Monday, June 2, 2014

Do You Dare Enter? Part Twenty-Eight: September 1972

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

Tony deZuniga
The House of Mystery 206

"Sentimental Journey"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Bill Payne

"The Burning!"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Mike Sekowsky and Tom Palmer

"A Real Mother!"
Story by Virgil Redondo
Art by Ernesto Patricio

Peter: Ever since his Uncle Harry died and left his fortune to Aunt Aggie, Walter has been tempted to take a hatchet and send Aggie on a "Sentimental Journey" but he just can't work up the guts. His aunt begins reaching out to Harry beyond the grave and that gives Walter his inspiration: he pays off a local medium and attends a seance with Aunt Aggie. A bogus Uncle Harry tells Aggie he's lonely and she should join him as fast as possible. The ruse works and the old bird begins talking suicide. Walter does his best "I'll be so lonely if you kick off" act but Aggie's mind is made up. One night, she descends from her room, all done up, and tells her nephew the time is right for her to shuffle off. They enjoy one last glass of wine and then Aggie assures Walter, as he is dying, that she never planned on leaving him alone. A rollickingly good story with very nice art by newcomer Bill Payne. The twist is nicely concealed until the last few panels and it's one you don't see coming (I assumed it would be--yawn--Uncle Harry coming back to protect his wife). It's also rare, in these DC mystery comics, to find a killer who's squeamish!

"Sentimental Journey"
Jack: First of all, can we take a moment to admire that spooky cover by Tony deZuniga? I like the Neal Adams vibe with the children in peril who don't realize it. As for the first story, I agree that it's a winner, but I did figure out the twist ending a page or two in advance. Both story and art are above average. The GCD lists this story as Bill Payne's first credit. He was a Canadian artist who came to DC after drawing a newspaper strip but did not do a whole lot of comic book stories. Too bad, because his work here is impressive.

Sometimes one panel is worth
a thousand words!
Peter: Adam Strat wakes up in the cottage of the village's old hag, a woman so reviled that villagers threaten to burn her at the stake if they can catch her unawares. With no memory of his past and no money to support himself, Adam must rely on the witch to provide for him. That only adds to his resentment and hatred. Once the old witch has converted enough silver to gold for Adam's desires (a gift she comes by naturally), he drugs her and heads to the village to give her up. As the old woman is lit afire, she tells Adam he'll revert back to what he was before she found him in a field of straw... nothing, a nobody. And that's exactly what happens. "The Burning" is, basically, eight pages of dull writing wrapped up with one killer final panel. Adam spends the bulk of the tale telling the old hag he's leaving, then doesn't, so, by the time he does leave, the reader is egging him on. A shame the twist is given away on the cover but, oh, what a reveal! This is the best art I've seen by Sekowsky, here inked by Marvel stalwart Tom Palmer.

Jack: Palmer's inks really take some of the edge off of Sekowsky's pencils, but I kept thinking that the ugly old witch kind of looked like an awful lot of Mike Sekowsky characters. As the story went on, I did find myself wondering what was going to happen to Adam, and that final revelation is very cool indeed. Too bad Tony deZuniga only drew the cover and not this whole story. Cain's corny jokes in the last panel made me smile.

"A Real Mutha Fo' Ya!"
Peter: Little Lester's father, Jack, a traveling salesman, is always away on business and so he's left with his evil stepmother. Dad doesn't know Muriel's a bitch not a nice person and so he's not aware that she verbally abuses the tyke once her husband is out the door. Lester is left to his fantasies of knights in shining armor and his stuffed cat, Tommy. When the boy tells Muriel his real mother is angry about her abuse, the woman goes off the rails and locks the kid in the hall closet. Screams ring out and Lester is left alone until his father comes home the next day to find his son locked in the closet and his wife missing. Tommy looks as though he's been well-fed. So, is Tommy possessed by the spirit of Lester's mother? Did Muriel's entire body really fit into that stuffed cat? He gulped her down whole without leaving any trace for the CSI team? I love Jack's awkward speech to Muriel at the opening, a monologue designed to fill us in on the situation but one which is stilted in the extreme:

"Muriel, you're a living doll... always thinking about Lester and me! I don't know what I would have done if you didn't marry me. When Jane died, I was left with a baby on my hands... a child needs a loving mother's care, and you've done a fine job of bringing up Lester like your own."

No one talks like that. Ever. This is the first we've seen of newcomer Ernesto Patricio. I haven't been able to find any background info on the artist (probably because he didn't contribute much over the years) but I would assume he came in on the foreign wave that washed over comics in the early 1970s. His work may improve but, judging by "A Real Mother," Patricio is not among the cream of the crop. Many of his panels have a very rote layout and his characters are sketchy at times.

Jack: Hang on, that's supposed to be a stuffed cat? Maybe a tiger? That would make a little more sense. Perhaps we're supposed to think that it grew into a full-size tiger, ate the wicked stepmother, and then shrank back down to stuffed animal size. I wasn't expecting that ending but that doesn't mean it was very good. I kept thinking Redondo was the artist, not the writer, and comparing him unfavorably in my head with his brother Nestor. Now that you point out that Patricio was the artist, I don't know what the heck is going on.

Bernie Wrightson
House of Secrets 100

"Round-Trip Ticket"
Story by Lore Shoberg
Art by Tom Palmer

"The Man Who Stopped Time!"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Mike Sekowsky and Tony deZuniga

"Rest in Peace"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Peter: Tired of his hum-drum existence, hippie Buz Hitchcock becomes obsessed with astral projection, the only way to escape the doom and gloom. All his questions seem answered when he stumbles on a book seller who has a copy of "Ancient Book" (clearly not a best-seller), a tome that gives directions on how to leave your body spatially. Ignoring his nag of a wife, Buz heads right for his room and gives it a shot. Within seconds, he's on a beach with a beautiful woman named Holly. Unfortunately, the lovely lass can't see Buz (but she can sense he's there) and he makes it his goal to rectify that. Unknown to Buz, his wife has come across his apparently lifeless body and called the doctor. Buz is declared dead and buried before he can get back into his human form but, according to host Abel, revenge is in the cards. That wife is one miserable bitch, damning him to a life without form just because Buz won't take her out to dinner. "Round-Trip Ticket" is the first I've seen of Tom Palmer's pencils (that I know of) and he falls smack dab in the middle of the DC artists; not terrible, not great. Shoberg gets points from me for his nasty climax but some of the other elements are iffy (What's Holly's story? Why is the tome so unimaginatively titled "Ancient Book," even on its cover?), so let's give this a C+.

Just think... if only Lovecraft had been so
imaginative when he titled the Necronomicon
Jack: C+ is generous. As a penciller, Palmer is a great inker. He is my all-time favorite inker for Gene Colan. As for Shoberg, this is the second bad story we've seen from him. The first was the awful "Over the High Side" in last month's House of Mystery (#205). He also draws one panel cartoons that pale in comparison to those drawn by Aragones. The worst part of this story is the idiotic hippie dialogue. With his groovy long hair, Buz looks like a member of Spinal Tap. I guess this story shows the flip side of Dr. Strange's astral projection adventures.

Peter: Philip Kenyon is about to hang for murder but fate intervenes and he overpowers the guards and escapes. Chased by the police into the hills, he wishes he was "The Man Who Stopped Time!" Climbing down into the valley, he finds a town full of people, frozen in time. Obviously, his wish has been granted but, just as he's celebrating his luck, a blast goes off. Turns out Kenyon is in Alamogordo just in time for the A-Bomb testing. This is another one of those cases where Jack Oleck had a couple of story ideas and a twist ending and threw them together. As Kenyon is escaping his would-be executioners, much is made of his super powers and his mental gifts (Abel spouts "No man could do what Philip Kenyon did that afternoon... but he did!"). Did he actually have something going on upstairs? We'll never know since Oleck opts for a predictable climax. The art by Sekowsky and deZuniga makes the story look like one of those Golden Age reprints we've just lost.

"The Man Who Stopped Time!"
Jack: Predictable? Are you kidding? I did not see that ending coming at all! I went back over the story and there were clues, so it was fair play, but it surprised me. This is the second story this month where Mike Sekowsky's pencils are inked by a superior artist and, once again, the result is good. Sekowsky has some dynamic layouts and deZuniga tones down some of Mike's bad habits.

Peter: Plantation owner Philippe LaCroix, long rumored to be the area's most powerful Ju-Ju Man, hates movement almost as much as he loves to eat. To kill two birds with one stone, he works his magic on respected chef Andre Mallard. Long days at the bread board are not the only terrors awaiting the spellbound cook for, very soon after he moves to the plantation, he's also put in charge of sacrificing unruly slaves in order to keep the rest in order. As Mallard's pain grows, so does LaCroix's monstrous appetite. A lack of exercise and good grains finally take their toll on the beached whale and he suffers a fatal heart attack. Seeing to his master's final wishes, Mallard has LaCroix cremated but then, in a delicious twist of revenge, the chef has the huge bag of ashes transferred to an hourglass where LaCroix will be doomed to movement for the rest of his... whatever. I'm not sure exactly how effective revenge is if the guy's already dead and cremated. I suppose it might have made more sense if LaCroix's ashes somehow retained feeling but it is what it is. I can tell already it's going to be very hard applying a thumbs-down to anything Alcala works on but "Rest in Peace" is almost as disjointed as "The Man Who Stopped Time!" Hell of an art job, though (smiley face). My only hope is that Alfredo wasn't pigeon-holed into working on nothing but voodoo stories despite his style meshing perfectly with the genre. So, what do we get for the big 100th Anniversary Issue (not even touted as such on the cover)? One really good art job and one half-way decent story. Not really a big gala, is it?


Jack: It may not be "Swamp Thing," but I thought this story and this issue overall were good and, combined with this month's House of Mystery, they seem to signal a new trend of higher quality stories in the DC horror books. I liked this story better than you did, though I agree that the ending was a slight letdown. Alcala's art really is superb. I especially liked seeing Abel, our narrator, dressed in period attire. It's interesting that two of the stories in this issue were historical, something I'm more accustomed to seeing in Ghosts.


Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 23

"Watch Over My Grave!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Nestor Redondo

"Death Pulls the Strings"
Story by Al Case (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Tony deZuniga

"Living Coffin"
Story and Art by Ralph Reese

"Come Share My Shroud!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Sparling

Jack: An out of work musician answers a want ad that seems to fit him to a tee and takes a job as a night watchman, keeping an eye on an isolated old mansion and its three creepy inhabitants. The job pays extremely well and isn't very taxing, but the man's lovely daughter Judy seems to be getting sicker day by day. One night, the watchman discovers that the threesome have vacated their own house and he grows concerned when he finds one of his daughter's scarves in the son's bedroom. Rushing home, he discovers the family with his daughter! She leads him through old slave tunnels below the house and, though he thinks they're escaping, they end up at the wedding ceremony planned for her and the creepy son. It turns out they have turned her into a witch and she is content to marry young Jeremiah and gain his black powers. I thought this was a good story and wished it went on a little longer. It seemed to end too abruptly. And no one ever says "Watch Over My Grave!"

Peter: Can you just picture poor Nestor Redondo sitting at his drawing board, trying to make sense of this deadly dumb George Kashdan script? I'm not asking for fine literature every time but a few details scream out at me. Was Judy picked as Jeremiah's wife after her father answered that ad? Why do the witches have to go to such trouble to find a chick to fill their vacancy? Why not just kidnap her? Regardless, Nestor comes through smelling like a rose.

Jack: I think they placed the ad so it would attract Judy's father, since it called for someone who looked just like him. I think they had her targeted in advance, probably because she was completely gorgeous! In our next story, a puppeteer named Giovanni creates a female marionette to go with his male one but learns that "Death Pulls the Strings" when the toys begin falling in love and moving on their own. He destroys the guy but is soon found hanged with his own strings. This three-pager is too short for the story to go anywhere but deZuniga's art is fantastic!

Peter: Fragments usually make for the worst horror stories and "Strings" is no exception. As with the previous story, its climax makes no sense at all but at least we get to look at deZuniga's pretty pictures.

Jack: Al Scudder has been in solitary confinement for so long that his cell feels like a "Living Coffin." He breaks out of jail and tries to escape the police who are chasing him but he freaks out when he takes an elevator and thinks he's back in stir. Again, too short to have much of an effect but Ralph Reese's art certainly is different. His work has the feel of an underground comic.

Peter: A tough as nails con who can break out of prison but who crumples into a helpless ball of shivers when he's in an elevator for a few minutes? The twist is a bit silly but effective nonetheless.

Jack: Ted Cooper is rushing to a heavy date when his car crashes and he is stuck in Wykestown. All is not lost, however, since kindly old Ada Farrell invites him to stay in her guest room and he quickly falls hard for her lovely daughter Heather. He attends a dance that night with Heather and makes her boyfriend Paul jealous, but when a fire starts and Ted is the only one to flee, he realizes that all the town's inhabitants are ghosts! Ted runs into the road, where he is killed by a speeding car. Now he can stay with Heather, who invites him to "Come Share My Shroud!" I must be in a really good mood today because I even enjoyed this story!

Peter: Wessler delivers one unhip howler after another:

Ted dug this groovy chick Heather at first sight...
All he got in the receiver was, like, dead silence...
There was something grim and eerie about the place, despite the blaring music, that made it a bad scene...
Ted was dazed, not frightened by the flames... (as the building burns all around him)

Carl comes off as a 60 year-old man who has no comprehension of the younger generation's lingo (never mind that, at 60, Wessler was actually a couple generations past the youth movement of 1972) but he was obviously reading some of the back issues since I've read this plot line before on this journey. Our hero clocks the fastest instance of falling completely in love with a stranger in the history of the comics.


Nick Cardy
Unexpected 139

"The 2 Brains of 'Beast' Bracken!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by George Tuska

"Let's Scare Lisa to Death"
Story by Bill Dennehy (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by ER Cruz

"How to Get Rid of a Corpse!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Jack: "Beast" Bracken is a violent convict until he is accidentally shot in the head while trying to escape. When he awakens, he is gentle and kind, though the violent urges keep building up inside him until he snaps and becomes violent again. He grabs the warden's little girl to use as a human shield and escapes again, but when she falls in a swamp and is menaced by an alligator, the better part of "The 2 Brains of 'Beast' Bracken" prevails and he saves her before he becomes a tasty treat for the green monster. I am a sucker for stories of redemption, since Les Miserables is my all-time favorite novel. George Kashdan is no Victor Hugo but this story still got me. I wonder if George Tuska's father was a dentist, since he focuses on his characters' teeth so much.

Peter: That's some prison where the warden lets his kid play with killers and they can't afford to get "Beast" a shirt. Seeing the name "George Tuska" and still proceeding is tantamount to putting your foot on the gas when you see the sign "Bridge Out!" Bracken is Tuska's version of The Absorbing Man minus the interesting bits.

Jack: A young couple honeymooning in Northern Scotland seeks excitement but they don't expect the villagers to say, "Let's Scare Lisa To Death." Yet that's the intent when the twosome agree to spend the night in a haunted house for a reward of $10,000. Despite frights aplenty they stick it out and earn the money, departing as the villagers shake their heads in surprise. Only we readers learn that they plan to use the money to cure her blindness and his deafness! I guess it had to happen. Something that was unexpected occurred at the end of a story in Unexpected. One thing that was not unexpected was the spiffy art by ER Cruz. I am running out of adjectives to praise the artwork of the Filipino immigrants at DC!

Peter: "Let's Scare" ends with not one but two really stupid twists. Are we to assume that the townsfolk rigged some sort of scare house for tourists, one that has led to death and madness? How could the locals not have noticed that Lisa was blind? There's some real purple prose here that brought lots of giggles up from deep in the recesses of my boredom:

They'd reached the limits of endurance. Neither had dared voice the same thought they shared: that pain and cruelty they'd inflicted on themselves, would it result in them being this nightmare's next victims?

The immigration of Filipino artists to the country known as DC continues this issue with the debut of Eufronio Reyes Cruz (1934- ), whose detailed work will make even the lousiest scripts (read: "Let's Scare Lisa to Death") readable. Cruz will go on to do good stuff for Warren and Marvel as well.

Jack: Parisians Jacques and Eddie roll a drunk in an alley but when Eddie gets greedy, Jacques shoots him in the back and kills him. Jacques knows he'll be fingered for the murder if he leaves the body there, so he drags it all around Paris trying to discover "How to Get Rid of A Corpse!" He finally takes it home and lays it on the floor, gun in hand, to look like a suicide. But when rigor mortis sets in, Eddie's finger squeezes the trigger and the shot kills Jacques. To top it off, a fire starts and burns down the building, so one one ever knows they were there. Easily the worst story I've read so far this month, Jerry Grandenetti's art is at its worst and the idea of rigor mortis making a body sit up and a finger squeeze a trigger is just plain dumb.

Peter: Carl Wessler's version of Adam West's frantic run through the streets of Gotham with a bomb over his head. Hands down, the funniest read of the year but, unfortunately for Wessler and Grandenetti, I'm not sure that was the aim. Speaking of aim, I wasn't aware that rigor mortis could help the sharpshooting of a corpse. To learn something useful from this dopey story was Unexpected.

Jack: It is a classic Cardy cover, though!

Mike Kaluta
Ghosts 7

"Death's Finger Points"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Jack Sparling

"Touch Not My Tomb!"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Art Saaf

"The Sweet Smile of Death"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by John Calnan

Jack: Australia, 1925: Rancher Ron Masters runs over and kills an aborigine child with his horse. The child's father vows revenge and "Death's Finger Points" at Masters when the native "points the bone" at him. Masters has a dream that an upcoming horse race will be fatal and, not surprisingly, it is. We have commented before on how Jack Sparling's art has its ups and downs. This is one of the downs. And don't even get me started on the connotations of the phrase, "pointing the bone."

Peter: An above-average (for Ghosts, that is) tale of ghosts and curses. Masters' fear as he's about to die can almost be felt. It's interesting that Dorfman introduced the aborigines in the opening and then never really involved them in the story again (outside of the curse, obviously). The death of an infant must have been a rare occurrence around these parts, no?

Jack: Visiting Karachi in 1961, Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson hears the tale of the haunted history of the newly-built American embassy. In the 1860s, a poor beggar was killed so that a rich man could build his mansion. The beggar's ghost warned the man to "Touch Not My Tomb!" but to no avail, and tragedy followed for the next hundred years. Fortunately, the ghost did not knock off LBJ, or we would have had a whole slew of problems.

Peter: Back to Scooby-Doo territory. Art and story are both insomnia cures but at least the budget allowed for an LBJ cameo. That "twist ending" (below) wins the award for the biggest "so what" of the month.

Jack: Paul Cromar is entranced by the lovely spirit of Raynmore Hall, the ghost of a beautiful woman who loved to gaze at her reflection in the mirror. He sees dollar signs dancing before his eyes and tries to capture her image on movie film, but "The Sweet Smile of Death" pursues him and he gets into a bad car accident. Even after he is pulled to safety, he sees her aged reflection in a mirror and his mind snaps. My mind would snap too if I had to read too many issues like this. We were doing so well this month with art until we got to this issue of Ghosts. I was hoping that this story would be a ripoff of Thriller's "The Hungry Glass," but no such luck.

Does that reflected face remind
anyone else of George H.W. Bush?
Peter: Not too bad; an engaging story with a good twist and decent John Calnan art. Wait, did I say "decent John Calnan art"? Even though it's the wrong magazine, this is very Unexpected! According to some of my secret online sources, the real Lady "Dolly" Townshend actually lived in Raynham Hall (located in Norfolk) not the Raynmore of this melodrama. Either Dorfman lost some of his notes or, for some goofy reason, decided to change the name of the Manor. Dolly goes by the nickname of "the little brown lady of Raynham," where she haunts to this day. Other than that awful soft white center, this was one of the better issues of Ghosts I've read so far.

Jack: I think you've been possessed by the spirit of Leo Dorfman! This issue was terrible!

Mike Kaluta
Secrets of Sinister House 6

"When is Tomorrow Yesterday?"
Story by Sheldon Mayer
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"Brief Reunion!"
Story by John Albano
Art by Ed Ramos and Mar Amongo

"The Man Hater"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Bill Draut and Frank Giacoia

Peter: In an effort to save the love of his life, Lady Constance, Thomas of Norwalk approaches a kindly magician who has discovered how to open a portal into the future. The doorway leads right into a hospital of "the future" and that's where Thomas heads, with Lady Constance in his arms. Unbeknownst to either party, one of the Duke's guards has witnessed the black magic and reported to his boss. The Duke decides that the future would be a pretty good place to stay and rounds up a bagful of jewels. He and his henchman head for the future. Once the hospital has put Constance back on her two feet, Thomas and his gal head back to through the magician's portal. It's then, after reading the girl's charts, that the magician realizes the hospital isn't in the future but actually in the past, since his world is set five hundred years after World War III! Meanwhile, the Duke and his cohort find it very difficult to prove the jewels are his in a world that demands identification and proof of ownership. "When is Tomorrow Yesterday" is a nice little gem that cruises along at a good speed (but don't stop to think about the loopholes) and leaves the reader with a grin from ear to ear. Alcala's art is a bit sketchy in spots but then Alfredo was never that good with a normal human face (his wizard is just fine though). It's nice to see him already branching out and covering stories that don't take place in voodoo-plagued jungles. We get to see our new hostess, Eve, yet another witch, in a nice Mike Kaluta intro to this story. Very much reminiscent of Ghastly Graham Ingels' version of The Old Witch from The Haunt of Fear.

Jack: Maybe it was the Prince Valiant haircut on Thomas, but the art here reminded me a little of Hal Foster's work. I really liked this story but I was disappointed by the twist ending. Having the story take place in the future rather than the past is a little too Planet of the Apes for my liking. At least nobody stumbled over the Statue of Liberty!

"When is Tomorrow Yesterday?"

Peter: Two men, once childhood chums but now grown very much apart, have a "Brief Reunion" in a prison cell and discuss why they're there. Unsurprisingly, the man who elected to live a clean, unspoiled life gets admitted to heaven and the other, a murdering goon, gets a pass. I was screaming the truth at these two numbskulls from page two on. Anyone who saw Tales from the Crypt would do the same.

Surprise (noun): an unexpected or astonishing event, fact, or thing.
"Brief Reunion": anything but the above.

The art, by newcomers Ramos and Amongo, is straight out of the Mike Sekowsky/John Calnan playbook; nothing resembling originality and all staged woodenly.

Jack: It's hard to believe this was created in 1972. It looks like a forgotten clunker from 10 or 20 years earlier.

"Brief Reunion"

Peter: Valla goes through husbands like some women go through handbags. They all seem to find tragic and nasty fates. It all stems back to the girl's childhood when her daddy (who nicknamed her "Princess") abandoned her and she fixed his brakes real good. Now, after dispatching three hubbys in just over a year, the authorities are on to her. Valla runs to her local guru, who has convinced the murderess she is the reincarnation of a long-dead princess from Japore. Sensing the only way she'll escape is to become that princess again, she instructs her guru to send her back into her ancient body. The transferral works well but it's a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time for "The Man Hater," as she's about to burned at the stake with her dead husband in an ancient Suttee custom. As is the norm with Bob Kanigher's horror stories, "The Man Hater" meanders around for a bit and then dies out. Much is made about Valla's psychological disposition but the hook is summarily dropped and we're on to reincarnation 500 years before (how does that happen?) and a semi-effective final panel. The art by Draut and Giacoia is as by-the-numbers as the script.

Jack: It was better than the mess that preceded it! I thought the twist ending was funny and fitting. Overall, this month's horror comics showed promise that we're heading to a period of higher quality. The House books still play better than Unexpected or Ghosts, and Sinister and Withching Hour remain uneven. But the advent of the Filipino artists is a good sign!

A bit of Mike Kaluta's intro of Eve
to The Sinister House

...and Ghastly's Old Witch


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