Monday, September 30, 2013

Do You Dare Enter? Part Eleven: December 1970-January 1971

The DC Mystery Line 1968-1976
by Jack Seabrook,
John Scoleri,
& Peter Enfantino

Neal Adams
The House of Mystery 189 (December 1970)

"Eyes of the Cat"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti and Wally Wood

"The Deadly Game of G-H-O-S-T"
Story by uncredited
Art by Leonard Starr

"The Thing in the Chair"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Tom Sutton

Jack: After an unfortunate introduction in which Cain asks the reader, "Do you like groovy ghosts?", we get the old chestnut about the malicious black cat and the greedy nephew. Thank goodness Wally Wood takes over the art and inks Grandenetti very heavily, making the result pretty good to look at, except for one panel where Uncle Ansel zooms off the edge of a cliff in his wheelchair in a pose that reminded me of Fred Flintstone in his car. It does get pretty funny when the nephew starts trying to kill Cousin Cynthia and begins shooting at her, thinking that "hunting 'accidents' happen all the time"! The panel where Nicholas is sinking in quicksand has a strong EC feel to it.

John: While I wasn't a fan of the art OR story this time out, I must admit I did get a chuckle out of the seven-panel page of Uncle Ansel's trip down the cliff in his wheelchair.

Peter: Awful script by Kanigher, mining just about every cliche there is to wring out of a House of Mystery story. The intro shows rotten nephew Nicholas taking pot shots at Lucifer, the cat and then we launch into the cat's flashback of the events that led to Nicholas's demise. We're to infer that Nic is spending the rest of eternity in hell (aka The House of Mystery), I assume, but it's bit confusing. More confusing is the Jerry Grandenetti credit for penciling. Where? Wally Wood pulls off a miracle by making Grandenetti's art downright palatable. Not nearly as palatable is the return of reprints in House of Mystery. "The Deadly Game of G-H-O-S-T" originally appeared as the cover story for HOM #11 (February 1953). The only difference between the original appearance and the reprint is the paste-up on the splash inserting Cain's face over that of a demon's (see below). The story is a convoluted mess (something about a businessman who's killed his partner and staged a phony suicide only to be haunted by a ghost after playing a spirited game of Hangman) and it has one of those explanatory finales where you realize that no one could pull off illusions like those pictured.
New and improved (?) paste-up

The original splash for "G-H-O-S-T"

Jack: I knew this was a reprint right from the first page. So many words, and the art just has that '50s look to it. I liked it a lot, though I never cared for endings where everything supernatural was explained away.

Peter: Sue Ann's swamp kin seem to think she's got the devil in her so they go to conjurer Old Jeb and pay him two sawbucks to exorcise her. Knowing a phony when she sees one, Sue Ann gives Old Jeb a chance to refund the dough but the conjurer has other plans for the green. Suddenly, bad things start happening around Jeb's shack and when the girl makes another appearance, she tells the old man she can see his ghost sitting in a chair. Jeb tosses the girl out of the shack and, as is wont to happen, events take a nasty turn. The girl cracks her noggin on a boulder so Jeb takes her body out into the swamp, dumping it into a sinkhole. The crime is witnessed, Jeb is sentenced to death and he goes to... the electric chair! Very primitive art from Tom Sutton, an artist who will become as identified with 1970s horror comics as Wrightson and Jeff Jones. By this time, Sutton had already broken into comics via Marvel (a few western strips) and Warren (where he penciled the premiere installment of Vampirella) but he wouldn't blossom until he worked on the "supernatural hero" titles at Marvel a few years later. His best stuff can be found in the Charlton horror titles of the mid-70s.

John: Is it me, or did Tom Sutton use a sex doll for reference when drawing Sue Ann?

Jack: For Tom Sutton's first DC credit (and only one till 1973), this is pretty bad stuff. While some of the layouts show promise, the actual drawings are amateurish. He would later do much better work. Maybe this was a file story that he did years earlier.

Gray Morrow
The House of Secrets 89 (January 1971)

"Where Dead Men Walk!"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Gray Morrow

"A Taste of Dark Fire!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Heck

Peter: Despite warnings of ghosts and goblins, Philip Hastings is determined to claim his inheritance: a huge, dark, ominous, gothic mansion. Wife Anne hates it the moment she sees the structure but Philip will not be persuaded and, once they meet caretaker Jamieson, the couple move in. It doesn't take long for Master Hastings to realize he's made a big mistake. Accident follows accident and, during the night, Anne is kidnapped and laid out on a torture rack in the dungeon. When Philip and Jamieson rescue Anne, they decide the best thing to do is burn the castle to the ground. Later, at the constable's office, Philip relates his tale and sulks when he realizes he's destroyed his inheritance because of some foolish superstitions. The constable then lets Philip in on a secret: Jamieson died and was buried days before the Hastings got to the castle. No big surprise in the climax of "Where Dead Men Walk!" (unfortunately, when you've read hundreds of these things, the twist usually becomes clear very quickly) but the unique formatting (odd-angled panels and the lack of word balloons) adds to the feel of a gothic romance novel. Gray Morrow is one of my favorite horror artists and he's at the top of his game here. I did have to laugh at the panel that depicts the Hastings after they've "scurried away" from the castle and are watching it burn atop a mountain several miles away!

John: The cover of this issue is a Marilyn Ross byline short of a Dark Shadows paperback. Morrow's art is such a delight in this issue, he spins straw into gold with an otherwise pedestrian tale. There's a richness of detail in every panel, which only serves to make Don Heck's decent artwork look worse by comparison.

"Where Dead Men Walk!"
Jack: Morrow's cover is a classic. I had thought it was an actual romance novel when I saw the house ad in other DC comics, but I guess it was just used for this issue. The opening story is also a classic, mainly because Morrow's art elevates the familiar tale. The lack of word balloons allows his panels to shine without interference and he terrifies the reader with his images of ghostly figures, especially when they chase the young couple fleeing from the castle. The ending did surprise me, probably because I haven't read as many of these as you have.

Peter: When Thomas Corbett gets up mid-sermon and leaves his church, Father John consults with his good friend, Rabbi Samuel, and the two decide Corbett has gone over to the dark side. Sure enough, when the dynamic duo break into Corbett's house, the man is conjuring demons. Luckily, the religious dynamos have the force of good on their side, righteousness is returned to their little 'burb, and Thomas Corbett is reduced to a pile of ashes.  "A Taste of Dark Fire!" is one of those most confounding of DC mystery stories: a really good, involving set-up with little to no payoff. Gerry Conway's pious pair are genuinely interesting and I could see a series of stories revolving around them. Unfortunately, Gerry has to throw in a silly contrivance (turns out the priest's trusted maid has actually been a satanist the whole time!) and a rushed denouement to weaken an otherwise solidly atmospheric piece. It may be damning praise, but for his part, Don Heck has never looked so unHeck-like. There's a smoothness to his pencils here I never saw in his work for Marvel nor in his dreadful art on the Batgirl mini-series in Detective Comics.

Some very atmospheric work by Don Heck... no, really, Don Heck!
Jack: A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar, and who do they find but Don Heck! The second story in this issue was a letdown from the first, but for Don Heck it was above average. Strangely enough, this super-duo of theologians would return in The Sinister House of Secret Love #2 a year later. That sounds like an odd place for a story about two men of God who battle evil. On a side note, the DC editor takes over the letters page in this issue instead of the House of Secrets responding to reader queries. The editor is now Dick Giordano, who has replaced Joe Orlando.

Dick Giordano
Unexpected 122 (January 1971)

"The Phantom of the Woodstock Festival"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Dick Dillin and Vince Colletta

"Lady Killer"
Story by Al Case (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Murphy Anderson

"To Die a Dozen Deaths!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jerry Grandenetti and Wally Wood

Story by Al Case (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Jack: The Stone Cantaloupe, a hard-rockin' trio of young musicians on their way to the Woodstock festival, gets stuck in traffic and beds down for the night in a deserted old monastery. During the night, Trina, the beautiful young singer, is summoned by the Phantom, who wants to keep her there forever to sing the music he has written. Her friends manage to free her and make off with an old parchment that contains a haunting melody. Sadly, the parchment is lost in the crowd at Woodstock. If only this tepid rip off of Phantom of the Opera had been dropped on the ground and forgotten at Woodstock!

"Shaggy, Daphne, we gotta find Scooby!"
Peter: DC's answer to Gold Key's Ripley's Believe It or Not! offers up four more lousy excuses for mystery. "Woodstock" is an inept, embarrassing variation on Phantom that makes no attempt at anything resembling originality. Lots of writers "pay homage" to the classics but the good scribes find something new to lay their hook on. Not so with George Kashdan who, it seems, was perfectly content to cash a check and get the hell out of Dodge. The less said about Dillin and Colletta the better.

John: There are some howlers in the 70s dialog. I can almost imagine Peter talking like that...

Jack: "Lady Killer" tells the oft-told story of a shy, deluded man who falls in love with a department store mannequin. The art is some of the worst I've seen from Murphy Anderson. When Jon Dusek murders the gypsy Rozmondo, he is cursed "To Die a Dozen Deaths!" Sentenced to be hanged, Dusek dreams over and over that his time has come, but each time the incredibly real experience turns out to have been a dream. After eleven such experiences, his lawyer shows up with pardon in hand and Dusek walks free, only to keel over from heart failure. This story does have some scary moments, despite Grandenetti's bizarre art. Wally Wood is not able to clean it up quite as well as he did in this month's HOM. A "Scarecrow" is what cranky old Sam becomes when he accidentally impales himself on a pitchfork while out looking for pesky crows by the light of the moon.

John: Boy, talk about being spoiled by Morrow's art in HOS. There's nothing worth your time in this issue.

"To Die a Dozen Deaths!"
Peter: The remaining three tales are just as dumb or unoriginal as the opener. "Lady Killer" is a bit on the sleazy side (that's a bonus) but it's bogged down by Murphy Anderson's color-by-numbers artwork and a dopey "twist." Jack points out that Jerry Grandenetti's art doesn't get quite as good a Wood-y this time out and that's pretty right on the money. It's still better than most of Jerry's DC work, though. The story's as limp as last night's pasta (I love the immediate and sudden full pardon Dusek gets because a witness dies) and the shock finale is about as tepid as they come. "Scarecrow" has to be the easiest ten bucks (or whatever DC paid their writers in 1970) that Murray Boltinoff ever made. "Let's see, I'll have this guy who hates crows but is too cheap to buy a scarecrow. We'll show him impaled at the end. How did he get impaled, Jerry? Don't ask questions, just draw!" Eventually, Murphy's Law has to take over and Unexpected will run a good story. Having said that... the fact that editor Dick Giordano lets the cat out of the bag on the letters page and announces the impending return of mystery character Johnny Peril to the pages of Unexpected makes my prediction/proclamation a bit suspect.

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 12 (January 1971)

"Double Edge"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Alex Toth

"Double Take"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by George Tuska

"Double Cross!"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

Jack: A boy's wicked stepmother throws out all of the junk cluttering up his room in "Double Edge," including a mysterious talisman. Years later, the boy is now a man and realizes that the talisman held great power that could be used for good or evil. He journeys to Los Angeles to reclaim it from a witch, but she attacks him and a mystical battle ensues. The young man defeats and kills the witch, only to discover that she was his stepmother. Toth's art makes this simple story seem like an epic! The mystical battle is impressive, but I'm not sure why the young man mourns the loss of his wicked stepmother at the end.

"Double Edge"
Peter: This is purely eye candy, Jack. Steve Skeates wrote some magnificent stories in the 1970s but this ain't one of them. It's not awful (it's head and shoulders above any of the junk found in this month's Unexpected) but the story has some unexplained mysteries that have nothing to do with the occult. In addition to the aforementioned climactic mourning, it defies logic that the stepmother would have spent any time tinkering with the talisman rather than doing just what she said she would do: toss it in the rubbish with the rest of the boy's collection. Just what is this talisman anyway? And who's the guy talking to our hero at the beginning of the story? His therapist, or perhaps Steve Skeates himself? Never mind all that. Just enjoy Toth's art.

John: I wish I could. Maybe it's because I'm reading it in black and white, but these big splash page mystical battles did absolutely nothing for me.

Jack: "Double Take" finds a man murdering his blackmailer, only to discover that he's playing a part in a movie. Or is he? This story is too confusing to work, and Tuska's art doesn't help. Happily, "Double Cross!" features very strong art by Kane and Adkins to illustrate the story of a happy housewife who comes unhinged when a yogi teaches her to expand her mind. She now sees beyond the surface of things and realizes that the forces of good and evil are battling for her soul. She breaks a store window and steals a cross to protect herself, only to be arrested for robbery and tossed in a cell, her cross confiscated by the cops! I am a huge Gil Kane fan, so I rejoice whenever one of his stories pops up in a DC horror mag. There is also a neat in-joke--the yoga book that Mrs. Coburn studies is by none other than Eli Katz, which is Kane's real name.

"Double Take"
Peter: George "Buckteeth" Tuska is currently ruining Iron Man and Hero For Hire over on our sister blog Marvel University so let's hope he's not as much a presence over here. As Jack said, "Double Take" doesn't really work as a story. The twists are too convoluted but it's a fun idea and I'll give Skeates points for trying something with a little bit of imagination to it, failure or no. As my Math teacher used to say, "I won't fail you if you at least make the effort." Of course, he failed me anyway. The best is saved for last, though, with "Double Cross." Not only does Gil Kane deliver on the art front (I believe writers were actually crafting stories around Kane's penchant for huge furry snake demons) but Skeates turns in a refreshingly cliche-free little devil worship story. I thought for sure we'd find out that Mrs. Coburn's jailers were, in fact, satanists as well but that may have been the biggest twist of all. That last panel, of the helpless housewife awaiting her fate, is a gem. Best story of the month. Aces all the way!

"Double Cross!"
John: While I do think Kane's art in the last story is the best of the bunch, I think that's a pretty low standard to measure against. For my 15 cents, this issue peaked with the great Nick Cardy cover (which on first glance I thought was Two-Face).

Jack: With the three stories inter-related by themes of doubling, this issue of The Witching Hour is particularly strong; too bad four pages of Tuska have to interrupt the fine work by Toth and Kane!

Peter: I wonder why Skeates didn't work a charm/talisman into the middle story since they played an important part in the two bookends.


...and more Toth!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Treat for Comic Book Fans!

Andrez Bergen, friend of bare*bones e-zine and author of two great novels, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat and 100 Years of Vicissitude, has written a new novel that will appeal to comic book fans everywhere!

Who Is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? was released on September 7, 2013, and can be purchased on paper or as an e-book. Order it from Amazon here.

From the press release:

"Like a crazy, post-modern road trip with Jack Kirby riding shotgun, and everyone from Stan Lee to Raymond Chandler nattering away in the back seat." THE THRILLING DETECTIVE

Heropa: A vast, homogenized city patrolled by heroes and populated by adoring masses. A pulp fiction fortress of solitude for crime-fighting team the Equalizers, led by new recruit Southern Cross - a lifetime away from the rain-drenched, dystopic metropolis of Melbourne.

Who, then, is killing the great Capes of Heropa? 

In this paired homage to detective noir from the 1940s and the '60s Marvel age of trail-blazing comic books, Andrez Bergen gloriously redefines the mild-mannered superhero novel. 

“The best non-comic book superhero story I’ve ever read.”

"A fresh, exciting look at crime fighters who don capes, masks and union suits to fight the forces of evil."

"That this story about comics should be so similar to a murder mystery of the Sam Spade kind is just the cherry on the cake."

"The most wildly imaginative places you will ever encounter in fiction."

"Jack Kirby meets Philip Marlowe? It's got my vote!"

"A sledgehammer of a novel."

Gun Machine by Warren Ellis, The Age Atomic by Adam Christopher, Watchmen by Alan Moore, and Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay


Distributed to the trade by National Book Network in US; by Orca Marston in UK
Publisher contact:

Monday, September 23, 2013

Star-Spangled DC War Stories Part 11: April 1960

By Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Jerry Grandenetti
Our Fighting Forces 54

"An Egg for Sarge!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Fighting Switch!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"G.I. Shock Absorbers"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

JS: "An Egg for Sarge!" is exactly what Gunner is looking for when his senior officer gets tired of eating K-Rations day after day. It seems that the food supply deliveries can't make it through enemy fire to the Pacific island where our heroes find themselves barely hanging on. Sarge's uncontrollable desire to eat an egg nearly gets him and Gunner killed, until Sarge uses a couple of explosive eggs to prevent a Japanese attack from wiping out the U.S. soldiers. By the way, what happened to pooch? Were those K-rations K-9?

Gunner and Sarge engage
in a little self-promotion
PE: I realize that too much grimness could spell disaster for a comic book in the early 1960s (especially for a comic company that prides itself on producing brainless hero titles) but we are talking war here, right? Not Laurel and Hardy. I think this is adventure number twelve that we've had to endure from this pair and it doesn't seem to be getting any better (and I believe there are lots more on the way). As for the art, the roller coaster ride known as Jerry Grandenetti takes another dip. Contrast this with the cartoony but sometimes effectively eerie work by Jerry on the DC mystery books. You'd never be able to tell this was the same guy. The same could be said for writer Kanigher who seems to be able to produce quality work while, at the same time, pumping out fluff like this.

"Fighting Switch!"
JS: Charley Neal is known as "Fish," because he's a great frogman. Ed Francis is known as "Wings," because he can land his plane anywhere. When the two are paired to destroy a Japanese ship with a torpedo, unexpected injuries force them to switch roles. As usual, the gimmick is overdone and Abel's art is not inspiring. I had to laugh when "Wings" bonked the enemy frogman with his torpedo underwater, swinging it like a baseball bat.

PE: I'm sure this scenario played out countless times during World War II, but I couldn't help but laugh at the constant banter between "Fish" and "Wings": "I'm a swimmer not a pilot!" "I'm a flyer not a frogman!" I was waiting for someone in the background to pipe up: "I'm a lover not a fighter!" Jack Abel's art is dreadful here, much too cartoony.

JS: Combat infantrymen Harry and Tom West hold back a wave of Nazi shock troopers in "G.I. Shock Absorbers." This may be the first time we've seen enemy propaganda leaflets dropped from a plane. The shock troops arrive so soon after the leaflets that there is little time to be afraid. How can Harry and Tom be expected to surrender (as the leaflets recommend) if the shock troops come at them with guns blazing?

PE: The worst is saved for last. Amateurish art by Andru and Esposito make the Nazi shock troops look like faceless Frankenstein monsters. Their vision of a diving Stuka is laughable, as if the plane is ten feet off the ground and heading in vertically. From cover to cover, one of the worst war comics I've read.

"G.I. Shock Absorbers"

Jerry Grandenetti
All-American Men at War 78

"Tin Hat for an Iron Man!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Price for Red Beach!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"The Toy Jet!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

JS: Fighter pilot Johnny Page flies cover as the infantry marches toward the town of Clevey, which is infested with hidden Nazi gunners. Page fights off an enemy jet before crash landing. Tankman Phil Locke and his crew also head toward Clevey, providing covering firepower closer to the ground. Can the infantry get there in time on foot to rescue Page and Locke before the Nazis get them? This is another one of those stories where an idea or phrase gets repeated over and over--this time, it's the suggestion that the infantrymen are lucky because they have hard helmets to protect their heads. The repetition is grating but at least the story achieves some tension along the way.

"Tin Hat for an Iron Man!"
PE: I agree completely, Jack. It's an exciting story and you can almost feel claustrophobic inside those panels depicting the interior of the tank (and the ricocheting bullets). But there's that damn catch phrase "Tin Hat." Does Kanigher expect us to believe that the entire army suddenly repeats the phrase over and over? Does the brass send out catch phrases each week to be read at the mess hall? I was a bit confused by the climax. I was sure the infantryman fired on by the tank was a goner but then in the final panel he gets up and walks away "dazed." These comic book soldiers were a lot more resilient than I thought. This story gives us far better Andru/Esposito work than we see in this month's OFF.

"Price for Red Beach!"
JS: Marine Paul Stokes finds himself alone, facing Japanese gunners, as he pays the "Price for Red Beach!" The price turns out to be getting shot right in the chest, though somehow he manages to survive and destroy the nest of gunners with a grenade. Methinks the real Paul Stokes was singing with the heavenly choir by the end of this one.

PE: Five stories without Russ Heath and I'm about to sing with the heavenly choir. Yet another coincidental catch phrase story. All the soldiers are remarking on the price that will be paid for the beach they're to land on and the first thing they see is an enemy sign asking what price they're willing to pay! Sheesh. Sign me up for writing comic books in 1960. I coulda done it, I tell you, if this is the evidence.

"The Toy Jet!"
JS: Captured and held in a North Korean prison camp, a nameless fighter pilot carves "The Toy Jet!" and tricks his captors into letting him too close to a real jet, which he uses to aid his fellow prisoners in a daring escape. Easily the best story in the issue, this one features haunting art by Russ Heath. The prison camp setting is one we have not seen before (that I can recall) but I have a feeling we'll be seeing it again.

PE: Ask and thou shalt receive Heath. Not only the best story of the issue but also of the month (though there really wasn't much competition, to be fair). Very different in style and visuals from any other DC war story we've read, "The Toy Jet" reminded me of some of the tales I read in Timely's pre-code war title, Battlefield, which I briefly discussed here. It's not a perfect story (the climax, when the escaping GIs see the toy jet falling from the fighter plane and believe it to be a bomb, is embarrassing) and a few of the panels stand aside from the perfection (the enemy captain has an impossibly large head in the panel where he's overpowered by our hero) but this is about as good as we've seen so far, art and story-wise.

Jerry Grandenetti
Our Army at War 93

"Deliver One Air Field!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Nightmare Jet!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

"The Comeback Tank"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

JS: Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. are going to have trouble when they are asked to "Deliver One Air Field!" if hot dog soldier Zack Nolan doesn't stop looking out for number one and become a team player. Though Nolan picks up a couple of medals for bravery along the way with his intelligence and guts, Zack doesn't become a true member of Easy Co. until he sees Sgt. Rock nearly lose his life protecting him and the new soldier has to return the favor. In other hands, this story would not work and would be another one where we get the same lesson banged into our skulls over and over. However, Kanigher's writing and (especially) Kubert's art make it memorable. The fact that Nolan is actually smart and heroic doesn't hurt. It makes sense that it would be hard for him to learn the importance of teamwork under fire.

"Deliver One Air Field!"
PE: I liked the story but I didn't buy the moral or the lengths Rock went to in changing Mister No. 1. The "All for one and one for all" mantra is what Rock lives by and Mister No. 1 is the antithesis of that creed. Rock is risking the lives of all his men just to prove a point. We know he's gonna shape this guy into a "right" soldier because Sgt. Rock is never wrong but this ain't how it happens in real life. A real Sergeant probably would have decked a guy who would jump into a one-man foxhole and watch as mortar lands all around his comrade, joking all the while. During the entirety of the story I was reminded of the fabulous Combat television show that featured story lines like this, guest-starring Telly Savalas or Robert Duvall or some other up-and-coming actor. How many times have we seen Rock transform a hothead or a coward or, in this case, a selfish bastard into a decent fighting machine only to have him disappear in the next installment? Do you think these guys blend into the background characters? Time for some names for these faceless soldiers.

"Nightmare Jet!"
JS: The "Nightmare Jet!" is a Japanese fighter that haunts U.S. fighter pilot Harry's dreams and his waking imagination. Naturally, the day comes when he is face to face with the real thing, and some fancy flying allows him to survive and shoot down the enemy ace. This story is too short to have much of an impact, but Russ Heath drawing planes is always a welcome sight.

PE: Russ Heath! Absolutely gorgeous but do you think there really is a mountain range shaped like a dragon, complete with feet, tail, and snout? This one had more imaginary starts and stops than a Nightmare On Elm Street movie. Perhaps it should have remained a dream, though. Might have been a bit more effective.

"The Comeback Tank"
JS: Down but not out, "The Comeback Tank" roars to life and takes a hill despite an attack by gloating Nazis. Too short to make an impression and hobbled by broad-stroke art by Grandenetti, this story really goes nowhere fast. Still, with Kubert and Heath in fine form, this is the best war comic of the month.

PE: I'll politely disagree and say I enjoyed this one along with the more typical Grandenetti artwork. The majority of panel space was given over to the perspective of the enemy and that's a rare angle for the DC war comics, one I'd like to see explored more in the future (and it will be when "Enemy Ace" shows up). And, though I thought "The Toy Jet" was the best story of the month, these three good-to-solid OAAW tales combine to make this, yep, the best comic book of the month.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Twelve: "One Grave Too Many" [5.32]

by Jack Seabrook

"One Grave Too Many" is a rarity for Alfred Hitchcock Presents--no one is killed and the protagonist is done in by his own sense of right and wrong. Based on Henry Slesar's story of the same name, which was first published as the lead story in the November 1958 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, this episode was adapted for television by Eli Jerome and directed by Arthur Hiller. I wonder if the story title was changed by the magazine's editor, because it has no relation to what happens in the story.

Slesar's story concerns Joe Helmer, who thinks himself too good for most jobs and spends his afternoons at the movies. His wife, Irene, stews alone at home as the bills pile up. One morning, Joe sees a man collapse on the sidewalk in front of him when no one else is around. Finding the man dead, Joe takes his wallet, which is filled with cash. Joe runs home and tells Irene that he met an old Army buddy who paid him back for a long-forgotten loan.

Looking through the wallet, Joe discovers a card that reads "I AM NOT DEAD" and that asks anyone who finds the man in a cataleptic state to notify his doctor at once. Horrified at the thought of the man being buried alive, Joe returns to the spot where he had taken the wallet, only to learn from a policeman that the man had already been taken away. That night, Joe can't sleep and thinks of himself as a murderer. Joe sneaks out and goes to a drug store, where he telephones the police. He warns them not to bury the man, but they insist that he come to the station. He tries to call the doctor listed on the card but gets his answering service.

Biff Elliot
Finally, Joe goes to the police station and tells Lt. Bates what happened. He admits to having taken the wallet. Bastes takes him to the morgue, where Joe identifies the corpse. Bates explains that the dead man was Sonny Capper, a well-known pickpocket with a heart condition. He invites Joe upstairs to discuss his own crime.

Joe Helmer is a layabout, a thief and a liar, but he has a moral line that he will not cross and confesses to theft in order to save a man from being buried alive. One measure of a good story is that it is easy to imagine that the characters existed before the events of the story and that they will continue to exist after the story's end. In "One Grave Too Many," Henry Slesar portrays a married couple with financial problems that are easy to understand. What will become of them after Joe goes upstairs with Lt. Bates? I suspect that Joe will get a slap on the wrist, since he can easily return the money, which had been stolen in the first place. One hopes that Joe's decision to admit his crime to try to prevent a greater wrong from being done will work in his favor with the police.

Neile Adams
The televised version of Slesar's story was first aired on CBS on Sunday, May 22, 1960, near the end of season five of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It ran two weeks after "Insomnia," Slesar's prior episode. This time, Slesar did not write the teleplay; instead, it was penned by Eli Jerome, about whom I have been able to discover nothing, beyond this credit and the credit for adapting Slesar's "Party Line," which aired the following week.

Jerome's script sticks closely to Slesar's story. A scene is added early on where Joe goes to the Friendship Loan Company to borrow $100 but cannot get a loan. The loan officer, Mr. Pickett, is played by Howard McNear, who is instantly recognizable as Floyd the Barber from The Andy Griffith Show. The scenes that follow are marked by evocative lighting. Joe sees the man collapse on a dark street at night, and when he goes home, his apartment is filled with shadows cast by candlelight, since the electricity has been shut off by the power company for non-payment of bills.

Jeremy Slate
Jeremy Slate is believable as Joe, but Neile Adams, as his wife Irene, acts a bit too histrionically and the script provides her with too many opportunities to sigh, "Oh, Joe!" Arthur Hiller's camerawork is quite active in this episode, with a nice variety of shots and quick cutting providing a rapid pace to the action. Even the stock music cues are well used to create an ominous tone, especially when Joe reads the fateful card in front of his bathroom mirror. When Joe is in the telephone booth, one closeup is so tight that the screen is filled with only a portion of his face.

Biff Elliot, playing Lt. Bates, has little screen time but makes the most of it, playing the detective as a sweating, exasperated professional who is frustrated by Joe's story but does his job anyway. A good example of his manner of speaking comes when he telephones the morgue and tells the attendant, referring to the corpse, to "Showcase him-we'll be right down."

Howard McNear
Arthur Hiller (1923- ), who directed "One Grave Too Many," directed 17 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. This was the fourth adaptation of a Henry Slesar story he would direct; the one before this had been "Forty Detectives Later."

Credited first, Neile Adams (1932- ) was married to Steve McQueen from 1956 to 1972 and began a career in movies and TV in the 1950s. She was in three episodes of the Hitchcock series, most notably "Man From the South," in which she appeared with her husband. She maintains a website today.

Tyler McVey
Jeremy Slate (1926-2006), born Robert Perham, was billed second but was clearly the star of the show. He landed at Normandy on D-Day and later went on to a career in movies and on TV from the late 1950s to the early 1990s. He appeared in five episodes of the Hitchcock series. In an interview, he admitted that he acted from 1960 to 1970 and then tuned in, turned on and dropped out, spending the next ten years traveling around the USA in a motor home.

Biff Elliot (1923-2012) was born Leon Shalek and was in TV and movies from the early 1950s until his death. He appeared five times on the
Hitchcock series and starred as Mike Hammer in the 1953 film, I, the Jury. A website devoted to Biff Elliot is here, though it has not been updated recently.

Howard McNear (1905-1969) played on the radio series Gunsmoke from 1952 to 1961, then was seen on 80 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show from 1961 to 1967. He was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents twice and also appeared on The Twilight Zone and Thriller.

Finally, Tyler McVey (1912-2003), who plays the cop at the front desk, made eight appearances on the Hitchcock series, always in small roles. He can be seen in "Human Interest Story" and "The Gloating Place."

"One Grave Too Many" is on the season five DVD set of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and it can also be viewed online for free here. It was rerun in 1981 as part of PBS's 26-part series, The Best of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2013.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2013.
"Jeremy Slate - Interview Part 1 of 4." YouTube. YouTube, 10 Feb. 2007. Web. 15 Sept. 2013.
"One Grave Too Many." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 22 May 1960. Television.
Slesar, Henry. "One Grave Too Many." 1958. Clean Crimes and Neat Murders: Alfred Hitchcock's Hand Picked Selection of Stories by Henry Slesar. New York: Avon, 1960. 42-50. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2013.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Do You Dare Enter? Part Ten: October-November 1970

The DC Mystery Line 1968-1976
by Jack Seabrook,
John Scoleri,
& Peter Enfantino

Neal Adams
The House of Mystery 188 (October 1970)

"Dark City of Doom"
Story by Gerard Conway
Art by Tony de Zuniga

"House of Madness!"
Story uncredited
Art by Bernie Wrightson

Peter: In "Dark City of Doom," Tal, son of Toltec, can't wait to take over the reins from his old man and become high priest of Uxmal, an ancient Mayan city. Only one thing bothers Tal: the barbaric sacrificial rites pop engages in to keep the sun from burning the village to a crisp. One day, while wandering in the forest, Tal bumps into Kallana, a pretty maiden who introduces the young warrior to her father, a rival high priest in a neighboring 'burb. This shaman uses a completely different method of keeping the sun god at bay: herbs and lotion. When Tal returns to his father to share the great news, he discovers that the latest dish being served is Kallana. He curses his people and they suffer a fiery doom. Why? Who knows? This is another of those abrupt tales that starts promisingly and finishes with a big question mark as if the writer wasn't sure exactly how he'd end this fabulous set-up.

John: While the story didn't do much for me, I really liked de Zuniga's art.

Jack: Good story, excellent art! This was Tony de Zuniga's first story as penciller for DC, ushering in a new era of Filipino artists in American comics. Kallana looks like she stepped off the cover of an old SF pulp, and he draws Cain as well as anyone I've seen. I liked the twist ending, too!

Peter: Obviously we don't agree on the climax, Jack, but one thing we agree on is the fabulous art. I'm not familiar with the work of Tony de Zuniga (1932-2012) but he's immediately gone into my "keep an eye out for..." file. de Zuniga would later go on to co-create (with John Albano) the popular weird western character, Jonah Hex. Like Gerry Conway, who wrote "Dark City," the uncredited writer of "House of Madness!" doesn't seem to have worked on an outline before putting pencil to script. This is a head scratcher if there ever was one. Mark Chase gets lost in foggy London, opens a red door, and finds himself in 16th Century Bedlam. The master of the legendary asylum, Barnabas, obviously takes pleasure in torturing the inmates and makes Mark feel at home. At first our hero fights back but finally gets wise and plays possum, waiting for his opening. He overpowers his guard, nabs Barnabas, and heads for the red door. Once back in present-day London, he has his former master committed. What was the red door? Where is it located in London? Can anyone use it? How is it that Mark was able to stumble on it but not some other poor soul? Who knows? It's almost as though the first part of this tale was lopped off for space. Wrightson's art here looks rushed as well.

John: I thought that Wrightson's art was some of the most detailed we've seen in a while. Just look at the details in the background above as an example. But it does appear he ran out of steam toward the end, certainly the last two panels on the second to last page.

Jack: Another very nice, ghoulish story, with Wrightson in full Ghastly mode. There are a couple of panels with open-mouthed characters where the spittle lines connect from top to bottom, just like in the good old Ingels days. Adams cover, de Zuniga debut and a long Wrightson story--a top-notch issue!

Neal Adams
The House of Secrets 88 (November 1970)

"The Morning Ghost"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Dick Dillin and Frank Giacoia

Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Bill Draut

Peter: In "The Morning Ghost," beautiful Casandra is out walking one morning when she's nearly run down by a car driven and occupied by a gaggle of ghosts. Only the quick thinking of a handsome passerby saves Cas from tire tracks across her mid-section. Cas tells her savior her story: she had met a young man and agreed to marry him but her rich family objected to his nobody status and, after a heated argument, an accident burned their mansion to the ground, with family intact. After several run-ins with the spirits, Cas finally gives in and joins them back at the mansion (now suddenly in one piece), revealing to her new beau that she also died in the blaze. That's okay with him, though, since he's a ghost as well. Only one aspect of this mammothly dopey story surprised me and that's the fact that it got published in the first place. Makes you wish you were a comic writer in the early 1970s. I knew right from the get-go that the guy who comes to Cas's rescue was a ghost. I assumed that it was the girl's dead lover (who was also burnt to a crisp in the fire but apparently forgotten quite soon after), but the "double twist climax" only made me wince longer. This was an easy payday for all three gentlemen involved in the "creative process."

John: Forgetting the predictability of the story, there's something about the way the ghosts are drawn that makes them (and the story) cooler than it deserves to be.

Jack: Dick Dillin's art does not lend itself to spooky ghost stories, and I feel like we've seen this twist ending before. I was not very surprised when Casandra revealed herself to be a ghost but I admit I was a little surprised to see Rich do the same. The story ends rather abruptly. That Neal Adams cover painting is very impressive; was it used as a paperback cover later on?

John: That Adams cover looks like it would have been more at home on the Secrets of Sinister House. Or a Marilyn Ross gothic paperback.

Peter: Blind old Silas is convinced his nephew is planning to kill him and take over the family business. When he overhears the young man telling a customer that he's got a well-deserved surprise for his uncle, Silas cracks the kid over the skull and, basically, wanders around for 4 pages (stumbling into the edges of the panels) convinced his nephew is a/ not dead or b/ a ghost. Silas works himself into a heart attack and the police bust in, ostensibly when the smell gets too nasty, only to find two dead men and a seeing eye dog. I figured out the "twist" fairly early but I suppose it might have surprised youngsters and, ahem, older comic critics (see below). Bill Draut's art is nothing spectacular but he manages to win "Best Art of the Issue" by default.

Jack: This story did not start well but it got better as it went along, especially once blind Uncle Silas started stumbling around in the shadows. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the source of the frightening sounds was just a new seeing-eye dog. You know how easy it is to fool us old folks! This story had a "Blind Alley"/EC vibe to it. As for the frame, a visit by Egor and Cynthia to the House of Secrets is always welcome.

John: Am I the only one who thought Uncle Silas looked a little too much like Uncle Creepy? Someone get Jim Warren on the phone!

Cardy or Adams?
The Witching Hour 11 (November 1970)

"The Mark of the Witch"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alex Toth

"The Sands of Time, The Snows of Death!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Geoge Tuska

Jack: Poor Thomas, wrapped in a straitjacket and locked in a cell for the murder of a young girl! If only someone would pay attention to his raving about "The Mark of the Witch." A doctor finally listens as Thomas relates the story of his discovery of a witches' ceremony and his attempt to rescue a young girl from being sacrificed. Sadly, the witches put a hex on Thomas and he woke up next to the dead lass, holding a knife. The sympathetic doctor promises to help, but after he leaves the cell we see the telltale marks on the back of his neck that show him to be a member of the coven. This is a fairly obvious story by Oleck with merely average art by Toth. I was a bit puzzled as to when it was supposed to be taking place. The surprise ending is not much of a surprise.

Peter: The oldest punchline in horror comics (or science fiction comics as well, as evidenced by the number of times Stan Lee used it in the Marvel pre-hero anthology titles) caps a very average witch tale. Not a lot of characterization, not a lot of info provided on who this guy is or why he's involved with the witch's cult. Yet another dull script highlighted by Alex Toth's atmospheric art.

John: Toth's art is a bit too stark for me. This might have benefited from color, but in black and white it's not particularly effective (Note: John is reviewing these issues from the Showcase collections, published in black and white).

"The Mark of the Witch"
Jack: In "The Sands of Time, the Snows of Death," a weary traveler in the Arctic seeks refuge in a cave and finds an opening to the Hall of Time, which allows him to escape his snowbound prison and travel back countless years to the time of the dinosaurs. He tries to return to the future but finds the passageway closed. He sits down in the cave to die. Millennia later, it all happens again. Never mind the usual terrible art by Tuska, this story is so confusing that I have to guess Gerry Conway as the uncredited writer. As I read it, I wondered if the pages might be out of order, because it makes so little sense. I have come to expect better tales from Cynthia, my favorite witch! By the way, the protagonist wants to get back to 1968 but this comic came out in 1970. I suspect this was a story from the files and no one noticed the date discrepancy.

"The Sands of Time, the Snows of Death!"
Peter: The masters of time must have foreseen someone stumbling onto their clock since they were smart enough to label their switchboard! Yet another of the fossilized cliches Stan Lee used to milk (remember when the Mole Man would tape labels like "Off" and "On" across his doomsday machines?). I'm completely confused by this climax. Hasn't Anderson placed his warning plaque on the opposite side of the door it was on at the beginning of the story? And doesn't showing the plaque at the beginning of the story kind of ruin any suspense the writer is hoping for? How could he have seen it? Again, this is another of those cliched "it was the character warning himself of his own doom" climax. And, like "House of Madness," this tale almost seems to be the second half of a (god forbid) longer narrative. When we first meet up with Anderson, he's already killed his partner for the gold. I can't emphasize enough just how awful  George Tuska's art is. Makes me appreciate Don Heck and Frank Robbins much more. You're on the money, Jack, when you question the actual date this story was produced but, if not for the presence of Tuska, I'd say it was scheduled for one of those awful mid-60s DC sf titles.

John: If you're going to send characters back to the time of the dinosaurs, I expect that they'll be around for more than just a couple of panels.

Jack: When I was a kid, I did not notice the bad art. I think that's a sign of maturity or crankiness.

Peter: I'll let our readers decide that one, Jack.

Neal Adams
Unexpected 121 (November 1970)

"Daddy's Gone A-Haunting!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Within These Walls Dwells Fear"
Story by Jack Phillips (George Kashdan)
Art by Dick Dillin

"Would You Want to Know the Day You Die?"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by John Calnan and Vince Colletta

Jack: Daddy Jonah is an old-fashioned healer, and the more modern doctor and townspeople hate and fear him in "Daddy's Gone A-Haunting!" Things only get worse when Daddy Jonah finds an abandoned boy in a crater and takes him home to heal him. Everywhere the boy goes, death and destruction follow, which doesn't make Daddy Jonah any more popular. Only when he cures the doctor of a heart condition does everyone leave him alone. The boy then recalls who he is, reconfigures his body into a meteorite, and speeds home into outer space, leaving Daddy Jonah alone and lonesome. Jerry Grandenetti's art gets more bizarre with each passing month. It seems like we need to start judging it on a scale of its own and not in relation to anything else. This story is rather obvious from the moment Daddy Jonah finds the boy in a crater and we see that he has pointy ears.

Quality art from Jerry Grandenetti!
Peter: Obvious maybe, but I enjoyed the heck out of it. Take my pulse. It's a jumbled mess that could do with a re-write and a couple extra panels of info but it works anyway. Jonah's story almost brought a lump to my throat. As usual, Jack, you are right on the money as far as Grandenetti goes. No artist I've run across in the years we've been doing these things is more hot and cold (well, maybe, lukewarm and cold). Here, his pencils are just fine and, in spots, really nice. The shot of the emptying lake (above) is pretty creepy!

John: Perhaps it worked back in the day, but I couldn't get past the Eddie Munster/Spock crossover kid.

Jack: Phil and Mary Coyle buy a big old house in the country, only to find that the locals do everything they can to scare them and drive them away in "Within These Walls Dwells Fear." Unfortunately for Mary, the main problem seems to be that hubby Phil has a split personality and is trying to kill her--and himself! Judge Gallows returns after several issues on sabbatical to tell this story, which is almost as obvious as the one before it. I had guessed that Phil was the culprit long before the big reveal, though Dick Dillin's art makes it a little bit unclear that Phil is the bad guy, at least until the writer spells it out for us.

"Within These Walls Dwells Fear"
Peter: I'll buy that Phil has a split personality (and I admit to not seeing that one coming) but what does that have to do with the creepy townsfolk at the beginning of the story who are trying to scare the couple away? And why would anyone punish Judge Gallows for committing an obviously insane man? I also had trouble recognizing Phil as the bad guy but then maybe that's deliberate--Mr. Hyde and all. The wreck that Phil and Mary move into looks exactly like the house that burned to the ground in "The Morning Ghost" and I thought, for an instant, "Hey, that's cool! A cross-over sequel!" Unfortunately, it was only a case of "Limited Dick Dillin Architecture."

John: I seem to recall suggesting how it would be cool to see Judge Gallows again. Is it too late to take that back?

Jack: In "Would You Want to Know the Day You Die?", Don Young lives it up until he falls in love and has a family. He then works so hard that he drops dead. End of story. A ghostly green figure narrates this tale and tells us that Don's fear of dying young killed him, not his overwork. The whole thing is a waste of four pages, illustrated by the no-star team of John Calnan and Vince Colletta. A couple of single-page throwaway stories round out the issue; one is drawn by Berni Wrightson and, though it doesn't make a lot of sense, at least it (and the Adams cover) serves to elevate another mediocre issue of Unexpected.

Peter: I think I'd much rather see four more pages of swell advertising than something as stupid as "Would You Want..." Early in the story we're told that Don had a "Fatalist philosophy--and it became stronger each time death appeared..." but we're not told exactly why Don is constantly around when someone dies. The story's a dud but the art isn't bad. A surprise to me since I remember not caring too much for John Calnan's work on the Batman titles. We get a "Coming Attractions" on our letters page this issue, promising all kinds of delights in the future. One, a Dave Wood "super-supernatural saga" tentatively tiled "The Ferris Wheel of Fear," might have been retitled or canned. I don't find any record of that appearing. Stay tuned.


de Zuniga