Monday, September 28, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Sixty-Two: August 1975

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

Luis Dominguez
Unexpected 167

"Scared Stiff"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Frank Redondo

"Murder by Mail"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Romy Gamoa

"Death Watch"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Jack: Someone is trying to kill wealthy old Mr. Marsden and the shock has left him "Scared Stiff" and paralyzed! Dr. Fiske gives him a drug to help him relive the event in the hopes that doing so will cure his psychosomatic injury. Fiske thinks that Marsden's nephew, Ernest, is the culprit, but soon Marsden recalls that the real villain is Fiske himself, who admits that he's tired of waiting for the million dollars that Marsden left to the clinic in his will. Ernest brings the cops and saves his uncle, guaranteeing that the old man's will is going to be rewritten. If only this story could be rewritten! Why would Dr. Fiske try to find the identity of the killer if he's the killer himself?

Guest starring Stan the Man!
Peter: Oh boy, this was bad! I love these expositories that are popped in to explain to us why the character we thought was the bad guy wasn't. Obviously, Frank Redondo had a stack of Stan Lee 8x10s on his desk when it came time to draw nephew Ernest. Have you ever seen someone smile so much when they're being accused of foul deeds?

Jack: Leo Roberts is a writer who hasn't sold anything in a year. He blames Wally Garner for stealing his opportunities and mails him a letter. The letter comes back undelivered and explodes--Leo's attempt at "Murder By Mail" blows up in his face! Little more than an anecdote at four pages, this story at least has decent art by Gamboa.

Cool it, Leo.
Peter: Well, Leo Roberts may have been a lousy screenwriter but he could have made a fortune marketing his extremely thin letter bombs. This story may be an analogy for the careers of Carl Wessler and George Kashdan.

Peter reads another
issue of Ghosts.
Jack: Astronomer Wallace Horton sees a horrifying sight through his telescope: a flaming meteor with a face like a grinning skull, heading straight for Earth! No one else sees the skull, so Wallace decides it's a warning meant only for him. His "Death Watch" begins as he awaits his doom but, when the meteor falls, it lands in the ocean. Wallace runs to the beach, angry at having been deceived, and is promptly swallowed up by a tidal wave caused by the meteor. The best thing I can say about this story is that it was better than the two that precede it, which is not saying much.

Peter: Not too bad for an Unexpected story (that's unexpected in itself!). I'm not sure why the old man didn't just watch the meteor from another vantage point for a few hours but then, I guess, we'd have had no story, would we? The usual exemplary visuals from Ruben Yandoc. With all the comic art books out there these days, how is it that we don't have an Art of Yandoc?

Ernie Chan
The House of Mystery 234

"The Bewitchment of Jeremiah Haskins"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Jess Jodloman

"Lafferty's Luck"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Al Milgrom

Peter: Con man Harry Condon stops at a convenience store on the highway and a pretty girl hops in the back seat and asks Harry to drive her away. The police approach Harry's car and he throws a blanket over the girl, hiding her. When Harry pulls away, the girl explains that she's been doing time in the loony bin even though she's perfectly sane. Harry gets a grand idea: he's going to use the girl on his next con, a job that should net him a ruby worth a fortune. The only thing in his way is Jeremiah Haskins, the wheelchair-bound old man who owns the gem, and Harry's sure his gorgeous new partner should be able to charm her way into the old man's confidence. The girl dresses as a witch and convinces Jeremiah, who's been an occult buff for years, that he's finally conjured up the witch he's been waiting for. The fetching witch tells Haskins that she can do anything his heart desires but she needs "something ancient from the innards of the earth" to help her stay in this realm. Haskins delivers a solid gold pendant and explains there's more where that came from. When she delivers the bauble to Harry and tells him she feels bad about "The Bewitchment of Jeremiah Haskins" and wants out, he throws a fit and threatens to turn her in to the men in white suits. She disagrees. The next night the girl returns to Jeremiah's room and heals him while, across town, a barely coherent Harry Condon is checked into a state mental hospital. The gorgeous blonde returns to her coven.

I liked this fanciful tale but it sure doesn't read like a Fleisher script; there's no trademark bite, the guilty are punished, there's a happy ending, and it's padded by about five pages. Mike must have been having a really good day! I'm not sure why I didn't see the twist coming but that's always a good thing. It's getting to the point where I can't tell the difference between the art of Jess Jodloman and that of Ruben Yandoc.

Jack: The cop asks Harry if he's seen the gal and describes her like this: "about 25, dark hair, medium build." Now, perhaps the witch changed her appearance, but there's no way that this girl has anything but blonde hair and I would not describe her spectacular figure as a "medium build." I thoroughly enjoyed this tale and it is in the running for my top ten of 1975. As you say, it's uncharacteristically positive for a Fleisher story.

Not doin' that good a job of
Stayin' Alive!
Peter: A wild west gunman was nothing without his confidence and luck. "Lafferty's Luck" had run out years before when he began to lose his nerve. Now the once-feared pistolman mops beer off the floor in the town saloon. One day, a peddler offers Lafferty a gold pendant and tells him that, for six bits, "Lafferty's Luck" could turn around. Supposing there's nothing to lose, Lafferty pays the man and good things begin happening immediately, culminating in Lafferty gunning down the town's hood, a fast draw that no one could beat. With his nerve restored, Lafferty takes his show on the road, offering his gun up to anyone with pockets deep enough to pay him. The luck runs out, however, when Lafferty faces a man with the same gold pendant. Shaken, he misses the draw and is shot down in the street. The peddler, who happens to be on the same street, approaches the dying Lafferty and offers up that he has a whole wagon full of the pendants and he's been selling them to anyone who wants one. Western horror was pretty much dying out by the mid-1970s, so it's refreshing to see Jack Oleck tackle the theme and dream up a satisfying tale. It's hard not to laugh, though, in the bullet-filled climax when Lafferty shows up to the duel dressed as Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever. Lafferty must have searched high and low for a white three-piece to go with his solid gold chain. It's a good look, though it might not be all that practical (dust and blood and all). The peddler is clearly meant to be horror host Cain but there's no acknowledgment of such in the caretaker's bookended remarks.

Cain or not Cain? You be the judge!

Jack: From the penthouse to the outhouse in one issue! This story is terrible and the art is as bad as it gets in DC horror books. Al Milgrom's dreadful scratchings remind me of what we saw a few years ago from Sam Glanzman. The story is a blatant ripoff of "Mr Denton on Doomsday," a 1959 Twilight Zone episode, but without the wit or charm. What happened to Jack Oleck?

Ernie Chan
The House of Secrets 134

"The Inheritance of Blood"
Story by Coram Nobis (David V. Reed)
Art by Nestor Redondo

"The Last Out"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Buddy Gernale

Peter: Young Andre Tourage travels to Carpathia to visit his uncle, the Baron Cherkassy. On the way to the castle, his coach is attacked by wolves but villagers save him and he's able to complete his journey. He befriends his two cousins, Nikolai and Udine, two very strange but likable youngsters and they tell Andre that the village is in an uproar over these wolf attacks. One day, as the three are playing in the forest, they come across a grim scene: villagers have found the headless body of one of the Baron's shepherds. Since the body has been found in the same area where they beheaded a wolf the night before, the peasants naturally believe the shepherd to have been a werewolf. When the priest of the village denies a grave for the shepherd, the Baron has his body buried on the grounds of the castle. That night, Andre follows his two cousins to the grave, where he witnesses the two digging. He is discovered and flees but his path is blocked by a huge wolf. Andre is able to kill the beast but when he returns to the castle, he is told that the body of his cousin, Nikolai, has just been found. Udine confesses that she and Nikolai were both werewolves and that Andre is destined to be the leader of the pack. He accepts his responsibility and lopes off into the forest, a changed boy.

I was having a great time with "The Inheritance of Blood" until it ended quite abruptly, lacking an O. Henry twist or final panel shock. Halfway through the narrative, we get what's going on (in fact, the title pretty much gives it away, doesn't it?) so Andre's transformation is no surprise at all. Barring that final jolt then, the story must rest on whether it's told imaginatively and holds our interest. I think, for the most part, it does exactly that. Nestor Redondo's art is gorgeous, some of the best we've seen this year (in particular, the page reprinted above). Writer David V. Reed is better known for his Batman stories, several of which we covered in our "Batman in the 1970s" series a couple years ago. I remember his multi-part "Where Were You the Night Batman Was Killed?" epic being a low point in the latter part of the '70s. In fact, Reed holds the dubious distinction of winning Worst Batman Story two years running from both Jack and me for four different stories!

Jack: Sometimes a boring story is elevated by great art, but this isn't one of those times. I can't explain why a tale set in Carpathia and featuring werewolves would be so doggone dull, but it is. It just plods along, much too long, and ends with a thud. Why did David Vern/David V. Reed use the pseudonym Coram Nobis here and in a handful of other stories around this time? It's a Latin legal term meaning "before us." Did he think he was over-exposed? Did he want to separate his Batman work from the horror comics? I agree that Redondo's art is outstanding, but it doesn't help the story.

Peter: A vampire flees from a mob and overhears one of the villagers talk of a "cave filled with bats." Knowing he'd be king rooster in such a cave, the bloodsucker puts the pedal to the metal and arrives at the location in minutes. When he enters the cave, he sees nothing but two baseball bats. From behind, the leader of the mob laughs and confesses that he could never resist a good pun and stakes the vampire. Absolutely dreadful rubbish from a writer who knew better. Save this garbage for Plop!, Steve Skeates, or better yet, leave the puns to Robert Bloch.

He was Lord of the Umpires. Get it? No?

Jack: Very nice art by Gernale can't save this four-page groaner. The panel above with the two bats is about as dumb as it gets in DC horror comics. Sadly, after 62 posts and about 2,000,000 comics, I can say that this issue of House of Secrets is most representative of the trend of great art, weak stories. "Batman in the '70s" had MUCH better comics, overall!

Luis Dominguez
The Witching Hour 57

"Dead Ringer"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jess Jodloman

"The Eyes of a Killer"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Abe Ocampo

"Your Body to Ashes"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by E.R. Cruz

Jack: When Stephan Horthy is hanged for murder in a Hungarian town, his wife vows vengeance. Soon, a skeletal avenger rides a black horse through the town at night and claims his first victim, the prosecuting attorney. The "Dead Ringer" also likes to toll the bell in the local abbey. Suspicion falls on the dead man's family and "The Skull," as the avenger is nicknamed, claims the lives of the judge and the jury foreman. Who is The Skull? Why, none other than Stephan Horthy, who did not die on the gallows. He climbed out of his coffin, donned a skull mask, and wreaked havoc in the town. One night, the ghosts of his victims have their revenge and he is caught up in the rope of the abbey bell. Now, he's really dead and he's dragged off by the ghosts. Peter, can you make heads or tails of this? It was not easy to summarize.

"Dead Ringer"
Peter: More and more, these Witching Tales stories make less and less sense. Wessler seems to be writing in a hurry and not thinking about what he'd done on the page prior. No one checked Stefan for a pulse after they hanged him? He seems to be in pretty good shape for a guy with a broken neck. Why not simply explain Stefan away as a vengeful ghost? That would make more sense (though it wouldn't make this mess any more enjoyable).

Jack: Clyde Collins has eyes that kill and people drop dead when he looks at them. He is captured and sentenced to die. Mild-mannered bookkeeper Roscoe Seward is about to lose his job due to poor vision. A surgeon transplants Collins's corneas into Seward's eyes, which gives Roscoe "The Eyes of a Killer." He kills by accident at first but soon finds that he likes his power. When he decides that he wants to be on the board of directors of the corporation where he works, a meeting is arranged with Mr. Lucas, the company president, who fires Seward. Roscoe whips off his glasses but Lucas is blind and unaffected; his seeing-eye dog leaps on Seward and ends his life. Was Carl Wessler ever interviewed? How could he keep writing such terrible stories? Why does Cynthia still speak as if it's 1968?
"The Eyes of a Killer"

Peter: Why in the world would anyone in power allow the transfer of corneas from a killer who can murder with his eyes? I mean, the situation is a bit supernatural to begin with, no? So why would a doctor get the bright idea that the best option for his patient is to receive the sight of a deranged murderer?

Jack: Master astrologer Crowgan's predictions are so often right that, when he predicts that he will die by burning before the day is out, he avoids anything that even hints at smoke or fire, afraid it will turn "Your Body to Ashes." He heads into the local health club but falls asleep under a sun lamp and is burned to a crisp. Really? When he lay down on the table under the sun lamp he didn't have an inkling of what could happen? Come on, George--you can do better than that!

"Your Brain to Mush"

Peter: So, you're told you'll die by burning and you head into a sauna? Oh, George! E.R. Cruz, once more saddled with bad material, thrusts his chin in the air and makes the best of it.
Wessler and Kashdan = Sominex Plus.

Bernie Wrightson
Weird Mystery Tales 21

"Deadly Stalkers of the North!"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Ricardo Villamonte

"One Man's Poison!"
Story by Mal Warwick
Art by E.R. Cruz

"Dead Man's Gold"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alex Nino

Peter: Ecologist Oliver Ford fights for the rights of mutated wolves in the forest while hunters only want to see their pelts on trophy room walls. Oliver knows something must be done so he heads deep into the woods to search for the source of the mutated predators. What he finds terrifies him; an even more advanced species of the wolf, this one nearly human, manufactured by a crazed scientist who's grown sick of man's ways. Believing Oliver to be just another poacher, the crazed but brilliant egghead transforms Oliver into one of the "Deadly Stalkers of the Night" and lets him lose on the population. I love a good werewolf story and, despite its flaws, this is one that put a smile on my face. This is the second story we've seen illustrated by Spaniard Ricardo Villamonte (the first was "Cold, Cold Heart" back in HOM 231, May 1975) and, with just his sophomore effort, the artist joins the ranks of Nino, Alcala, and Yandoc as artists that could illustrate anything and I'd gladly read it. Sadly, Villamonte would only contribute five more jobs to the DC mystery line before heading off to the greener pastures of Marvel (where he penciled issues of Indiana Jones and Crystar). Villamonte was one of the plethora of foreign artists who gave Skywald magazines their unique look (say what you will about the execrable scripts; at least Skywald gave the readers their money's worth in the art department).

Jack: Carl Wessler was born in 1913, George Kashdan in 1928 and Steve Skeates in 1943. Perhaps that's why, in this month's Witching Hour, we get old-fashioned Gothic horror and killer eyes, while in Weird Mystery Tales we get 1970s-era conservationist/ pseudo-scientific claptrap like this story. Skeates would have us believe that, if enough members of a species are killed, those that remain will mutate into something else. Nope, doesn't work that way--not in such a short time, at least. As I read this overblown piece of hooey I was reminded of the comments made when Peter and Jose review the pre-code horror comics: here, as there, an innocent, well-meaning person has a series of terrible things done to him and is killed at the end. What's the point of this story?

Peter: A race of slug-like aliens land in a suburban garden and plot their takeover of earth. "One Man's Poison" is a really funny and witty short-short with great visuals from E.R. Cruz. Warwick's alien dialogue is the highlight here: "Scatter wide to lay your eggs, my sisters and brothers, and hide them well in the soil! Soon we shall be many, and rid this world of its evil beasts!" It's tough to manufacture a great four-page story but Warwick and Cruz team up to do just that.

Jack: Quite enjoyable, and just in time! I was starting to lose faith in our journey. Watch this space on October 8th for an interview with Mal Warwick.

Peter: Windom has been searching for Captain Kidd's treasure chest for years but he thinks he's zeroing in on the area in which it's buried. Of course, since he's an old man, Windom needs help digging. Trouble is, every time he thinks he's getting close, he murders his accomplice to prevent a divvying up of loot. One night, just after murdering his latest employee, Windom sits at a campfire when a stranger walks up and offers his services, explaining that he too is a treasure hunter. Though he's suspicious, Windom takes the man up on his offer and the excavation resumes the next day. When booty is unearthed, Windom's bad habits resurface and he shoots the stranger down. Or at least he thinks he does. The man reveals himself to be Satan, looking to make a trade: Windom's soul for a fortune in treasure. Windom agrees, but with one stipulation: he gets all of Kidd's treasure and must have his youth again. The devil agrees, but Windom quickly learns that Beelzebub always has an ace up his sleeve when his soul is transferred into the body of a young Captain Kidd... on the day he's hanged. Jack Oleck's script is nothing new (I'm sure that "twist" has been used more times than a Kardashian) but there are enough quirks to make it interesting and, of course, Alex Nino infuses more atmosphere and energy into his art than should be expected of someone making a few bucks per page.   With the classic Wrightson cover being the wrapping paper, this was the perfect gift after being handed that big bag of rotten produce known as Witching Hour 57. I've cleansed my palate!

Jack: Definitely better than this month's Witching Hour, but still not terribly good. I love Nino's art and would read anything that he illustrated, but Oleck has run out of steam. Why would Windom suspect the stranger was the Devil? Why not a ghost? Or Captain Kidd himself? The twist ending is trite.

Luis Dominguez
Ghosts 41

"Ship of Specters"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Frank Redondo

"The Ghost Beast That Stalked the Night"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Fred Carrillo

"The Phantom Double of Shaft 12-B"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Jack: Pity poor Alice Ferguson who, in 1948, spent her honeymoon accompanying her husband on a trip on the mighty Pacific aboard the ship he captained. A distress signal leads to discovery of a "Ship of Specters," where the entire crew is dead of an unknown cause. Capt. Ferguson does his duty and tows it toward port, but soon the mate on his own ship is found dead. Ferguson takes the helm and his wife fears for his life, but in the night the tow line breaks, the deadly ship disappears, and all ends well. Not a terrible story, but Wessler's captions are wildly overwritten:

"Through the long, interminable, star-studded night, Capt. Ferguson arrowed his ship . . ."

" . . . until bleak, pale dawn revealed the stricken vessel!"

"What sinister secret it shielded would be revealed with startling suddenness."

You get the idea.

Peter: I'm not overly fond of 95% of the material that winds up in Ghosts but I'm especially averse to the news fragments disguised as stories, like "Ship of Specters." It reads like an encyclopedia entry with a few fanciful twists. The art here gives ample proof that it was Nestor who was the edgier artist in the Redondo family.

Jack: Cuba, 1964, and revolutionary soldier Esteban Cruz is attacked by "The Ghost Beast That Stalked the Night," which protects the site of the old temple of the jaguar god. The temple had been destroyed in 1849 by Spanish soldiers after they discovered a lair filled with skeletons; now, the beast victimizes those who come too close. Though his clothes and flesh had been untouched heretofore, suddenly Esteban collapses, dead, and his comrades find him ripped to bits as if by a giant cat. The ghost cat strikes again! This is another example of a Ghosts story that ends suddenly, without explanation.

Peter: These stories must have been a breeze to write. Whereas in other markets, a writer is required to come up with fresh ideas and, at the very least, a satisfying climax, Carl Wessler had it made in the DC bullpen. Did any editor push Carl (or George Kashdan) to  come up with an ending that at least made sense? "The Ghost Beast That Stalked the Night" (good pulpy title, at least) begs the question, "what is this hellish beast?" and answers with a final panel, "Who knows?"

Jack: England, 1941, and young Nye Dawes followed his late father into the business of mining as a powder man. One day, he is trapped down below after an explosion and sees "The Phantom Double of Shaft 12-B," a ghost who looks like himself, guiding him to the only safe spot to blow his way out. He realizes that it's the ghost of his late father and is guided to safety. Not a bad little tale, with decent art by Yandoc, though Wessler's attempt to convey to us that the characters are from England is cringe-worthy; Nye and his mother like to start their sentences with "Ahhh . . ."

Peter: By default, "The Phantom Double..." wins Best of Issue, if only because it has a beginning, middle, and end and does not purport to be anything else than a chiller.

Luis Dominguez
Tales of Ghost Castle 2

Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by E.R. Cruz

"The Inheritors"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alex Nino

"The Fate of the Fortune-Hunter"
Story by Mal Warwick
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Peter: While her scientist boyfriend works on the "anti-venom the world's been waiting for," zoo worker Lana Benton spends her idle time torturing the deadly snakes in the viper pit. One day, a bushmaster somehow gets loose from the pit and bites Lana. In minutes she'll be dead, so she has no choice but to gulp down some of the experimental antidote. As these things are wont to do, the serum turns Lana into a bushmaster and when her boyfriend comes back into the lab, he rounds the snake up and tosses her into the viper pit, where the rest of the asps play nasty. Didn't we just have a story centering around someone who tortures animals for no reason whatsoever? Obviously, Big Bob read that (and probably took in a matinee of the 1973 film, Sssssss, which has a very similar plot device) and thought, "I can do that!" No... you can't, Bob. Why does Lana turn into a snake? It's not mentioned. How did the bushmaster get out of the pit? No idea. There's no thought put into the structure of "Snake-Eyes"; it's obviously a very quickly pumped-out script and it shows.

Jack: I never understood why people would torture animals. I remember when I was a kid that other kids would talk about shooting squirrels with BB guns for fun. I just didn't get it. E. R. Cruz draws such nasty snakes that it's hard to feel sorry for them when Lana teases them, but she does get what she deserves in the end.

Peter: Atomic war leaves Earth a radioactive wasteland and what's left of mankind boards a space ship and heads to outer space for a new home. Two thousand years later, a scouting party comes back to Earth to see if it's inhabitable. The party is attacked by mutants, descendants of those left behind centuries before, and has no choice but to wipe out the entire race in order to pave the way for colonization. After the slaughter, the men leave the ship in order to bathe and we see they are mutants themselves. Alex Nino was never better than when he got to draw some four-eyed drippy monster with a horn in its forehead and "The Inheritors" fits the bill nicely. But we can also thank Jack Oleck for a nice change of pace science fiction story and for a great big wink at the reader with his ironic last panel. I do wonder where Earth's emigrants fled to in a hurry. Ostensibly, they found another planet somewhere or perhaps they just orbited in a space station.

Jack: Once again, Alex Nino saves a weak script by Jack Oleck. "The Inheritors" is a dull parable about one civilization wiping out another and the final panel revelation is not so much clever as tiresome. Is the upshot here that humans mutated into fish people with human heads? Yawn. This issue's letters page features missives from Cain, Abel, Eve and Gregory the Gargoyle, since no letters had arrived yet from real readers.

Peter: Two heartless treasure seekers hack a path of blood and pain to the valley of Atahualpa, where gold seemingly lines the streets. After bullying an old man to lead them to the palace, and then killing  him, the pair find that they've made it all the way to the fabled valley only to be taken prisoner and forced into slavery. As the Prince of Atahualpa excitedly exclaims, "you will have gold all the years you live-- but I doubt you will enjoy it at all!" Nicely illustrated by Ruben Yandoc (stop me if you've heard this before) but the cliched bloodthirsty explorers and the vibe that I was reading a chapter on Incan history made the whole affair a bit dull.

Jack: Not only dull, but also confusing. There were spots where I thought a panel was missing, and the end is rather ambiguous. Still, Tales of Ghost Castle is proving to be better than The Witching Hour, Ghosts or Unexpected, likely due to the writers.

In Our Next Blood-Streaked Issue,
Peter Once Again Makes Fun of Jack for Loving Pooch.
On Sale October 5th!

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