Monday, February 16, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Forty-Six: April 1974

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

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 25

"Three Skulls on the Zambezi"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"The Specter's Last Stand"
Story Uncredited
Art by Rico Rival and E.R. Cruz

"The Phantom's Invisible Clue"
Story Uncredited
Art by Buddy Gernale

"The Devil's Own"
Story Uncredited
Art by Tony Caravana

Jack: Footloose adventurers Petrus Magden and Mikal Toremi drive through South Africa hunting the treasure of King Lobengula. They pass three skulls mounted on bamboo sticks and, while Mikal thinks the treasure is a legend, Petrus believes it is real. Do the "Three Skulls on the Zambezi" point the way to riches or despair? Their car is damaged when it hits a rock and they must camp for the night. Petrus meets a beautiful young woman who tells him that her name is Liasa and she is hunting for her father's diamonds. He follows her and sees her vanish into the side of a cliff. The next morning, Petrus sees Liasa dive into a dangerous whirlpool. He dives in after her and saves her, so she leads him through the side of the cliff to join her family and enjoy the treasure of Lobengula. Back in reality, Mikal stands over Petrus's corpse, wondering how he managed to drag himself out of the whirlpool after drowning. He also finds an ivory carving that resembles Liasa. Alcala is in his element here, but Dorfman's story is the usual vague stitching together of incidents without a satisfying conclusion.

Peter: Since "Three Skulls" is set in a jungle, we expect great things from Alfredo and he certainly does deliver but the story itself seems half-finished. We know Petrus is the character with the good heart and he dies (and, ostensibly, finds the happiness he was craving) but what happens to greedy SOB Mikal? Last we see of him, he's eyeing that ivory antiquity like a giant Mars bar. He's not headed for a good end, is he?

Jack: In South Vietnam, U.S. soldiers dig up the bodies of their fallen comrades to return them to the U.S. for burial. The ghost of one G.I. protests and makes "The Specter's Last Stand," since he had no family back home and had finally found his place in the Army. He was killed in an ambush and fell to the ground, his dying thought being that he belonged there. Enemy soldiers interrupt the disinterment of the bodies and the soldiers flee, but the Viet Cong mistake the corpses that were left behind for living American fighters and give up their attack. The soldier without a country falls back into his grave, where he will remain. Rival and Cruz provide very smooth art and I'm happy to see a story set in Vietnam, but for me this is just a quickie, five-page ghost tale.

Peter: Surely this is the best and most powerful narrative we've yet seen in 25 issues of (let's face it) mostly disposable and forgettable strips? We've seen a few of these war-torn horror stories here and there on our journey but most of them would be relegated to the pages of Weird War Tales. "The Specter's Last Stand" caught me completely off-guard; a stirring and moving script accentuated by excellent work from Rival and Cruz. Watch for this near the top of my Best of 1974 list later this year.

Jack: George Dahlmar had been jealous of Will Ferguson for years. Will was the star quarterback in high school, he got the best job at the Culver Falls Power Company, and he got Emily, the boss's daughter. George finally brains Will with the butt of a rifle and leaves his body in the snowy woods, setting the scene to make it look like he was killed by a falling tree branch. George courts Emily but is haunted either by Will's ghost or by his own guilt. George goes on a hunting trip with a new colleague named Lew Sayers, but Lew turns out to be the ghost of Will and murders George. George leaves "The Phantom's Invisible Clue," by writing "Lew no shadow" with the knife point on the floor of the hunting lodge. From this, and the fact that the fingerprints on the knife matched those of the late Will, the cops deduce that Lew was Will's ghost. Really? That's some leap of logic for a flatfoot.

Peter: Laughably, Emily is ready to jump back into the wifey role five minutes after her first husband's corpse thaws out but Will's ghost doesn't seem to be too perturbed about that. Oh, and did Will's ghost (aka Lew Sayers, no relation to crooner Leo Sayers, I hasten to add) have to interview for the job at George's office? I'd have rather seen that comic story. Disjointed and deadly dumb with amateurish art by Gernale.

Jack: Thomas Weir ministers to the sick and dying of Edinburgh with his magic stick. What no one realizes is that the angelic face carved into the end of the stick is really "The Devil's Own" and turns demonic when Weir is alone with the invalids and they die of fright. Eventually, folks catch on and burn Weir at the stake, but he and his stick continue to haunt his old home until it is torn down. My favorite moment occurs in the last panel, when a character sees Weir's ghost ride by in a flaming coach and remarks, "Will we never see the last of him?" In the same panel, there is a caption that then reads: "Neither Weir nor his Satan's staff were ever seen again!" I guess that answers that question.

Peter: Tony Caravana's art isn't hideous so much as generic. He's not given much to work with though, is he? I can't find much info on Caravana but it's likely he was another Filipino import, but not one who caught on like Redondo and Alcala. There would be only one more contribution by Tony to the DC mystery line.

Luis Dominguez
The House of Secrets 118

"The Very Last Picture Show"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by George Evans

Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Quico Redondo

"Nasty Little Man"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ramona Fradon

Peter: Thirty-five years after the runaway success of his first monster picture, "The Wolfman of Alcatraz," actor D. R. Lansing is set to attend the premiere of his latest fright flick, "Poisoned Strawberries." Musing on his success, he can't help but remember that the true brain and talent behind "Wolfman," his ex-partner  and best friend, Paul Jenkins, would have been the recipient of all the fame and glory had not D.R. tossed the man out of a window. Now, years later, strange notes and a first draft script of "Wolfman" show up at Lansing's house, ostensibly sent by the long-dead Paul. But D.R. overhears his wife, Margo, and his agent plotting more Jenkins-inspired tricks calculated to cause D.R.'s heart to pop. When Lansing arrives for the world premiere of "Strawberries," he's enraged when the first reel rolls and the title "The Night I Was Murdered by Paul Jenkins" unfurls across the screen. He busts down the door of the projection room but, moments later, the audience sees the horrifying image of a hanging man. Lansing's agent arrives moments later to confess to Margo that he was stuck in traffic and never delivered the phony film. Paul Jenkins has truly claimed his pound of flesh. Proof that even the masters stumble now and then, "The Very Last Picture Show" is easily Michael Fleisher's worst script for the DC mystery line since he showed up on the scene. Awful cliche stacks up on awful cliche and the dialogue drips purple. How was this not a Wessler script? George Evans' art is a shadow of what it once was in the EC days, now resembling a bad John Calnan forgery! Groan.

The Obligatory Expository Oratory

Jack: In my ledger, Fleisher + Evans = entertainment! The only demerit I gave this story was for the cliched moment when the agent says he got stuck in traffic and never got to the projection booth. Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I love the theme of revenge and the plotting by the man and woman against the producer, and Evans's goofy artwork had just enough nostalgia value for me that I was able to laugh with it rather than at it, even including that checkered suit Lansing is wearing!

Peter: Donna murders her adulterous hubby, Doug, and attempts to dispatch his body but, through a couple mishaps and the constant nagging of Doug's ghost, Donna ends up trapped in the trunk of her car in a river. How did she get there? Lucky enough to find a tire iron, she manages to open the trunk and prepares to exit, not knowing that the car is sitting atop a waterfall. Pretty effective final panel to "Turnabout" but, of course, the reader naturally would like to know how Donna got into the trunk and how her car got onto the waterfall in the first place. It can't be her hubby's ghost because, in a rather lame expository panel, Abel explains that, yep, Donna's gonna take a trip on that waterfall but, nope, Doug is not to blame. He's dead. And would his ghost get into the driver's seat and motor that car onto the precipice? Sharp art by Quico Redondo.

Thank you, Abel!

Jack: I couldn't really follow this one, even though I went back and scanned it a second time. Was the husband a serial rapist? A serial killer? When she backs into the open trunk and hits her head, does she fall into the trunk? Does it close itself? Does the car roll along and onto the waterfall? And why can't she escape the waterfall? Come on! I need more than this.

Peter: Patrick Terrence was a "Nasty Little Man" and a nasty little man was he. Coveting the house and wealth of the people on the hill, Patrick swears that, somehow, he'll have everything he wants someday. That someday comes quicker than Patrick figured. On his way home from the village, he runs across a leprechaun and tells him that his heart's desire is to live in a stone house. Being a leprechaun, the little guy must grant his wish. Just then, a runaway horse gallops down the lane and the young lady aboard would be thrown if not for the quick thinking of Patrick (the only good thing he does in his life, I'm sure). Turns out the girl is none other than Kathleen Corcorn, who lives with her father in the big stone house Patrick wants so badly. Naturally, the girl is smitten with her saviour and, after a short courtship, the two are married and Patrick moves into the stone house. Being the greedy sod he is, though, a little wealth isn't enough and Patrick arranges the old man's death. At the reading of the will, the murderer learns that Pop wasn't so rich after all and that they're actually in debt. Moving to humiliating digs turns man on wife and, eventually, wife has enough. Kathleen is institutionalized for murdering her husband but she's allowed to attend his funeral and muses that Patrick got his wish since she spent the last of her father's inheritance on a stone tomb. A witty, surprising twist caps a fun, if overlong, "just desserts" romp. Fradon contributes her usual saucer-eyed characters but they're really not overly annoying. Well, not much anyway.

Jack: What a clever way to kill someone--hit them in the face with a horseshoe nailed to a piece of wood and then blame the horse! I think this is the third time in a row that I've really enjoyed Ramona Fradon's art and Jack Oleck delivers the goods as he so often does. I love it when I get close to the end of a story and I start to suspect the coming surprise ending. This one was fun.

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 41

"The Corpse That Lived Twice!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Buddy Gernale and Alfredo Alcala

"Of Greed and the Grave"
Story Uncredited
Art by Rico Rival

"The Killer Eye!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by E.R. Cruz

Jack: The Nazis are bombing London in the early days of WWII but Jane Carlton is only interested in how she can increase her wealth and power by manipulating her husband's career. She visits Madam Nadja, a fortune teller, who looks into the distant past and tells the tale of Adrianus who, during the Roman Empire, married a beautiful blond slave girl. Like Jane Carlton, she was ambitious and used her wiles to advance her husband's career until it all came to a crashing halt in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Madam Nadja tells Jane that she is related to the slave woman and Jane asks if her own ambition will guarantee a similar fate. Just then a bomb levels a nearby house.

Jane races home to find her dwelling destroyed and her husband's charred corpse lying among the ruins. Somehow she deduces from this that her husband was a traitor. Mordred the witch explains that Jane was only related to the slave girl by marriage and that her husband was a spy. A twist ending only works when the elements of the plot are all put in place so that the ending, while surprising, is consistent with the story that leads up to it. In the case of "The Corpse That Lived Twice," Carl Wessler fails to lay a foundation for the sudden revelation that it was Jane's husband and not Jane herself who was the doomed party. Is this the first time we've seen Alcala ink such a lesser artist? I would say the inks were laid on with a trowel, since much of this resembles Alcala's work more than Gernale's, if Buddy's work in this month's issue of Ghosts is any indication.

Peter: Man, did my head hurt after reading this swill. It was like doing homework and the last few chapters of the history book are missing.

Jack: Amos Price tells his shrink, Dr. Sharpe, that he missed out on a promotion because his boss said he was too gentle to be a leader. Dr. Sharpe hypnotizes him and discovers that Price had been pirate Captain Roger Drury in a past life. Sharpe consults his encyclopedia and learns that Drury had buried treasure on a Caribbean island, so he puts Price under again and this time the patient physically transforms into the pirate captain. Sharpe makes Drury lead him to the treasure but, when the chest is opened, a booby-trap ensures the doctor's demise. Not so gentle after all, Drury reverts to Price, buries the body, and makes off with the treasure. The author responsible for "Of Greed and the Grave" is uncredited, but I'd put money on Carl Wessler as the culprit, since he wrote the other two stories in this issue.

Peter: I really can't stand hostess Cynthia's hipster lingo captions and sometimes it can take me right out of a decent story. Fortunately, that wasn't a problem this time because the story was, like, awful, man, and that climax was totally a bummer.

Jack: Sidney Stewart's wife Aggie gives him a Polaroid camera for their anniversary and he suggests that they go to the amusement park where they had their first date. He takes a photo of Aggie just as a nearby man falls victim to a pickpocket. When the photo develops, Sidney sees that the pickpocket was Marita, a fortune teller. He alerts the authorities and Marita curses his camera. From then on, whenever he takes a photo, he has power over the object photographed by "The Killer Eye!" of the camera. Once he realizes his new ability, he uses it to gain wealth and power. His evil career comes to an end when a photograph that Aggie took of Sidney and left in her purse accidentally gets a bullet through it during a robbery. Carl Wessler had a long career writing comic books, but 1974 must have been a particularly dry period for his idea factory, judging by this issue of The Witching Hour!

Peter: So much for "kind-hearted" Sidney. The witch Marita angle is dropped rather quickly and all I could think the rest of the story is "if Marita has this incredible power, why is she picking pockets?" The usually bankable ER Cruz delivers rushed, uninspired work this time around but "The Killer Eye" is a perfect cherry on top of a perfectly disposable issue.

Jack: It may be disposable, but according to this issue's circulation statement, it was selling an average of 334,454 copies a month and the most recent issue sold 434,004 copies! Those are staggering numbers, especially considering the fact that the comics industry was in what it considered to be a slump!

In our next TNT-stuffed issue!
On Sale February 23rd!

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