Showing up at Chez Welles in a skeleton suit, Fletcher scares the rich man into telling him where his loot is hidden. The next night, Welles and Fletcher meet at an abandoned mine. Fletcher shoots Welles but discovers that Welles died when the lighting bolt hit him on the edge of the cliff. He is now a ghost and takes his revenge on Fletcher. The only one left alive is Paula, who gets to keep all the money. This story is as confusing as any other one by George Kashdan, but Yandoc's art at least makes it pleasant to page through.

Peter: I liked this one quite a bit even though it doesn't make a lick of sense (and is downright confusing in spots). Like the abysmal "Room for Dying," the good guy/bad guy lines are very much blurred. Coincidence that Welles is a dead ringer (pun intended) for The Phantom Stranger? Now that Alfredo Alcala has all but flown the coop (with only a couple more credits to come), Ruben Yandoc ascends to Best DC Mystery Artist in my opinion. A rare thumbs-up for a Kashdan script.

Jack: I prefer Gerry Talaoc and Alex Nino (and Ramona Fradon) to Rubeny myself.

Luis Dominguez
The House of Mystery 230

"The Doomsday Yarn"
Story by Mike Fleisher
Art by Ramona Fradon

"Experiment in Fear"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by E. R. Cruz

Peter: Addicted gambler Bart Galen finds himself penniless in Bombay but a chance encounter with an old man in an alley turns his luck around. Bart witnesses the man weaving a tapestry for a starving woman and her son. When the work is done, the food within the illustration is real and the woman is no longer hungry. Knowing a good thing when he sees it, Bart tries to get the old man to weave him a tapestry of riches but the weaver warns that the magic yarn only works for good. Galen strangles the old man and makes off to America with the magical thread. There he learns how to craft a tapestry himself (in record time) and creates a vision of what he's always wanted: victory at the roulette table. All goes well with his plan (he wins millions) until the crooked casino owners come around to get their money back. While Bart takes them to the bank to withdraw the cash, his cat has a fine old time with the tapestry and very soon, Bart Galen is reduced to yarn in the street.

While it's got some holes in its canvas (the likenesses of the woman and her son in the rug that was woven for them seem to disappear once the fruit materializes), this is a fun "yarn" (pun very much intended--and stolen from Cain!) with Ramona Fradon's goofy, cartoony illos perfect for the proceedings; the panel of the old man's strangling is almost comical, as if Bugs Bunny were doing the throttling. Very reminiscent of the classic EC tale, "This Trick'll Kill You" (magician in India comes upon an old man and his magic--adapted for the Amicus Vault of Horror film), "The Doomsday Yarn" features a classic fade-out. If you're familiar with the DC mystery stories, you don't need a splash writer credit to know whose quill this one belongs to.

Jack: Loved it from start to finish! If this is what Fleisher was capable of on his own and without a story idea by Russell Carley, then bring it on! Great use of Cain to frame the story, too.

Peter: Aliens hoping to enslave Earth beam John Cooper aboard their starship and begin an "Experiment in Fear" by subjecting the man to all sorts of torture. Astonishingly, to the aliens, John not only doesn't crack but he kills the majority of his captors. Admitting defeat, the space beings return John Cooper to the spot they found him in, a cemetery, and John climbs back into his coffin before dawn turns him to ashes. Clever twist, thanks to DC's answer to O. Henry, and one I had no idea was coming. I thought for sure, dopey as it might be, that Oleck would reveal that Cooper was blind the whole time but, nope, Jack goes down a better paved road.

Jack: Hisssssss--that's the sound of the air going out of this story in the last panel. It was quite engaging up to the end, and I was wondering what the guy's secret was. Was he blind? Insane? What? But I never thought he'd be a vampire, or a zombie, or a ghoul . . . who knows what he is or why he acts as he does? This is a perfect time for me to make a confession. Awhile back, I wrote that I thought that Jack Oleck was the best overall DC horror writer, based on the number and quality of his stories. With this issue, we have a good comparison between Oleck and Fleisher, and Fleisher wins hands down. He's the best of the DC horror bunch, and since we have about a year and a half to go in our journey, I don't think he'll be surpassed.

Ernie Chan
The House of Secrets 130

"Winner Take All"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Quico Redondo

"All Dolled Up"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Peter: Gambler Paul Wayland will cheat and murder in order to amass enough dough to buy his own ship. When the police catch up to Paul and he takes a long dive off a short pier, he's fished out by the gorgeous Sabrina Price, a woman who happens to own a swanky casino by the name of The House of Cards. Wayland worms his way into Sabrina's heart, twirling her around his finger and leeching off her fortune in an effort to hit that big payday. When Sabrina cuts off his funds, Paul hits the roof and tries to strangle her. Blinded by love, the woman sets up a big stakes game for Wayland but, too late, Paul discovers that the deck is stacked against him. His opponent is death. Turns out Paul was killed when he went into the drink and, for cheating death at poker, he'll now spend eternity aboard The Flying Dutchman.

Jack Oleck teaches us the new Hoyle rules
Oh, please don't tell me Jack Oleck really thought it would be a fabulous twist to reveal that Paul Wayland was actually dead the whole time.Why drag out to ten pages what we figured out on page 3? Quico's work on "Winner Take All" is about as blah as the Filipino artists got. with no defined style or imagination. I had to laugh when Paul produced four aces in a poker match only to lose when his opponent showed a royal flush! Five aces in one deck? That truly is a mystery.

Jack: What if they're using more than one deck? According to Google, a royal flush beat four aces in the 2008 World Series of Poker. This is an okay story with okay art, but hasn't the Flying Dutchman ending been done to death?

Peter: Poor little Candy is terrorized by her sadistic stepmother, Ann, until her unknowing daddy brings home a new dolly for his girl. The new toy has magical powers, it seems, since any trauma that befalls the doll impacts Ann as well. Her husband accidentally steps on the toy's head and his wife gets a headache, Candy plays with the doll in the tub and Ann can't breathe, and so on. Only wanting to make her stepmother happy and proud, Candy decides to get rid of the doll by using its parts in an art project and entering it into a contest. The results are predictable. What kind of sleazy art competition would award first place to such an obvious compilation of crap? And why is this underage girl exposing her bloomers to anyone in eyesight (including us)?  I would venture a guess that David Michelinie had read Robert Bloch's "Sweets to the Sweet" prior to writing "All Dolled Up."

Jack: Peter! This story was a riot! I love that she decided to cut up her doll to make an art project. It's too bad we didn't get to see Mom in a similar pose. Jack Davis would have had a field day with this!

Ernie Chan
Weird Mystery Tales 17

"Magic By Moonlight Only..."
Story by Paul Levitz
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"Satan's Revenge"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by E. R.Cruz

"The Hanging Man"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Peter: Jerry Eisen runs a pharmacy but most of his clientele come to the store for the magical potions he cooks up on the side. Evidently, word gets out to the wrong people and Jason Salem from the Board of Examiners comes to inspect the workplace. After the initial inspection, Salem announces that the store is not in proper condition and that he'll be notifying his superiors if things are not changed by the following day. When Salem arrives for his second inspection, Jerry conjures up a giant spider via one of his magical potions but the older man just smirks and whips up a conjure of his own, transforming Jerry into a small lizard. When two girls come into the shop looking for a love potion, Salem has them wait while he whips one up for them, with Jerry as one of the ingredients.

"Magic by Moonlight Only..." is pretty silly but it's also a pretty funny change of pace, with very nice Yandoc visuals. Writer Paul Levitz is a fascinating example of the fan made good, having begun life as the editor and publisher of the indispensable The Comic Reader (I could not live without TCR, the Variety of the Comic Book Biz, when I was a Marvel Zombie in the mid-70s), then later writer, editor and, finally, President and Publisher of DC Comics! With all that on his resume, I think his greatest achievement was the book he put together for Taschen, 75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking. Weighing in at 17 pounds, this is more like a coffee table than a coffee table book.

Jack: I'm with you on my admiration for Paul Levitz and my youthful dependence on The Comic Reader, but we part ways when it comes to this story, which seems long at five pages. Aragones could have polished it off in one or two at the most and it would have been funnier.

Peter: On the way to his next score, hitman Johnny Croker busts into a house filled with devil worshippers and steals one of their golden idols. As insurance, Johnny kidnaps one of the sect members as well but quickly disposes of him. Before being tossed out the car door, the man curses Croker with "Satan's Revenge." The car Croker is driving sails off the cliff and the hit man is burned alive. Or so he thinks. He wakes up in the hospital and the doctor explains that, despite what his patient might think, Johnny is unharmed and ready to be discharged. After his next hit, Johnny's car loses control and he's drowned. Or so he thinks. The vicious circle continues until, finally, Johnny Croker decides to question his surgeon (always the same guy) and discovers the doc has horns and a pitchfork. Another really bad, cliched horror story from Bob Kanigher. Bob must have gone to the newsstand once every three or four months, read all the "bargain with Satan" and "doomed expedition" stories his brain could handle, and then decided he could write this crap too. Problem is, all Bob was doing was re-writing the same old crap.

Jack: You said it. At this point in our DC Horror journey, the name Bob Kanigher on page one of a story is not a good omen. This story started out dumb and went downhill from there. Cruz's art is really nice, though--too bad it's wasted, especially some of his rather gruesome depictions of death.

Peter: When he visits a fortune teller, daredevil extraordinaire Wild Man Korby is told he'll die by hanging. Rather than let the prediction depress him, Korby escalates his stunts, knowing he can only die if he becomes "The Hanging Man." Offered five million for the riskiest stunt ever, Korby jumps at the payday and is cannonballed over Devil's Canyon, where his parachute snags in a tree and he is hanged. There's not much here aside from a gimmick (and that twist riffs off an old Atlas horror story where a man is told by a fortune teller he will die in a fall and, so, avoids any contact with the outside world but gets it in the end when a chandelier falls on him--get it? he died in a "fall") and the usual sharp Yandoc graphics.

Jack: I know we've read this story a few (dozen) times before. When the fortune teller on page one tells him he'll die by hanging, we know that by the end he'll UNEXPECTEDLY die by hanging. Another Bob Kanigher story, another dud. Things are not looking good for Weird Mystery Tales.

Peter: The letters page informs us that, as of this issue, Weird Mystery Tales joins the other five DC mystery titles in monthly status. With a seventh title debuting one month later, this was the peak of the DC Mystery Line but the green grass and high tides wouldn't last forever and the wheels would start to fall off within a year.

Nestor Redondo
The Witching Hour 53

"What Gruesome Grave Awaits Me?"
Story by George Kashdan
Art Uncredited

"Jeanette by Candlefright"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ernesto Patricio

"It Takes a Witch"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by E. R. Cruz

Jack: Edmonds has a strange hobby--he likes to visit strange cemeteries across the globe. If he ever wonders "What Gruesome Grave Awaits Me?" he is sure to find out when he comes upon Blore, the caretaker of his latest destination. The man carves gruesome headstones for each plot that depict the manner of the corpse's death. The weird old man shows Edmonds a carving of Edmonds being crushed to death by a stone and Edmonds hurries off but is soon dodging large, falling objects left and right. Returning to Blore's shack, the old man tries to crush him with a giant stone but instead drops it on himself and, with his dying breath, admits to Edmonds that the final carving depicted the carver and not the visitor. Terrible story, but who drew it? I do not recognize the artist, who may have left his name off in shame.

The "trick" was to
get our quarter!

Peter: George Kashdan's habit of cobbling together bits and pieces and then climaxing it with something a/ befuddling; b/ daft; or c/ all of the above continues with "What Gruesome Grave." I'll leave it to DC horror bullpen expert Jack to guess who contributed to the ugly artwork.

Jack: When Marianne says no to her boyfriend Claude's marriage proposal, she never expects him to turn his sights to rich Jeanette, whom he woos with ardor. Marianne becomes wild with jealousy and soon Claude sees "Jeanette By Candlefright," as weird events occur on their dates. Claude has a vision of Jeanette as an old hag and races back to Marianne, who agrees to marry him on the spot. On their wedding night, she surprises him by revealing that she's an ugly, old witch and he tops that by revealing that he's an ugly, old warlock. Here we go again with Carl Wessler's views on the relationship between the sexes! We've seen this twist before and it's telegraphed early on. The art is pretty bad, too--Patricio manages to make Cynthia look awful!

Peter: As with a lot of Wessler scripts, "Jeanette" will make you scratch your noggin and contemplate re-reading the dang thing just to see if you missed something. Fight that urge. You missed nothing. It really does make no sense. I'd bet my mint copy of Kamandi #1 that Bob Kanigher came in to help out with dialogue such as "Claude was about to flip his cookies."

Jack: In a tiny village near Salem, witches run rampant, but old Samuel Alden identifies pretty, young Prudence Miles as the culprit and the villagers head to her house. Her Pop holds off the crowd with a rifle and shoots old Samuel in the foot, but when they pull off his boot to let the doctor take a look, they find a cloven hoof! Apparently, "It Takes a Witch" to know a witch, and old Samuel was the guilty party. At least this story makes sense and is only four pages long. Cruz's art is excellent and it's easily the best thing in this dreadful issue.

He should have worn socks!

Peter: Oh boy. How many more issues of The Witching Hour have I got to read? E. R. Cruz must have been one of the nicest guys in the business not to throw these scripts back in Boltinoff's face.

Luis Dominguez
Ghosts 37

"Tomb of Fire"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Fred Carrillo

"Specter of Silver Cliffs"
Story Uncredited
Art by Alex Nino

"Fear on Ice"
Story Uncredited
Art by John Calnan

Jack: At a Canadian logging camp in 1968, Pierre murders Jock rather than pay off his gambling debt. Jack is tossed into the river with the trees heading for the mill. That fall, Pierre settles in at a new site only to find that Jock's ghost inhabits a knot on a piece of timber, one that sets fire to the cabin and kills only Pierre. "Tomb of Fire" is an example of the stories with a shortened page count that we're seeing in this, the first month without 100-pagers; it means that we're getting three stories of somewhat abbreviated length. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

A knotty problem

Peter: Reminds me of the night Barbara Walters asked Katharine Hepburn what kind of tree she would be if she was reincarnated. Knot this kind, I assure you.

Jack: Scavenging in a ghost town out west, Jesse and Fred find themselves trapped by a collapse in a mine until the "Specters of Silver Cliffs" silently lead them to safety. Shadowy figures and expressions of terror once again show why Alex Nino is the most consistently fine artist in the DC horror books at this point.

Peter: This one works up a palpable sense of terror and claustrophobia but the reveal might have been more of a surprise had it not been given away on the splash.

Jack: In 1903, Beresford leaves Pritchett behind to die after they discover a new Arctic island. Back home, Beresford tries to take sole credit for the discovery but runs up against the old seven-year rule and is told that he must produce Pritchett's body or wait seven years before he is pronounced dead. Beresford heads back to the Frozen North, where all he finds is Pritchett's vengeful ghost and a chilly reception involving "Fear On Ice." The best I can say about this month's Ghosts is that it's better than this month's Witching Hour.

Peter: Beresford left this poor guy to die so he could claim a chunk of ice? My favorite sequence would have to be when the ghost breaks away from the ice and we get sound effects: CRRR-R-R-RACK SPLAT-T-T RR-R-R-R-RUMMBLLL-L-L (no E).

A surprise awaits the hungry Nazis in our next
thrilling episode of Star Spangled DC War Stories!

On Sale August 10th!

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