Monday, August 17, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Fifty-Nine: May 1975

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

Luis Dominguez
Ghosts 38

"Specter in the Surf"
Story Uncredited
Art by E. R. Cruz

"The Midnight Ghost"
Story Uncredited
Art by John Calnan and Tex Blaisdell

"The Death-Demon of Prague"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jose Delbo

Jack: Lisa waits on a Honolulu beach while her boyfriend Greg takes a surfing lesson from expert wave rider Jim. No one pays attention to the ghostly "Specter in the Surf," but when a storm comes up and Jim tries to ride it out on his board, he ends up dead atop Devil's Peak. Yep, that's it. Lots of images of the Grim Reaper in the big waves, though the narrator tells us it was supposed to be a helpful warning rather than a harbinger of doom.

Peter: Though it's very much like a Discovery Channel special on surfing and the dialogue is pretty ripe ("I got really tubed!"), I thought this was a cut above the usual Ghosts fare. E. R. Cruz's art doesn't hurt, of course.

Jack: In the middle of the Civil War, Blackburn discovers a group of slaves hiding at a stop on the Underground Railroad and tips off their owner in hopes of a reward. He races back to the house where the slaves are hiding and climbs a tree to watch them get captured, but when he ventures out too far on an unsafe limb he falls and is killed when his neck is caught in the crook of another limb. He makes a timely appearance as "The Midnight Ghost," frightening off the slaveowner and letting the captives escape. Not a good use of four pages, though Blaisell's inks make Calnan's pencils more palatable than usual.

Peter: I'm a little confused--did Blackburn seek redemption for his sins once he made it to the "other side" or did Uncredited simply type a few pages out and forget about it?

Jack: Near the end of WWII in Europe, the Nazis occupying Prague plan to ship all of their enemies off to the death camps, so the Golem is resurrected to hold off the Nazis until the Russian Army arrives. "The Death-Demon of Prague" is a strange name for a story about the Golem, and this story is predictable. I have a little Golem figure from Prague on my dresser.

Peter: Funny that "Death-Demon" arrived on the heels of the cancellation of Marvel's "Golem" series (Strange Tales #174-177, June-Dec 1974), not that Marvel owned any rights to the character. It's not a bad little story but Jose Delbo has a definite problem with size ratio. His Golem goes from standing a bit taller than a man to tearing apart tanks with his bare hands.

Luis Dominguez
The House of Secrets 131

"The Island of Crawling Flesh!"
Story by Michael Fleisher
Art by Arthur Suydam

"The Girl in the Red Dress!"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Point of No Return"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alex Nino

Peter: Dr. Karl Lorenth travels half-way across the world (with his wife, Edith) to "The Island of Crawling Flesh!" to study the inhabitants, a tribe of people saddled with a mysterious disease that causes the flesh to fall from its victim. When Lorenth gets to the village, he becomes so obsessed with the disease that he begins experimenting on the villagers. After several tests, Lorenth becomes convinced that the virus is spread by mosquitoes but keeps quiet so that the he can study the progress of the disease as it spreads. A boat arrives and Edith races to meet it. On board is Dr. Brangley, a scientist who has been studying the same disease on another island, who brings bad news to the Lorenths: the disease is not spread through the mosquitoes but caused by the lovely fruit on the island, a delicacy that the Lamberths have been dining on regularly. By the time Edith and Brangley make it back to Karl's hut, he's reduced to mush. Edith quickly follows. Brangley decides to keep his knowledge of the disease from the villagers so that he can study its progress.

The interesting artwork of Arthur Suydam!

Love him or hate him (and, judging by the rants recently on the internet, it's mostly the latter), Arthur Suydam never turns in a job like any of his peers. It's been a while since we welcomed Suydam into our treehouse of DC horror, but he seems to have tamed his wild pencil at least a tad, no? Gone are the wild, grotesquely exaggerated figures, replaced by a different, but equally stylized, method of storytelling. Vintage Michael Fleisher with an engaging script and a nice, double-twist climax. The memorable title is worthy of the bottom of a Christopher Lee-Peter Cushing double bill. This one will chart high on the Year End list.

Jack: The infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment was leaked to the press in 1972, so I assume Fleisher was thinking of that when he set this story on the remote island of "Tus-Kee-Gee," where black folks are subject to the ravages of disease in the interest of science by unscrupulous researchers. I love Suydam's art, at least what we've seen of it so far, and I think he's at the top of the heap among the artists we're seeing in DC horror in 1975.

At least one of us would also be killed.
Peter: A murderer keeps having a nightmare about "The Girl in the Red Dress," a lovely vision who tells the bedraggled man she'll avenge his murder of Arthur Curry. The dream is driving him to distraction and he goes out for a walk. There he's run over by a delivery van in front of a billboard featuring "The Girl in the Red Dress." I love the stories where Joe Orlando has to interject via Abel to explain that he really doesn't understand what's going on either! Steve Skeates was so much better than this awful fragment.

Jack: Where in the world do they have big signs with scantily-dressed beauties warning pedestrians to "use caution when crossing streets"? This is what is called in the legal world an "attractive nuisance."

Peter: Frank Mason's been warned to stay away from Betty Ann by her father and brother time and again but when brother Walt beats Mason in the street, Mason is pushed to the "Point of No Return." Frank heads out to the swamp and visits--you guessed it--the local witch, who tells the vengeance-crazed man that if he does evil she'll do business with him. Mason finds Betty Ann's dad out in the swamp checking his  traps and guts the old man. Though Walt and the whole town know Frank is responsible, they can prove nothing. Later, Frank heads back out to the witch's shack, where she gives him a voodoo doll of Walt and Mason begins his reign of terror. Closing in for the kill on a helpless Walt, Frank Mason falls into quicksand and the terror ends. For once, I'd have been grateful to Abel if he'd have popped up at the end with one of his obligatory "Here's what happened, kiddies" explanations. Why did Walt magically heal once Mason was sucked under? And why couldn't Jack Oleck have written a giant winged demon into the script once he found out Alex Nino was the scheduled artist? And just how many witches live in the swamps on the outskirts of the DC Mystery Universe?

Jack: It's not often that I wish one of these stories was longer than it is, but this seems rushed and Oleck could have taken more time to play it out and clarify a few things. Nino's art is gorgeous and I would have liked a few more pages of it. Too bad this wasn't ten pages long--they could've eliminated the three-page middle story in this issue. With Suydam, Talaoc & Nino, House of Secrets hits a trifecta of my favorites and the art gets a A+!

Bernie Wrightson
The House of Mystery 231

"Way of the Werewolf"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Cold Cold Heart"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ricardo Villamonte

Peter: The Baron has offered a thousand gold pieces for the capture of the werewolf who has been terrorizing the village. Though the peasants have tried, the creature eludes them time and again. Exhausted, the werewolf rests in a barn and transforms back into his human form and the next morning he is discovered by the couple who own the farm, Sandor and Anna. The kindly couple nurse Bartok back to health and throw the authorities off his scent. When he's back to one hundred per cent, Bartok decides he has to kill the old couple to keep them silent. Sandor and Anna have other ideas though as they trap the werewolf and hand him over to The Baron, explaining to Bartok that they are vampires who are seeking sanctuary in the village. The joke's on the two-timing couple though when they turn Bartok over to the men who work for The Baron only to find out that Bartok is The Baron! The vampires are staked. Groan! Proof that, by 1975, all the original plot lines that involved vampires vs. werewolves had been used years before in the pages of Creepy and Eerie. What's the most unclear is why The Baron/Barto would offer up a reward for his own capture. Did he think after the villagers turned him over, his curse would disappear? Jack Oleck proves, with "Way of the Werewolf," that while he could be a great yarn spinner, he could also lounge with the best of them.

Jack: Gerry Talaoc delivers superb art in this tale which, at a rather long 11 pages, managed to keep my interest up to twist number one. Vampires? No! Not again! There are a number of wordless panels that have a nice sense of mystery but Oleck's irony piled upon irony does not match up to the beautiful pictures.

Peter: Andrew Shaw has decided he must be frozen cryogenically and thawed out in the future when mankind discovers the secrets of immortality. Twin brother Philip, despite a "Cold Cold Heart," wants no part of the deep freeze, preferring to blow all his money while he can. Not content with scraps from the table, Andrew murders Philip and takes his place. When it comes time for the freeze, Andrew decides to go through with his brother's popsicle plan after all. When he's thawed out centuries later, it's by an alien race of snake-men looking for extinct species to dissect. The proceedings are quite predictable but the story is saved by a nice twist, beautifully illustrated by newcomer Ricardo Villamonte. Puzzling why Philip would decide to go through with the freeze when all he wanted was the dough.

Jack: Pretty standard until Philip gets frozen, then it veers off into sci-fi territory before that unexpected and terrific ending! I was working up a Walt Disney joke to crack but the words froze in my throat. The ending, with the snake men ready to dissect Philip, recalls so many wonderful pulps of the old days.

Luis Dominguez
Secrets of Haunted House 1

"Dead Heat"
Story by Mike Pellowski and Robert Kanigher
Art by Ernie Chan

"Fish Story"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alex Nino

Peter: Nick and Bud, two ambulance drivers, have a sick game going: they keep score on how many of their customers live and how many die. Right now they're in a "Dead Heat" and awaiting the tie breaker. One night, they are called out to a wreck on a treacherous, twisting road. When they get the crash site, the victims look oddly familiar. It's Nick and Bud! Bob Kanigher takes that annoying habit he popularized in the war titles--running a catch phrase into the ground--and applies it to a horror story with predictable results. The road these two bozos are constantly called out to resembles something out of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, complete with the bouncing ambulance. The climax, with its predictable pay-off, makes no sense whatsoever. Was the dispatcher that sent Nick and Bud out to their own wreck other-worldly?

How did that poster get past the Code?

Jack: You thought the ending was predictable? I thought it was a huge letdown that came out of left field. I was hoping for some sort of interesting revelation regarding the contest but it never happened. This comic came out right before Death Race 2000 in 1975, so there was no influence either way, though I had to wonder as I read if all the references to points came from the movie. Guess not.

Peter: Tom and Anne find a freakish fish-thingie washed up on the lake shore and take it home to nurse it back to health. The couple quickly discover that the fish, now dubbed Triton, has supernatural powers, including the ability to destroy humans with its mind. After the thing kills the mailman, it reveals its plan to its saviors: it intends to destroy all mankind and inherit the Earth. Triton tells Tom to warn mankind that the fish apocalypse is coming and then wades out to sea. Unfortunately for Triton, the salt water kills fresh water creatures. I'm always up for a little Nino with my coffee and Alex does not disappoint. If only "Fish Story" wasn't so rank. It's straight out of the Kirby/Lee Strange Tales Universe.

Jack: Slightly better in story than "Dead Heat" and significantly better in art, "Fish Story" hearkens back to the old H.G. Wells/War of the Worlds twist ending where the unbeatable other is killed by an unexpected aspect of nature. There it was germs, here it's salt water. Nino's efforts are pretty much wasted.

Peter: Why DC felt the time was right for another weird mystery title is anyone's guess but Secrets of Haunted House will at least prove to be a bit more popular than its predecessor, Secrets of Sinister House (publishing 46 issues through March 1982, although there was a hiatus of eighteen months after the fifth issue). SoHH also has one huge advantage over SoSS and that's editor Joe Orlando. The other big question is why Joe was so skimpy with story pages, doling out only 14 this issue (padded by story intros and a page of Aragones silliness. Destiny (last seen in Weird Mystery Tales) is our horror host but he'll be joined by comrades Cain and Abel now and then.

Jack: I'm a sucker for silly frame stories, so I enjoyed this one, written by Steve Skeates and drawn by Ricardo Villamonte, in which Cain and Eve argue while poor Abel totters and then falls off a cliff. Abel always gets the worst of the deal!

Nestor Redondo
Unexpected 164

"House of the Sinister Sands"
Story Uncredited
Art by John Calnan

"The Big Heat!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Frank Redondo

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

Some Kane?
Jack: A sunny day at the beach turns deadly when the "House of Sinister Sands" suddenly appears in the surf. Little Gary and Linda follow their dog Ginger inside, only to find themselves menaced by all manner of giant crabs and clams. Ginger falls in a pool and is transformed into a horrible beastie, but in the end is is the faithful Ginger that saves the children and allows them to escape just before the waves wash the sand castle back out to sea. Putting aside the silliness of the concept, this is a fairly exciting story. The GCD credits the art to John Calnan but it barely looks like his work, perhaps due to heavy inking by an unidentified artist. In some spots, it's almost Gil Kane-ish.

Peter: A really dopey read, "Sinister Sands" has a War That Time Forgot vibe to it. I wouldn't be surprised to find out it was written by Bob Kanigher.

Jack: "The Big Heat!" is on when Sgt. Archer catches Luke Kohl standing over the dead body of Mrs. Archer. The cop swears the killer must burn for what he did, and burn he does when he steps on the third rail of the subway while running away. I think that next time I'll re-watch the Fritz Lang classic instead of reading another story by Mr. Wessler.

Peter: Oh, what Carl Wessler could have done with a few more pages!

Jack: "The Haunted Lighthouse" is only haunted by an old keeper who likes to switch off the light occasionally and cause shipwrecks. He carts the booty off from the latest crash but fails to notice ship's crewman Frick, who survived and who follows the keeper into the lighthouse, where he is promptly caught and chained to the wall among the skeletal remains of other survivors. The young, pretty wife of the keeper frees Frick and is shot and killed for her trouble. Chasing Frick to the top of the lighthouse leads to a fall to the death for the keeper; Frick discovers his hoard of treasure hidden in the beacon when he turns it on. Unexpectedly, the beam of light summons the Coast Guard, who promptly arrest Frick and don't believe a word of his story about a murderous lighthouse keeper. Harmless fun with above-average art by Rubeny, as he likes to sign his work.

Peter: "The Haunted Lighthouse" is deliriously goofy fun and, Unexpectedly, I liked it a whole lot. Each page ramps up the Grand Guignol but I must say that it's hard to imagine that the Coast Guard never got wise to this nut's scheme. And doesn't anyone check a lighthouse now and then? Who cares. A rare ovation for George Kashdan!

Ernie Chan
Weird Mystery Tales 18

"The Return of the Serpent"
Story by Paul Levitz
Art by Leopoldo Duranona

"Hell Hath No Fury"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Peter: When he is informed that his cruise ship, The Realm Eternal, will be transformed into a floating casino, Captain Carstairs summons a demon from the sea to damage a bit of the boat to prevent the change. When the creature gets carried away, Carstairs sacrifices himself to save his ship. I love a good sea monster tale but "Return of the Serpent" is so confusing my head ached after reading it. Yes, that final panel, of the dead sea serpent, is pretty cool but everything that leads up to it (including Duranona's ugly, scratchy art) is a waste of paper.

Jack: We have a strong contender for worst overall story of 1975! The art is terrible and recalls Sam Glanzman's work in spots. The story is worse. The ship's captain just happens to have command of the dark arts and know the few words of mumbo jumbo to summon the sea serpent? Why is the horrible serpent so conversant in English? And how can he destroy a major part of the ship the first time he comes and yet the others on the ship are completely unawares? This is as bad as it gets and Jerry Grandenetti is not even involved. What's next, a horror story by Bob Kanigher?

Peter: Two young girls witness Philip murder his wife at a secluded estate and dump her body in a swimming pool. When they're discovered by the estate guard, they explain what they saw and he takes them to the pool. Philip lounges poolside with... the woman he had murdered, now very much alive! Perplexed, the girls leave, and Philip mentions to his wife how cute the girls are. When he dives into the pool, his wife follows and gives him an extraordinary kiss at the bottom. Drowning, Philip pops the top on the woman and we discover she's a robot. The exposed wires electrocute Philip and the pair sink to the bottom of the pool, alongside Philip's dead wife! That must have been one murky swimming pool for Philip to think he'd get away with hiding his dead wife at the bottom. Even though there's not much logic to "Hell Hath No Fury," I kinda liked it. I can't remember ever saying that about a Kanigher horror story. Yandoc's visuals are delightfully ghoulish and Ernie Chan's cover, though it's a bit misleading ("Return of the Serpent" only had one sea monster), is a classic.

Jack: I don't like the cover and this story is only readable because the one before it was so awful. Why does the robot gal try to drown Philip with a prolonged kiss? Why doesn't she short-circuit as soon as he pops the top of her head off?? And why is it so easy to remove her brain cap? This issue was so bad it could've been The Witching Hour.

Luis Dominguez
The Witching Hour 54

"The Corpse Had a Winning Hand"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"Cassandra's Curse"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by June Lofamia

"Beware of the Snare of the Tarantula"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jess M. Jodloman

Jack: Mort Phelps wins big at poker when playing against a couple of Vegas hotshots, but their gal pal poisons his drink and he ends up as food for desert vultures when he tries to flee with the cash sewn in the lining of his coat. The killers discover to their horror that "The Corpse Held a Winning Hand" when, one by one, they are killed off by Phelps's vengeful skeleton or his cursed coat. Is it just me, or do all of Rubeny's women look alike? Red hair, busty, etc.

Peter: It seems as though I'm cursed to write some variation on "Great art... lousy script" when it comes to a Wessler (or Kashdan)/Yandoc collaboration for the rest of my life as if I'm stuck in some really bad Witching Hour story. Well, at least there's that Yandoc art.

Jack: Somewhere in the Middle East, beautiful Cassandra has men falling at her feet but can't seem to attract handsome Tabor, the one man she desires. A witch's potion has the unexpected effect of making Cassandra ugly, but "Cassandra's Curse" backfires when Tabor asks her to marry him. It turns out that the witch was his mother, who knew that making Cassandra ugly was the only way to ensure that her son married for the right reasons. Come again? I feel like there's a decent story in here somewhere, but it's well concealed.

Peter: Amazing how Wessler still puts 1968 lingo into his 1975 characters. We really have to retire the old witch on the edge of town who has the potion for everything.

Jack: Pietro Mosca lives in Taranto, Italy, and dreams every night that he's a horsefly caught in the web of a hungry tarantula. He learns to "Beware of the Snare of the Tarantula" and thinks that the only thing that can save him from the recurring nightmare is the lovely Celia. To prevent her marriage to handsome Mario, Pietro shoots his rival, only to discover that reality was dream and dream reality. I'll admit it's a little confusing, but Jess Jodloman really shines in this gruesome story with all of his depictions of the fly with a human head being menaced by the shadowy tarantula. It's hard to select just one panel to reproduce!

Peter: Carl Wessler pulls off the rare hat trick: three lousy stories in one issue (and four for the month). Carl's desire to make "Tarantula" more than just a muddled mess makes it an even more muddled (and confusing) mess. I can picture all the nine-year-olds at the stand scratching their heads and muttering "So he was a fly the whole time?" I'm fifty-three and I'm doing the same thing.


The circulation figures were published this month in 1975 and here's how your favorite DC mystery title was doing:

House of Mystery     174,504
House of Secrets     161,190
Unexpected              175,018
The Witching Hour   175,787

Next Week!
Skiing and Dinosaurs Together at Last!
On Sale August 24th!


Fontay O'Rooney said...

Good job, guys. I couldn't help but notice that a lot of the stories this time around had beach/water type themes. I found that interesting, since these issues were all from May, which would be the time of year people start thinking about the beach, swimming pools, etc. Do you think that having so many stories with such themes this time around was a planned thing by DC to tap into what some of the readers would be thinking about, or do you think it was just a coincidence?

Jack Seabrook said...

You make a good point, but it could have been a coincidence. Issues with a May cover date probably went on sale in February and might linger on the racks as late as May, but I doubt it.