Monday, July 28, 2014

Do You Dare Enter? Part Thirty-Two: January 1973

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

Special 350th Double-Sized Anniversary Issue!

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 143

"Fear is a Nameless Voice"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"What Evil Lurks in the Night"
Story by Bill Dennehey (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Jack Sparling

"Panic Grips Manhattan"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by E.R. Cruz

Jack: The Astonishing Bromley is an aging ventriloquist who made the classic mistake of marrying his beautiful young assistant, Ernestine. He accuses his handsome young male assistant Bailes of having an affair with the woman, an affair witnessed by Bromley's many dummies, who testify to what they saw. Bromley murders Bailes and dumps his body in a waiting grave in the basement of his theater. He plans to do the same to Ernestine, but his dummies begin to speak out of turn and he destroys them, convinced that they will betray him. Unexpectedly, he learns that "Fear Is A Nameless Voice" and he continues to hear their accusations in his head, driving him insane. As scary ventriloquist dummies stories go, this isn't a bad one, though the art is better than the writing, something we see way too often.
"Fear is a Nameless Voice"

Peter: Like a lot of the Unexpected tales, this one ends rather abruptly as if George Kashdan had no idea how to finish telling his story. I'll admit, most of the really good finales to horror stories about ventriloquist dummies have already been written. Yandoc continues to impress me but at times his panels do seem a little too crowded and busy.

Jack: While patrolling the cemetery one night, Luke, the caretaker, learns "What Evil Lurks in the Night" when he discovers the man who has been robbing graves and making off with valuables. Unexpectedly, the man looks just like Luke. Luke feels compelled to protect the thief and hides him in his own attic, keeping his wife and son from venturing upstairs. Luke then sneaks his doppleganger into the back of a hearse departing a funeral and the man escapes, though the hearse's destination turns out to be a junkyard where the car is crushed with the man inside it. Luke awakens and discovers it was all a dream; he himself is the grave robber and now he feels remorse and will return everything he stole. This is some of the worst art we've seen by Jack Sparling, with his characters looking like Pillsbury doughboy versions of George Tuska's toothy creations. The story isn't very good, either.

"What Evil Lurks in the Night"

Peter: Oh boy! This magazine is getting harder and harder to get through. What's worse here? Jack Sparling's chicken scratchings or Murray Boltinoff's plotless story? Murray probably thought he was writing scripts for DC Comics' adaptation of Petticoat Junction when writing the scene where Luke has to keep his wife and son from going in the attic. Barrels of larfs.

"Panic Grips Manhattan"
Jack: Joe Morton needs money, so he lets Dr. Jarvis replace his brain with a computer. The experiment goes haywire and Joe becomes a rampaging murderer as "Panic Grips Manhattan"! Dr. Jarvis is more concerned with his own reputation than anything else, so when he tries to kill Joe's wife to cover up what he has done, Joe's final victim is the doctor himself. This story sounds better in a short summary than it reads in the comic. E.R. Cruz's art is nice in the way we're becoming used to from most of the Filipino artists, but Wessler's story really goes nowhere. It's too bad, because the premise could have led to some interesting places.

Peter: A modern day take on Frankenstein helps make this issue a complete waste of paper. Not one of the three writers seems to know how to craft a compelling (never mind scary) story, instead relying on cliches and fragments. How did this title last 222 issues running tripe like this?

Jack: An editor's note in the letters column is enlightening: "A year ago, our publisher-president Carmine Infantino went out on a safari to bag some of the best talent in other parts of the world. He came back triumphantly with a wad of winners--the Redondo brothers, Ruben Yandoc, Al Alcala, Rival, Cruz, Nino, etc." So, in a roundabout way, Peter, your distant relative was responsible for the great work we're seeing in the DC horror books!

Mike Kaluta
The House of Mystery 210

"The Exterminator"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Maxene Fabe
Art by Rudy Nebres

"The Immortal"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Body Beautiful"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jose Delbo

Peter: Frank Alban is not just "The Exterminator," he's the exterminator who loves his job, maybe a bit too much. Frank will light fires and watch as spiders sizzle or spray ants and watch their death throes. Yes, killing bugs is all that brings Frank Alban happiness. You can blame this obsession on his wacky parents who used to lock Frank in the bug-infested closet when he "misbehaved." One day, Frank has a gorgeous visitor to his office, Ms. Latrodectus, who wants her inherited mansion to be certified bug-free. Frank happily agrees and heads out to the estate the next day but is quickly puzzled by the cleanliness of the old place. A beckoning voice draws Frank to a dark room. When he enters, he is trapped in a large spider's web and approaching is Ms. Latrodectus, revealed to be a huge black widow! Well, Michael Fleisher (who will go on to do great things, don't worry) must have just been getting warmed up in 1972, as this mess is a patchwork of horror cliches. Naturally, the crazed bug man will meet his end from some insectoid creature. It's only a matter of Fleisher picking from door number one (a horde of the little things) or number two (a huge one). And while we're at it, let's throw in the sadistic parents as a reason for Frank's phobia. Ms. Latrodectus? Please. Why not Ms. Tarantula to be a bit more subtle? The only thing sillier than giving away the surprise that way is the fact that an exterminator wouldn't know the "scientific name for the black widow spider." Every great writer has his bad scripts, I know, but there's not a hint here of the scribe who will go on to shock the comic book world with his reboot of The Spectre and, bringing the focus back to DC mystery, write what I would say is my favorite DC horror story of all time. Stay tuned. Let's not overlook the first work by yet another fine Filipino artist, Rudy Nebres, who will go on to pencil several Kung Fu and Conan strips for Marvel. As mentioned a few weeks ago, DC seemed hell bent to shore up their artistic bullpen with as many new names as possible and the Filipino invasion might not have been created for quality purposes but, more likely, for monetary reasons.

Caught in the web of Cliches!
Jack: I really enjoyed this story, but it's not quite good enough to rate a "4 out of 4" across the board. I love stories about bugs and I have to respect the exterminator who truly loves his job. This story actually flows from start to finish and makes sense, unlike the three in this month's Unexpected. And it reminds me for the umpteenth time of that story I read when I was a kid that really disturbed me. Maybe it was in a Red Circle comic? It was about a kid who loved insects and his evil stepfather made him get rid of them all, then killed the kid so he could have his comfy bed by the window. At the end, the old guy snuggles up in bed only to find that that's where the kid kept all of his bugs. The old guy falls out the window in horror. Can anyone help me identify this story?

Peter: A rift develops between adventurers Marco Polo and Cassandro. The former simply wants to plunder villages for their gold while the latter wants to become "The Immortal." To that end, Cassandro heads off to do the plundering in Cathay, rumored to be the home of the secret of immortality. He and his men torture and maim until Cassandro blackmails the head man of the village to show him the hiding place of immortality. The headman leads the villain to a cave where sits a pit of molten fire. Cassandro is told he must climb into the fire to achieve life everlasting but, suspecting a trick, Cassandro orders the old man to enter first. When the man survives the heat, Cassandro climbs in and is reduced to ashes. Just then, Marco Polo arrives and asks how the old man could survive. The headman tells the plunderer about a newly discovered fiber called asbestos. A well-illustrated tale capped with a nice twist finale. I could question whether the old man could survive a molten pit regardless of how much flame-retardant he wore (surely his feet would be burnt to a crisp?) when all he really does is don a cloak but I won't mention any of that. Very nice illos by Talaoc are almost drowned in bright colors.

"The Immortal"

Jack: I thought this one was boring but I agree that the art is impressive. It was too much like Sword and Sorcery or Prince Valiant for my taste.

Nope, not a Charles Atlas ad
Peter: John Bannister has the "Body Beautiful" but his wife of twenty years has let herself go, packing on plenty of pounds and losing the good looks she once possessed. Not one to be weighed down by a fat, ugly sloth, John convinces his young girlfriend, Anne, to wait on him while he attends to matters. With the help of a book on suspended animation and a handgun, John blows his wife away and then puts himself into a deep sleep. Six months later, he rises from his coffin in the mausoleum to visit Anne, only to find her repulsed by the sight of him. When he passes a mirror, he discovers why: while his body has stayed fit, his face has rotted. Where do I start when dissecting this crap? How could John lay dormant in a coffin for six months without food or water? Does John's world not believe in embalming? How does one will one's self to lapse into a coma so deep the medics would be fooled? Any horror reader worth his salt can tell what's going on when John rises from his tomb and keeps his face covered for two pages. Perhaps this is Jack Oleck's "homage" to EC's "Reflection of Fear" (a strip that had just recently hit the big screen as one-fifth of Amicus' Tales from the Crypt) which has virtually the same fate for its protagonist. Jose Delbo continues to prove that not all of the Filipino artists had talent. His pencils and layouts lack anything resembling style, more akin to some of the in-house ads.

Jack: What? You didn't like this one? This story was great! The art may not be the best we've seen technically, but it fit the story perfectly, from the Charles Bronson lookalike protagonist to the fat and dumpy wife to Anne, the 15-year-old nymphomaniac. Sure, I knew something was wrong with his face because it was kept hidden from us until the last panel, but that was a great last panel! I have to disagree with you strongly on this one, Peter. I think that if this was in an EC comic we'd get a big kick out of it.

Peter: Yes, my esteemed colleague, that's the point: it was in an EC Comic!

Nick Cardy
The House of Secrets 104

"Ghosts Don't Bother Me... But..."
Story by Sheldon Mayer
Art by Nestor Redondo and Virgilio Redondo

"The Dead Man's Doll"
Story by Bill Riley
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"Lend Me an Ear!"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by George Tuska

Peter: Rudy's a hit man and if you kill enough people, you're going to have a ghost problem. Up to now, Rudy's been okay with the hauntings but when a high profile hit goes awry and the wrong man is shot, the assassin gets a lesson from beyond the grave. "Ghosts Don't Bother Me... But..." is a silly little nothing that certainly won't harm you nor will it strain the brain but if I wanted humorous horror I'd be reading Plop! rather than a title that's supposed to dish out chills. Additionally, the Redondos' art is unremarkable.

Ghosts Bothers Me!

Jack: The narration by tough guy Rudy is a little too much like a Warner Bros. cartoon version of Edward G. Robinson. Take this caption: "...Well . . . lemme tell you what happened to me, one time . . I get this contract to rub out a visiting Maharaja, see . . ." The art is above-average and technically skilled but the story doesn't give the brothers much to work with.

Peter: Con artists Martha and Chester Emmet, on the run from the law, have a little fortune shine on them when they run into old friend Fanny Seabrook, who tells the couple that old Titus Wade needs a nursemaid. Seeing a perfect hideout appear before their eyes, Martha and Chester set up at Titus' estate and begin to hatch their latest scheme. Martha is convinced that old man Wade has a stash of dough hidden somewhere around the place and she's going to find it if she has to wring the codger's neck. While ransacking a room, they come across a hideous rag doll but think nothing of it until the following day when they espy a peculiar sight: Titus Wade speaking to the rag doll. When they burst into the room, the doll is as they first saw it, limp and lifeless. Seeing her chance, Martha grabs the doll and threatens to tear it to pieces unless the old man surrenders his booty. The stress is too much and Titus dies of a heart attack, leaving the couple to their search of the house. The old man's ghost appears and Martha, undaunted, tries to bargain with the specter. When that doesn't work, she destroys "The Dead Man's Doll" and unwittingly uncovers the money, used as the creepy plaything's stuffing. Speeding along the narrow cliff road, Chester becomes convinced the doll has risen in the back seat and the duo plunge over the side. Admittedly, this one's stuffed with the usual con-man (and in this case, con-woman) shenanigans but, for the most part, it's a very effective chiller. The panel of the upright rag doll speaking to Titus has the desired effect but it's a throwaway piece of the puzzle and ignored throughout the remainder of the narrative. I also have problems with the equally disposable ghostly appearance and the (deliberately?) vague climax where we don't actually see the doll rise from the back and throttle the Emmets (though we're told by Abel that's pretty much the way things went down) but overall a keeper. Yes, it's helped immensely by Alfredo Alcala's atmospheric visuals, I won't lie. Imagine the same story with art by, say, Jerry Grandenetti and we might have a completely different verdict here.

Jack: Alcala's skills are wasted on a story that goes nowhere. I can't find anything about Bill Riley online and he has just a handful of credits, but based on this story I can say that he was not a rising star. The idea of the animated rag doll is a good one, and it's one we've seen before, but we get no explanation for its relationship with the old man or why it is able to come to life. Even the art is below-grade for Alcala.

"The Tusk" strikes!
Peter: Campus clown Lacey just loves to pull practical jokes on folks but his latest round has taken a turn towards the vicious. Picking on an old morgue attendant has left Lacey a pariah but that only goads him to escalate his pranks. Now he's hiding in the morgue and issuing ghostly haunts. Deciding their classmate needs a lesson, a group of students tie the clown up and leave him in a morgue freezer, intending to free him after a half hour or so. When they come back, the morgue is shut up tight and the old man isn't answering the door. By the time they break in, it's too late and Lacey is a large snow cone. The attendant explains he never heard anything because, since the haunts got noisier, he'd been wearing ear plugs. Obviously "inspired" by the classic Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "The Jokester" (which was based on a Robert Arthur short story), "Lend Me an Ear" offers neither originality nor decent artwork. If I'd been Robert Arthur, in fact, I'd have gotten myself a good lawyer.

Jack: You stole my line! The most embarrassing thing about this story, other than Tuska's art, is the attempt to give it a "relevant" cast of college kids and Black people. Let's see, we have the elderly Black morgue attendant and the trio of college guys, one black, one blonde and one with long read hair and a bushy black mustache. They all look about 35 years old. The bad guy looks like Moose from Archie comics. This is a really weak issue of House of Secrets, rescued only by the usual great cover by Nick Cardy.

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 27

"The Bodies at 13 Ravenwood Lane"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"Wake Up and Dream!"
Story by Gerry Conway and Sal Amendola
Art by Sal Amendola

Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Win Mortimer

"Journey to Oblivion"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Gerry Talaoc

Jack: Horace Duncan lives in a boarding house and buys and sells used clothes for a living. Unfortunately, each night, after he admires someone's outfit, that person turns up missing the next morning and someone else has their clothes to sell to Horace. Once everyone else in the house is dead and Horace has all of the clothes, the police come, but when he digs up the graves where he buried "The Bodies at 13 Ravenwood Lane," all they find are old clothes. Alfredo Alcala draws a great Mordred the witch and the rest of his panels look ghoulish and great, but the story makes no sense. Were the other boarders alive? Were they dead? Were they a figment of Horace's imagination? And were there still boarding houses in 1973?

Peter: I'm not embarrassed to say I have no idea what was going on in this story as I'm probably not alone. But heck, it sure looks pretty. Please, Mr. Boltinoff, team Alfredo with a writer of equal talent. The comics world is waiting.

Jack: Larry Pratt has been a hard-luck loser all his life. Even worse, he is tormented in his sleep by a recurring dream of falling. Finally, he forces a doctor to give him some pills that let him sleep. He wakes up prince of an alien race, with a beautiful bride and adoring subjects. In our world, he is dead of an overdose of sleeping pills, but in his dream world, everything is groovy. "Wake Up and Dream" is another confusing disaster from Gerry Conway who, had he not killed off Gwen Stacy, might only be remembered as one of the worst comic book writers of the '70s. Sal Amendola's creative art is completely wasted on this story.

Peter: So, am I wrong in summing up "Wake Up and Dream" as pro-suicide? Sure looks that way. The message I get from the story is "If you've got a crappy life, overdose and something better will be waiting." That's a controversial stance for a 1972 comic book and I'm surprised the CCA didn't apply their hatchet to the script. All that's not to say it's not a good story. It's very good because of (or in spite of, depending on your religious leanings) its taboo-breaking and the trippy art of Sal Amendola. This is about as close to the ledge as the mystery line has gotten.

Jack: Lionel and Stan are competing for a promotion. When Lionel steals some of Stan's papers and causes Stan to get in trouble, Stan accidentally walks in front of a bus and is killed. With his dying breath, he vows to haunt Lionel, whom he blames for murdering him. Lionel's life soon becomes a series of near misses as one accident after another turns his days and nights into a "Frightmare!" Eventually, Lionel pitches down an elevator shaft and discovers that Stan had been inhabiting his body and causing all of the mishaps. After reading this story, I Googled Carl Wessler to see if he was on death's door in 1973 and still churning out a few last, bad stories to pay the electric bill. Nope--he lived many more years. We'll have to see if his EC work was any better than his DC work when we start doing the EC comics line.

Peter: "Frightmare" is a really dumb story with really bad art. I'd call it an early contender for Worst Story of 1973 but with eleven months ahead of us, I've a feeling something worse this way comes.

Jack: Richard Dolan likes to complain, so a train trip from dreary New York to sunny Florida becomes a "Journey to Oblivion." Even when he gets there, he grumbles and grouses so much that he finally hops the first train home. Surprise! It was all a dream. He wakes up in his hospital bed after a near-death experience involving a heart attack. The doctor suspected he wouldn't even like Heaven, and he was right. Now, Richard thinks he might give this world another chance. Perhaps because the rest of the stories in this issue were so bad, I kind of liked this one, even though it was fairly obvious where it was going. I think I've compared Gerry Talaoc's art to that of Jack Davis before and the resemblance is seen here again.

Peter: Biggest laugh of the issue (and possibly the month) comes when the doctor tells Dolan he knew he wouldn't hang out in heaven too long. "Journey to Oblivion" could be seen as the Yin to the Yang of "Wake Up and Dream" but, whereas Gerry Conway reaches his lofty goals, Carl Wessler comes off more as a recycler.

Jack: In this issue's letters column we get more about Carmine Infantino's trip to find new artists: "He was enormously pleased by his findings, and the artists, in turn, whose work never had been seen here, jumped at the chance. One by one, they have punch and power, and a fresh, new approach. Their skilled, intricate details are astounding." If only Carmine had rounded up some new writers as well!

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 11

"The Devil's Lake"
Story Uncredited
Art by E. R. Cruz

"Next Stop is Nowhere"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ernie Chan

"The Specter Who Stalked Cellblock 13"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"The Instrument of Death!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Bob Brown

Jack: General Klaus Dieter never stopped being a Nazi. In 1969, he led a new band of followers to a bank robbery with fatal consequences for some bystanders. Escaping to "The Devil's Lake," he and his men and pursued by a battalion of skeletons in Nazi uniforms, who kill them. The authorities find Dieter and his men at the bottom of the lake, in charge of a large group of Nazis at last. Although the stories in this issue have no writing credits, we can assume that they are all by Leo Dorfman, since they bear all of the hallmarks of his work--confusing plots, unclear storylines, and abrupt endings that don't add up.

"The Devil's Lake"
Peter: If I was a Nazi and wanted to rob a bank and get away with it I'd probably avoid wearing my uniform into the bank that day. A really weird story that's worth slogging through to get to that effective final panel--even if it doesn't make sense.

Jack: New York City, 1961, and David Wales and his wife board a train from the Bronx to Manhattan after an evening out. They soon realize that the "Next Stop is Nowhere," when the train zooms along the tracks with no other passengers and makes no stops. They question a conductor, but he exits the train and disappears as a ghost. Finally arriving at their destination after an hour has gone by, they witness a fire beginning and are able to alert the authorities so that everyone is saved. They discover that the ghostly conductor was the late father of one of the people who would have died in the fire, and he returned and delayed the Wales just long enough so they could sound the alarm. There's nothing spectacular here but it sure is nice to read a ghost story that makes sense! Ernie Chan's art is decent and this story confirms my suspicion that I'd rather have a good story and fair art than a bad story and good art.

"Next Stop is Nowhere"
Peter: Even though its dialogue is hammy ("Saints in heaven! We're lost... somewhere in space and time...!") and its protagonists accept the crazy scenario around them a bit too quickly, this is a pretty good ghost story. For Ghosts, it's darn near excellent.

Jack: San Quentin Prison, 1886, and Eddie Hayes is on death row. Just before he is to be hanged, a leg infection leads to an amputation and replacement of his limb with a wooden leg. A cruel guard takes the peg leg from Eddie right before he is hanged, leading Eddie's ghost to become "The Specter Who Stalked Cellblock 13," looking for his missing leg for the next century or so. Another terrible art job by Jerry Grandenetti marks this goofy story that, once again, leads nowhere.

We want a new artist!
We want a new artist!

Peter: Not sure why the closing of San Quentin would cease the endless search for a peg leg. I think our equally ghost-like writer (Uncredited--probably our old friend Leo Dorfman) missed the boat on this one. I'd have had Eddie Hayes haunting the halls until he got another artist. Imagine going through eternity as a Jerry Grandenetti squiggle.

Dental care in 1968 Spain
left much to be desired.
Jack: Spain, 1968, and famous organist Edgar Powers discovers a rare Pacini organ in an abandoned Spanish villa. He ignores an old woman's warning and plays the organ, only to be tormented by the music of Hell in his head due to a curse by the organ maker. The old woman tells him that he must play a mass on the organ to lift the curse, but after playing it he drops dead of a heart attack, probably due to his encounter with "The Instrument of Death!" Another mundane story with average art by Bob Brown.

Peter: We get a killer splash (identical to the cover) but little else from "The Instrument." Amazing that a piano built by Pacini would be left to molder in an old villa.


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