Monday, November 3, 2014

Do You Dare Enter? Part Thirty-Nine: September 1973

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

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 150

"No One Escapes from Gallows Island"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"Lost in Time"
Story by Bill Dennehy (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Color the Snow--Red"
Story by Bob Donnelly (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Jack: In among a cell full of hardened criminals, Eric is a spy. He tells the warden about his fellow prisoners' pet cat and the warden kills Tabby. Eric begs the warden to move him to a cell with the Trustees, prisoners who receive slightly better treatment, and the warden agrees. Sadly for Eric, the Trustees don't like snitches either. They kill a guard, grab Eric, and seal him in an underground tunnel with digging tools. He digs his way out only to find the warden waiting for him, since "No One Escapes From Gallows Island." His reward for being caught? Back to the cell with the hardened criminals. Now, I'm not getting stupid in my middle age, but I really didn't understand where this story was going. Peter, did it make sense to you?

The Final Meow
Peter: Maybe we're both dense. I thought I must be missing some important plot point so I read the darn thing a second time. Fool me once... Was there actually a breakout planned or was this an outrageously elaborate revenge scheme? If so, why not kill Eric when he's in your cell the first time rather than putting him on a carousel? I gave up trying to make sense of Kashdan stories long ago.

Jack: Little Rudi is a former orphan who works sweeping up the old clock store in the Black Forest. The mean old man who runs the place is sick of Rudi not working hard enough, so that night, when the lad is asleep, the old man miniaturizes Rudi and traps him inside a wristwatch. Rudi is "Lost in Time" and the watch is sold to a young man. One day, it falls off the bathroom counter and breaks, allowing Rudi to escape. Yep, that's it! The caption at the end says Rudi got better and never went back to the clock store. We're two for two in this month's Unexpected with stories that make no sense. At least the art is nice.

How did he do that?
Peter: What a moronic story. Is it too much to ask for pertinent details? How did the old man shrink Rudi? Not explained. Does the old man get the kids from the orphanage to become watch faces? Not explained. Why did Rudi recover his size at the climax? Some chemical within the watch? Would he have recovered his size magically one day while the owner was walking the streets (now, that would have been an unusual picture)? No explanations are forthcoming. Next!

Jack: Mr. Fletcher is the meanest man in the neighborhood! He won't let the kids play near his yard and even threatens to keep their football! One day it snows and the kids build a snowman. Nutty Norman, who is a little bigger than the others and not too bright, brings the snowman inside Jimmy's house where it melts by the fireplace, revealing the dead body of Mr. Fletcher. Seems Norman had enough of the old grouch tormenting his pals and decided to "Color the Snow--Red." Alcala draws a creepy Nutty Norman and his art makes this the best story in a weak issue.

Alcala saves the day
Peter: Though the script is credited to Bob Donnelly, this sure feels like the work of Steve Skeates or Michael Fleisher. It's got that sadistic/sweet edginess to it. Why would Nutty Norman go to all the trouble of putting Mr. Fletcher's corpse in a snowman if he's going to thaw it out in front of an audience anyway? He's nutty! "Color the Snow -- Red" is not entirely successful (the climax is particularly... anticlimactic) but, compared to the other tales this issue of Unexpected, it'll do.

Jack: News flash! The GCD has notified me that Bob Donnelly is another pseudonym for Murray Boltinoff! Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Berni Wrightson
The House of Mystery 217

"This Ghost-Town is Haunted!"
Story by Sheldon Mayer
Art by Nestor Redondo

"Hoodoo You Trust?"
Story by E. Nelson Bridwell
Art by Gerry Talaoc

Story by John Jacobson and Steve Skeates
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Peter: Through a series of strange occurrences, Marion receives a letter from her great-grandfather that was mailed in in 1882. The letter had been on a mail coach when it had been struck by "tragedy" and covered with sand for nearly a century. In the letter, the man urges his family to come to Nevada where he has just created a town called Prebble City. Intrigued, Marion talks her fiancé into the adventure and Greg heads off to investigate. Three months later, and with no word from Greg, Marion heads to the small town to see what's what. When she gets there, Prebble City is a ghost town and soon Marion finds "This Ghost-Town is Haunted!" Spooky apparitions appear and the only other person of flesh and blood that Marion runs across is a nice cowboy who promises to help her find out what's going on. The harried girl happens in on a meeting between Greg and some thugs, where he reveals that he's a mobster and plans to use the ghost-town to hide stolen merchandise. The ghosts are simply projected holograms. When the men discover mousy little Marion hiding in the shadows, they threaten to kill her until the kindly young sodbuster reappears and puts a whoopin' on the gangsters. Before she can thank him, the cowboy up and vanishes, but she finds his resting place: a grave just outside the little town. The bronco buster was Marion's great grandfather!

"This Story is Crap!"
Oh boy! I'm not sure what this sack of cow manure is doing in this title since these kind of Scooby-Doo-esque fantasies are usually relegated to the cellar known as Ghosts. A lovely coincidence that Greg would run down his entire plan just as Marion arrives to hear it. And why would the mob bother setting up an elaborate ruse such as ghost projections for "any tramps who wander in"? Seems like a lot of trouble. How about a security guard? So totally random here in House of Mystery that I have to believe there was some kind of deadline disaster and Joe Orlando was forced to run a file story. I'm sure you'll see this in my Top Ten list at the end of the year and I'll leave it to your imagination which list it'll land on.

Jack: Isn't Marion great? She gets no word from her boyfriend, so she drives out into the desert alone. When her car gets a flat tire, she hops out and says, perkily, oh well--it's only a mile from here! Guess I'll walk! That's the kind of gal I like. I thought this story was OK but Nestor Redondo's art wasn't up to his usual standard of excellence.

"Hoodoo You Trust?"
Peter: Tod Crayton is a heel, always has been, a guy looking for money schemes and not caring whom he hurts to get that big payday. When his girlfriend, Penny Stark, a carnival acrobat, has an incident with a couple of horses and is left paralyzed, Tod cuts his losses and heads out of town. Very soon afterwards, Tod gets word that a despondent Penny has committed suicide and learns that the rest of the carnival workers are out to get him. When a quartet of Penny's friends beat Crayton in an alley, the man swears revenge. The first place he looks, of course, is in the local Voodoo Spell shop. Tod asks the old woman for revenge on the men who put him in the gutter and she hands him a bag of mummy dust and a map to the Elves' Tree where he has to scatter the dust. When Tod gets to the site, he opens the map and reads a letter from the old witch, revealing that she was Penny's grandmother and Tod is standing in quicksand. So dopey is the coincidence that Tod would happen upon the black magic store run by Penny's granny that Cain has to pop up in a last panel expository for "Hoodoo You Trust?" to fill in the blanks. I still ain't buyin' it.

Jack: This is the best story I've read so far this month and I could not be more surprised to see it come from the pen of E. Nelson Bridwell, who doesn't usually impress me. Gerry Talaoc, on the other hand, is a sure fire winner. I liked the revenge of the circus folk and I was surprised by the twist at the end. Having him walk into quicksand unexpectedly was delicious!

Peter: The "Swamp-God" is demanding a sacrifice and the small creatures that tend to him must forage for an acceptable offering. They use their "cute little furry animal" charms to lure away a small boy from his family picnic and drown him to appease the God. Angry that his subjects have murdered an innocent (rather than one who has been abusive to the environment), the Swamp-God makes an example of them. Skeates and Alcala once again rescue an issue that had all the markings of "Worst Ever!!" with this strange and brutal tale of ecological revenge. This was the mid-1970s and the "Nature Strikes Back Against Man" fad in films and fiction was just getting up some steam. "Swamp-God" sure feels like a Warren story to me, with its grim atmosphere and young fatality. Yep, it's "preachy" but Skeates foregoes the usual megaphone the funny book writers would use to air their complaints and simply uses the environment as a spring board to tell a good story. As I've said numerous times, give Alfredo an outdoor setting and no one was better at conjuring up scary images. Special mention must be made of Wrightson's fabulous cover. If there was one artist who could out-spook the readers more than Alcala...

Jack: That's a disturbing image for a DC comic, isn't it? I liked this story and this issue as a whole much better than you did. Any comic that features work by Redondo, Talaoc and Alcala is worth reading, even if the words don't live up to the pictures. In this month's letters column, Berni Wrightson pipes up to say that he's "too tied up with swampy to take much time" but he wants readers to know that he has a story in Plop #1, on sale next week.

Nick Cardy
The House of Secrets 111

"A Watchtower in the Dark"
Story by Gerard Conway
Art by Tony deZuniga

Story by Maxene Fabe
Art by Romy Gamboa

"The Land Beyond the Styx!"
Story by Michael Fleisher
Art by Gerry Talaoc

Peter: Tired of playing second banana to his sadistic boss, Toby Jones dreams of one day being head lighthouse keeper. One night, after his boss delivers him a good right cross, Toby has the urge to kill the old man and a sudden flash of light appears. Within the light is a beautiful siren, who lures the old man off to the sea. Tortured by the lovely vision, Toby heads down to the rocks where the siren reveals that she grants wishes and Toby had wished he could be like the old man. Toby is transformed into a demon and must follow the siren for eternity. Gerry Conway as funny book writer or deep social commentator? Either way, "A Watchtower in the Dark" sinks under its own pretension. DeZuniga, whose work I usually dig, seems to have gotten direction from Conway this time out: "Make it look like Sanjulian or Esteban Maroto."

"A Watchtower in the Dark"

Jack: I am no fan of Gerry Conway's writing, and this story is a good example of why not. He sets up a situation that looks interesting but the conclusion is obvious and unsatisfying. His prose is overwrought and self-important. I can never tell if the self-pity is autobiographical or if he was trying to appeal to unhappy teenaged boys. Either way, it doesn't work. I liked DeZuniga's art, though the gal seems more Marvel than DC, fitting for a story by Conway.

Peter: Burned badly in a war injury, Frank Grogan loses his gorgeous mane and must face the fact that chicks ignore bald guys. Knowing he must do something fast or face life without babes, Frank answers an ad in the paper ("Cure baldness permanently. Satan's own remedy.") and treks out to (where else?) the local witch's shop, where the ugly old crone prescribes a magic tonic. There's only one catch: Frank must marry the witch once his hair grows. No dice for playboy Franky so he steals the potion, cuts the golden locks from the crone's head, and hops on a plane. With his gorgeous new head of hair, it's not long before Franky lands a redheaded babe and settles down to a life of wedded bliss. On his honeymoon, Grogan applies some of the magic potion to his head for the first time and... turns into an ape-like monster. No, seriously, that's what happens. If it wasn't bad enough that we get life lessons from Gerry Conway ("Don't hate your fellow man or it will turn you into a little red dragon"), now we have Maxene Fabe letting us in on a secret that only women know: going bald is the end of virility. I've nothing favorable to say about either the script or the art (Gamboa is consistently the worst of the new Filipino bullpen) but perhaps this is the best place as any to bring up a pet peeve of mine: the giveaway splash. Why would the writer consider it a plus to give away the reveal in the very first panel? It's not like it's the cover and you have to lure those dopey kids to buy your comic book. They've already set down their two dimes. You've got them. Not that there was anything remotely resembling a surprise in "Hair-I-Kari" (even the title is unoriginal) but it's still annoying.

Jack: This is a candidate for my Ten Worst of the Year List. What sort of war injury would leave a man permanently bald but have no other negative effects? The fact that I am 51 years old and have lost a good bit of hair has absolutely nothing to do with my feelings about this story.

Peter: Dr. Philip Zabar has a yen to find out what lies in "The Land Beyond the Styx" and is convinced he's found a way to unlock the mysteries. With the help of his assistant Higgins, he injects himself with a serum that will effectively kill him for ten minutes. Higgins must then activate the "cardio-vitalizer" to bring Zabar back. Once in the land of death, Zabar finds the natives are not accepting of his presence and they pursue him, threatening to keep him there forever in the purgatory between heaven and hell. Knowing he has to stall for time, Zabar leads the ferryman of the underworld on a merry chase. When ten minutes are up and Zabar remains, the demons drag him to the ferry station, where he must await the boat that will take him to his final destination. As he ponders what could have gone wrong, Higgins approaches and apologetically announces that the strain of the experiment was to much for him and he died of a heart attack. There's a good twist buried under the silliness of the finale. Would this young man really have stressed so much about bringing Zabar back that he would have had a massive coronary? Still, it's a decent time-waster and, easily, the best thing about House of Secrets #111.

Jack: Definitely the best of the three stories, "The Land Beyond the Styx" benefits from a good script, something so many DC horror tales lack. I did not see the twist ending coming, though I knew from page one that something would go wrong with the plan. We had a very similar story awhile back but I can't recall where it was published.

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 34

"Dracula Had a Daughter"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Nestor Redondo

"Over My Dead Body"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"I Died Last Night"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Rico Rival

Jack: After Dracula has been killed and buried, the villagers have little use for his daughter Olga, who flees to a distant part of Hungary and changes her last name to Nagy. She is courted by Stefan Drodj but he turns out to be a cheap money-grubber, so she dumps him and takes up with Janos Tasza. Stefan is jealous and, when he meets a man named Franz who says he knows that "Dracula Had a Daughter" he offers to pay the man to spread the word around town. The villagers quickly grab their pitchforks and torches, but Janos calms them down and tells them that Olga is just a nice, normal girl. Then he breaks up with her. Stefan goes to Franz's house to pay him for spreading the word about Olga but learns too late that Franz is her uncle and is a vampire. Huh?

"Dracula Had a Daughter"
Peter: "Dracula Had a Daughter" is a really silly yarn with a nonsensical ending (why would "Uncle Franz" rat out Olga?) but it brings up some serious questions. How could Dracula have a daughter? Olga is clearly not a vampire and I'd guess her age at about 25-30 years. Did Dracula have a sexual relationship with Olga's mother? How would that work, since the Count is dead and, ostensibly, cold-blooded. Without going into Sex Education 101, it's my understanding that without warm blood... Where is Olga's mother now? Is she a vampire? If so, Olga would not have fond feelings for her recently departed pop. These are questions I need to have answered. Anyone have Carl Wessler's cell phone number?

Just another day in Greenwich Village.
Jack: Frank Morrow is a magazine photographer who lives above Alfred Gribbon, a Haitian model who likes to play the bongos and practices voodoo. Frank takes a photo of a mobster who is not supposed to be in the country and the mobster wants the picture but Frank tells him, "Over My Dead Body." When the mobster comes to call, Frank is ready--he painted a portrait of the mobster and when the bad guy throws open the door to Frank's pad and shoots the first person he sees, he puts a bullet hole right through the forehead of his own portrait. Of course, there was a voodoo curse involved, and shooting his image causes his own death. Well, they sure packed a lot of plot into four pages!

Peter: Ruban Yandoc's art is the only redeeming feature of this really dumb voodoo tale. Why did Frank paint a portrait of mobster Joie Leugar as a painter?

"I Died Last Night"
Jack: Newspaper obituary writer Walter Pettibone has a reputation for thoroughness to uphold, so when he gets just the bare bones details about Sidney Merston's death by phone, he has to head out and do some real investigative reporting to make sure his devoted readers are not let down. He visits Merston's wife and follows her, only to discover that Merston's death is being faked as part of an insurance scam. But Merston's claim that "I Died Last Night" comes true when he falls down a well to his death after an unsuccessful attempt to kill Pettibone. Had I ever given it much thought, I would have assumed that the job of an obituary writer was pretty dull. This story shows how wrong I was!

Peter: An overused plot plus uninteresting visuals equals a Big Blah! A really bad, smelly issue of The Witching Hour.

Nick Cardy
Weird Mystery Tales 7

"The Widow of Doctor Kaiogi"
Story by John Albano
Art by Tony deZuniga

"If This Boy is But to Live..!"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Frank Redondo and June Lofamia

Peter: When "The Widow of Doctor Kaiogi" is duped by a faux seer, her husband's ghost becomes involved. One by one, the con men join the spirit world in a series of brutal murders. It's unusual that the seer, "Mister Christopher," is dispatched fairly early. Usually in this type of story, the main man would be the last victim of the supernatural but Christopher meets a fiery end and the story focus shifts to the brains of the outfit, a sleazy businessman who's intent on selling the widow some bad investment deals. I liked this one and I was prepared not to since we've had a plethora of "fortune teller" plot lines along the journey and most of them have been pretty bad. Aside from a few stray badly drawn panels (one, in which a business associate of Christopher's has Marty Feldman eyes, stands out), DeZuniga delivers his usual fireworks display.

"The Widow of Doctor Kaiogi"

Jack: From the cliched opening, where the fake ghost turns out to be real because the projector was broken, to the corny climax, where a couple of hippies plan to rob Dr. Kaiogi's widow and we know that the pattern will repeat itself, this story was a loser. Even deZuniga's art was not up to par. Like the deZuniga story in this month's House of Secrets, this one seemed padded to fill out a longer than usual page count.

"If This Boy..."
Peter: A computer scientist will do anything to save his dying son, including using his computer know-how to raise a demon. Unfortunately for our well-meaning protagonist, the demon has a mind of his own and the entire world is soon in jeopardy. He orders the computer to destroy the demon but soon learns that even a non-living entity can crave power. Earlier I ranted about giving away the plot in the splash but "If This Boy Has But to Live..." has one of the weirder spoilers I've seen. It's a splash spoiler on the second page! Steve Skeates is one of my favorite 1970s horror funny book writers but this one gets away from him. It's meandering and silly and marred by art completely lacking any excitement or flair. I love how the scientist feeds "all (he) knows about mysticism plus the details of (his) son's illness" and out pops an incantation to summon a demon that can cure his son. If I pop in everything I know about bad DC mystery comics and cloning, do you suppose I could conjure up a twin to read these things? "If This Boy..." does have a nice twist in its final panel: once the professor returns home and finds his son's condition has worsened, he decides to try the experiment again, reassuring himself (and us) that this time he'll get it right. One more thing: if a giant demon was ransacking a city (you know, tearing apart skyscrapers and such), wouldn't there be people in the streets? Naturally. Then why are the panels of said action devoid of any panic-filled pedestrians?

Jack: The art is pretty bland but the story is neat. I like how Skeates develops the science vs. supernatural theme and has the computer growing bigger and stronger due to its own efforts. This was a hot topic in 1973 science fiction--see 2001 and Colossus: The Forbin Project. Even though the art is bland, I did like some of the layouts, especially that second-page splash that recalls the early JLA comic cover with the superheroes as chess pieces. There is also a nice touch in the bedroom of the sick child, who has a Batman action figure on his bedside table.

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 18

"Graveyard of Vengeance"
Story Untitled
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"Death of a Ghost"
Story Uncredited
Art by Abe Ocampo

"The Eye of Evil"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Frank Redondo

"Death Came Creeping"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ernesto Patricio and Gerry Talaoc

Jack: Orrin Randall is out sailing one day with his wife and child when a sudden squall blows up and he is forced to head for shore. Fortunately, a lighthouse shines like a beacon to lead him to safety--or does it lead to the "Graveyard of Vengeance"? Turns out some mean Redcoats massacred an Indian wedding party 200 years ago and the Chief cursed the white man forevermore, so the light really leads the boat toward dangerous rocks. At the last minute, Orrin begs for mercy and the ghostly chief relents because Orrin has a wife and child. Alcala draws Indians well (no surprise) but the outcome of this story was never in doubt.

Peter: So Johnny Cloud's Spirit in the Sky has a nasty streak to him. I didn't think this was all that bad for a Ripley's... um, I mean a Ghosts story. That twist, with one single feather floating in the water to prove the chief was really there, is pretty lame.

Our favorite Indian was later seen crying over litter...

If only it weren't for
those meddling kids!
Jack: Clay and Jan Butler check out the old family plantation 70 miles from New Orleans, but to enjoy it fully they will have to participate in the "Death of a Ghost." Clay's ancestor had a jealous brother who died and vowed vengeance. Now he's driving down the property values. Happily, along comes an author named Devereux, who has been chomping at the bit to exorcise old Joshua's ghost. With the help of some ultra-plus high-frequency waves he does the deed, and now Clay and Jan can set about picking out that granite countertop they've always wanted. The suspenseful music from Scooby Doo was going round my head as I read this one. Thank goodness for the handy exorcist!

Peter: In the aftermath of the gargantuan success of William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist and the impending film (which wouldn't be released until Christmas of 1973), Marvel and DC (and probably most of the comics companies) scrambled to find a way to work Satan and exorcisms into their code-approved books. I think this is the first of the DC mystery strips to actually mention an exorcist, but I could be wrong. It won't be the last. "Death of a Ghost" is a plodding mess and shouldn't be discussed further but... I have to wonder if a few panels were cut prior to publication. What's the story with the voice telling Clayton: "It's not that I love you more than your brother, Clayton. You're a better businessman!"  It's random, obviously a female voice, but never elaborated on. I'm sure an explanation would have vaulted this into the pantheon of Best Story of the Year. (smiley face emoticon)

Guess who?
Jack: An Austrian customs official thinks his son is a scary little cuss. When Dad looks into "The Eye of Evil," he sees death, devastation, etc. Dad keels over from a heart attack and everyone wonders why he had such problems with young Adolph Hitler!  Hah! Didn't see that one coming, did you? No one ever used Hitler as a surprise twist ending before! That Leo Dorfman was so original.

Peter: Oh, good God, not another "And his name was Adolf!" story. Dorfman obviously had insight into Hitler's childhood that scholars didn't. I'm surprised we didn't get the obligatory strangling of a kitten.

Taking a dirt nap, DC style
Jack: Egyptian businessman Abdul Mahmoud comes to America but won't be parted from his pet cat. He is forced to stay in a cheap hotel in Brooklyn because it's pet-friendly. When a thief sneaks into his room that night, Tabby attacks him. The thief exits stage left but soon dies of the plague. The Medical Examiner comments that ancient Egyptians thought the plague was carried by cats. Hmmm... Gerry Talaoc is becoming one of my favorite artists in the DC Horror line. In fact, this issue of Ghosts featured three excellent artists and one who was not bad. Too bad the stories were inferior.

Peter: A coroner who knows all the symptoms of an Egyptian plague from a century before? Did this guy have a social life? If (Uncredited) were smart, he'd have made the coroner a serial killer in a future story. Based on the scripts this issue, I must state categorically "I do not believe in Ghosts!"

Nick Cardy
Secrets of Sinister House 13

"Deadly Muffins"
Story by John Albano
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"The Taste of Blood"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alex Nino

"The Greed Inside"
Story by John Albano
Art by Jess Jodloman

Jack: Charles Hallenback is bored with his travel agency job, so he jumps at the chance to assume the identity of a client named Earl Powers, who had a heart attack right when Charles delivered his ticket to journey to a mysterious island. Charles doesn't come back but his ghost appears to his wife Celia, who enlists the aid of her old flame Gene to go after Charles. Gene, Celia, her daughter Susie and their dog Muffins travel to the remote island, where they find a deserted laboratory and evidence of experiments to grow animals to huge sizes. Suddenly they are attacked by giant rats, the result of the experiment. They take refuge in a cave until Susie sneaks out to look for food. Just as the rats are about to eat the girl she is saved by "Deadly Muffins," the dog, who has eaten the same food that caused the rats to grow. Muffins kills the rats but dies in the effort. Celia sets fire to the island as they leave to ensure that its evil is destroyed. I don't know about you, Peter, but this is the kind of story I find really entertaining.

"Deadly Muffins"
Peter: First of all, "Deadly Muffins" is not a title for a CCA-approved comic book. I love how Charles decides on a whim to impersonate the dead guy, drop everything in his life, and head overseas because a couple of scientists proclaim "greatest discovery of the century." And the fact that the scientists are then never heard from again doesn't raise some red flags for this buffoon? How would he find the "greatest discovery" without finding the scientists? And what better place to take your precocious little pre-teen and her doggie than a dangerous jungle? If the rats grew to be "elephant-sized," why didn't sweet Muffins grow to Godzilla-size? One thing's for sure, "Deadly Muffins" is the DC Mystery Line equivalent of Plan Nine From Outer Space, goofball fun from start to finish. How about that panel of the three skeletons aligned in a half-circle?

Jack: Kraken is alone on Earth after a nuclear holocaust, a vampire craving "The Taste of Blood" but with no humans to be found. He buries himself until life renews itself, then attacks the first man he sees only to discover that the new humanoid life forms are plant-based and have no blood. Another four-page freakout from Alex Nino! His art is so wild that I have to reproduce the entire splash page.

Peter: A good read, with a bit of a nod to The Thing From Another World with its chlorophyll references. Nino's art continues to blow me away.

Jack: Brad Kennington follows the advice of a fortune teller and allows "The Greed Inside" himself to flourish. He steals his friend's wealthy girlfriend and marries her, leading his friend to jump to his death on the wedding day. Brad then ignores his wife and she jumps to her death as well. Surprise! Brad drops dead of a heart attack before he can enjoy her money. The cycle of greed continues as his doctor visits the fortune teller. Jess Jodloman's splash page has a dense, EC vibe but the rest of the story was disappointing.

Peter: I thought "The Greed Inside" was chugging along quite well - all the right buttons pushed, some nice twists - and then we run full on into the brick wall of that final surprise: Brad's heart attack. More than anything, a climax like this one points to a writer who's written himself into a corner and can't finish the narrative. Otherwise, pretty solid.

Nick Cardy
Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion 12

"A Change of Bodies!"
Story by John Albano
Art by Bill Draut

"Death Laughed Last!"
Story by Shelley Mayer
Art by Alex Nino

"Target: Planet of the Two-Legged Men!"
Story by John Jacobson Jr. and George Kashdan
Art by Mike Sekowsky

Peter: Little Gerald watches as his grandpa, Claude, takes a fatal tumble down the basement stairs. Gerald's stepfather doesn't seem too concerned nor all that choked up about losing his father-in-law. In fact, the first thing the man does is kill all of Grandpa's birds and send little Gerald to bed. Gramps always told the little varmint he'd come back in "A Change of Bodies" if he died but Gerald never knew it would be as a bird. Well, that's what it looks like when a little bird with a lame foot (just like old Claude) appears in the yard and step dad chases it up to the top of the roof with an axe. Unfortunately, the ladder rung breaks just like the basement stairs and the villain gets his just desserts. There will be quite a few stories vying for Worst of 1973 and it's gonna be tough to pick a clear winner. I love when Gerald's mommy (way too pretty and young for the rapscallion she married) comes home to find her husband with an axe in his forehead and sighs "What a terrible tragedy to... come home to..." Uh, how about your father, dimwit? Didn't even cut her business trip short for her father's funeral. If I was that bird, I'd be planning my next round of revenge.

The tear-jerking climax of "A Change of Bodies"

Jack: Now, Peter, did you not read the step dad's explanation for why mom didn't come home when Grandpa died? "Your mother is a foreign sales representative, Gerald--she can't just pop home anytime she has a mind to!" I think that settles the matter.

Peter: A pirate crew captures a princess and her Spanish galleon in hopes of nabbing the famous jeweled crown of Castille but the lovely lady proves to be less than forthcoming about the crown's whereabouts. Knowing that other pirates are in the area and that they face a mighty battle, the captain goes undercover as the princess's savior and fools her into revealing the hideout. In a tussle, the princess is shot and killed and her body is tossed overboard. The ship sets sail but the crown keeps going missing. Every time the prize disappears, the first mate finds it in the captain's quarters. Not a good way to boost morale on a pirate ship, it seems. Before long, the captain is walking the plank above the sharks. Once he's in the drink, the crew find the crown has disappeared once again. If they could see below the surface of the water, they'd learn that the jewel has been reunited with its princess. "Death Laughs Last!" is good sea-farin' adventure, with dialed down Alex Nino art. Not necessarily a bad thing but Nino's visuals here look so much different than the wild, alien concoctions we're used to. Of course, there are no multi-tentacled beasties occupying this sea and that may be the difference.

"Death Laughs Last!"

Jack: A very old-fashioned story but enjoyable enough, with Nino keeping his more extravagant tendencies in check. I expect it's the cheap reproduction techniques here that make some of the faces look unfinished.

Peter: Young Patrick is kidnapped by giant termites and becomes the subject of an intense battery of experiments designed to answer a very important question: how do the termites conquer mankind and take possession of earth? The giant ants get wind of the termites' plan and realize that the humans are only the first step in the termites' plot to rub out all other species and claim the world their own. The ants capture Patrick and return him to normal size (it turns out the termites had shrunken the young boy and taken him to their mini-world inside a tree in Patrick's front yard), thereby ending the devious plan. I find it hard to believe that "Target: Planet of the Two-Legged Men" isn't a reprint from one of the DC science fiction titles of the 1960s (Mystery in Space, etc.), with the dopey script and Mike Sekowsky's sketchy, boring pencils. A strange month for the DC mystery titles, a not altogether successful one.

"Target: Planet of the Two-Legged Men"

Jack: Another candidate for Ten Worst Stories of 1973! I am glad you had to write the story summary for this one because I didn't have the slightest idea what was going on. One of the panels of the ants (I'm glad you explained that that's what they were) looked like one of Art Spiegelman's mice from Maus.

The DC Comics debut of Martin Short

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1 comment:

Bird of Paradise said...

A Change of Bodies just imagine coming back asa bird and getting even with your enemies i read this one in a Barber Shop while waiting to get a my hear cut the father got what he deserved died in a fall with the ax doing hi in