"The Phantom Frigate"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by E.R. Cruz
"Nightmare of Death"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Fred Carrillo
"The Spectral Sentries"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Lee Elias
Jack: In 1823, Captain John Terry's ship was run aground when smugglers on the Chilean coast doused the lighthouse. Vowing revenge on Juan Mateo, the chief of the smugglers, Captain Terry goes down with his ship. Fast forward to 1960, and Juan's great-great-grandson Hugo has fallen on hard times. Things only get worse when "The Phantom Frigate" appears and the ghost of Captain Terry aims his ship's cannons at Mateo's village, destroying it. Coincidentally, a huge earthquake killed thousands that night. Was it the tremors or the ghostly cannonballs that did the damage? Personally, I think it was the ghost ship. Science is so overrated.
Jack: Ian and Claudine Tracy are bicycling through Wales in 1959 when they seek refuge from a storm in a railroad signal station, where the grumpy signal man appears to throw a switch and purposely cause a train wreck. Yet the wreck disappears as soon as the storm ends. The Tracys learn that it occurred 18 years ago and the ghostly signalman hanged himself after he was blamed for the catastrophe. Oddly enough, the Tracys find a cardboard box in the signal station containing newspapers about the crash and a hangman's noose! Peter, what do you make of this "Nightmare of Death"?
|For this to happen . . .|
oh, never mind.
Jack: It's March 1917, and the Winter Palace at Petrograd is under siege. The czar and his family are taken by the Bolsheviks but Count Leonov escapes with the crown jewels, intending to use them to restore the royal family to the seat of power. He does not get far, though, before "The Spectral Sentries," ghosts or skeletons of those he had put to death, seal his doom in an avalanche. Talk about a muddled story with terrific art! The funniest part of this one comes when Leonov shoots a traitorous soldier and the man instantly turns into a skeleton. Leonov doesn't miss a beat and goes back to admiring the crown jewels. Now that's a man with his eyes on the prize!
|A man not easily distracted!|
Peter: I have no idea what's happening in that climax but I'm pretty sure our favorite DC Mystery writer (sarcasm) was equally befuddled. Is Carl, simultaneously, trying to scare us with his skeletal figures and offer up a rational explanation for why a corpse can fire a rifle? Lee Elias contributes strong visuals.
"The Vegetable Garden!"
Story by Michael Fleisher
Art by Leopoldo Duranona
"Big Fish in a Small Pond"
Story by Michael Pellowski and Steve Skeates
Art by E.R. Cruz
Peter: Harriet loves tending to "The Vegetable Garden" with the neighborhood children but her greedy niece, Marion, and Marion's husband, Bill, want to put Harriet away in a home so they can inherit her fortune. Constant prodding doesn't work, so the devious couple put their plan into overdrive: they tell the mothers in the neighborhood that Harriet is unstable, kill her bird, and destroy her prized roses. The latter finally pushes the old woman over the edge and she agrees to move to an old folks' home but, before she can move, she overhears her conniving in-laws boasting about how well the plan worked. The boasting turns violent, though, when Bill accidentally kills Marion and tries to hide the body. Harriet stabs Bill to death and buries the pair in the garden.
Jack: A mediocre story from Fleisher is paired with sub-par art and we see the writing on the wall for DC horror comics. Within a few months, the list will be cut substantially, and none too soon. Look at that last panel. Are we supposed to take from that that Aunt Harriet buried a hand here and a foot there? Is she a worse artist than Leopoldo Duranona? Does she expect little hand and foot plants to sprout? That reminds me of "Green Fingers," from Night Gallery. Perhaps I just don't like seeing anyone named Aunt Harriet treated cruelly. What would Dick Grayson say?
|"Big Fish in a Small Pond"|
Peter: Land baron Sam Spietz loves buying up properties for nothing and selling them for big profits but Sam can't get the Swansons to sell their old, decrepit pet store for any amount of money. This particular parcel is worth millions to Sam so he's willing to go a little bit farther than usual to acquire the gem. His assistant, Savin, tries to convince Sam that he can get rid of the old timers through black magic but Sam ain't buying it, so Savin decides to moonlight.
That night, Savin conjures up demons and sends them to the pet store, unaware that the Swansons already left town on vacation. Sam Spietz makes the mistake of picking just this time to burn the pet store down but, before he can, the demons arrive and possess the shop animals. Two days later, the Swansons open their shop to find the pets loose in the store and Sam floating in the aquarium. Certainly better than the opener (but not by much), "Big Fish in a Small Pond" concludes with an expository, letting us know what happened to Savin, ostensibly because the writers forgot about that aspect of the narrative. E.R. Cruz's art is good, but unfortunately there's really not much for him to draw other than people standing around and talking. Not a lot of action here.
Jack Didn't we read a similar story not too long ago? Those demonic animals are not particularly terrifying, which is also a problem with Bernie Wrightson's cover. This is a weak issue of one of the good titles--what does that mean for Unexpected and The Witching Hour?
"Wings of Black Death"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Nestor Redondo
"The Spawn of the Devil"
Story by Maxene Fabe
Art by Ramona Fradon
Peter: In plague-ridden 14th Century Europe, con man Geoffrey Pitt finds that the public's fear has wiped out his "trade." Discovering that he can be paid 100 gold pieces a day for cleaning up corpses from the street, Geoffrey goes to the end of the village and consults with the wizard Asmodeus. Pitt asks the magician to cast a spell to render him immune to the plague and Asmodeus agrees, provided he's paid half the gold every day. Pitt reluctantly agrees and pays the man his fee for several weeks before growing greedy. Geoffrey murders the wizard but is pestered by Asmodeus's crow, which seems to be spreading an all-new plague in the village. It's not long before the villagers are banging on Pitt's castle door with torches demanding to see Asmodeus. When the wizard is not produced, the mob becomes convinced that Geoffrey Pitt is, in reality, the magician disguised. They toss him in the fire and the crow flies away, seemingly happy. Not a lot to be said about "Wings of Black Death." The story just sort of lies there (and it's a story we've seen countless times) and there's no reel oomph in the climax. Redondo's art is very atmospheric in spots.
I'm of two minds about this one: the topic is very edgy (and, to be fair, appearing a year before The Omen would hit screens) and I'm always amazed when something along the lines of a child murder got past the notoriously righteous CCA. "The Spawn of the Devil" is edgy, but it's also packed with lots of ludicrosity, including a baby with fangs, a couple that thinks nothing of a doctor who can produce a baby from his back room, loopy art, and an inane final panel (if Morton is actually Billy/Belial's father, then why is he smiling after witnessing his son's death?). And about that art: I dig Ramona Fradon's work most of the time--it's so different from the rest of the DC Mystery bullpen--but it ain't happening here. The drooling, fanged monster kid elicits laughs more than creeps.
Jack: Peter and I both keep notes on the stories we read, partly to help us come up with the best and worst at the end of each year. I use a rating of 1 to 4 for story and the same for art. If I could give out "5"s, this story would earn them with ease! It's crazy, funny, and scary, all at the same time. I've said it before: Ramona Fradon's art is a revelation. This is the breath of fresh air--or is it brimstone?--I needed to get through The Witching Hour! By the way, if you note the similarities to this plot and that of Nightmare At Twenty Thousand Feet, maybe Shatner could play Mary if this is ever made into a TV show!
"Pathway to Purgatory"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ruben Yandoc
Story by Mike Pellowski and Maxene Fabe
Art by Ramona Fradon
Jack: Duke Alain's forbidden love for his beautiful ward Catherine drives him to extremes. He blames his own crippled legs for Catherine's lack of romantic interest in him, so he embarks on a "Pathway to Purgatory" when he tortures a witch and murders her daughter in order to convince the hag to use her powers to restore his lower extremities to full vigor. To his surprise, Catherine still has no intention of breaking society's taboo, so Alain again utilizes torture and murder to convince the bishop to go forward with the wedding.
Peter: Even though it feels padded at ten pages (there's a whole lot of dialogue goin' on here), I enjoyed this one. I never saw the twist coming and, sometimes, a good shock finale is all you need for entertainment. Jack Oleck proves he can still come up with a winner now and then.
Deciding to get out of Dodge, he flies off in his private plane, but bad weather forces him to bail out. Wouldn't you know it? "The Swinger" is hanged when his parachute snags on a tree limb. Not as knock down, drag out fun as "The Spawn of the Devil," but still very, very good. And that's a welcome thing in DC Horror stories by 1975!
Peter: Here, because of the dark humor present in the script, Ramona Fradon's art is perfect (as opposed to her work on "The Spawn of the Devil" in House of Mystery). I wish I kept a journal of twist endings because I'd swear that climax is a swipe from EC.
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alfredo Alcala
"The Patchwork Pal"
Story by Murray Boltinoff
Art by Flor Dery
"Who Killed Raggedy Annie?"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Gerry Talaoc
Jack: Approaching a well-guarded, highly secret government enclave, a super-spy kills a guard and puts on his hazmat suit, entering the restricted area with ease. The beating sun is hot, so he removes the hazmat suit and comes upon a race of hideously ugly humanoids. They knock him out and throw him in a pit, but some of the humanoid children help him escape, and he races back to be met by the guards, who promptly send him back among the humanoids. It seems they were the victims of a "Freak Accident" with biological weapons, and now that he has come in contact with them, he carries a dangerous infection. Soon, he begins to change into one of the humanoids himself. Predictable and dull, the only good part is the monsters that Alcala draws. I wonder if this was a file story, since we haven't seen his work in awhile.
|Who else but Alcala?|
Peter: If it gives us another look at the exquisite, finely-detailed, slammajammin' art of The Master, I'll wade through the worst of Kashdan's scripts. This isn't George's worst but it's not very good either.
Jack: Grumpy old Joe has a job carting body parts out of the hospital for disposal. When he suddenly turns cheerful, a doctor and a nurse sneak over to his house, where they discover that Joe used the spare parts to build "The Patchwork Pal," but when his little buddy failed to chat with him he knocked its block off! Yuck! I like Flor Dery's art, though.
Peter: There's not much surprise in a story whose "twist" is part of its title. That final panel is pretty grim stuff, though.
Jack: Parker has a headache that he traces to old Annie and a voodoo doll that she gave to young Jess. Parker kills Annie by tossing her down a well and continues his campaign to drive Jess's poor family off their land. Jess's father burns all of her dolls since, even though she's developmentally disabled, he thinks she's too old to play with dolls. Soon, Jess has a new doll, one that looks like old Annie. This one leads her to foil numerous schemes cooked up by Parker, until he finally has had enough and kidnaps the girl, intending to kill her. The doll tells her dad where she is and the cops arrive just in the nick of time to save her. Peter, Gerry Talaoc to me is like Ruben Yandoc to you--I can't get enough of him in "Who Killed Raggedy Annie?" and elsewhere!
Peter: Equal parts good Talaoc and bad. His human characters (in particular, Parker) always seem to have some serious dental issues but Gerry can conjure up some horrifying images with the best of them. The panels of the Raggedy Annie doll lying on Jess's bed are pretty creepy. It's a strange, muddled script, though, as Jess's dad is introduced as a secondary heavy but then transformed into a caring dad by story's end.
"A Death at the Races"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Franc Reyes
"A Reckoning in Eden"
Story by Mal Warwick
Art by Bill Draut
"Meet My Murderer"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Teny Henson
Peter: Leonard Snively trains greyhounds for the races but feels underpaid and under-appreciated, so he murders his boss and hightails it into the woods. On the other side of the forest, Leonard stumbles onto a rundown old town where the people are strange but seemingly friendly. Snively tells them what he does for a living and they're fascinated. The next morning, Leonard wakes to find the town deserted. As he walks down the street, he is confronted by a band of very big and nasty monsters. They chase him through the streets until he hits a dead end. A fence comes down between him and the hairy beasts and, eventually, he learns that the town is racing monsters and he's the bunny rabbit. "A Death at the Races" is built around a really silly script, with a climax that might have been ironic if it wasn't so telegraphed. Snively appears to be a big, burly dope but thinks (in thought balloons) like a well-educated gentleman. I'm thinking Fleisher's glory days are now behind him, unfortunately, but hopefully he'll prove me wrong. Reyes's art, on the other hand, speeds along like one of the featured greyhounds with our first look at the creatures (below) a highlight.
Peter: "A Reckoning in Eden" is a short-short about a rocket ship finding a replacement for Earth after three thousand years of space travel only to discover that there are already inhabitants and they look startlingly like sit-com characters. Warwick does what he can with just two pages but there's not much of a story and the climax is a bit confusing.
|Starring Suzanne Somers as|
action-camera girl Tina Van Avery!
|Proof that you don't have to be dead to have your own ghost|
Jack: I had the same question as you, but if you look at the photos, I think a case can be made that Tina is already dead in the first one. In another panel, we see her ghost taking the pictures, so my take on this is that her ghost popped out of her body at the moment of her death and started snapping away. Of course, it would have been easier if she'd just haunted the robber into an early grave, but that would've deprived us of the twist ending.
Story by George Kashdan
Art by John Calnan
"The Witch of Raven's Pass"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ernie Guanlao
"Who Stalked By Night"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Frank Carrillo
Jack: Freddy's imagination and weird fantasies worry his parents, so they ship him off to summer camp, not realizing that it's really "Camp Fear!" At this camp, the boys are encouraged to look out for number one and treat everyone else with contempt. The worse they act, the better they are treated. Freddy gets with the program until his conscience gets the better of him and he fails to murder his bunkmate when they are out in a rowboat. Back at camp, he overhears that his bunkmate is alive and reporting the truth about Freddy's weakness to the head of the camp, who is a Satan worshiper. Freddy manages to escape, but when he gets home no one believes his story, and on returning to the camp they find it a burned out wreck. The real wreck is this story, in which the terrible plot is not helped by substandard art.
Peter: This sleazy, mean-spirited bowl of tripe is my front-runner for Worst All-Around Story of the Year. George just heaps unpleasantness atop unpleasantness, somehow forgetting that unpleasant doesn't automatically equal chilling or disquieting. I can just picture Kashdan at his typewriter rubbing his hands together and exclaiming "My loyal audience of nine year olds will love this one."
Peter: Carl Wessler just keeps right on recycling the same old bilge issue after issue. One question though: Since Herb and Jenny were in that deadly photo with Rory, shouldn't they have gone up in flames as well? Yeah, I know; why do I bother asking? This is the first (and last) look we'll get at the art of Ernie Guanlao (1943-2010), yet another of the Filipino artists who stormed the DC Mystery Bullpen in the mid-'70s, thankfully nudging out the likes of Jerry Grandenetti, and elevating the titles (in the artwork department, at least) to something memorable.
Jack: Morty Macree, a mugger "Who Stalked By Night," decides to wear a skull mask to mug honest citizens. After a couple of muggings, the police catch up with him, only to see that his face now looks like the skull mask. Um, huh?
Peter: There's no answer to the question of why this guy's face would have been transformed by the mask. It just is. And that's the sign hanging above Carl Wessler's typewriter.
|The Battle Cry Heard 'Round the DC Universe!|
In the 64th Blazing Issue of
Star Spangled DC War Stories!
On Sale October 19th!