Monday, February 2, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Forty-Five: March 1974

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

Nick Cardy
Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion 15

"A Slay Ride with Santa"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Dan Green

From a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Adapted by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Alex Nino

"The Demon Horn"
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Gerry Talaoc

Peter: Bill Digby is a Santa-for-hire but he likes to think he's a bit more special than the other Santas on the streets. He has that special connection with the little tykes, so when a precocious little girl asks what she's going to get for Christmas, Bill takes her back to his "workshop" and murders her for her spending money. When his landlady gets suspicious, she opens Digby's apartment and finds the little girl hanging from the rafters. In no time flat, Bill is on the run from the cops and he has to hide out in what he believes is a storage facility. Wounded by a gun shot, Bill passes out in a sleigh inside the warehouse and wakes up, flying through the air, with the real Santa at the helm. Trying to escape, Bill Digby gets hung up but no minor distraction will slow up Father Christmas. Just about as sick as they come, "A Slay Ride with Santa" is a king-size WTF with lots of conversation points. How about the images of a murdered little girl, hanging from the rafters? Green teases us with a shadow of the corpse (though it doesn't quite have the look of a little girl) but then (surprise! surprise! surprise!) we get the real deal a couple pages later with a very questionable shot of the girl's lower half suspended in mid-air. Though Bill Digby seems to be a psychopath, I get the feeling this is the first time he's done something like this... or is it? "Slay Ride" has that schizo feeling of either two stories welded together or a first half in search of the second half. Don't get me wrong, it's a pretty powerful horror story, it's just a tad disjointed. How the hell did this get by the CCA?

Jack: Merry Christmas, kiddies! God save the poor little one who got this comic in his stocking on Christmas Day 1973! Michael Fleisher cements his reputation as a sicko by giving us two panels of a little girl hanging by the neck and then wrapping up the story with the evil Santa's helper hanged by his own neck and trailing along behind the real Santa's sleigh! We also see some wild 1973 cops shooting recklessly into a crowd of Christmas shoppers. The real Santa thinks that he has to "pour on some hustle" to get all of his presents delivered on time. I lived through the 1970s and they are way more fun in retrospect.

Peter: Mother Rigby creates a beautiful man out of a scarecrow but, after experiencing some of the real world, the man would rather be a pumpkin. Alex Nino's art, as usual, is gorgeous but it's a bit different this time, as if he had someone inking his pencils. It almost has an Alcala vibe to it. We'll be blessed with three Ninos this month. I've never read Hawthorne's "Feathertop" so can't answer to how faithful its adaptation is but it's enchanting enough to make me seek out the original.

Jack: A beautiful piece of work. I have to go back and read the Hawthorne story. Boudreau's adaptation is perfect and so is Nino's art. That's two great stories in one issue--will we get a trifecta?

Peter: Down on his luck, jazz trumpet blower Mason Chaney would do anything for a gig and out of the blue comes Whitney Lord with an offer to perform at the Village Beat Club. Ditching the booze, buying a new suit, and latching on to a "very special horn" at a pawn shop, Mason is ready to blow, man. At the end of his first set, the musician is elated that he's still got it but a bit down when he finds his entire audience is dead (well, the deaf cleaning woman is still alive). Putting two plus one together and coming up with five, Mason deduces that it must have been his trumpet that killed his fans. He goes back to the pawn shop, finds out that the owner is Satan, and that he's bought "The Demon Horn!" The Devil explains that the horn belonged to Gabriel and anyone who hears its music will die, except for the player. Mason hoofs it but Beelzebub starts wailing and the trumpet claims one more victim. Three days later, a musician enters the pawn shop looking for a trumpet. Not much in the way of an original plot here but that may be me, riding the wave of burnout from way too many deal-with-the-devil stories this month. Why would Whitney Lord seek out a skid row bum and offer him a second chance after the derelict hadn't blown a bugle in twelve years? At what point did the audience start dying during Mason's show? Didn't they at least utter a heavy sigh before shuffling off? At least we get the fine lines of Gerry Talaoc to distract us.

Howard Chaykin spices
the splash up a bit!
Jack: Not quite up to the level of the first two stories, but Gerry Talaoc's art is always welcome. My favorite line is when Chaney looks out at the audience and exclaims, "Dead! Every freakin' one of them--dead!" I guess he didn't notice them keeling over while he was playing? The GCD helpfully lists "Satan" as one of the characters in the story, which starts out reminiscent of The Twilight Zone's "A Passage for Trumpet" but then veers off in a not completely satisfactory direction. Still, this is a very good last issue of Forbidden Tales.

Peter: And so we bid a fond farewell to Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion after a brief 11-issue run (and 4 issues as the Gothic romance title The Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love). During that time, we were treated to 29 stories of varying quality and page length. From the "novel-length" "They All Came to Die!" (#5) to the mercifully brief "The Alchemist" (#14), Forbidden Tales offered up Gothic thrills and deals with the devil. My average rating for the stories that appeared is a paltry two stars (out of four) but there were five stories that stood out:

1/ "The Head of the House" by Oleck and Alcala (which landed at #3 on my Best of 1973 list)
2/ "Psychic Blood-Hound" by Jack Kirby (the eighth best story of 1972)
3/ "Death Laughed Last" by Mayer and Nino
4/ "The Honor of France" by "Uncredited"
5/ The Man Who Waxed and Waned" by Fleisher, Carley, and Alcala

Forbidden Tales was likely axed due to poor sales and to make room on the schedule for more caped heroes. Secrets of Sinister House will join FToDM on the bread line come July, Before you start celebrating with us our lightened load, bear in mind that Secrets of Haunted House is right around the corner!

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 24

"You, Too, Will Die!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"The Phantom Spy!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Lee Elias

"Dark was the Pit"
Story Uncredited
Art by Don Perlin

"Doom-Hag of Achill Island"
Story Uncredited
Art by ER Cruz

Jack: France, 1898: A man named Morteau refuses to cooperate with three doctors who want to conduct an experiment. He is put to death by guillotine and they go on with the experiment anyway, confirming that his head still hears and responds to questions after it has been severed from his body. Yet for disobeying the dying man's wish, the doctors are cured by the head's last words: "You, Too, Will Die!" One by one, the doctors die in freak accidents that cause their heads to be severed from their bodies. For Ghosts, this is an excellent story, and Alcala's art is, as always, great.

Peter: Well, Jack, if you're going to add the proviso, "For Ghosts, this is an excellent story...", I'll agree. Otherwise, it's pretty weak. I wasn't even all that enamored of AA's art here, which came off a bit rushed. Call me a party pooper. And how did the street cops know about "Morteau's Curse" (in that final panel)? Maybe the Parisian executioners never heard of the saying "Loose lips sink ships"?

"You, Too, Will Die!"

Jack: When well-known spy Mata Hari is executed during WWI, her ghost vows revenge on the nation of Germany. WWII rolls around and the Germans are doing pretty well, so her ghost bides her time, planning to take over the body of an important German and ruin the nation's chance at victory. She settles on Rudolph Hess who, with her guidance, flees to Great Britain, demoralizing Germans and heartening Allies. A bit of an occult history lesson with serviceable art by Elias, this made me want to look up the real story of Hess.

Peter: This seemed like (Uncredited) was simply playing a game of connect the dots with history. Elias' art is striking, very old old school, and that alone made "The Phantom Spy" worth reading.

"The Phantom Spy!"

Jack: Dr. Westin and his wife Claire buy a new house in London but discover that "Dark Was the Pit" below their new location. They both see visions of a mass grave below the house and discover that it was built on the site of a burial pit used during the plague of 1665. A three-page vignette with art by Don Perlin should  not be very enjoyable, but this short tale is kind of endearing, even though the story is an old one.

Peter: Claire does her best impersonation of Regan in The Exorcist on the splash courtesy of one of my least favorite artists, Don Perlin. I love how the narrator asks "What dark force made (the pit) yawn again? Why did that eerie sixth stair trigger the recurring nightmare?" Why indeed? But, if you're looking for answer from (Uncredited), forget it, he was already on to his next Ghosts story!

Pre-dating Monty Python
and the Holy Grail
almost two years

Jack: The government wants to build a railroad bridge to an island off the coast of Western Ireland, but to do so they must evict the "Doom-Hag of Achill Island." She curses the railroad and her predictions come true. E.R. Cruz's art is gloomy and evocative, but two curse stories in one issue makes one too many.

Peter: And we've seen railroad curse stories before. I'm sketchy on what exactly happened at the climax there. The train is about to enter "the Realm of the Supernatural" according to our host. Does that mean the conductors are going to die? Does the train track become ghostly once it's inside the spectral graveyard?

"Doom-Hag of Achill Island"

Luis Dominguez
The House of Secrets 117

"An Eye for an Eye"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ernie Chua

"Don't Cry for Uncle Malcolm"
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Alex Nino

"Revenge for the Deadly Dummy!"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Peter: The Duke has been trying to take Baron Dracko's castle and land for years but he just can't seem to get it right. Years before, The Duke had married the gorgeous Lady Elaine, even though her heart had belonged to Dracko. After two years and no sons to carry on the family name, The Duke had lost his temper and beaten Elaine. That night, she left the castle and stole away to Dracko's fortress. Of course, this only infuriated The Duke more (Elaine having a son with Dracko and dying while in childbirth didn't help either) and he declared war on the Baron. Defeat after defeat left The Duke's militia depleted until he had no choice but to make a deal with the devil. Satan would give The Duke the unholy army he needed to storm the walls of Dracko's fortress and The Duke would hand over a soul for sacrifice. Once the castle falls, The Duke has Dracko trussed up and made to watch his son murdered but the joke's on The Duke when Dracko tells him that Elaine was with child when she fled the castle. Well, "An Eye for an Eye" takes a long time to get to the punch line but that final word balloon ("Yes, madman, yes! You wanted revenge and you've had it! But the helpless child you revenged yourself wasn't my son! He was--yours!") packed a wallop I certainly I never saw coming. Ernie Chan's art could be mistaken for Nestor Redondo's here.

"An Eye for an Eye"

Jack: A couple of times during this story I thought of the classic scene in The Trip when Coogan and Brydon riff on "Gentlemen, we ride at dawn!" Or dawnish. Or was it 10:30? In any case, while I don't usually go for Prince Valiant-type stories like this, Oleck is a good storyteller (a rarity in DC horror) and Chua's work is particularly strong this time around, so I enjoyed it from start to finish.

Peter: Richard Douglas and his sister Joanne must travel to their Uncle Malcolm's funeral service in Vermont. Though the two weren't very close to Malcolm, they feel they should pay their last respects. When they get there, the siblings are met with antagonism at every juncture. Even weirder is the state of the people in the small town surrounding their Uncle's farm; the townsfolk have big blank eyes. One night, Richard is attacked in Malcolm's study by a crazed villager who claims Malcolm practiced voodoo to keep the town enslaved. Richard scoffs and throws the man out of the house. Somewhere in the house, we see a voodoo doll thrown on to the fire and the man disintegrates before Richard's eye, "like cellophane on fire..." When the funeral has concluded, Richard insists that it's time to head home but the woman clearly doesn't agree as she holds a Richard doll in one hand and a very sharp needle in the other. At least, I think that's supposed to be a Richard doll; it's a bit hazy there at the climax. Still, "Don't Cry for Uncle Malcolm" is a very creepy story, one that would have made a great episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery. Boudreau's script crackles with Lovecraft-inspired rural town suspicion and horror. Alex Nino contributes his customarily exquisite artwork. This guy can do no wrong; just look at the panel reproduced here. Even the menacing villager's trousers look alive!

"Don't Cry for Uncle Malcolm"

Jack: Peter, I tip my hat to you for summarizing that one! I couldn't figure out what was going on. In fact, I was flipping back and forth when I got to page five, because halfway through the page the story stopped making sense and I wondered if something was printed out of order. I'm with you on Nino's art but Boudreau's story is a mess. By the way, if I went to a remote village and met people with blank, white eyes who told me to go away, I would turn around and leave, funeral or no funeral.

Peter: A ventriloquist's dummy rises from his junkyard grave to seek out his old partner, who has gone on to a solo career. Once he finds him, he won't let him go. A supremely silly three-pager that, nevertheless, has a certain twisted charm and doesn't take up too much space. "Revenge for the Deadly Dummy!" probably should have been published over in Plop!

He wants revenge!

Jack: Fantastic art by Alcala and a great premise lead absolutely nowhere! I was so excited to see a story about a ventriloquist's dummy seeking vengeance and Alcala's gonzo style set things up perfectly, but then the story just ended! Terribly disappointing, and surprising that an issue of House of Secrets would be so weak.

Luis Dominguez
The House of Mystery 223

"Demon from the Deep!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by ER Cruz

"Message from Beyond"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ralph Reese

"Upon Reflection"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ramona Fradon

Peter: A young sailor bumps into an old salt at a seaside tavern and recoils in fear at the old man's disfigured face. For the price of a beer, the sailor agrees to tell the horrifying story of how he became scarred. As a seafaring lad, the ship he's sailed out on is attacked by a huge "Demon from the Deep!" A multi-tentacled monster, the Kraken destroys the vessel and gets one of its deadly mitts on the sailor, burning him badly. The sailor is somehow able to escape the creature's grasp and thrust a harpoon into its single eye but, the lone survivor of the disaster,  he's left to drift for days in the sun. The sailor ends his tale just as a strange transformation overcomes him; he explains to the lad that the sting of the Kraken was infectious and at every full tide he becomes a monster. With fabulous art from ER Cruz and a really suspenseful build-up, it's a shame that "Demon from the Deep!" has such a pedestrian climax. I'm not sure what other path the tale could have taken but the wrap-up here lacks imagination. Great art though! A year later, our old buddy, Carl Wessler, would sneak over to Marvel and sell them a Kraken story that appeared in Giant-Size Chillers #1 (February 1975). Like "Demon...", "The Gravesend Gorgon" lacks originality in the script department but the art, by Alfredo Alcala, is pretty sweet.

"Demon From the Deep!"

Jack: "Great waves"! "Suffering tar!" All that was missing was a command to release the Kraken! We have an early candidate for worst story of the year. Too bad Cruz's art is so smooth, because this story is just plain awful. The lead story in House of Mystery should not be this boring!

Peter: Anna Norsted receives a "Message From Beyond" via a medium with the handle of "Mr. Omar." Anna's never been good with money so she reaches out to her recently deceased husband, Axel, for guidance and Mr. Omar provides the gateway. Well, as we've seen before in the DC mystery stories, there's no such thing as a legit swami and Omar is no exception. With help from his "man behind the curtain," Omar is conning the poor old woman into turning her life savings over to him. He's convinced one more push will do it so he rigs a chalkboard to provide a written message from Axel and Mrs. Norsted heads to her bank for the dough but, a few hours later, it's the police who come back to Omar's. Seems Anna Norsted became suspicious when she realized that her husband had never learned to read or write! This synopsis is actually longer than the story itself. Ralph Reese has always been a favorite of mine and anything he illustrates automatically jumps in quality and entertainment value in my estimation. Jack Seabrook thinks Oleck is the best DC writer of the 1970s and, for me, he's a close second to Michael Fleisher but when he's on his game (even in a mere four pages) his clever twists are hard to beat.

"Message From Beyond"

Jack: I did not see that twist coming, perhaps because I was distracted by all of the ugly people Ralph Reese drew. The ugliest was the poor old lady, who has quite a set of choppers. Fleisher is catching up to Oleck quickly, but you have the advantage over me because you've read all of these comics before!

"Upon Reflection"
Peter: Having learned nothing from the mistakes of The Duke, John Marsh makes a bargain with the devil: he'll hand Satan the reins to his soul and John will always look young when he looks in the mirror. The devil agrees and John gets what he wants but it comes with a price: the young man becomes so obsessed with his own reflection, he becomes a hermit. Decades pass and, one day, bill collectors come to call. They catch a glimpse of John, in a mirror, racing through the hallways of his mansion, but they when they finally confront him he's a grumpy old man who proceeds to die of a heart attack right in front of them. Courtesy of a hallway mirror, though, the men can see that John got just what he wished for. Obviously, John Marsh didn't listen to his own advice when telling Satan he'd heard you had to choose your words carefully when making a deal with Sparky. And then there's the Jack Oleck who trots out the old warhorses, this one obviously a variation on The Picture of Dorian Gray. In fact, I think it's high time for Jack to write another "Owl Creek Bridge" rip-off, isn't it? It's been months since the least one. It must be Kismet that we're running across these Ramona Fradon stories just as I'm delving into the old pre-code horror comics since Fradon's style is so reminiscent of that era. I think DC missed the boat by not assigning Ramona to their late '90s revival of Scooby-Doo (and that's not sarcasm, by the way).

Jack: My favorite story of this issue! I agree that Fradon's art is a lot of fun, in a retro sort of way. Reading this story made me remember the old Metamorpho comics she drew in the '60s. I saw the twist coming a mile away but I enjoyed the journey.

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 40

"The Tunnel of Sorrow"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ernie Chan

"The Devil Will Get You if You Don't Watch Out"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Bernard Bailey

"The Madwoman of Marshwood Lane!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Alex Nino

Jack: Wealthy Clarence Dahl dies and his widow Elvira tells old friend Silas Markham to search the house for his diary so Dahl's lawyer can read excerpts from it aloud. Silas is anxious to find the diary and suppress it because he thinks it will reveal the truth about how he murdered Millie Keller decades before. Silas finds his way into the back of a magical grandfather clock, which leads him down into "The Tunnel of Sorrow" and back in time to relive the events surrounding Millie's death. Unfortunately, he is unable to escape the clock and he is later found dead inside it. I suspect there may be an interesting story lost somewhere in this mess, but in seven pages Carl Wessler was unable to tell it. It almost seems like he took a look at Nick Cardy's cool cover and had to work backwards to come up with a plot that would yield that conclusion.

Peter: I'm going to try to come up with a cogent reason to write any kind of commentary for this issue, one of the worst I've ever read. The trio presented here lack anything resembling good sense or good storytelling. Be that as it may, Jack pays me by the word so I'll have to find something to say if I want me pay check. "The Tunnel of Sorrow" is amazingly disjointed and downright stupid. I'm almost inclined to believe the pages were printed out of order. Put them upside down and they'd make just as much sense (maybe more). Chan's art is creepy in spots (especially that rotting corpse on the splash page) and that's the only highlight, believe me. Mordred's narration is annoying as all hell ("a sharp, unearthly buh-wowwwrng reverberating as though it would never stop") and Silas' motive for murdering Elvira (to take away the one thing Clarence wants) is sketchy at best.

How we feel sometimes when we read The Witching Hour

Jack: Ricky is flying high as the lead singer of a rock band called Satan and the Three Devils, but that doesn't stop his manager, Mr. Holman, from stealing all of the profits. Ricky confronts him one night as Holman drives through the dark countryside, and it's not long before Holman kills Ricky and leaves his body by the side of the road to resemble a hit and run accident. Holman does not know that "The Devil Will Get You if You Don't Watch Out," but when he heads back to the concert hall where Ricky was supposed to perform that night, he sees Ricky onstage, rocking it out with the band! Holman is drawn onstage, where he burns in the fires of Hell. Ricky disappears, to the puzzlement of his band mates. Alarm bells go off in my head whenever I see a DC horror story try to portray the rock and roll scene of the '60s or '70s, and with good reason. George Kashdan was in his mid-'40s and Bernard Baily was in his mid-'50s, and they just didn't dig the scene.

Peter: Well, if there's anything that will make "The Tunnel of Sorrow" shine, it's "The Devil Will Get You...", the most inane story of the month (I hope). Obviously, George Kashdan (who, when paired with Carl Wessler, could probably kill comic books if given the chance) forgot the usual foundation for a really good horror story is a strong finish (not that he provides a strong beginning or middle). Here we get a "twist" ending that makes no sense whatsoever. Cynthia tells us that it's not even Ricky onstage and hints that he's been replaced by Satan. Does that mean Ricky ended up in hell? Made a deal with the devil? Quit the Three Devils and joined Black Sabbath? I'd love to have heard George Kashdan's explanation.

Another groovy moment brought
to you by DC Comics

Jack: Jerry Balmer's aging mother Kate is seeing imaginary friends who like to come to her decaying house for a game of whist. Jerry is in a hurry for her to vacate the shack so he can move in with his pretty girlfriend Laura, so he speeds up the process by helping convince his mother that she is "The Madwoman of Marshwood Lane!" When she is finally put away in a home he and Laura move into the house, but Laura quickly discovers that Kate wasn't the only one seeing imaginary friends when Jerry's new imaginary pals stop by for a visit. Alex Nino saves this issue from the rubbish heap with his stellar art, but this story is rather insensitive in its treatment of the aging mother's gradual decline into dementia, and the ending falls flat.

Peter: Obviously, as I noted far above, plot and good writing were not required components for a sale to Murray Boltinoff this month. Simple things like explaining plot points are too much to ask? For instance, why did Jerry go bananas in the end and see his own imaginary pals? I'll bet ten mint copies of Dazzler #1 that it was either Wessler or Kashdan who wrote this nonsense. Oh, and just to be a stick in the mud, I love Nino too but this is far from his best work, Jack. Way too many talking heads. Laura's wearing some pretty snazzy pajamas in those final panels.

Nino to the rescue

Sometimes the frame is better
than the stories!

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 156

"A Lunatic is Loose Among Us!"
Story by Cal Williams (Carl Wessler)
Art by Nestor Malgapo

"Death is a Dummy in Disguise"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Gerry Talaoc

Jack: "A Lunatic is Loose Among Us!" is the news report blaring from the radio in a lonely house in the Louisiana bayou as Jeff Duval arrives home to his lovely wife Corrine. Soon, a young stranger arrives, offering to do odd jobs for shelter and a bit of food. Corrine welcomes him but Jeff doesn't trust him. After sharing dinner, Jeff decides to throw the young man out, which leads to a fight. Corrine grabs a rifle and shoots, but she accidentally kills Jeff instead of the stranger. Just then, the police arrive to cart Corrine back to the asylum. Another twist ending that is telegraphed a mile away, this one follows a story that, on reflection, makes no sense. Wouldn't Jeff know that his wife was an escaped, murderous lunatic? Wouldn't he be surprised to see her at home? And why is her white dress spotless after she escaped from Craymoor Asylum, made her way through thirty miles of bayou, and hacked two people to death along the way? Most unexpected of all is that Carl Wessler wrote this under a pseudonym, though the other two stories in this issue were published under his real name.

"A Cute Redheaded Lunatic is Loose Among Us!"

Peter: I think Jeff knew his wife was a nut job and was harboring her from the authorities. You can read his dialogue at the beginning of the story as a caution to his wife to lay low ("It's not safe here, Corrine! We'd better get away for a while..."). I knew the punch line by the third panel so, really, the only enjoyment is looking for slip-ups or red herrings. Wessler does a pretty good job, I must say, of keeping the looney's real identity from the twelve-year old readers. The cops avoid identifying the sex of the maniac (which would have been either a dead giveaway or an outright lie) and you can view Corrine's fear from both sides of the coin. That last panel ("I killed Jeff too! Doesn't that count?") is a keeper. A decent Wessler. Who'd a thought? And who'd a thought I'd be defending the hack? We all know about the infusion of Filipino artists into the DC mystery line in the early 1970s but, while researching Nestor Malgapo, I stumbled across the nugget that Malgapo was "one of only eight pencillers/inkers handpicked by Carmine Infantino and Joe Orlando during their visit to the Philippines." "A Lunatic is Loose..." was his first work for DC. You can read more about Malgapo here.

Jack: Reporter Mitch Randall murders his publisher, Lew Murrow, and frames comedian Davy Hoke for the crime. Hoke is convicted and hanged while Randall walks free and even takes Murrow's daughter, June, on a date to see Mac Arber and his dummy, a skeleton named Barney Bagabones. The dummy says that he is in town seeking a murderer with the initials "M.R." and Mitch flees the nightclub. He hops in his car and drives away, only to hear Barney accusing him from the back seat. He turns and sees Mac Arber and his dummy, shoots Mac, and crashes his car into a tree. From the back seat emerges the dummy, who turns out to be the son of Davy Hoke. He avenged his father's murderer by playing a dummy, with Mac Arber as the real stiff. In other words, "Death is a Dummy in Disguise." Got all that? Believe it or not, the story is only five pages long! I'll let Peter point out some of the many inconsistencies but I have to admit I enjoyed it, mainly due to top-notch art by Alcala.

So, the skeleton dummy is really a kid, see,
and the ventriloquist is really a dummy . . .

Peter: You won't find me defending Wessler on this one, Jack, my friend. This is a needlessly confusing bag of twaddle. How did Barney Hoke know that Mitch killed Murrow? Or are we to assume that Davy Hoke actually came back from the dead to help his son avenge him? Hilarious when Mitch exits the nightclub in a hurry and leaves June to catch a cab (or a hearse with her pop later, I guess). Oh, and by the way, Barney Bagabones... a tip for the next time you want to frighten a murderer into confessing and clearing an innocent man's name: make sure he confesses before you scare him to death!

Jack: Larry Redmond applies for a job in a sideshow because he believes his grotesque features would not allow him to succeed in any other line of work. How did he become a "Monstrosity"? It all started when he was jilted by a blond named Karen Dale. He vowed to strike it rich and convinced two of his friends to head west with him to look for uranium in abandoned mines. He found the valuable metal but hid it from his friends, who gave up and went home. Larry began to mine the uranium himself and discovered other men living down in the mine, their faces deformed by radiation poisoning. Larry enlists their aide with promises of a cure but they eventually discover him to be a liar. In the end, his face is deformed by the radiation as well, and he ends up trying to get a job at the sideshow. In an unexpected twist, it turns out that he looks fine and it is only his guilt that causes him to see a horrible face in the mirror. Not a bad tale, and probably the most coherent of this issue, with very strong art by the wonderful Mr. Talaoc.


Peter: He sure didn't seem like the kind of guy to let a guilty conscience get in his way. Well, not until the last few panels when he had a sudden cleansing of the soul. Seeing the stellar art of Malgapo, Alacala, and Talaoc all in one issue makes me wonder how many more incredible gems we would have gotten from this DC mystery line if there were more than two or three competent writers churning this stuff out.

Luis Dominguez
Weird Mystery Tales 10

"The Curse"
Story by Bill Reily (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Gil Kane

"Lady Killer"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"The Sunken Pearls of Captain 'Hatch'"
Story by Michael Fleisher
Art by Jess Jodloman

Peter: In 16th Century Europe there are many roadside bandits who will steal your money and run you through. The most notorious is The Slasher but, recently, his victims have been eluding him and he's fearful of the bad reputation that grows. Convinced that his recent failures have been orchestrated by the sorcerer Fate, The Slasher scours the countryside for the strange robed wizard. At last he finds Fate but, as he attempts to bisect the sorcerer, his steed and sword disappear. Fate explains that, some time before, The Slasher had murdered one too many innocent civilians and had been chased down and killed by an angry mob. It's his ghost that wanders helplessly and harmlessly forever. Since "The Curse" is one of those Gil Kane/Sword and Sorcery stories that frequented the DC mystery line in the late 1960s, I have a suspicion that it's been sitting in a file somewhere. That's purely speculation on my part but, with Gil drawing approximately 150 covers a month for rival Marvel in 1973, I'd say I might be correct. This is one of the lesser Kane/S&S tales though; it's a bit confusing at times and the essential bit, the flashback that tells how The Slasher got into his predicament, is almost a cheat since the incidents it portrays predated the splash page. The whole thing comes off as yet another variation on "the guy was dead the whole time!" Still, Gil's always a good piece of the puzzle and he delivers all the copyrighted up-the-nose magic you could ask for.

Jack: I had the same thought that this was a file story. The writing is weak, Kane's art is sketchy, and the end is no surprise. The only thing notable about it is that Destiny, the host of this comic, is a character in the story. On the letters page, Tom O'Connell, of Charlestown, R.I., encourages Destiny to star in a story or two. Destiny, handling the letters, replies that he's in "The Curse" and will appear in more stories in the future.

Peter: Police come across Alfie Simms snatching a dead woman's purse and naturally assume he's the "Lady Killer," Jack the Ripper. After the confusion is sorted out and the cops realize that Alfie is too much of a mouse to be a murderer, they release him. The slight, that Alfie lacks the cojones to slice a woman to ribbons, weighs on him and he sets out to prove his fellow man wrong. Unfortunately, for witless and brainless Alfie, his first intended victim happens to be... you guessed it, the real deal. Who would have guessed London should have named the killer Jill the Ripper? After a while, you tend to take Alfredo Alcala for granted (I know I do) as the guy just seemed to spit out gorgeous art time after time. And then you get a story like "Lady Killer" where Alfredo was working in his best element-- the outdoors. Just look at the detail in the panel reproduced below... the cobblestones, the shadows, the lines on the dead woman's dress. And the story is vintage Oleck: take an established trope (Jack is a man) and turn it on its head, using the prototypical DC unmensch. Poor schmuck Alfie can't ever catch a break!

Jack: A good surprise twist by Oleck and outstanding art by Alcala--who could ask for more? This is like the flip side of "The Night of the Teddy Bear!" from last month's House of Mystery (222), except this time the little guy WANTS to be the killer!

Peter: Once a sea-faring salty dog, now confined to a wheelchair, Captain Hatch rots away in the study of his nephew, Carl, and Carl's wife, Janice, telling stories of sunken treasures and millions in gems. Exhausted by the constant care they have to give, the couple hire a nurse, Fran, who immediately takes to Captain Hatch and he, in turn, to her. Fran listens patiently to the Captain's constant tall tales and, one day, agrees to scuba down to the sunken ship just to make the old man happy. Eavesdropping, Carl and Janice, decide that maybe there's something to all these stories and the couple follow Fran down to the wreck. At the bottom of the sea, Fran is frightened away when Carl and Janice fire a spear gun at her. The duo enter the wreck and find a large, locked chest and open it, revealing a cache of jewels, but Carl is pinned to the ocean floor by a falling beam. Seeing this as her big payday, Janice decides to leave Carl to rot with the little fishes but her husband has other ideas and cuts her air line. The two drown, never knowing that the chest contained costume jewelry. What a fabulous story! I thought for sure that Fran would end up being the villainess but Fleisher fools me yet again and then tops it all off with a priceless punch line. Jodloman's art is equally jaw-dropping, so finely rendered, and Fran in a bathing suit reminds me why I used to read funny books as a pre-teen. Overall, one hell of an issue!

Jack: There was no need to go scuba diving to find a large chest! The old man's nurse had that covered. I don't recall Jodloman's art looking this good before. It almost has a Charlton vibe, with very light black lines and almost pastel colors. I liked this story, too, and I'm thrilled to see stories by Oleck and Fleisher in the same issue. Funny that Forbidden Tales and Weird Mystery should outclass both House titles this month.

In our Next Battle-Crazed Issue!

When relaxing after a hard day at
the DC mystery line reviewing offices,
Jack and Peter like to shoot some pool.


Grant said...

The end of "The Sunken Treasure" resembles the end of the Robert Bloch story "Water's Edge," or at least the Alfred Hitchcock Hour version of it.

I don't know whether the writer and artist of "The Devil Will Get You" were as out of touch with things as you say, but that one female fan with the big glasses is very convincing, in a stereotyped sort of way

Jack Seabrook said...

I guess the endings are similar in that the greedy bad guy gets what's coming to him, though in "Water's Edge" he's about to be eaten by rats in a desolate shack! That's one of my favorite horror stories.

I agree with you about the gal with the glasses, but if you suffered through the entire story you'd know what we mean about being out of touch with the times.

As always, thanks for reading! We love comments!

Jose Cruz said...

Hel-lo nurse! Fran looks like she may be a stowaway from Amazon, which is more than welcome in this reader's funny books.

Man, the more I hear about this Fleisher guy, the more I like him. I favor a man with genuine storytelling skills and a sadistic bent... those are my two favorite things! I may have to invest in some DC reprints.

Jack Seabrook said...

Fleisher definitely perked up the DC horror line when he started contributing. You should also check out his work on The Spectre!

ed said...

can you put up scans of the other pages for the sunken pearls of captain hatch...?

Jack Seabrook said...

Ed, these are all under copyright so, while we can put up panels and claim fair use, posting the whole story would be risky.