Monday, May 11, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Fifty-Two: October 1974

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

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 159

"A Cry in the Night"
Story by Sam Meade
Art by Jess Jodloman

Story and Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"The Creature That Never Existed!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Lee Elias
(Originally appeared in Tales of the Unexpected #89, July 1965)

"The Tell Tale Hand!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Curt Swan and George Klein
(Originally appeared in House of Mystery #6, September 1952)

"I Was Blackmailed by a Phantom"
Story Uncredited
Art by Howard Sherman
(Originally appeared in My Greatest Adventure #67, May 1962)

"Frozen in Fear"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Fred Carrillo

"The Swami of Broadway"
Story Uncredited
Art by Bill Ely
(Originally appeared in House of Secrets #14, November 1958)

"The Rainbow Man"
Story Uncredited
Art by George Roussos
(Originally appeared in Tales of the Unexpected #15, July 1957)

"The Night I Watched Myself Die!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Bob Brown
(Originally appeared in Unexpected #105, March 1968)

"The Demon Gun!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jim Mooney
(Originally appeared in House of Mystery #30, September 1954)

"The Strange Experiment of Dr. Grimm!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Howard Purcell and Sheldon Moldoff
(Originally appeared in House of Mystery #2, March 1952)

"Who's That Lying in My Coffin?"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Alex Nino

Don't worry--
it's a hoax!
Jack: Macho man Horst brings back a rare catch from the Black Forest to present to the Baron, the man he hopes will soon be his father-in-law--a savage, wild boy in a crate! The Baron is impressed but his daughter is not. Poor Horst wants to marry her but she loves Walter, the stable boy. Walter wisely locks the young savage in with other beasts but the Baron wants to civilize him and decides to take him on a boar hunt (an odd way to start the civilizing process). When the Baron does not come home and is found dead in the forest, the wild boy is suspected of the murder. But wait! The wild boy is not so wild after all! Horst paid him to fake it and tries to betray and kill him. Unfortunately for Horst, the wild boy gets the upper hand and kills Horst instead. Walter and his girlfriend later find the wild boy trapped in a camouflaged pit that had been set to catch wild animals. The wild boy now reveals he can speak English quite well but Walter tells him he can explain it all to the police. "A Cry in the Night" is a poor start to this issue of Unexpected, with unfocused art by Jodloman and a script by Sam Meade that makes little sense.

Peter: The climax of "A Cry in the Night" was Unexpected, to say the least. In fact, I thumbed through  #159 several times (yep, I have a real honest to gosh paper version of this one) to try to find the last page of the story, which is clearly missing from my copy. Perhaps Underdeveloped would be a better title for this comic book?

Jack: Jim Laskey knows that the state of California has abolished the death penalty, so he doesn't feel too bad about shooting a San Francisco cop as he runs away from a movie theater he's just robbed. He climbs onto a cable car to rest for the night, only to find it take off of its own accord. On the car with him are the cop he killed and a judge and jury, who try him for his crime. He gets a "Shocker" of an experience when he sits in the driver's chair and is electrocuted in a freak accident. When the police find him dead the next morning, they hear on the radio that Governor Reagan just reinstated the death penalty. I guess that means that Laskey's death was poetic justice?

The ghost of Barney Fife

Peter: Laskey's primary motive for his crime spree seems to be the repeal of the death penalty, as though life in prison is no dissuader. Seems like a good reason to rob and kill. Jerry Grandenetti proves he's just as good a writer as artist.

Jack: Old Pietro, the graveyard watchman, leaves his ghostly pals to return to his shack on a damp, cold evening, only to find two criminals holed up there. When the crooks threaten to kill him, they are "Frozen in Fear" and scared to death by Pietro's ghost pals. Three pages and not much to this one.

Saved by his ghostly pals!

Peter: A silly little nothing that avoids being a waste of paper thanks to some decent Fred Carrillo work.

Jack: Herb Mowery and his wife Addie share a recurring dream that Herb is dead and lying in his coffin. When a shrink tells him that this means he will die, he splurges on a fancy coffin. He is kidnapped by criminals and told to turn over his bankbook, but he refuses. They kill his wife to get the money and Herb asks, "Who's That Lying in My Coffin?" Terrible story but great art by Nino, the best in this issue.

Another Nino freakout!

Peter: So the killers took the time to lay Addie out in her coffin? Well, that was mighty nice of them. As usual, Alex Nino makes turning the pages a glorious exercise but do try to avoid the words.

Jack: Lots of reprints this time around and it seems we've just about reached the bottom of the barrel. I liked "The Tell Tale Hand!" in which a killer is convinced by a gypsy that his crime will be revealed by a noose that appears in the lines on his palm. As usual, it turns out to be an elaborate setup by the resourceful police. "The Strange Experiment of Dr. Grimm!" is a nutty story where the sheer number of words nearly crowds out the pictures as a scientist becomes the mind slave of a brain in a glass case. A well-placed lightning bolt (through an open window, no less!) breaks the spell. Fun stuff.

Peter: A real mixed bag of reprints this time out with only one story stepping out from the rest of the pack. "The Creature That Never Existed" is a giant monster tale that reeks of innocent times. This one could have been torn from the pages of the competitor's Kirby/Ditko-laden anthologies and is noteworthy for its lack of an exposition that explains away the paranormal presence (like the one found in "The Tell-Tale Hand" wherein a strangler is betrayed by the etched image of a noose in his palm, a graphic planted there by an enterprising young cop to guilt the murderer into confessing!). It amazes me that DC was publishing kid stuff like "The Strange Experiment of Dr. Grimm" and the aforementioned "Tell Tale Hand" at the same time EC was reveling in cannibalism, murderous lawmen, and baseball players that use body parts for their equipment. Was DC the lone holdout in the marathon of bad taste?

Luis Dominguez
The House of Secrets 124

"Last of the Frankensteins"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ernie Chua

"Never Rouse a Vampire!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by J. Albister

"Make Believe"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Peter: Edmund is "The Last of the Frankensteins" and he aims to clear the family name by creating life and proving his father was not insane. Edmund's wife, Emily, does not approve but goes along with her husband's eccentricities at first. When faced with proof that Edmund is really going through with the crazy experiments (she stumbles upon the jigsaw creature he has created), she goes to the local burgermeister and rats out her man. A mob of angry villagers lights up the torches and heads up the hill to Castle Frankenstein, cornering the young scientist until he falls from the castle's rooftop. The mob burns down the castle and heads back to the pub. Emily and the police chief come across the broken body of Edmund and realize that Father Frankenstein had been dipping his toes into all sorts of experiments: son Edmund is a robot.

"Last of the Frankensteins"
You always have to hoot at a story where a married protagonist is discovered to have been an android/robot/synthetic man the entire time. What does that say about wife Emily and her powers of observation and, um, touch? Oleck seems to have had a problem deciding what time period this story takes place. Edmund, with his contemporary auto and clothes, is clearly a 1970s man so why does his pop look like he's living in the 19th Century? Ernie Chan's art is serviceable here, nothing more, looking a bit rushed and indistinct.

Jack: Arrgh! So that's where this was going? Frankenstein is a robot? I was so sure Jack Oleck had something up his sleeve after he retold the whole Son of Frankenstein bit and then it turns out he's a robot! Boo! As for Emily, I guess if you marry a guy named Frankenstein you have to expect some family baggage. There's one panel where a well-placed word balloon blocks what would have been a code-violating view of her naked backside through her sheer nightie.

Peter: Regular carnival geeks don't attract crowds anymore, it seems, so Cal Bronson has to think up craftier tricks for his run-down sideshow. With the help of his squeeze, Evelyn, Cal talks the custodian, Amos, into filing down his teeth and acting out the vampire part for the new attraction. Evelyn baits Amos with her charms and the show is a massive success but Amos soon figures out there's someone else sharing Evelyn with him and the act goes south. Turns out Amos was a blood-sucker the whole time and you should "Never Rouse a Vampire!" Here's one that has a decent build-up and climaxes with a massive cliche. So, a vampire is going to allow someone to file down his already sharp teeth? Albister's art is hit and miss, but Amos makes for a pretty pathetic vampire.

"Never Rouse a Vampire!"

Jack: I enjoyed this one, probably because of the seedy carnival setting. There are some nice silhouette panels where the vampire's shadow looks like the blood-sucker from Nosferatu. I love the pitch to the simpleton: "All we have to do is file your teeth, put a little hair on your arms--" In other words, no big deal! They also appear to have painted him yellow, from the looks of things.

Peter: Sickly young Bobby Nolan has moved, with his father and his nurse, to a small Greek island called Xanthos. Bobby becomes immersed in local mythology and believes a centaur named Deimos and other legendary creatures have come to him to cheer up his life. His father wants Bobby to grow up and recognize that there is no room for fairy tales in real life. When Bobby continues his fanciful talk, his father hires a psychiatrist, who tells the man that Bobby is slipping dangerously into a fantasy world and that they should leave Greece immediately. When the boy is told the news, he visits Deimos and the centaur talks Bobby into leaving with him. The half-man half-horse then gallops off a cliff into the sea, Bobby astride his back. After days of searching, the police are convinced the boy fell into the sea and drowned. Standing on his terrace one day, Bobby's father is convinced he sees his son atop the opposite cliff with Deimos. Whereas the obvious comparison, Jack Oleck's classic "Nightmare" (from HoM #186), was sincere and heartbreaking, its variation, "Make Believe," is ham-fisted and maudlin. The only comparison that could be made between the two is that both contain great artwork. The message here (everybody has to have a dream) is hammered into our craniums panel after panel.

Jack: The other comparison I would make is to "The Inheritors" on The Outer Limits, where disabled kids go into a spaceship and are able to live without their handicaps (if I remember it right). Did you see a gay subtext in this story? It takes place in Greece, the boy meets ancient Greek creatures, and he likes to sneak out at night and hop on the back of a half-naked male stranger. I wonder if Jack Oleck slipped one by the Code here.

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 47

"Who Must I Kill Tonight?"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"The Day Happy Died!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by John Calnan

"Haunted Any Houses Lately?"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alex Nino

Jack: John Durmond has a problem. By day, he's a happy family man, but by night, he's a cold-blooded killer who takes orders from the mysterious Mr. Zeeman. He can't recall what he does at night and his wife is starting to wonder. When the answer to "Who Must I Kill Tonight?" is his own wife, his mind snaps and it turns out that Mr. Zeeman is actually John in a mirror. He smashes the mirror and a shard of glass lands him in the hospital, where the doctor announces that John has a split personality. The worst thing about this story is that Ruben Yandoc (who often signs his work as "Rubeny") draws the ugliest Cynthia I've ever seen. And Cynthia is sometimes the best thing in The Witching Hour.

Yes, that's supposed to be Cynthia

Peter: This one gave me a migraine. If "sane John" didn't know what was going on when he turned into Mr. Hyde, how did he know where to drive to before he would transform? How did the doctor know about John's underworld contacts? The Mrs. fell out of a second story window, head first mind you, and walked away with nary a scratch thanks to the bush she fell in? Another hopelessly dumb story from George Trashcan.

Yay! I'm dead!
Jack: Young Rusty Boland has been distraught ever since "The Day Happy Died!" Happy was his dog, you see, and Rusty's family home burned down. Rusty thinks he sees Happy in the yard but soon learns that Happy did not die--Rusty did! Soon enough, the dog lies down on Rusty's grave and expires from grief. What a cheery three pages that was! And so well drawn by John Calnan!

Peter: And... another confusing wrap-up. So did little Rusty escape his father's arms and run back into the fire to rescue a dog that wasn't in the house in the first place? Why is the kid dead and the dog alive? John Calnan continues to set new bars for awful art. I did love Rusty's exclamation: "Let me go, Pa--Please I gotta get happy!"

Jack: Paul and Edna Walsh have moved into the old family castle Edna inherited from her grandfather, but they are having trouble making ends meet. Along comes their pal Harry Philbin, a/k/a The Great Philbin, Master of Illusion, who asks "Haunted Any Houses Lately?" Harry has a plan to don a skeleton costume and pretend to haunt the house for ticket-buying tourists. His first performance is a success but they soon find him dead of suffocation. Edna finds a letter that Paul wrote to Harry about how to murder Edna and blame it on the supposed ghost. Paul starts to go after Edna to finish the job but is stopped by the real ghost of her ancestor, who causes Paul to suffocate, fall off a high wall, and become impaled on the lance of a statue below. That night, Edna and the ghost discuss how he tipped her off to Paul's murder plot and they were able to turn the tables. The story has too many surprise twists but, once again, Nino's art is lovely.

Peter: That makes it three for three in this issue for needlessly confusing twists. There are about three too many reveals in "Haunted Any Houses Lately" but my favorite bit of dopiness is the letter Paul wrote to Harry detailing their plan to murder Edna. That's something you'd leave lying around the castle, right? The DC mystery bullpen went back to the "inherited money and a big old castle" well a few too many times in the mid-1970s.

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 31

"The Spectral Coffin-Maker"
Story Uncredited
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Blood on the Moon"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Bill Payne

"The Specter of the Dark Devourer"
Story Uncredited
Art by ER Cruz

Jack: Every time "The Spectral Coffin-Maker" comes to town, people are afraid because someone always dies. Little Anton is not fearful, though, and his kindness to the old traveling salesman is repaid later on when the coffin-maker warns him away from a city where a tragic earthquake occurs. Gerry Talaoc's art makes this readable, even though we all know that Anton will be saved from some sort of tragedy long before it happens.

"The Spectral Coffin-Maker"

Peter: I'd lay a fiver down that Leo Dorfman is responsible for this one. It comes off as one of those Ripley's stories Leo has been pumping out for Ghosts since day one. Imagine how much more "Believe It or Not" hogwash Leo could have turned in to Boltinoff with Google at his fingertips.

Jack: Al, Charlie and Bart are poaching alligators (or is it crocodiles?) in the Florida Everglades when a game warden surprises them and they kill him. They see blood on the moon and recognize it as a bad omen. A month later, Al goes back out to the scene of the crime to do some fishing. There is blood on the moon again and the ghost of the dead game warden rises from the muck and mire to scare Al into some quicksand, where he meets his end. Next month, Charlie sees blood on the moon and the ghost rises again, causing him to crash his car in a canal where hungry alligators await. Finally, Bart goes out one evening for a swim, sees blood on the moon, up pops the specter, and next thing you know Bart chokes to death. "Blood on the Moon" would not be such a hot story were it not for the welcome return of Bill Payne, whose art is tremendous. He has no respect for panel boundaries or conventional structure and some of his figures remind me of those of Graham Ingels.

A whole page of Payne!

Peter: Though it sputters and runs out of gas a couple pages prior to its climax, "Blood on the Moon" is an effective and atmospheric chiller. Those are two adjectives I don't use too often when describing Ghosts stories. Most of that atmosphere, admittedly, is due to Bill Payne's stark, noirish artwork but, I gotta give Carl Wessler a bit of the credit as well. It's a gritty little tale, the likes of which are usually found in the pages of the gold standard of DC horror, The House of Mystery.

Jack: Evil strip miners in West Virginia tussle with the wrong bunch of hicks when they dig a hole near the Stope farm. Poor, retarded Dulcie ventures too near the pit and her beloved doll falls victim to a landslide. She uses some incantations her granny taught her and conjures up "The Specter of the Dark Devourer," which is really dark and devours the strip miners. Cruz's art would be the highlight of this issue were it not for the home run hit by Bill Payne in the prior story!

Dark Devourer? Or great big pink pussycat?

Peter: Two really good stories (with great art) in one issue of Ghosts? Could this be the beginning of a renaissance era? Don't bet on it, but enjoy the quality while you can. "Dark Devourer" is much too dark and nasty to have come from Leo; my guess would be one of the young guns like Len Wein.

In our next historically-accurate issue!
On Sale May 18th!

No comments: