Monday, September 29, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 37: June 1962

The DC War Comics 1959-1976
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Russ Heath
All American Men of War 91

"Three O'Clock Killer!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Two Missions to Doom!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenettti

"Ace in a Cage!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: German ace Von Luft (aka The "Three O'Clock Killer") goads his American counterparts into fighting him every day at three o'clock around a clock tower behind German lines. One by one, the American heroes are shot down until pilot Jimmy uses a little ingenuity (and smoke) to muck up Von Luft's pattern. Without a visual on the clock tower, the German ace becomes distracted and easy prey for our hero. We've read so many stories featuring variations on The Red Baron that they all blend together after a while but at least this Baron has a hook. I thought Jimmy's tricks were pretty ingenious but, in the honorable playing field of aces, isn't it cheating?

Jack: Von Luft looks at the watch Jimmy sent him and suddenly realizes that he's sunk because there are no hands on the watch to tell him what time it is. He didn't have a backup? This was a cool story because of the biplanes and the clock tower but Von Luft was a dope. The Allied fighters weren't much better--if you know you're going to be shot down if you go into battle with Von Luft at three o'clock--don't go into battle with Von Luft at three o'clock! Reminds me of the line from Inglorious Basterds: "You know, fightin' in a basement offers a lot of difficulties. Number one being, you're fightin' in a basement!"

Peter: Aircraft mechanic Shamrock is constantly asking ace pilot Johnny Cloud what it's like to fly a bomber but Johnny is mum on the subject. Shamrock gets to find out when he's taken prisoner by Nazis in a tank and Johnny Cloud swoops in to save his hide. On the way back to base, the duo have to fight off a squadron of enemy aces and just make it back to mother earth before the flying fortress blows. If not for a couple of references to the Great Spirit in the sky (and that strange red tan Johnny sports) you'd never know this was a Johnny Cloud adventure. Thankfully free of any Indian-baiting or flashbacks from the reservation, "Two Missions to Doom" is a solid little thriller with some doses of genuine suspense and nice touches. When Shamrock first bugs Cloud for details on his mission, Johnny gets a far away look in his eyes and you can almost feel the tension our hero is feeling. Jerry G. holds himself in check for the most part and he gets the most important bits, the dogfights, done satisfactorily. One of the better Johnny Cloud adventures.

Jack: Jerry G is not a good fit for Johnny Cloud. His "special" way of drawing human faces and bodies does not work when he's trying to draw a Native American. Not that it works very well for other races, either! This story chugs along toward the inevitable conclusion but the storytelling seems clunky and the panels are too busy.

Peter: Ace pilot Mike Ross sits in a North Korean POW camp, rotting away but he's using his time to train a youngster named Palmer all he knows about fighting MIGs. When Palmer manages to escape the camp, he makes his way to an American base in Japan and convinces his CO to allow him to fly under Captain Ross's color and credit his own kills to Ross as a tribute to the man who taught him everything. Palmer becomes an A-1 ace but Ross continues to remain an "Ace in a Cage!" Equal parts gritty and sappy, this one manages to tick all the right boxes and finish off on a somber but hopeful note. Very rarely do you see the fate of the drama's hero up in the air but, here, it very much remains questionable whether Captain Ross will see America again. Pretty powerful stuff.

"Ace in a Cage!"

Jack: I had to read this one twice to figure out what was going on but when I did it was pretty cool. This reminds me of a great Russ Heath story of a couple of years ago that was in our ten best for that year. Abel draws some nice panels of the haunted P.O.W.'s face and the air battle scenes with the Korean War jets squaring off are impressive. Funny how the main story in this issue held the least interest for me.

Peter: To show just how clever I am, Jack, I'll point out that the stories, in descending order, all begin with a number (well, an ace is a one in a card game -- work with me).

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 119

"A Bazooka for Babyface!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Battle Eagle!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Canteen That Won an Island!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Jack: When Sgt. Rock meets new recruit Private Benjamin B. Barrett, it takes the grizzled veteran about half a second to figure out that the kid lied about his age in order to join the army. Rock orders him sent home but war gets in the way, so Babyface Barrett slowly becomes a member of Easy Co., step by step. He first shows his mettle by probing a field for land mines, then he saves Bulldozer from a couple of enemy tanks. But it's not till he gets "A Bazooka for Babyface!" and has to obey Rock's order to shoot at a tank covered by Easy Co. men that he earns the right to stay right where he is, as a "soldier in the army of the United States." With Kubert back this issue, he and Kanigher continue their string of classic stories. This series keeps getting better!

"A Bazooka for Babyface!"

Peter: There are a few good lines included in this one (That tank came at us--like it was breakin' a sixty-day fast...) but, for the most part, "A Bazooka for Babyface" feels like lukewarm leftovers topped with some really bad cheese. There's the repeated mantra about the boy's papers claiming him to be "a soldier in the U.S. Army..." and  we all know the green teen will grow up fast and be embraced by the guys of Easy but Rock's 180 degree turn in the last two panels defies logic (and we've gotten to know Rock pretty well in the last 37 installments) and rolls eyes. In fact, the boys surviving Babyface's bullseye bazooka shot is less of a stretch.

Jack Abel's take on Hitler
Jack: Adolf Hitler himself gives a solid gold "Battle Eagle!" to his best Panzer division to take into battle, making them certain that it will guarantee victory. A lone G.I. Scout tosses a grenade and, when the German jeep overturns, the American ends up with the golden souvenir. The Nazis chase him all over the desert to regain their prize but, in the end, he triumphs--only to leave the eagle in the shifting sands because it's too heavy to carry away. The end of this story has echoes of "Ozymandias" as the symbol of power is being covered up by the desert winds.

Peter: This is the 100th story we've covered that featured Jack Abel art and this one, for me, tends to lean on the good Abel side. For those keeping track, that's exactly 50 good and 50 bad. I liked the story too; it's a bit offbeat. I couldn't guess where it was going and that's always a good thing.

Jack: Marine Jim Lucas is the last U.S. soldier left on an island. He tosses a canteen into the water with a note for his son Ed, who is fighting somewhere too. The ship Ed is on is destroyed by a mine and he is the only survivor. Bobbing in the water, he finds the canteen and reads his father's note, which inspires him to become a one-man fighting machine when he is washed up on an island. He works his way across the island and ends up meeting his father, who survived. The coincidences here are far-fetched but I kind of like Grandenetti's art, I am surprised to admit. The colors and stylized panels look pretty cool, though there are some faces that point toward the mess his work would become in a decade.

"Canteen That Won an Island!"

Peter: I'm sure coincidences like this happened every day in World War II, right? I think Jerry should have made Jim Lucas look a tad bit older as that last panel doesn't give off father and son vibes. Brothers maybe.

What's so horrifying?
Find out in our next issue!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Voices in the Dark: The Horrors of Dark Fantasy (1941-1942) Part Three

by Jose Cruz

10. The Headless Dead
Original Broadcast: January 23, 1942

Cast: Ben Morris (Frederick Hallman), Eleanor Naylor Caughron (Laura), Fred Wayne (Swifte), Garland Moss (Leader of the Headless Dead), and Murillo Schofield (Chauffeur). 

The place: the Tower of London. The time: late night. Frederick Hallman is walking through the echoing chambers of the infamous castle when he comes by Swifte, a night watchman. The old geezer regales Frederick with gory tales of the Tower’s various, undead residents: the gambling spook; the hideous “pig-faced” specter; the hooded horror known as Brother Randall. If Frederick was more of a connoisseur of such diabolical lore, he would know that his next move is what seals his fate: He denies the existence of ghosts.

Deciding to gambol about, Swifte takes Frederick into St. Peter’s Chapel, where he proceeds to offer ominous one-liners about the ancient structure. “Isn’t as deserted as you might think, sir,” he tells Frederick and, in response to the latter’s persistent refusal of belief: “If you look for emptiness, you see emptiness.” Swifte seems to be getting to Frederick’s nerves when he mentions that the flagstones paving the floor are in fact grave markers for the dozens of bodies buried beneath. Sir Thomas More, Lady Jane Grey, Sir Thomas Raleigh, and two of England’s queens are all now interred in the earth, further testament that the Tower is built on death.

Beckoning to the pipe organ, Swifte offers Frederick the chance to play the instrument, giving the program an ample opportunity to flex the professional pluckings of WKY musician Ken Wright. An echoing voice joins Frederick in song, lilting in Latin along with the somber tone of the pipes. Swifte explains that the ghost only sings for a new player’s first time at the organ. Shaken but not stirred by this unearthly accompaniment, Frederick asks to play for a little longer. Swifte leaves him to it but the young man then succumbs to a sudden slumber.

Awakening, Frederick finds that Swifte is gone and the chapel doors are locked. That’s not the worst of it though. Frederick observes in horror that the flagstones at the foot of the altar are being pushed up by “long, bony arms” rising from the ground and he sees “two ghostly figures rising out of the tombs in the floor.” 

The many wispy spirits then form themselves into a procession, carrying their decapitated heads with them as they march. Frederick sees that they are led by a single armored wraith. The spook drifts over to Freddie’s side and welcomes him to the fold. The Leader reveals that it was really he who was commanding the organ earlier. “Don’t you think I play well?” he asks with a touch of wickedness. “I always play the music for our nightly… meetings.” 

The Leader makes it clear to Frederick that he will die if he does not stay to watch their ritual. Frederick manages to weasel his way out of it—but only temporarily. The Leader forces Frederick to take an oath that he shall return to the chapel the following evening at midnight and take part in their ceremony, swearing his word “by the souls of the sacred dead.”

The following day, Fred’s wife Laura can see that her husband is clearly upset and asks him to vent his troubles. Frederick does exactly that by telling her the whole spooky episode, but Laura believes it was just a dream he suffered after falling asleep in the chapel. Still, Frederick remains unsure if he will return to the Tower for his appointment. 

Phoning Laura later, Frederick tells her he’ll be dining at the club that night and has decided against joining the late-night marching party. But when Frederick’s chauffeur Henry drives him home that night as the witching hour tolls, he finds out that his summonings will not be so easily avoided. Frederick is assailed by the voices of Swifte, the Leader, and the singing ghost, chanting an unholy chorus that causes Henry to crash the car against a passing truck in the commotion. Recovering from the wreck, Henry calls out to his employer and finds his… remains. “Mr. Hallman…! His head!” 

The Leader greets the newly acquired Frederick, pleased that he could keep his appointment.

Like “The Demon Tree” before it, “The Headless Dead” gets its spunk from setting the action in a domain of myth and legend and introducing a shuddery supernatural element to relentlessly plague the heroes. It never quite matches the inspired flourishes of the former episode, but “The Headless Dead” has enough of its own charms and arresting set pieces to heartily recommend it. 

The entire scene between the undead leader and Frederick is a highly amusing and grim moment. Moss’s performance might be a bit too restrained for some, but his low-key delivery of the lines actually adds to their snappy effect. As the dismembered party makes its eerie procession to the altar, Moss’s Leader makes wonderfully subtle, morbid jokes, such as when he tells Frederick that he is the front-runner for the line solely because his head has remained in place! He also goes on to explain that the nightly resurrection gives the spirits a nice time to stretch from being entombed all day. Funniest of all is definitely Frederick’s response to the Leader’s insistence that he stay for the ritual. “Can’t we make it some other night?” he pleads, as if the ancient ghosts are asking him out for a date at the movies.

The climax is another punchy stinger. The technical effects are of special note here, as they replicate a cinematic flow of voiceovers, the warnings of Swifte and the Leader (“The headless dead!” “Join the procession!”) intermingling with the chapel ghost’s infectious singing to make a highly suspenseful sequence that ends on an appropriately nasty note that would certainly be at home in a four-color funny book. Can’t you just see the Leader smiling as he holds the chapel door open for Frederick’s mutilated soul, a craggy-faced horror host snickering away in the corner of the page? Bishop is that host. 

11. Death is a Savage Deity
Original Broadcast: January 30, 1942

**No Cast Listed**

Delores returns home from the conservatory one night to find her Aunt Wanna playing a melancholy melody on the family organ. The two ladies begin discussing the recent, tragic suicide of one the servants, Andrews. The man had apparently executed himself after receiving news that he was to be blind for the rest of his life. Wanna clucks her old tongue and says how she always warned Andrews time and again to properly care for his vision. 

Alma the maid enters to inform Delores that her fiancée Jim Harvey has just arrived. The poor servant has been suffering from terrible headaches as of late herself, something that Auntie Wanna cautions her to be wary of. Jim invites Delores out for a walk on the grounds and faster than you can say “Fussy old biddy” Wanna is wagging her finger and telling Jim to be careful of the lily pond in back. It might not be exceedingly deep, but the lack of a railing and the surrounding darkness could surely lead to an accident.

Thinking back to her aunt’s admonishments, Delores finds it peculiar that she only singled Jim out and didn’t warn both of them. Delores admits she’s been feeling trapped in her own home and believes that her aunt is trying to keep her and Jim apart. She also has her suspicions about Andrews’ death, as the man had perfect eyesight his entire life despite the autopsy discovering that he had been blind at the time of his passing. Jim attempts to calm his beloved’s outlandish fears… just before he has a close call when he almost slips into the lily pond.

The next day the couple decides to take a romantic swim in a nearby lake, Wanna offering her usual ominous guidance. Delores is convinced that her dear old aunt despises them both, but can’t seem to account for the old woman’s sudden change in disposition. After Delores has waited for Jim to get done changing, she goes looking for him only to run away screaming from the sight of his corpse floating amongst the lilies in the pond. 

Wanna claims that Jim had stumbled and crashed his head against a rock, knocking him out cold and leading to his drowning. Wanna receives a telephone call from her lawyer and tells Delores that she will be away on business for a while. Consorting with Alma, Delores insists that the maid open the door to the chamber that has been sealed shut in the eighteen years since her father died inside of it. The shivering servant obliges and inside they discover a set of four, foot-tall dolls that appear to have been made in the semblance of Andrews, Alma, Jim, and Delores. All of the figurines are run through with pins: Andrews in the eyes, Alma in the head, Jim sunken in a mini-pond, and Delores in the heart, a spot that has been giving her pain lately.

“It’s witchcraft! Black magic!” Alma shudders, admitting that she has been aware of Aunt Wanna’s terrible power for some time but has been too scared to do anything about it. She informs Delores that Wanna learned the ways of voodoo while living in Haiti and how she stole bits of her victim’s hair and clothes to construct her bewitched dolls. Just after these facts are imparted, Alma drops dead straight away and Delores collapses in a faint.

Awakened by the family doctor, Delores is told that Alma perished of a brain hemorrhage in her sleep. Delores realizes that her devious relative must have moved the poor girl’s corpse to stage a “natural” demise and confesses everything she’s found out to the doctor. The physician takes all of this news in stride, as he himself had his suspicions about Wanna’s occult activities!

The doc gives Delores the whole kebab on Wanna, about how she was the wife of a wealthy plantation owner in Haiti whom she killed by feeding poison. But the wily fox had made a last amendment to his will that bequeathed all of his wealth and property to the daughter of his best friend. And that beneficiary is Delores herself! *Thunder clap*

So using “her ancient, jungle powers,” Wanna plotted to knock the damsel off along with anyone else who got in the way of her ill-gained riches. Which includes basically everybody. But Wanna’s husband also had an extra trick up his sleeve: just before the poison licked him off, he succeeded in having a voodoo doll-likeness of his wife made up by a witch doctor who proceeded to stab the effigy with a pin laced with a paralyzing serum.

But how can Wanna have gone on perfectly healthy in spite of the curse, Delores wonders. The doctor knows all: “No spell is effective unless the victim is made aware of its existence.” 

Hmm. Alright.

Naturally, when the doctor was called to the house by Wanna to aid the stricken ladies—thus having his theories confirmed—he felt the need to let the story slip about Wanna’s husband. So where is dear auntie now, Delores asks. “Are you ready to get up?” the doctor asks nonchalantly. They walk into the next room and Delores sees the fate of her evil relative: maybe not light as a feather, but definitely stiff as a board.

One would like to claim that “Death is a Savage Deity” is one of those deliriously bad stories that manages to actually become entertaining in its inanity, but the episode leaves one more in a sense of stupefaction than any kind of giddy masochism. The narrative is perhaps the messiest that Bishop has yet to claim his name to, filled with so many “Huh?” and “Whuh?” moments that it’s hard to keep track of much else. 

The biggest offender is undoubtedly the doctor’s reveal about the voodoo curse. Suffice it to say, if the victim must know about the spell, then how does Jim end up kicking the lily pad being none the wiser of Wanna’s magic tricks? And what about these heart troubles Delores has been having prior to entering the sealed chamber? Some things can be forgiven, but this aspect of the plot is just plain sloppy. 

The technical crew does wring some nice moments from the frazzled script, namely the sequence where Alma and the doctor talk of Aunt Wanna’s past. Organist Ken Wright lightly pounds the keys to replicate the sound of tribal drums and tinkles the high notes to connote the stabbing of the doll by the medicine man during the doctor’s narration.  

The performances themselves leave a little to be desired, barring that of the unlisted actress playing Aunt Wanna. Her inflections are very similar to  that of actress Sheila Keith, most famous for the villainous turns she did for British horror director Pete Walker in films like Frightmare and House of Whipcord from 1974. Indeed, this a role that Keith would assuredly have relished and it’s a shame that the wicked aunt doesn’t have a more prominent role in the drama.

Though the recording cuts off before listing the cast credits, frequent player Fred Wayne is undoubtedly the voice of the family doctor (who inspires some tittering when he speaks of the “baybeh girl”). Ben Morris and Eleanor Naylor Caughron were more than likely the actors who filled in the roles of Jim and Delores respectively, though the actresses who played Alma and Aunt Wanna are sadly, as far as can be ascertained, lost to the ages.

Note: The name of Delores’s aunt was referenced from Karl Schadow’s article at the Metropolitan Washington Old Time Radio Club. It is very hard to discern some of the lines from the recording; I was under the impression the aunt’s name was Lorna myself! For the sake of consistency, we have taken Karl’s word on the matter.

12. The Sea Phantom
Original Broadcast: February 6, 1942

Cast: Ben Morris (Mr. Wilson), Fred Wayne (Captain Strong), Muir Hite (Isaac), and Garland Moss (Captain Jonathan Strange). 

The scrape of chalk is the only sound in the lonely quarters of Captain Strong as a mysterious figure writes his message upon the captain’s slate. But mate Isaac finds out that the occupant of the room is not exactly human: it’s a moving, grinning skeleton who cackles wickedly to himself as Isaac heads for the hills in terror!

Isaac promptly reports the sighting to Strong and associate Mr. Wilson: “White, bleached bones, sir. With big empty eye sockets and a gaping mouth.” Yep, that’s a skeleton alright! Strong can’t account for it though; all hands are either on deck or in the engine room. The captain warns Isaac that he’ll have him flogged and put in irons for making up stories, so the three men go back to Strong’s apartment to investigate. The room is completely empty, with not a fibula in sight. Isaac swears that he locked the door behind him before he came running to the two of them. 

They do spot writing on the slate just as the mate said, and Strong remarks that it is of a style and type that is easily two hundred years old. It reads: “It is not correct the information you have about the Sea Phantom.” The message goes on to specify some nautical directions and is signed by Jonathan Strange, the very same captain of that storied Spanish galleon who went down into Davy Jones’ locker with its booty of treasure centuries ago. It is this very vessel that Strong’s men are searching for, and these pinpoints supplied by the bony ghost are just what they need to find it.

At midnight, Isaac (who, unless my ears deceive me, states his full name to be Isaac Newton!) knocks frantically on Mr. Wilson’s door, rousing the man from his slumber. The spooked mate tells Wilson that he has spotted a ship without lights and a full set of sails in the dead of night. Incredulous, Wilson accompanies Isaac out on deck and confirms the astonishing sight. “If you’ve never seen a ghost ship, take a look at that boat out there,” he tells Isaac, for Wilson knows that what they look upon is none other than the Sea Phantom

But even Wilson is surprised when their attempt to toss an iron rigging pin onto the nearby ship is met with a solid impact, proof that the vessel is not just a spectral mirage. Adventure getting the best of them, Wilson and Isaac board a rowboat and ride over to the ship to explore its secrets. Wilson can’t help but note the Phantom’s eerie silence and ruined condition. He does spot a light burning in a room and enters while Isaac keeps a look out.

Upon entering, Wilson spots a skeleton in the corner of the cabin. The disembodied voice of Jonathan Strange rings out in the air, instructing Wilson to open an old chest in which the man finds glowing coins of gold and sparkling crowns. Strange explains that the riches were originally meant for the Spanish king, but the evil Jose Manel, a mutinous member of the crew, plotted to rob the treasure for himself. Strange put a stop to the uprising by lighting all the lifeboats on fire along with the rest of the Phantom, consigning all of them to flaming death on the high seas. 

Strange orders Wilson to grab a small parcel from the room before Isaac raises the alarm that the ship is now aflame and going under fast. The two men manage to escape the reenactment of the Phantom’s fate. Once back on board their own ship Isaac verily vouches Wilson’s startling account. No one on Strong’s ship heard the fire, but the charred pieces of driftwood floating on the waves are unmistakable. Wilson is able to clear Strange’s name with his story and the parcel he retrieved from the Phantom. It is the captain’s log, and its last entry details Strange’s brave act and the sealing of his fate… as well as that of anyone who dare seek the treasure in the future!

While Dark Fantasy has certainly had its ups and downs over the course of the last dozen episodes, “The Sea Phantom” may be the first to feel insignificant. The story coasts along to its finale without generating any kind of fanfare or interest in the proceedings. For all the ideas that didn’t work in the previous maritime terror, “The Thing from the Sea,” that story at least made an attempt to be different and fresh, and no matter how confounding the results were it was never boring, a fate that “The Sea Phantom” sadly cannot avoid.

The cast is generally game as usual, Muir Hite especially notable for his blustery performance as Isaac. The chilly prologue with his character happening upon the skeleton scribe is fragrant with atmosphere and potential, but each following scene is a steady and further decline into the mundane. I wish there was more for me to offer on this one, but the only advice I can give is to just keep on sailing. 

13. “W” is for Werewolf
Original Broadcast: February 13, 1942

Cast: Ben Morris (Jim Howard), Garland Moss (Bill Andrews), Eleanor Naylor Caughron (Angela Howard), Fred Wayne (Rayfield), and Don Stolz (Johnny). 

Along the crowded port of Cape Howe, Jim Howard spots his old friend Bill Andrews and calls out to him. Bill has invited Jim and his family to the island cabin that Bill lives in with his son Johnny. Jim notes how tired Bill looks, and it is in fact a rather odd time for Bill to have granted this act of hospitality: Andrews’ other son, Bill Jr., has just recently passed away from a fever and Johnny is especially feeling the loss as evidenced by his random mood swings.

Still, Bill is happy to have the group over, confirming first that Jim had his infant child inoculated for any local illnesses and saying that he has taken precautions for any “other dangers” they may face. Jim is excited for the chance to spend time with the old doc, and they depart via carriage to the boat that is to ferry them off to the island.

During the ride, Bill reveals that he has been having his share of other troubles. His medical practice hasn’t been too hot as of late and he laments that he doesn’t have anything more luxurious than his humble cabin to offer. Jim’s a little puzzled by the books his friend asked him to bring along for him too. One of them is a scientific study of lycanthropy and another is Guy Endore’s supernatural classic The Werewolf of Paris, but Bill says they’re merely for experimental research.

Meeting Bill’s son Johnny, Jim goes to shake the young lad’s hand but the teenager acts antsy and skulks about. Jim is astounded by something peculiar he noticed, which only increases the tension as father and son begin to bicker. In confidence, Jim tells Bill that he was shocked by the “thick growth of hair” he saw on the palm of Johnny’s hand. If you suspect this is because the boy’s going through some natural life changes, you’d only be partly right.

Once he’s shown his room, Jim comes into contact with Rayfield, the Andrews’ servant, cook, and tutor to Johnny. The foreign butler mutters of the “things in the night” that the local superstitious villagers have warned Bill of, and gives Jim a charm made of green twigs, a lake shore pebble, and charred wood that he says will ward off evil spirits. 

Just then a chilling howl rents the air, but Rayfield assures that it just some island animal, claiming that no wolves have been known to stalk the area. Jim, who was so scared by the cry that it sounds like he shouts “Great horned toads!” (!), thinks the howling is coming from the east wing of the cabin. Tracing the sounds to a bedroom, Jim hears scraping and snarling on the other side of the door and calls out to Bill. The physician says that he heard no such sounds and thinks his friend is joking with him.

As it turns out, the room belongs to Johnny and used to be shared by the two brothers before Bill Jr.’s death. Looking inside, Bill points out the deep scratches embedded on the inside of the door and the steel chain and collar tied to the post of one of the beds. Bill explains that the boys used to own a collie that they kept in their room, the traces of fur and scratches being from the pet. Assured but still wary, Jim resolves to sleep.

Jim’s wife Angela and their baby soon join the group and a bit of merriment is brought back to the vacation. Bill has to go to the mainland on an appointment, but before departing he asks Jim to give him his solid silver watch charm. Angela asks about Bill’s weird behavior and the arrival of a wired telegram in response to an inquiry Jim sent in seems to confirm his worst fears. Some historical digging has unearthed the fact that Bill’s grandfather was shot to death by a mob in France. When his casket was later unearthed, they found the skeleton of a wolf within it! 

A piercing scream from Johnny’s room is suddenly heard and in the ensuing confusion Jim shoots at a strange creature that darts off into the darkness. Running to the bedroom, the couple finds Rayfield with his throat torn out and the bedpost collar snapped off the leash. Following Jim’s lead, Angela accompanies him out to Bill Jr.’s grave site on the estate and they dig the coffin up. Snapping the lid open, Angela gasps at the lupine bones covered with “woolly fur.” The couple now fully realizes just what they’re up against and that Bill has been struggling to find a cure for his familial ailment the whole time. When they hear the haunting howling from the cabin, they realize that their newborn is in their room… and defenseless.

Rushing back, Jim and Angela find their bedroom door locked and desperately try to break it down as the monstrous snarls emanate from within. Just as they force it open, a series of shots blast out and they find Bill, having just gunned down Johnny with silver bullets. He turns to them and somberly informs them that the curse is finally over. 

Dark Fantasy finally and fully returns on the promise it delivered with its fourth episode, “The Demon Tree,” in delivering this wild, pulpy tale of teenage werewolves. Like that earlier story, everybody seems to be on board with the project, from Scott Bishop’s suspenseful script and the convincing performances of the actors to the sharp direction and foley effects. 

Even the bumper promo that followed “The Sea Phantom” seems to promise a romping good time: instead of just simply proclaiming the name of the next installment, the announcer starts off with “Listen for…” which is followed by a hearty “Aroooooo! W is for Werewolf!” The speaker at the beginning of the actual episode gives a similar, fun delivery, practically shaking in his boots as he whispers the title of the dark drama into our eager ears. 

Much was made of this episode being the “13th original tale” written by Bishop for the series, no doubt because it had the good fortune of airing on Friday, February 13th, 1942. A small publicity stunt was staged for the local papers where the cast and crew posed for photos that showed them indulging in all matter of superstitious rule-breaking. 

This episode and “The Demon Tree” demonstrate that the program was usually at its best when concentrating on otherworldly monsters that served as palpable threats to the characters. Many of the other stories had “weird” and “bizarre” happenings that sought to serve as the main draw, but the ghostly benefactors of “Debt from the Past” and the friendly reincarnation of “Resolution 1841” all lacked that one vital factor that kept the audience tuned into the action: suspense. Granted, not all the stories that dealt with the powers of darkness (i.e. “Death is a Savage Deity”) were completely successful, but the dose of intrigue that only an active, antagonistic force can bestow was key in making an episode that listeners would remember long after the commercials rolled in.

“‘W’ is for Werewolf” has its odd little moments that don’t fit very well in the grand scheme of the story, but they’re of hardly very much concern. I’ll just leave it off by saying that it’s a very solid entry from the series, but if you expect me to say something cheesy like “It was a howling good time,” then you will be sorely disappointed. 

Stay tuned for more terror in two weeks. 
Same time, same channel!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Do You Dare Enter? Part Thirty-Six: June 1973

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

House of Mystery 214

"Curse of the Werewolf"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"The Death Clock"
Story by Mark Evanier and Robert Kanigher
Art by Sonny Trinidad

"The Shaggy Dog"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Nestor Redondo

Peter: Paul Dunstan summons his brother-in-law, John, to his vast estate when he suspects his wife may have fallen victim to the Langley family curse of lycanthropy. Several deaths in the nearby village point to a hairy fanged creature and a young woman fitting the description of Carla has been seen fleeing the scenes of the crimes. In the end, it's actually Paul creating an elaborate ruse (including dressing as a female werewolf and hypnotizing his wife!) in order to gain access to Carla's inheritance. The wrinkle in the plan is the fact that John is a real werewolf and is none too happy about Paul's deception. Very elaborate plot on Paul's part that hinges on everything going just right (it's tough to get a nice-fitting female werewolf costume, after all) and it seems he could have done something a little more simple, such as murdering Carla. But then I'd be complaining about the stale plot (I'm never satisfied) so let's just be happy that, yes, it's an elaboration on the centuries-old cliche but at least Jack Oleck throws in a curve ball or two. Ruben Yandoc's art, as usual, is phenomenal. The panel of Paul confessing his plot to John, all played out within John's eye, is a classic, very clever! More and more, the art is becoming the draw to pick these titles up.

Jack: I didn't think the art was so hot. Yandoc is not one of my favorite of the Filipino crowd. One thing that bothered me about this story was that, if John loves his sister so much, why does he shoot her? He must have known that he was the werewolf, not she. The big ruse by Paul to convince John that Carla is a hairy beast sort of falls apart if John knows that he's one himself, doesn't it?

"Curse of the Werewolf"

Peter: Cub photographer Willie Beldon is covering the crazy stunts of The Red Devil, an acrobat who cheats death time and again. At dinner after a 10,000 foot plunge into a lake, The Devil reveals to Beldon that the secret to his death-defying feats is a special stop watch he carries which tells him exactly what day he'll die. Time's up, it seems, because The Devil is shot to death in an accidental mob hit. Willie makes off with the stop watch and when he reads it, "The Death Clock" tells him he has 79 years left to live. Convinced he'll make a fortune just as The Red Devil did, Willie Beldon begins life as a daredevil. The watch holds true and Willie manages to avoid death during several nutty stunts. His audience doesn't escape the same fate though and casualties mount. The widower of one such casualty takes umbrage at the daredevil's seeming nonchalance towards the fate of his fans and tosses a grenade at Willie. Though Beldon escapes death, he'll live the next 79 years as a vegetable. If you don't think too hard or try to fill in the missing pieces, this one's a real hoot. A lot of fun with fabulous, almost retro, artwork. Okay, let's nitpick. If The Red Devil knew the day of his death, wouldn't he have made some mention of it at dinner? He seemed pretty calm for a guy who's going to die that night. Why, all of a sudden, do the spectators start dying? Is it simply a matter of precaution and conscience on the part of The Devil and none from Willie or is there a deeper meaning? The first we'll see of Mark Evanier's writing, "The Death Clock" comes off as a nod to the pre-code horror comics that ruled the newsstands of the 1950s. Evanier would later become Jack Kirby's biographer and historian.

The bleak outcome of  "The Death Clock"

Jack: I must be in a bad mood because I didn't think this story was very good, either. What kind of an idiot would put his body through all sorts of abuse just because he knew he couldn't be killed? If someone told me I had another, say, 30 years to live, I would not become a daredevil. I would buy some insurance and find a bookie to place a bet on the date of my death. They'll take bets on anything these days, won't they?

Peter: Maggy's always hated her husband's dog, Morgon, so one day she gets the urge to run "The Shaggy Dog" over in the driveway. After hurriedly burying the mutt in the backyard, Maggy finds she can breathe fresh air and live in a clean house once again. That is, until strange scratchings at the back door and the growing patch of dog hair on the carpet drive Maggy to the conclusion she may be going nuts. Unfortunately for the pretty housewife, that's not her problem. Turns out Morgon is possessing Maggy's body and she's turning into a real bitch. The bottom of the barrel done been reached. Hands down, the worst story of the year and monumental in its stupidity. A big disappointment from Mr. Skeates and Mr. Redondo. Lately (I'm talking 1973 here), a lot of these writers seem to be building up to a twist ending and the "surprise" is anything but. We know Maggy is turning into a dog (but hoping it's not just that simple) so the final "reveal" panel, of Maggy on all fours, is nothing but silly.

"The Shaggy Dog"

Jack: Funny, but my reaction on reaching the end of this story was also "Now that's just silly!" I enjoyed the ride more than you did, mainly because Redondo is such a good artist. That last panel really is awful. I guess they were thinking about the end of the movie Freaks with the lady who turns into a chicken (my thought as well, Jack-PE). This story is like "The Tell-Tale Pooch" except in Poe's original the murderer did not turn into an animal at the end. I guess I just had it in for Maggy because she ran over her husband's cuddly canine!

Unexpected 147

"The Daughter of Dr. Jekyll"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Rico Rival

"The Totem's Threat"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"The Terrible Wheel of Fate!"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Ross Andru and Tony deZuniga

Jack: It can't be easy being "The Daughter of Dr. Jekyll." First, she drinks a potion that Pop gives her and turns into a hag. Then, she returns to her beautiful, blonde self and has no memory of the transformation. Unfortunately, Pop picks that moment to fall over dead from a heart attack. Fortunately, Elsa's boyfriend Bruce is a medical doctor and deduces that the potion is the only thing keeping Elsa normal. It seems that when she was a child, she took a trip to the Amazon with her dad and was cursed. Now, without the potion, the curse turns her into a cackling hag. Lucky for her, Bruce figures that if she keeps taking the potion she'll stay hot and eventually be immune to the ugly transformation. So much to love here! Right from the start, the men treat Elsa like she's a moron.

Elsa: Why won't you tell me what this is, dad?
Dr. Jekyll: It's too technical for you to understand, Elsa . . . just drink it.
Elsa: Why not? It's not every girl who can claim she was a human guinea pig for science!

Now that's the kind of daughter a scientist needs! Later:

Bruce: His notes . . . maybe they can tell me something!
Elsa: Bruce! My father just died before your eyes! Is that all you can think of? His notes?
Bruce: I know what I'm doing . . . just trust me dear!

Elsa also looks very cute in a mini-dress, which is a plus.

Peter: This one feels like a holdover from the gothic titles. Why would a scientist/father who's got a bad ticker not tell his daughter what was going on? Not like she's ten years old. I thought we'd get some kind of humorous climax where we find out this was the origin story for one of the old hosts over at The Witching Hour. Rico's pencils here are ugly and jagged, not like the work he's turned in recently.

Jack: Brad and Wally are a couple of greedy hunters who sell seal skins to a dealer in Alaska. When they realize that there is no limit on the number of seals that the natives can kill and give to them to resell, they come up with a nasty plot and hide a tape recorder behind the natives' sacred totem pole to make it sound like the ancestors are commanding the natives to bring the men more seal skins. Eventually, one of the natives catches on and ignores "The Totem's Threat," and the two hunters' corpses become the new figures atop the totem pole. Not bad at all, and I like the natives' revenge.

Peter: An Unexpected treat this one, a really good "just desserts" tale! Of course, if this was an EC Comic, these two would have been disemboweled before being "totemized" but we take what we can get and that final panel still evokes gruesomeness. I'm going to sound like a broken record but, man, this art is really hitting the right notes.

"The Terrible Wheel of Fate!"
Jack: When heavy fog forces a bus to stop on a midwestern highway, the five passengers walk over to a carnival and take a ride on a Ferris wheel, only to discover that it is "The Terrible Wheel of Fate!" As the wheel spins, the passengers disappear into another place where each of them has a glimpse into the future. A woman who thought she did not have the dedication to be a nurse saves an injured miner, a young man realizes that he can't get a good job without an education, and so on. They manage to get back to the Ferris wheel before it is dismantled and they vow to change their lives based on what they have seen. I enjoyed this story, simple as it was, especially because Tony de Zuniga's inks buried almost all traces of Ross Andru's pencils.

Peter: I thought for sure this was going to be the 647th version of "they're all dead" but, nope, it's something even more insidious: pretension. When one character says to the bus driver in the final panel, "We've changed our minds! We're all going back --", what does he mean? Are they going to hitchhike home? Get back on the Ferris wheel? Clarity is all I ask for sometimes. This smells like a shelved 1960s story, Ross Andru art and all.

Jack Sparling
The House of Secrets 108

"Act III Eternity"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Jess Jodloman

"A New Kid on the Block"
Story by Maxene Fabe
Art by Rico Rival

"The Ghost-Writer"
Story by Bill Riley
Art by Gerry Talaoc

Peter: Aging matinee star Morgan Stoddard has seen his career dwindle, the roles dry up, until a spark of hope arrives in the guise of a strange man offering Morgan a new role. Stoddard must travel to the small village of Tyndallsville, where he's told the town holds a monthly pageant with a strange gimmick: the town chases an actor portraying a vampire until the sun comes up and they stake him. The role sounds like a plum to Morgan and he quickly takes to it until sunrise arrives and he realizes the "stakes" are for keeps. We never know why the town of Tyndallsville needs to stake a faux vampire every month and I think that's to our benefit. Try applying logic to silliness like "Act III Eternity," and you ruin the sheer fun of it. Newcomer Jess Jodloman's pencils are amazing; realistic and creepy. Add his name to the stellar roster of fine artists the DC mystery line is employing right now and Warren has some stiff competition.

Jodloman scores a bulls-eye!

Jack: The story was predictable but very entertaining and the art, as you say, is gorgeous. I like the up-to-date lingo Morgan's agent uses: "I wish you luck, baby!" Kashdan also does a nice job of keeping Morgan from figuring out what we all know is happening by showing how his huge ego gets in the way of his understanding. Nice work all around.

Peter: "A New Kid on the Block," poor little Abdul, son of a museum curator, is constantly picked on by the neighborhood boys. So what if Abdul is a little weird and really skinny (the kid looks like a bat)? After a particularly nasty row, the boy's uncle tells Abdul that he's special and shouldn't be playing with the commons anyway. He shows the kid a sacred dagger and tells him that it will be his upon his 18th birthday. Thinking this is the way to impress the leader of the gang, Abdul shows Joey the dagger and the little hood convinces Abdul that they should pawn it for ice cream money. The deal goes sour when they bring the knife to the pawnbroker and he steals it from the lads. Not wanting Abdul to get in trouble for his own mistake, Joey sneaks back into the pawn shop to steal the dagger back and witnesses an ancient mummy killing the owner. The mummy then heads for Abdul's place. When Joey arrives, the bandaged beastie already has Abdul in arms so Joey thrusts the dagger into the mummy, reducing it to ashes. Abdul confesses the mummy was his mommy. An enjoyable piece, for the most part, marred by a really dumb final panel. Rival seems to have had fun with this one, his mummy a great, snarling, fanged beast. What's with little Joey's abrupt change of heart? After torturing Abdul for the first three quarters of the story, he suddenly becomes the shrimp's bodyguard.

"A New Kid on the Block"
Jack: I let out a big laugh when I read the last panel. Maxene Fabe is becoming one of my favorite writers of these DC horror tales! I enjoyed this one from start to finish. The art is great and, while I knew there was some connection to the kid and the mummy, I didn't know what it was till the end. "Now who will wrap me up at night?" Priceless!

Peter: Best-selling author Keith Godfrey doesn't want his secret to get out. He's got a ghost-writer, has for years, and he's afraid the G-W will want a bigger piece of the pie at some point in the future. Godfrey decides it's time to change typewriters. He's just sold a few books to movies, royalties from the older books are keeping him fat, life is good. Killing "The Ghost-Writer" Armand proves difficult because, as Armand confesses, he's already dead. This pushes Godfrey to insanity. A bit vague, that climax, but the story (by one of our favorites, Bill Riley) is well-told and the art perfectly illustrates the sleaziness of our lead character. I wonder, since Godfrey holds what looks like a huge manuscript in the final panel, if he's picked up writing again. Perhaps new staff scribe for Unexpected and Ghosts?

"The Ghost-Writer"

Jack: What really struck me about this one, aside from the mostly good script and outstanding art, was how suave Abel looks in the last panel! Hardly the terrified little fat creep we're used to.

Abel gets a makeover!

The Witching Hour 31

"Red is for Dead!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Alex Nino

"A Badge of Courage!"
Story by Bill Dennehy (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by John Calnan

"Hold Hands--And Die"
Story Uncredited
Art by Buddy Gernale

"The Scent of Death"
Story Uncredited
Art by Art Saaf

Jack: Unhappy teenager Orville tells his pretty stepmother Doreen that he has been dabbling in black magic and "Red is for Dead!" He has learned how to draw a red line through a person's name in the phone book and kill them instantly. Doreen can't stand Orville and the feeling is mutual. Doreen uses her feminine wiles on her older husband Ed to get him to have a talk with the boy, but it ends badly when Dad slaps Son. Just as Doreen is about to convince Ed to have Orville committed, Orville angrily draws a red line through another name and Doreen collapses dead on the floor. Not realizing what he has done, Orville decides that the black magic stuff doesn't work and tears up the book. Alex Nino's art is, as usual, very impressive and the story is not bad until it comes to a bit of a sudden end.

The Enfantino household circa 1974

Peter: I thought this one was chugging along in both art and story department until that wacky and wholly unnecessary expository.

Still pretty foxy . . .
Jack: Sylvester is a knife thrower and his partner Lisa is cheating on him with a handsome dude named Leonardo. Sly catches them smooching in the alley and takes out his jealousy and anger on Lisa. As the last knife flies toward her face she turns her head suddenly, taking the knife in the cheek. At the hospital, her face in bandages, Lisa tells Sly that his career as a knife thrower is over due to the accident. Off come the bandages and Leonardo still loves her. He is not repelled by her scars but rather sees them as "A Badge of Courage!" What a dopey story. John Calnan's best talent lies in his ability to draw pretty girls like Lisa. She sure had some quick-healing skin, since her wound has scarred over nicely in very short order.

Peter: Thanks to John Calnan's art, it's unclear whether the blade finds its mark or just misses Lisa's "kisser"... until we turn the page and find her face completely bandaged. Coulda fooled me! Then to heap even more ludicrosity onto the pile, we find out this dopey gal caused the errant throw so she could put an end to Sylvester's career! Her scar bears no resemblance to what damage the blade would have done. And what a wimp Leonardo is, standing off to the side, shivering in his boots while the love of his life is having knives thrown at her by a guy he knows is raging mad. An utterly stupid story altogether.

Jack: A skeptical husband accompanies his wife to a seance but finds out that he has to "Hold Hands--And Die" when the ghost that is conjured up is his own after he keels over during the ceremony. This story is mercifully brief.

Peter: "Hold Hands--And Die" is another one page non-story livened by nice art. Why would editor Murray Boltinoff bother with these short-shorts rather than padding one of the other longer stories?

We reckon this story is a dog!
Jack: Deep in the hills of Kentucky live Pa, Ma and Boy, a big dumb ox who can't talk and wears a cowbell around his neck. When a local man is found murdered, Boy is immediately suspected and makes a run for it. He manages to trap the real culprit and bring him to justice because he recognizes the man's smell and had smelled the same "Scent of Death" near the scene of the murder. This is not the way to demonstrate that DC horror comics are starting to get better!

Peter: The Beverly Hillbillies was graced with better scripts than this. What makes this awful slice of the deep south suitable for a comic magazine that's typically filled with supernatural tales? Jethro's great sense of smell? Call me a nut but the work of John Calnan and Art Saaf this issue makes me pine for the days of Jerry Grandenetti.

Ghosts 15

"The Ghost That Wouldn't Die"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Buddy Gernale

"A Phantom in the Alamo"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Who Dares Cheat the Dead?"
Story Uncredited
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"Hand from the Grave"
Story Uncredited
Art by Rico Rival

Jack: Claire Medwick is a lonely, middle-aged widow whose husband left her a bundle. She makes the mistake of falling for and marrying Ambrose Marner, who quickly turns into an abusive husband and father. After Claire takes her daughter and leaves, she surprises Ambrose by returning and telling him she'll never leave him. He does what any enterprising husband would do and sends her off down the basement stairs into a pit of lime. When she returns a few days later, he is so stunned that he turns into a model husband and father, thinking Claire is "The Ghost That Wouldn't Die." Ambrose dies four years later and, twenty years after the fact. Claire relates the story to intrepid journalist Carl Wessler, who shares it with the readers of Ghosts. Does anyone know if quick lime really works that fast? In this story, it dissolves a human body in a few days. It never seemed to work that well on my lawn.

"The Ghost That Wouldn't Die"

Peter: Since he was the inquisitive journalist of the story, why didn't Wessler ask Mrs. Marner how the heck she got out of the basement?

Jack: Craig Phillips, a dishonest rancher, betrays the stalwart men of Texas at the Alamo and leads them to their massacre by Santa Anna. Phillips is prevented from recovering the gold that the Texans had hidden in the fort by "A Phantom in the Alamo," the ghost of Jim Bowie. As someone who has lived with the belief that two of my ancestors died at the Alamo, I was excited to see this story but my ardor dimmed quickly when I gazed at Sam Glanzman's terrible art. "Ngyaaa" is becoming the sound effect of choice for DC horror comics.

"A Phantom in the Alamo"

Peter: I enjoyed this for what it is: a history lesson with a ghost thrown in. If I'd read this in 1973 (at the age of 11) I'd have wanted to learn more about Bowie and The Alamo but I'm afraid my teacher might have been nonplussed when I explained the ghost. Why could Bowie's spirit toss a knife but not pull it out of the wall afterwards?

Jack: During the terrible plague of 1911, a good man named Stefan walked the streets of the little village of Ostraska in Moravia, collecting the dead and accepting donations for the poor. His greedy assistant Ivor never could understand why Stefan did not keep some of the money to improve their standard of living, so when Stefan dies, Ivor takes over and gradually begins to enjoy the money a bit too much. Soon enough, the ghosts of those dead whom he did not send properly on their way begin to haunt their families and the bereaved demand that Ivor explain "Who Dares Cheat the Dead?" Ivor grabs his heavy bag of gold and escapes, only to fall to his death from a rickety bridge that could not support the combined weight of man and treasure.

"Who Dares Cheat the Dead?"

Peter: The best story to appear in Ghosts in quite some time (and not just because of the art!), "Who Dares Cheat the Dead?" tells a nice, compact little tale with a good twist ending. It's a shame we don't have a name to apply to the writer credit here. As usual, Alcala's art is exquisite. Just check out that atmospheric first panel with its dark cobblestoned village road and its ominous hooded figure beckoning to the soul of the departed. Art in 1970s horror comics didn't get any better than Alcala and I'll argue that to my grave.

Jack: A surgeon strangles a blackmailer to death only to find that his own hands begin to rebel, finally causing him to strangle himself with his own necktie, guided by "A Hand from the Grave."

Peter: Not much to get excited about here but then that may be as a result of a three-page restriction. Nah, it wouldn't be any better if it was nine. This is just a cliched "hand with a mind of its own" time-waster. More sub-par work for Rico Rival. By the way, for those who were wondering, you didn't miss a post for May 1973. For some reason, no books were published that month. It was very Unexpected!

Jack: We all know that comics were always dated a couple of months later than the month in which they actually appeared on the stands so that they would not look outdated after sitting there for awhile. In his book,  75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking, Paul Levitz explains: "by 1973 Marvel's cover dates made them appear newer than DC's, so DC decided to skip using May 1973 and go straight to June." The DC Comics Database shows 14 comics with May 1973 cover dates, but none of them are the horror comics we cover, which did skip from April to June.

Peter: Ah, so that's what happened to May 1973! Thanks for the explanation, Jack, but you could have just put those words into my mouth and made me seem smarter than I am.

In Our Next Battle-Blazin' Issue!