Monday, February 24, 2014

Do You Dare Enter? Part Twenty-One: February 1972

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

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 132

"The Edge of Madness"
Story by Bill Dennehy (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Jim Aparo

"The Diary of a Dead Man!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by George Tuska

"Experiment 1000"
Story Uncredited
Art by Nick Cardy
(reprinted from House of Secrets #6, October 1957)

"The Sorcerer's Handcuffs"
Story Uncredited
Art by Mort Drucker
(reprinted from House of Secrets #1, December 1956)

"Death Watch!"
Story by Murray Boltinoff
Art by Rich Buckler

"A Will To Kill"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Never wear a miniskirt to babysit in the snow.
Jack: Young Debbie gets more than she bargained for when she babysits for the Partridge Family who recently moved into the old mansion on Cemetery Hill. She hears scratching at the window and sees a shadowy figure outside. Rather than call the cops like a rational person, she grabs the baby and runs out into the snow-covered boneyard, where she promptly trips and falls. The figure turns out to be her boyfriend Johnny, who was keeping an eye on her. The Partridges return home early and find their baby in the graveyard with Debbie and Johnny. They take Debbie and the baby home, where both parents freak out on "The Edge of Madness," ending with Dad cracking his skull on a tombstone. I was so pleased to see Jim Aparo as the artist on this first story and so disappointed when it turned out to be another muddle.

Peter: Yet another silly, disjointed tale. So, if you're a young girl and someone appears at the window on a cold, lonely night, the best plan is to grab the baby and head out into the snow. The cemetery, after all, is the best place to hide! Much safer than indoors. Sheesh! Sometimes, especially when we're talking about Unexpected stories, I think the writers cobbled together two or more disparate plot threads they had lying around and counted on the kind and lazy red pencil of Murray Boltinoff.

Pop quiz--identify the
facial feature most
associated with the work
of George Tuska.
Jack: Assistant State Attorney Barney Roberts investigates the death of wealthy old Crawford by reading "The Diary of a Dead Man!" The memoir relates how Crawford found his son dead and his wife gone; he was certain his rival, Hathaway, was at fault but the sheriff wouldn't listen. Finally, Crawford dropped dead and Roberts discovered that the family he was so attached to was a figment of his imagination, since his "wife" had married his rival decades before. This stinker had the appearance of a crummy reprint but sadly was a new piece of work by George Tuska. The "unexpected" ending is telegraphed early on and the art is wretched.

Peter: The story's really not that bad, Jack, and I didn't see the twist coming (a rarity, I assure you). There will be no argument on the art though and that's to be Expected.

Jack: On the real reprint front, we get "Experiment 1000," about a gorilla who learns to think and is killed by a greedy scientist. My favorite line: "'Any gorilla on the loose is bad enough . . . one with intelligence can be a hurricane on two legs!'" We lifelong DC fans know that whenever there was a way to shoehorn a gorilla into a story, they'd do it, and if it could be smarter than the humans around it, all the better. "The Sorcerer's Handcuffs" is a neat little tale about a pair of manacles enchanted by an ancient sorcerer. Mort Drucker's art is impressive, though it's odd that his credit on the first page states that he's "currently of Mad Magazine." Not so weird when you realize they were owned by the same corporation.

"The Sorcerer's Handcuffs"
Peter: The gorilla story is acres of fun, made all the more nifty by Nick Cardy, but "The Sorcerer's Handcuffs" outstays its welcome. Overly long and meandering, the only aspect worth mentioning, of course, is the Drucker art. This story was published just as Mort had joined Mad, where he'd establish a style all his own. The story involves magical handcuffs but what overloads my believability tank is that a park bum heard a radio broadcast all about the cuffs.

Jack: Old Uncle Jacob has a year to live, so he tells his three evil nephews that his fortune will go to the last remaining heir. Two of them team up to kill the third, then spend months going after each other--or do they? They discover that someone else has "A Will to Kill" and is after them right before falling to their doom. Turns out the first nephew never really died, but Uncle Jacob has a surprise--the surviving nephew had a son and would have to kill his own child to inherit! In the hands of a skilled artist, this might have been an interesting story. Instead, we get Jerry Grandenetti. More and more, his stories seem to be relegated to the back of the book, and with good reason.

That's some hand!
Peter: This one's a laugh. Old Uncle Jacob is just as evil as his three nephews, setting up a scenario in which only the most ruthless will inherit the money. And, since Seymour's taken a fancy to murder, who's to say that baby won't meet a similar fate? I think an open-ended final panel (maybe Seymour scratching his chin and thinking hard) might have added a little edge to this otherwise dreary fare.

Jack: Best thing in this issue was the hubba-hubba cover; worst thing was that godawful Tuska artwork.

Peter: Kudos to "Experiment 1000" and No-Doze to everything else.

Neal Adams
The House of Mystery 199

"Sno' Fun!"
Story by Sergio Aragones
Art by Wally Wood

"He Doomed the World!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Kirby
(reprinted from My Greatest Adventure #17, October 1957)

"Snow Beast"
Story by Lynn Marron
Art by Rich Buckler

"The Whole Ball of Tin"
Story by Len Wein and Gerry Conway
Art by Bob Oksner

"The Haunting Wind!"
Story by Jack Miller
Art by John Glunta
(reprinted from The Phantom Stranger #2, November 1952)

Peter: Dr. Wallace B. Peterson has a dream: he'd like to be the scientist who discovers an ancient city buried far beneath the Antarctic. The trouble is that Dr. Strauss has discovered it first. Peterson politely pushes Strauss out of a window and suddenly the funding for the expedition is all his. Once there, the mad scientist is lost in a snow storm and falls into a trench, a massive hole that happens to be the gateway to Peterson's lost world. Peopling that world is a race of skeletal creatures who must stay put or melt. After a long and arduous stay, Peterson decides "Sno' Fun" and escapes. He's rescued but diagnosed with a rare malady. His only resort is to retire to the House of Mystery, where he lives out his life until one morning he melts. It's amazing that any of the scientists in the DC mystery world ever got work done since they're always busy knocking one another off. The Wally Wood art is gorgeous and Aragones' story has enough macabre touches to keep our interest. That finale is a lift from Lovecraft's "Cool Air."

Jack: This is exactly the kind of story I would like to see more of! I could count on one finger the number of stories we've seen to date by Aragones, but this one has just the right touch of horror and glee, and I love that Cain is actively involved. The art by Wally Wood is wonderful and reminded me of his work on The Spirit on the moon series in the early '50s. The art also reminded me of EC, which is always a good thing.

"Sno' Fun!"

Peter: Kirk wants the gold that stuffs the mines he co-owns with Sam so he dresses up like a "Snow Beast" to create chaos. Unfortunately for Kirk, there's a real monster loose in the area and the two get to meet in the end. They really made fabulous costumes in the Old West. Kirk dresses up like a bear and magically adds at least three feet to his stature. The art, by personal fave Rich Buckler, is the only saving grace of this dismal mess.

Jack: Ouch! That was a stinker. The dialogue is awful: "Forget about Kirk . . . I love only you!" Buckler's art is passable in that early '70s fan-turned-pro way, and he can draw some good cheesecake, but for the most part this story is a real mess.

"Snow Beast"

Peter: J. Frederic Brown has never wanted to anything but collect tin. Then, one day his trouble-making son pays him a visit, admitting to a murder and asking pop to help him cover it up. Knowing his son will never amount to anything, J. Frederick finally finds a use for all that tin: he wraps his son up in "The Whole Ball of Tin" and dumps him in the river. I'm not sure if Wein and Conway (two writers I have nothing but admiration for) thought they were working on the Great American Novel and wanted to preview a chapter for us but we're not the richer for it. Pretentious, nonsensical and, in the end, a total waste of paper. And what the hell does "the folds of midnight sleep over the water's edge" mean?

Jack: Any story starring an old man named J. Frederic Brown is okay by me. The real Fredric Brown died in March 1972, a month after the cover date of this issue. Perhaps it was because the cops caught up with him after he dumped his son in the river? Nah . . . that would be too UNEXPECTED.

"The Whole Ball of Tin"

"He Doomed the World"
Peter: An alien race uses a scientist as a pawn to destroy the world. "He Doomed the World" is silly stuff (very reminiscent of the type of story Kirby would excel at over at Marvel) but maybe I was in the mood for silly as it provided at least five minutes of enjoyment. As is par for the course, our unbilled writer can't come up with a good reason why these aliens are threatening earth so he sidesteps it completely. Explorer Dan Russell steals a giant ruby from a sacred city in Tibet and becomes victim of a "Haunting Wind" that follows him all the way back to America, leaving a path of destruction in its wake. Forgettable fluff with nice art.

Jack: I was really enjoying "He Doomed" until the cop-out ending. I guess I was just in the mood for Kirby today. The art is pretty standard '50s Kirby, very blocky. The story was picking up some good suspense but then it went nowhere, and the end was just silly. As for the second reprint, three and a half pages is very short but Giunta's art is impressive. I did not know that the Phantom Stranger started out in the early '50s! I thought he was a late '60s invention.

Jack: Best of this issue was easily the Wally Wood story; worst was the mess about the snow beast.

Peter: I'd agree with the Wood choice but opt for the Wein/Conway nonsense as worst.

"The Haunting Wind"

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 3

"Death is My Mother"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Tony De Zuniga

"The Magician Who Haunted Hollywood"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Leonard Starr
(from House of Mystery #10, January 1953)

"The Dark Goddess of Doom"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by John Calnan

"Station G-H-O-S-T"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira
(reprinted from House of Mystery #17, August 1953)

"Legion of the Dead"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by George Tuska

"The Screaming Skulls"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Death is My Mother"
Jack: In mid-eighteenth century Ireland, Sir Desmond falls in love with and marries beautiful and mysterious Lira. They have a son named Dennis, but Desmond grows too attached to his money and neglects his family, eventually pushing his wife by accident to her death in the sea. She swears that the child will remain hers and little Dennis learns that "Death is My Mother" when he ventures out in a boat and is never seen again--except as one of a pair of wraiths who haunt the coast for centuries. DeZuniga's art is always a pleasure, even when he's not at his best, as is the case here. The story is spooky and enjoyable enough, though there's nothing special about it.

Peter: Lira turns out to be a pretty nasty mother, drowning son Dennis to spite her husband. That's the only interesting aspect of this story, one deserving of a place over at Gold Key's Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Tony De Zuniga once again proves he's a good sport by providing the dress for the pig.

"The Dark Goddess of Doom"
Jack: Englishman Chris Morton steals a bronze statute of Kali, "The Dark Goddess of Doom," and finds that it's a fatal mistake to put a ring on its finger when the statue crushes him in its embrace. This story does not have any credits, so I tried to play "guess the artist." The best I could come up with was Dick Dillin, but it turns out to be John Calnan. As with most of Leo Dorfman's stories so far in Ghosts, I kind of enjoyed it!

Peter: I liked the dialogue between the club's staff after they discover the Kali statue is missing:

Nameless Spectator #1: Mr. Morton's statue--it's gone!
Nameless Spectator #2: Someone may have stolen it!

The story is about as amateurish as you can find in a comic book and the art is strictly grade school. It'll be hard to pick my worst story of the year.

Tuska strikes again!
Jack: It's 1943, and Lt. Mark Calder's plane crashes in the Sahara Desert. A "Legion of the Dead," made up of ghostly Roman soldiers, leads him to safety and then vanishes. The best I can say for this story is that the journey across the barren wasteland only took four pages.

Peter: I don't believe in Ghosts anymore.

Jack: France, 1932, and Perrault ignores the warning of the old woman who tells him not to use stones taken from the resting place of the dead to build his mansion. Troubled by "The Screaming Skulls" the workmen uncovered, Perrault faces tragedy when his wife is injured in a fire. Only when the skulls are returned to their rightful spot does Mrs. Perrault recover and the nightmare end. For Perrault, that is, but not for us, not as long as Jerry Grandenetti wields the pencil!

Peter: More fabulous writing: "The skulls... I hear them laughing! B-but how can that be? It's some omen of horrible evil--I know that now!"

Our skulls are screaming too!

Nice of the squaw to
strike a cheesecake pose
while leaping to her death.
Jack: Actor Dick Mayhew is so wrapped up in playing the part of famous magician The Great Gregory that he begins to find himself able to duplicate the illusions of "The Magician That Haunted Hollywood." He refuses to believe it's all a trick and ends up saving actress Lola Lamour from a blazing fire. Leonard Starr's art is classic '50s and this reprint is a lot of fun! In "Station G-H-O-S-T!" TV fright show host Andrew Gill tries to trick an old man into selling a haunted house, only to have the ghostly plan backfire. More nice '50s-style art by Ruben Moreira highlights this tale, which features an early appearance of TV sets from 1953. Inexplicably, the opening caption tries to update the story to 1967, though nothing in the story looks remotely like the '60s!

Peter: "The Magician" is really silly but at least it's a better read than most of the swill served up this issue. I hate those "Here's how it was done" expositories and we get a doozy of one here. The art by George Kashdan is nicely done. "Station G-H-O-S-T!" is a goofy and confusing mess. That 1967 reference makes no sense whatsoever in a story originally appearing in 1953 and reprinted in 1972. Eddie's confession in the final panels gave me a headache. So he played a prank... oh no, he didn't... well, maybe he did... but not really:

Spoiler alert--he does not fry!
Eddie: Guess I owe you an apology, Andy, for the joke I played on you! You see, I was at the house the night you made that broadcast--but after I put the scare into Yorke, I figured I could have a little fun with you, too!

Andy (laid up in a sanitarium bed, mind you): Thanks for telling me, Eddie... but what about the ghost I saw? Was that also you?

Eddie: No... that wasn't me... and I'm not joking this time!

Andy: Then... then maybe it was the ghost of Timothy Gill I saw that night! I suppose I'll never know it was just a figment of my imagination... or whether there are things on earth that we mortals never believed existed... like ghosts!

Jack: Best of this issue were the reprints; worst is--once again--Tuska's contribution!

Peter: I'm not playing this game with you, Jack.

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