Monday, April 13, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Fifty: August 1974

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

Super-Sized 100th Issue!

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 158

"Reserved for Madmen Only"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"A Hangman Awaits Me"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by John Calnan

"The Bewitched Beauty"
Story by uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira
(reprinted from House of Mystery 24, March 1954)

"Prisoner of the Power-Stone!"
Story by uncredited
Art by Mort Meskin
(reprinted from House of Secrets 18, March 1959)

"Captives of the Ant Kingdom!"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Lee Elias

"The Fearsome Fountain of Youth"
Story by uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira
(reprinted from House of Mystery 36, March 1955)

"The Doom Game"
Story by uncredited
Art by Mort Meskin and George Roussos
(reprinted from House of Mystery 144, July 1964)

"The Menace of the Fireball"
Story by uncredited
Art by Bob Brown
(reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected 19, November 1957)

"Trial By Terror"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ernesto Patricio

"The End of Death"
Story by uncredited
Art by Jerry Grandenetti and Frank Giacoia
(reprinted from Sensation Mystery 113, February 1953)

"Nightmare House"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jose Delbo

Shaggy! Get me a pizza!
Jack: Rich old Uncle Cyrus is scared when a spectre of Death pays him a visit, so he throws chemicals in the face of the wraith, not knowing it is really his nephew Gerald in a spooky costume. Gerald is plotting with Cyrus's nurse, Zena, to drive the old man mad so Gerald can inherit his wealth. The chemical splash puts Gerald at risk of going blind, but things get worse for the schemer when Zena tells him that the old man dropped dead a day before Gerald would have been eligible to inherit. Gerald goes mad and is carted off to a place that is "Reserved for Madmen Only." Meanwhile, Zena and Cyrus watch from an upstairs window. It seems Cyrus was fine and the two plotted successfully to get rid of Gerald. Cyrus is so grateful to his leggy nurse that he plans to make her his sole heir. The scary Scooby-Doo music started playing in my head on page one of this Kashdan special--the only plus is the short-skirted nurse Zena.

Peter: The nurse is nice but she's a result of the only plus here for me: the super-duper Rubeny art. That leaves just a so-so story and twist.

Jack: Young Terrence Jones walks with a crutch, but that doesn't stop the orphanage from sending him to live with Mr. Widdoes, who takes in orphans for a monthly stipend. Widdoes is a cruel taskmaster, but he meets his match in Terrence's invisible friend Mr. Greetch. Widdoes plays a game of hangman with Mr. Greetch and loses, but when he grabs Terrence's precious gold medallion Mr. Greetch sees to it that Widdoes learns why "A Hangman Awaits Me." If there's one thing worse than a bad George Kashdan story (see above), it's a bad George Kashdan story drawn by John Calnan.

Peter: Another fresh concept from the typewriter of George Kashdan. The sadistic foster parents were done to death by the end of the 1950s, weren't they?

John Calnan's "special" use of perspective

Jack: Scott and Madden are searching for the Lost Desert Gold Mine, the entrance to which is marked by a giant ant hill. They are menaced by a strangely costumed man who calls himself King Pharaoh. They fall down a mine shaft and battle a giant anteater, then accidentally discover a vein of gold while trying to avoid becoming "Captives of the Ant Kingdom!" Back above ground, King Pharaoh attacks them with a swarm of ants but they turn the tables by throwing candy at him. It really doesn't get much worse than this. "Ant Kingdom" will be in the running for worst of 1974.

Peter: I find it extreeeeemely hard to believe this wasn't a 1950s reprint. What editor of a "spooky" funny book would okay such a dim-witted fantasy? Ah, Murray Boltinoff, that's who. Never mind. This story is totally loony. Who's the Ant Man? Is he a guy dressed up as an ant? A mutant? Just a crook who goes to astounding measures and then pins his hopes on two dorky adventurers?

We are not really clear on why
King Pharaoh dresses like that.

Zee French, zey are a funny race
Jack: Bret and Harriet Hodge are vacationing in France when a violent storm forces them to seek refuge in a hotel. Most everyone there speaks French, but the language of death is universal and soon the happy couple is accused of murder, tried and sentenced to death. They escape and soon realize that it was no hotel but rather a madhouse, where they underwent "Trial By Terror!" At only five pages, this doesn't have much time to work up a head of steam, but with a little more care it might have been interesting.

Peter: Ever the optimist, Jack. Given more pages, it would have been longer to read. That's all. I love how, at the climax, Bret stops their car in the middle of a getaway to read his French dictionary because "something just occurred to him." A really bad story from start to finish.

So, it's not really a monster, see . . .

Jack: On the run from bobbies in the London fog, Charlie Robbins ducks into a "Nightmare House." Old Mrs. Winters helps him hide but he ignores her warning and opens an upstairs door, releasing a horrible monster! The monster chases Charlie and he cowers in fear until it is revealed that the whole thing was a stage play and the police are the audience. Peter, if you have any idea what the heck was going on in this story, please enlighten me.

Peter: Reading "Nightmare House" (with its moronic reveal and awful art) hammers home the point that, by 1974, the story was an afterthought with these DC horror comics. Oh, to be sure, there were a few Halloweens amongst the Friday the 13ths but, for the most part, the editors just didn't seem to care. This is even more evident when we're dealing with the 100-pagers where stories about sorcerers who can make men into talking caterpillars and witches who can make ugly men lovable are oodles more interesting than the new material.

No wonder she won the beauty contest!
Jack: Once again, the issue is saved by reprints. "The Bewitched Beauty!" is a hoot. Myra enters a beauty contest on a whim, sure she has no chance of winning. The old crone who lives in the apartment next door has her drink a witch's brew and she not only wins the contest but men start crashing cars and walking off of bridges when she passes by due to her astounding beauty. To end the "curse," she agrees to the old woman's request to show up at a mausoleum at midnight, where her beauty will raise from the dead a criminal who had been electrocuted! Readers of 1950s DC mystery comics will not be surprised to learn that Myra's Pop is a police detective and that there is more than meets the eye going on here. I could read stories like this all day.

Peter: Then why don't we, Jack? We could make believe we read "Nightmare House" and "Ant Kingdom" but actually read the complete adventures of Johnny Peril instead and no one would be the wiser. I love the "say what?" expository of "Bewitched Beauty." Trained stuntmen followed Myra around all day and performed stunts to give the illusion Myra has a special gift. Only at DC! Speaking of Johnny Peril (and I always am), we get yet another insanely plotted crackerjack adventure with Johnny. Peril always seems to be facing supernatural menaces that turn out, in the end, to be estranged lovers or wronged pharmacists. In "The End of Death," Johnny is being stalked by Death in an attempt to discredit Peril's testimony against murderer Eric Dexo. If you've read any of Johnny Peril's fabulously fanciful tales, you know it's not really the Grim Reaper who's harassing our hero, but Dexo's brother, an insane professor who has been hiring men all around town to wear Mr. Death masks to frighten our hero. Know this, evil men of 1953: Johnny Peril does not frighten easily, if at all.

Jack: A similar twist concludes "The Fearsome Fountain of Youth," in which jailbird Roger Hall is tricked into revealing the location of a hidden million by the promise of a drink from the Fountain of Youth. Cops in the fifties had some pretty nifty things up their sleeves! In this issue's letters column, eagle-eyed reader Danny McIntyre of Bethel Springs, Tenn., comments on the repeated use of the word "Ngyaah!" in Unexpected. Danny, if you're out there, we would welcome you as a third reader and writer for this blog. Trust me, we mean it!

"The Fearsome Fountain of Youth"

Luis Dominguez
House of Secrets 122

"Requiem for Igor"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"The Centaur"
Story by Sam Glanzman and Martin Pasko
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Grave Business"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"There He Is Again!"
Story by Don Kaar
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Peter: Jan Bartos will never be anything but second best to piano virtuoso Igor Zabac. When a gnarly crone known as Old Rose approaches Bartos with a devilish proposition, the pianist scoffs and shuns the old woman. Later, when the woman has proven to Jan that she possesses magical powers, he relents and listens to her offer: she'll give him the hands of Igor Zabac if Bartos pledges his soul to her master, Ol' Scratch. Bartos again demurs, claiming he'll not be party to murder but, after a particularly frustrating night at the keys and a humiliating backstage visit from Zabac himself, Jan agrees to Rose's demands. A pair of hoods murder Zabac and visit Rose and Bartos backstage before his big night. Once Rose has been informed of the devious act, she informs Bartos he now has the hands of Zabac. Unfortunately for the #2 pianist in the world, the hoods burned the body and all the musician is left with are ashy stumps. Lower-tier Alcala (which is still miles above just about anyone else) and a padded story built around a stale punchline make "Requiem for Igor" nothing more than a mediocre time-waster. That punch is dragged across nearly two pages, by the way, when it could easily have been delivered in two panels. 

Jack: This is a cross between a sell your soul to the Devil story and a Mike Fleisher-esque shock ending story. The witch reminds me of Mildred from The Witching Hour. Not the best we've seen from Oleck or Alcala, but a pleasant diversion.

"Requiem for Igor"

Peter: A hunter discovers "The Centaur" and travels with it into a magical land. Thinking only of dollar signs, the hunter bides his time until he can trap the half man-half horse creature and take him back to civilization. Even though the centaur warns the hunter that if he should tell anyone of the existence of the other world, there will be consequences, our man is convinced he's about to be rich. When he makes it back to our world, he attempts to tell his friends about his discovery but, before he can, he's transformed into a deer. Not a bad little tale and, I've got to say, the best Glanzman I've seen yet (I think his DC war art is dreadful) but the final punchline is botched by an illiterate letterer. The hunter's muse about becoming "bigger than the guy who brought back King Kong" almost infers this is a world where Kong actually existed. Or I'm just reading subtext into nothingness. By the way, this is as good a place as any to hype "A Sailor's Story" by Glanzman. Why hype a book featuring art I'm not crazy about? Well, because some people swear by Glanzman (this volume collects Sam's autobiographical naval war stories first published by Marvel) and the book is published by Dover, employer of one of our very own, Professor Tom Flynn from the Marvel University. The second reason is more important than the first, though.

Jack: A three-page vignette with the best art we've seen yet from Glanzman. He's better at drawing animals than humans, much as Grandenetti was better at drawing planes and tanks than people's faces.

"The Centaur"

Peter: Mrs. Van Tilsburg comes to funeral director Jebediah Smythe with a proposition: open the coffin of her recently-deceased husband and share with her the one million dollars that resides in said casket. Her husband, being the nasty sort, left instructions that his wife was to get not one penny of his estate and that the dough was to be buried with him. Smythe quickly poo-poos any such idea but, before too long, greed raises its ugly head and Van Tilsburg's coffin is about to be jimmied open. The widow makes an appearance, demanding her cut, but Smythe plays innocent, sticking to his morality story. After the dead man is buried, Smythe digs up the coffin but is approached yet again by the Mrs., this time brandishing a firearm. Jebediah gets the drop and whacks the girl upside the head and dumps her body into the tomb but, in a comedy of errors, knocks himself unconscious and falls into the casket as well. When Smythe's absent-minded grave-digger comes along, he innocently believes he's forgotten to bury the coffin and rectifies his "mistake." There are a whole lot of "give me a break" moments in "Grave Business" (a popular title for horror comic stories, I believe), chief among them the fact that the widow and Smythe can't seem to work together to split the million. Smythe doesn't even want the money at first, then he suddenly wants it all. How much trouble could have been avoided if he'd have simply okayed opening the coffin and making a withdrawal right there in the parlor rather than partaking in shenanigans at the gravesite? And that's an awfully small sack to be holding a cool million. Maybe it's a check? If anything is to be learned from "Grave Business," it's that they made awfully big coffins in 1974, boxes big enough to hold three people comfortably.

Jack: Where did Mrs. Van Tilsburg come from when she caught Smythe about to pry open the casket? Did she just hang around the funeral home in the shadows every day waiting for him to do the inevitable? For a guy struggling with ethics, Smythe changes quickly into a brutal killer, and how crazy is it that he and his victim both fall into the coffin and the lid slams shut? I'd put money on that not happening one in a million times.

Peter: The two-page short-short, "There He Is Again" defies description so I won't even try. The moral of the story isn't that little kids become a part of the big picture but that sometimes two Alcalas in one issue is not paradise.

Jack: A two-page waste of Alcala's talent.

Nick Cardy

The Witching Hour 45

"Something Sinister About Uncle Harry"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Bet Your Life"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Don Perlin

"For Whom the Ghost Bells Toll"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Alex Nino

Jack: Mac and Jeannie Dowling are happy to welcome Mac's Uncle Harry, especially since Mac is his only living heir. Their adopted son Bruce thinks there's "Something Sinister About Uncle Harry," since he sees him as he really is--a horrible demon! Little Bruce's parents don't listen and threaten to send him back to the orphanage, so Bruce takes a photo of his uncle and, when Mac sees it, he confronts the demon, who agrees to hit the road. Bruce chases and catches up with him, suddenly realizing that he, too, is a demon and that Harry is his real father. It's never a good thing when an issue opens with a new Grandenetti story, is it, Peter?

Jerry being Jerry
Peter: Oy! This is my nominee for All-Around Worst Story of 1974 and it's going to take an awful, awful story to beat this one. The narrative makes no sense whatsoever. The kid is trying to expose the uncle as a demon while having an inkling that Harry is his real father? Think about all the coincidences that have to take place for this arrangement to even be possible. Grandenetti's art is about the worst we've seen, even more cartoony and exaggerated than usual. One gigantic smelly egg.

Jack: Count Czerny is on a winning streak in his nightly card game, but he has help from an old witch named Dolma. When he wins big and she demands half, he murders her, but the next night his luck turns bad when he draws a card with the witch's face in place of the queen. It's a sad state of affairs when a story like "Bet Your Life" is an improvement on the one before it, but that's the case in this issue.

Peter: With just four guys playing poker, they have to be pretty rich for the stakes to be a million bucks. As short and inconsequential as the story is, I thought Perlin's art was a bit more edgy than the stuff he used to pump out for Werewolf By Night.

"Bet Your Life"

Jack: Just before lovely Lauren is to be hanged for robbery and murder, she makes her boyfriend Kurt swear to keep his promise. In the months that follow, he is haunted by her ghost. He signs on as a ship's crew member but to no avail, since Lauren's ghost follows him even on the high seas. A year after her death, he insists that the ship's captain perform a wedding ceremony, since his promise to Lauren had been that he would marry her a year after her death. He quickly finds out "For Whom the Ghost Bells Toll," as his spectral new bride drags him off to the next world. Leave it to Alex Nino to rescue this issue, even though Leo Dorfman's story is his usual, boring ghost tale. At least the visuals are grand.

Peter: I thought the story was a cut above the usual Dorfbilge that gobs up the pages of Ghosts. Sure, it's not Fleisher, but it holds together and tells a decent tale. Nino is aces here, with the highlight being that first glimpse of Lauren's ghost aboard the ship (above). Absolutely creepy!

Nino saves the issue!

Nick Cardy


"The Haunted Lady of Death"
Story by Murray Boltinoff
Art by E.R. Cruz

"Howling of the Ghost Hounds!"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Art Saaf

"The Claws of the Phantom"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by John Calnan

Jack: Shanghai, 1946, and war hero Sir Victor Goddard is being honored at a party when a man in a turban suddenly confronts him with a prediction that he will die that night. The vision specifies that Victor, a man in a military coat, a female and the pilot will be killed in an airplane crash. Victor is summoned back to Tokyo urgently but thinks he's safe from the prophecy because his companion is a civilian and no woman is aboard the plane. Yet the civilian wears a military coat by mistake and, when the plane crashes due to snow and ice, the dying Victor sees that "The Haunted Lady of Death" was the aircraft itself, named the Lady Anne. E.R. Cruz's stodgy art can't save this dull and obvious ghost story.

Peter: So, since our narrator informs us that the incident was used as the basis for the film, The Night My Number Came Up, does this qualify as a movie adaptation? 

We knew he was gonna crash!

Jack: Germany, 1904, and Hans Helmut hates and fears dogs. Too bad his kindly old neighbor attracts strays. Hans kills the old man while robbing his house and ghostly dogs begin to drive him crazy with their howling. The police send dogs out to hunt the killer and Hans confesses, driven mad by "Howling of the Ghost Hounds!" that only he hears. He is put to death and the ghostly dogs howl in triumph. Well, the first story was dull with run of the mill art. This one is just plain bad with art to match. The only thing worse would be John Calnan . . .

Peter: You had to use the "C" word, didn't you, Jack? "Ghost Hounds" left me howling at the really bad Saaf art (it looks a whole lot like Tuska to me).

The ghostly dogs are suddenly
replaced by extremely large dogs

"The Claws of the Phantom"
Jack: Germany (again), 1950s, and ruthless industrialist Horst Kessler razes a precious, historic site where he finds the body of Kurt Von Falken, hero from the Middle Ages. Horst grabs the helmeted skull of the late falconer as a souvenir, and that night he is haunted by a headless ghost in armor with a spectral falcon. Though he continues to be terrorized by "The Claws of the Phantom," Horst ignores the danger until he is killed in a plane by a flock of birds. Some stories are so bad they're good. Then there are the stories in this issue of Ghosts, which lack any sort of entertainment value at all. DC should have had to answer for false advertising when it put another great Cardy cover on the outside of this dreck.

Peter: Some of the other titles can get away with bad stories as they always seem to pull an Alcala, Nino, or Yandoc out of a hat. Ghosts can't even make that boast with a line-up consisting of the dregs of comic book "artistry." All that's missing this issue is a swamp monster story by George Kashdan and Jack Sparling.

Next Week: A special expanded edition of
Star-Spangled DC War Stories!

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