Monday, November 25, 2013

Do You Dare Enter? Part Fifteen: August 1971

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

Berni Wrightson
 The House of Mystery 193

"Voodoo Vengeance!"
Story by Alan Riefe
Art by Tony De Zuniga

"Dark Night, Dark Dreams!"
Story by Francis X. Bushmaster (Gerry Conway)
Art by Bill Draut and Tom Palmer

Peter: Claude Vachon runs his Haitian plantation with an iron fist, lording over his slave laborers with threats of "Voodoo Vengeance!" The slaves try to fight back with their own voodoo but, one by one, the uprisings are squelched by the evil Vachon. The plantation owner sees the writing on the wall and hatches a plan. Vachon vows to die and rise from the dead, forever to haunt the workers. He loosens a stone in his mausoleum for escape, then takes an herb that gives him the appearance of death. His "body" is buried and, as he is about to move the stone, a huge boulder rolls down the mountain and seals the crypt, leaving Vachon to a slow and painless death. Tony De Zuniga's art really saves this slow and tedious revenge saga, a plot we've seen dozens of times before (and since).

John: This starts off as a promising tale, but ultimately disappoints. All the effort that went into building up the story is wasted when ends with the coincidence of him getting trapped in the mausoleum.

"Voodoo Vengeance!"
Jack: Worst of all is Cain's moral at the end telling us not to "mess around with anybody's relatives or religion." Since when is Cain so serious? I expect some corny puns or evil cackling from our favorite caretaker.

Peter: A young lady checks into her new sublet apartment, only to be harassed by a nasty landlord. The man follows her into her apartment and, while there, the radio plays a news report of escaped asylum inmates in the area. After falling asleep, the girl awakes, only to be terrorized by the landlord, who really wants her apartment bad. In the end, we discover that it's actually the woman who's one of the escapees and she dispatches the pest with a thrust of the blade. One of the oldest cliches in all of horror comics, the innocent who is actually the crazy, doesn't get dusted off so much as redrawn. No reader with a horror IQ will make it past the third page without guessing the "twist." A really bad issue of HoM.

Jack: Whew! I guessed this one right off. I can't blame Gerry Conway for allowing this to be published under a fake name. Cain stutters in fear like his brother Abel in the frame sequence.

John: Yeah, perhaps all those years ago, the shocker that the last escaped convict was - gasp - a woman, might have made for a more surprising finale. 

"Dark Night, Dark Dreams!"

 Unexpected 126

"You Are Cordially Invited--to Die!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Dick Dillin and Vince Colletta

"A Cat Tale"
Story by Al Case (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Rich Buckler

"The Doomsday Drum"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Joe Maneely
(reprinted from House of Secrets #9, April 1958)

"Please Let Me Die!"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Bruno Premiani

"The Town That Buried Me Alive!"
Story by Uncredited
Art by Alex Toth
(reprinted from House of Mystery #149, March 1965)

"Seek Your Own Grave!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Jack: Hiram is rich, old, and evil, and when he is on his deathbed he makes a bargain with a gentleman who works for Mr. Grimm to extend his life for an hour in "You Are Cordially Invited--to Die!" Despite his insistence that he will make up for all of his sins, he promptly goes and murders one of his employees to gain the plans for a lucrative new invention. Mr. Grimm's butler shows up to collect Hiram after his hour is up, but Hiram asks to see Mr. Grimm and talks him into another week of life. Hiram is nabbed by the cops for murder and races back to Mr. Grimm, agreeing to work for him in exchange for protection. As a result, he becomes Mr Grimm's new butler, doomed to bargain with other dying men. Dick Dillin turns in another uninspired job on this tale, whose conclusion is far from unexpected.

John: Sure, a mean old bastard on his death bed gets an extra hour to live, and he decides to try and negotiate a deal on a technology he wants to own? Yeah, right. Increasing the value of my portfolio would not be number one on my list of things to do with one hour to live.

Peter: An interesting premise peters out into nothing special. I kept waiting for the reveal that "Mr. Grimm" was actually Cain, as the mansion Grimm owns sure looks like the House of Mystery.

Jack: "A Cat Tale" turns tragic when landlord Mr. Harris poisons all of cat lady Mrs. McDougal's feline friends. She attacks him and the excitement kills her but he knows she has eight more lives. Two pages and long at that!

John: I guess after complaining about the long tales that end poorly, I should at least appreciate the brevity of this loser.

Peter: "A Cat Tale" is a really dumb short-short with passable art by future Marvel superstar Rich Buckler. That's the only reason to waste a couple minutes on this one.

"A Cat Tale"
Jack: Drummer Ken Kirby's popularity is on the wane until he steals "The Doomsday Drum" from a Native American, ignoring the warning that it will haunt him. Unexpectedly, it does just that and keeps popping up every time he tries to destroy it. He confesses the theft to the police and ends up in jail. Frankly, I don't understand the end of this story, even though Peter thinks it makes sense. The best part of this story is the cool art by Joe Maneely, which has a '50s horror comic vibe missing in this issue's first two stories. Maybe that's because it's reprinted from a 1958 comic.

Peter: File "The Doomsday Drum" under "dumb but enjoyable." It's all explained logically in the end but don't think too hard on it or you'll get a headache. Fabulous art by Golden Age great Joe Maneely, who made Marvel's Black Knight one of the most exquisitely illustrated strips this side of Prince Valiant. You could do far worse than this Silver Age DC reprint.

John: Maneely, who I wasn't familiar with before this tale, does have a great style that would be right at home in EC comics, but for my money he doesn't get better than the initial splash illo of Ken chopping his drums with an axe.

Jack: Old Charlie Kimble is a prisoner who hears the voices of his dead friends in his head and longs to join them. A fellow prisoner knocks him out, steals his clothes and dies in an attempted escape. When Charlie wakes up, he feels better, no longer hears voices, and wants to live. After reading this story, I'm thinking the grave might not be such a bad idea after all.

Peter: "Please Let Me Die" is strictly amateur hour in both script and art. If I was editor Murray Boltinoff, I'd have been hiding under my desk when crap like this came in the door. I can't draw a straight line but I'm somehow confident my doodles would look better than those of Bruno Premiani. According to Wikipedia, this was the Golden Age artist's final work before retiring.

John: Wow, the editors, knowing whatever artist was going to follow Maneely probably didn't stand a chance, wasted no opportunity in scraping the bottom of the bucket.

"Please Let Me Die!"
Jack: When Wayne Bostwick returns after a long absence to his home, he finds that it is "The Town That Buried Me Alive!" Everyone thinks he's his twin brother Roy and, after awhile, Wayne begins to think so, too. But when Wayne is jailed as Roy and accused of using shoddy building materials in a dam project, he must use his wits to prove his real identity. Not much of a chiller, this story shows us an earlier stage in Alex Toth's development as an artist, one where his work is more realistic and less fanciful than what we've grown used to in the early '70s. Still, his draftsmanship is excellent and better than that found in the new stories in this issue.

This panel hints at the direction
Toth would soon take.
Peter: This is an engaging read but it comes with a really confusing expository. It kept me guessing and that's what counts, I guess, in a story that's supposed to have an Unexpected finale. The most interesting thing about this story is seeing how radically different Alex Toth's art was just a little more than a half decade before. His art was very stylish and stood out from all the other DC hacks but wasn't nearly as moody and atmospheric as it would become with the "new wave" of mystery titles. If "The Town..." and "The Doomsday Drum" are any indicator, it would have been kinder to readers (and a lot cheaper on the overhead) to go all-reprint with Unexpected rather than fill it with junk like the new material. By the way, a little trivia: the word "unexpected" was hastily added to the climactic panel of each of the reprints to give it a "new" feel (in those early days, reprints weren't acknowledged).

John: I've not been enamored with Toth's work to date, this was less garish than usual. Hopefully this is a good sign of things to come.

Jack: An old miser living in a ghost town in the desert is killed by three hoodlums who seek his gold. After he dies, his faithful dog leads each of the men to their doom. What would an issue of Unexpected be without a Grandenetti story? I have to wonder if the poor artist had something wrong with him when he was drawing these. It makes me pine for the work of Frank Robbins.

John: Yes, welcome to amateur hour, but I have to say I prefer it to Premiani's work in this issue.

"Seek Your Own Grave!"
Peter: I never thought Jerry Grandenetti's art could get any worse but now here's the proof. I like the fact that the Unexpected's nameless narrator has to spell out the unexpected twist at the end of the story: "Unexpected? Don't you remember the old miner's warning--that if he died, he'd take the three of you with him?" Oh, right, that's why the three guys end up dead! Thanks! This was the first of the over-sized quarter books--52 pages for only a quarter!--as well as the first monthly title in the mystery line. Of course, in the case of Unexpected, it's clearly quantity over quality. The jumbo-sizers will last only eleven months but Unexpected will maintain its monthly schedule until March 1974 (missing only one month, May 1973), when it will be fattened up again, this time to 100 pages for 60 cents. Next month, the 52-page virus infects the other mystery titles (see note below).

Note to our readers: Because of the DC mystery line explosion of 1971, our bi-weekly coverage of DC horror/mystery will now cover only one month per post rather than two. In the next few months, we'll see the line rapidly expand to seven titles, many of them monthly, and that's a lot of stories for two old men to absorb. We trust you'll still enjoy our nostalgic journey. It'll just take a little longer to get to the finale.

Look for it on your newsstand!
Just don't expect to find it.


Greg M. said...

Hey, guys! Another fun column to read. I just had to comment on the Kirby "In the Days of the Mob!" comic. They actually re-released it earlier this year, including a never published issue 2. It's quite the read. Just thought I'd let you know (if you didn't know already.)

Keep up the great work!

Peter Enfantino said...

Thanks for the kind words, Greg! And for the news about the Kirby book. I hadn't heard about that. It's nice to know that someone is taking chances on niche projects.