Monday, November 9, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Sixty-Five: November 1975

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

Bill Draut
The House of Mystery 237

"The Night of the Chameleon"
Story by Russell Carley and Michael Fleisher
Art by Frank Thorne

"Double Exposure"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Peter: Eddie "The Chameleon" Baker, the notorious assassin, has managed to duck into impossible scenarios, elude the police, and kill anyone he's paid to target. His latest mission is to snuff out two mob snitches before they can testify. The first one goes without a hitch but the second target, Tom Dorsey, will be a bit harder to get to since he's being guarded in a hospital room. Baker manages to sneak in by impersonating a top cop and eliminates the target but getting out of the hospital proves to be a bit of a problem. The Chameleon must impersonate a patient waiting to go into the O.R. When he's wheeled in and prepped, Baker attempts to escape but discovers the two O.R. surgeons are really the two men he's just gunned down! The police later find The Chameleon in the O.R., lobotomized. "The Night of the Chameleon" had me hooked right up to the silly reveal of the two dead men turned ghoulish surgeons. It's a pretty silly panel and takes you right out of the suspense, eliciting a snicker rather than a gasp. Over at Marvel University, we've been discussing Frank Thorne's knowledge of the female body (on Red Sonja), but here he does just as well sans any chain-mailed Amazons.

Jack: You nailed this one, though the story reads more like a standard crime tale than a horror tale up to that goofy reveal. Thorne's art is smooth but a little washed out; without a gorgeous babe in a chain-mail bikini, it's good but not outstanding. By the way, this issue's letter column once again finds readers pounding the heck out of poor Luis Dominguez for his boring covers. I'm not sure Bill Draut is a huge improvement.

Peter: Poor Paul Taylor only wants a little time to work on his invention, a process that allows a roll of film to produce a solid object of the subject, but his shrewish wife will have none of his nonsense. When Paul falls for a shy girl at work, it gives him the incentive to change his life. He tells his wife he wants a divorce but she vows to take him to the cleaners. That night, Paul has a breakthrough with his invention and then has a brainstorm. He'll shoot footage of himself, bring a twin to life and murder his wife. The plan works and the inventor is sentenced to die but laughs at his executioners as he is hanged, knowing he'll be resurrected when his girlfriend projects his indie film. Only one flaw in Paul's plan: his stepson, enraged by the murder of his mother, burns Paul's lab to the ground, destroying his step-father's film.

"Double Exposure" has a unique gimmick and great art by Yandoc. The shrewish wife bit is a little overdone and Oleck doesn't address the fact that the Paul who will be reborn through the projected footage wouldn't actually be Paul but closer to a clone, wouldn't it? Why wouldn't the junior genius create his twin first and send the newbie to do the dirty work?

Jack: Best Jack Oleck story in quite a while! "Double Exposure" was quite satisfying, without the need to try to force things with a twist ending. The idea of Paul dying in the fire at the end was clever and unexpected but it fit perfectly with the rest of the story. I am not as big a Yandoc fan as you are, but his art here is just right.

Ernie Chua
The House of Secrets 137

"The Harder They Fall"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ernie Chua

"The Magic Elixir"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ricardo Villamonte

"Suit of Lights"
Story by Steve Clement and Robert Kanigher
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Peter: "Near-billionaire" Lloyd Chanin has nightmares about losing everything and becoming a skid row bum, so he runs his business as ruthlessly as he can, stepping on as many throats as possible. Only one thing in the universe averts his grasp: lovely Andrea. Though Lloyd promises he'll be a Senator someday and she'll be a Senator's wife, Andrea keeps dodging the question, annoying Lloyd to no end. Then one day, Lloyd is told that Andrea is actually marrying Raphael Brentley, Lloyd's opponent in the Senatorial race, and that she's been cozying up to Chanin to learn his strategies. This sends Lloyd into a spiral and he becomes the skid bum he always dreamed of. Yep, that's the end of "The Harder They Fall," boys and girls. Lloyd doesn't murder Raphael and run against a corpse in the election. He doesn't go see the old witch at the edge of town. He doesn't even discover Andrea is a vampire. I'm not sure whether I should be happy that none of those scenarios came to pass but what I'm left with isn't much to crow about. What the heck is a story like this doing in HoS and what did the kids think about it way back when? I guess Wessler thought he'd come up with a killer plot and couldn't place it in House of Maudlin Mainstream Drama so... here it was dumped.

The most exciting panel we could find from this loser

Jack: I kind of liked it, in a Grading on the Curve Since It's By Carl Wessler sort of way. What I took from the ending was that he was on Skid Row all along and his life as a ruthless billionaire was his nightmare, instead of the other way around. Chan's artwork is nice, for the most part, though there are some shaky panels. Most troubling of all is that we're seeing Wessler and Kashdan in House of Secrets.

Peter: Con man Charlie Whipple goes from burg to burg selling his Cure-All, one dollar a bottle. Then he hits the small village of Jacobsville, where the townsfolk inform Charlie they have no need for happy water, they've got their own pond filled with "The Magic Elixir," a potion that can raise the dead. The con man sees dollar signs flashing before his eyes and he forces one of the locals to take him to the pond but when he gets there, he gets a really big surprise. The town can come back from the dead because they're all vampires  (a rip-off of the classic "Midnight Mess" from Tales from the Crypt)!!!! So, here's a village filled with vampires and they have to set up an elaborate ruse to get one victim? Tell ya what... these bloodsuckers better learn to fly real quick or they're going to be down to skin and bones (accent on the bones) in no time. And odd that George sets this in present time since, as far as I know, traveling medicine men were long since extinct by the 1970s. Only Kashdan could take two cliches and present them as if he thought they were unique ideas.

Jack: What makes you think this is set in the 1970s? The main character wears a string tie, carries a display case, and walks from one town to another. The sheriff and his men on page one look like cowboys. Leave it to Kashdan to use another tired twist ending.

Peter: Ruiz longs to be a matador but all he can work himself up to is assistant to the great Morelito, a legend who wears the "Suit of Lights." Jealous of his boss, Ruiz murders Morelito and cons his way into the matador position. Just before his first fight, Morelito appears before him in a mirror and informs Ruiz that he was a warlock and that he will have his revenge even in death. As Ruiz heads through the tunnel, he feels faint and then, once into the arena, he discovers that he has become a bull. Oh, Robert Kanigher strikes again. It's only once Morelito is killed that we discover he was a dabbler in black arts. Did this hobby lead to his legendary status? Who knows? It's a pretty random wrap-up and the "twist," that Ruiz becomes the bull to be struck down, has been used a thousand times before.

Jack: It's sad that, in an issue with stories by Wessler and Kashdan, the worst story belongs to Kanigher. I had to read the last page a couple of times to figure out what happened. Then when I did, I was sorry! Even Yandoc's art seems tired, just like the dopey twist in the tail of this very weak story.

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 60

"The Body in Cold Storage"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"Over Your Dead Body"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Lee Elias

"Time to Kill"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jess Jodloman

Jack: When Lew Carey tells Jess Rowan that he plans to give the cops info that'll put Jess in the slammer if Jess doesn't pay him the $200 he owes him, Jess brains Lew with a fireplace poker and hides his body in a meat refrigerator in the pantry, figuring that his sister and brother-in-law won't be back for three days and so won't discover "The Body in Cold Storage." Harriet and Harvey Kimball, Jess's unfortunate relatives, come back from vacation early and find the body right away, but Harriet convinces Harvey not to call copper because Jess has enough problems.

After dumping a corpse in the woods,
Harriet remembers her manners

The World's Best Relatives hide the body in the woods and return to their car, only to find that the body beat them back and is sitting in the rear seat. They try to hide it elsewhere but it keeps coming back, so they leave it on a sidewalk. The corpse makes its way to Jess's house, where it confronts its killer. Later that night, Harriet and Harvey come home drunk to find the corpse sitting in the parlor and Jess in the freezer. A terrible attempt at comedy with dashed-off art by Yandoc, this story just plunges along without even trying to make sense.

Peter: Dark comedy only works if it's funny and this is not funny at all. It almost seems like, at times, Wessler's lost a few pages of his script and couldn't find them. How do the dopey couple not know that Lew is still alive? More important, if Lew can get up and walk to the car, why can't he signal to the dunderheads that he's not dead?! A crack is starting to show in the Yandoc foundation: all his male protagonists are beginning to look alike.

Jack: Marcus Crowe has made a career out of making plaster death masks, but when Edward Weems comes along with a plan to make the masks from rubber, Crowe rejects him as an upstart. Soon, Weems is driving Crowe out of business. Crowe begins sneaking around, making masks of people's faces right when they die to capture their final expression before rigor mortis sets in. Some kids scare him on Halloween and his heart fails, so he uses his own face for his final mask. Lee Elias's art is the best thing about "Over Your Dead Body," which is actually above average for Kashdan. But when is it set? It doesn't seem contemporary and I don't know if death masks were ever very much in demand.

Peter: And the die roll seven. About the same odds George Kashdan writes a decent story but this one was pretty good. It doesn't make sense that Crowe would expand into a niche market like "pre-death masks" but then the old man was cracking up so I'll give George that one. And then, in the climax, we get the equivalent of one of those creaky Lovecraft finales where the narrator writes about his own death in his journal ("It's coming through the door... It's got its hands around my throat... Arrrgggghhhh!") when Crowe fashions himself a death mask. Extra points to Kashdan for coming up with a unique plot hook for once.

Jack: A young soldier named Oskar Lumax lost money to a fellow soldier named Reuder. When he goes to steal the money back, he's caught by an officer. Lumax kills the officer and frames Reuder. When they line up the firing squad to execute Reuder, Lumax's gun misfires and he confesses to the murder right before expiring. "Time to Kill" is short and overly complicated. Jodloman does his usual job of providing some sketchy panels and some nice facial close ups.

Peter: At three pages, it's neither good nor bad but that panel of Lumax's rifle backfiring is pretty brutal.

Jack: I know it's faint praise, but this issue of The Witching Hour was not awful.

Joe Orlando & Bill Draut
Weird Mystery Tales 24

"Death is a Wind-Up Bear"
Story by Michael Fleisher
Art by Ricardo Villamonte

"The Strange Ones"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Mike Kaluta

Peter: Two thugs murder the kindly corner teddy bear salesman (every town has one, right?) and then become victims of the murderous toys. "Death is a Wind-Up Bear" is disjointed, meandering, and ultimately, deadly dumb. This has got to be the nadir of Fleisher's DC horror career. I'm not wasting any more time on this one. Disagree with me on this one, Jack, I dare you!

Jack: At this point, Fleisher is writing stories that read as if they're written by someone trying to copy Michael Fleisher's style and not doing a very good job. This one has all of the standard elements: an innocent person violently murdered, a weird revenge plot, a gruesome finale. One problem is that it seems so rote by now. The wind-up teddy bears escape from the police station unnoticed and then manage to walk on the old man's coffin even when it's buried underground. The story would have been much more interesting if it showed just how those teddy bears escaped and burrowed under the earth--it would be like Wes Craven directing Toy Story!

Peter: In the future, romance and emotion have been banned, but two young lovers, Anne and James, escape their society to try to find a place where they belong. Chased by "enforcers," the couple end up in a "neglected" part of the city where they find their way into a library. With the "enforcers" closing in, Anne and James stumble into the "Romance" section and discover a way out by reading Romeo and Juliet. Though I'm not a fan of mixing science fiction with my horror in these DC titles, "The Strange Ones" is about the best SF we've seen on this journey and easily the best mystery story I've read in quite a while; like opening the window after your house has been filled with dead fish for three weeks. Yep, it's very reminiscent of Logan's Run (which had not yet been adapted to the big screen) but it's well-written and has a killer finale. It also has Mike Kaluta's incredible art, easily the best we've seen this year. If there's a Best Pin-Up Babe in our Year's Best category this year, my vote goes to Enforcer-147, who's very vintage Catwoman-esque.

Jack: I'm surprised you liked this one so much! As I read it, I kept thinking that I would have liked it a lot more when I was a teenager, because it seems like something a teenager would come up with. It's amazing that Jack Oleck had such an innocent imagination at age 61! Did you know he was Joe Simon's brother in law? I was a big fan of Mike Kaluta in the '70s and he was one of those "fan turned pro" type of artists that I enjoyed following. His art here is very nice in spots but seems unfinished in others.

Peter: The letters page reveals that this will be the final issue of Weird Mystery Tales as the readers "haven't been chasing chills quite as hard recently," and horror host Eve will move over to the pages of Plop! Sales stats will bear out that the readers weren't chasing chills in any of the DC horror titles in 1975, but then sales of funny books were down all across the board (Batman saw a 20% drop from 1974 to 1975) in the mid-'70s and would continue to plummet. Looking back at my notes for the 65 tales that appeared in the 24 issues of Weird Mystery Tales, I rated 15 three stars or better (with the best story, the Michelinie/Nino "Neely's Scarecrow" appearing in #16). While I'm essentially saying that less than 25% of the WMT stories were good enough to recommend, I'd stack that percentage against the whole of Unexpected, The Witching Hour, and Ghosts any day.

Jack: I agree that it was a pretty solid comic for most of its run.

Luis Dominguez
Secrets of Haunted House 4

"The Face of Death"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by E.R. Cruz

"This Rat Will A-Maze You!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Paul Kirchner

"Bird's Eye View"
Story by Maxene Fabe
Art by Nestor Redondo

Jack: Carl Talbot is a thief and a murderer, but when he crosses the river into Mexico the law can't touch him. Wounded, fatigued and thirsty, he collapses in the desert and is rescued by Indians who are descended from the Aztecs and live in old ruins. They nurse him back to health. One day, he witnesses a native whose leg is crushed in an avalanche of rocks. The local medicine man cures him and Talbot insists the man call upon his Old Gods to provide the killer with a new face. Talbot shoots a native boy to show that he means business and, soon enough, the Old Gods are summoned and provide him with a new face. Talbot does not realize that he has been given "The Face of Death," however, and when he returns to the city he is immediately shot by the police, who recognize his new face as that of Carlos Ramirez, a criminal who is wanted dead or alive.

Oleck spins a decent story, though I guessed the ending about halfway through. Cruz's art is smooth and satisfying, but there is nothing special about this tale.

Peter: Nice twist ending but when these bad guys are soooo bad they become comedic, the story loses me a bit. Carl Talbot is that kind of character. Decent plot, good twist, great art.

Jack: Professor Hodges implants tiny electrodes in the brains of lab rats so he can train them to run through a maze. One day, an accident kills the professor. What his assistants don't know is that his consciousness was transferred into the brain of the rat he was working on, a rat that now has a real talent for running through the maze. Two pages of bad art and another obvious twist ending make "This Rat Will A-Maze You!" only slightly more useful as filler than another house ad.

Peter: Paul Kirchner's pop-art is just awful but that last panel is a hoot.

Jack: Stella Stafford is a beautiful, young fortune hunter who sets her sights on old, wheelchair-bound Lord Ringling, a wealthy bird-lover. She pretends to share his passion and they are soon wed, but she hates looking after his birds. When he catches her attacking the flying creatures, he changes his will, and she quickly lures him to his death as he accidentally wheels himself off a cliff.

Stella burns the new will, inherits Ringling's money, and moves to California, where she is swept up in a whirlwind romance with Tony, a handsome young man. They marry and head off on a honeymoon, but when Stella stays alone in their honeymoon cottage while Tony goes for a walk, she is attacked and killed by a huge number of birds led by Ringling's favorite parrot. Or was she? Tony returns to find her dead of a heart attack, clutching a single feather. Maxene Fabe's stories do bring a female perspective that is often lacking in the DC Horror line, and "Bird's Eye View" is a classic, if unoriginal, take on the revenge motif.

Peter: This one's way too long (and it has a Robert Kanigher vibe to it) but Redondo's art is fabulous. I wonder if Tony inherits the 25 million pound estate. Lucky chap!

Jack: Letter writer Robert Lugo comments on how it seems that the overabundance of DC Horror comics has a bad effect on the writers and "their poor brains need a rest." It appears that he was right, because after many months of seven titles a month, we are now down to five, and next month it will be even fewer.

In the next issue of Star Spangled DC War Stories
The conclusion of the epic "Generals Don't Die!"
On Sale November 16th!

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