Monday, June 8, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Fifty-Four: December 1974/Best and Worst of 1974

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

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 49

"Bride of Satan"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Vicente Alcazar

"The Prisoners of Mortuary Island"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by E.R. Cruz

"You Can't Kill a Corpse"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Romy Gamboa

Peter: Raymond wants to marry the lovely (and more important, wealthy) Tess. Since he's a poor sap and not all that handsome to boot, he does what anyone else in the DC Mystery Universe would do: he makes a bargain with Satan for instant wealth. When Tess finds out, she's mortified and makes her own bargain with the devil: she'll become the "Bride of Satan" if he'll release Raymond from his bargain. Sizing Tess up and remarking he won't find a babe like this one in Hell, he quickly agrees. The happy couple are married and then Tess drops the bomb on her new hubby: she's actually an ugly old crone who was looking for just the right man. Now she has him. So the devil has the power to grant instant wealth, long life, and better television shows, but he's not smart enough to know when the con is on? And what's the next step for Tess? It's not like she inherits any new powers. A really dumb script with mediocre Alcazar art.

The devil is a dumbbell

Jack: It isn't the Devil, it's Baal, an ancient near-eastern god reviled in the Old Testament as a competitor of Yahweh. But it's still the same old twist where the beautiful girl is revealed to have been an ugly witch all along.

Peter: Three convicts escape from a South American prison and head for the supposedly safe Mortuary Island. The trio brave a stormy sea but eventually make it to the isle, where they are set upon by gruesome creatures resembling zombies. After fighting their way through the chilling mob, they make their way back to the beach, where a prison boat approaches. When they try to board the boat, they are fired upon. The captain informs the three felons that they are now "The Prisoners of Mortuary Island" and that they have signed their own death certificates. Mortuary Island is a prison for those infected with the black death. Nice art by ER Cruz but the script is padded and predictable.

"Mortuary Island"

Jack: Weren't they on a different island first and that's where the plague victims lived? I did not guess the twist this time around, so that's worth something, though the plague victims sure looked like the walking dead to me.

Peter: Fugitive Johnny Boyd takes a bullet in a shoot-out with the law. Hurt and scared, he manages to duck into the Everglades and lose the cops but strange things begin to occur. Wandering into town to steal a car, Johnny sees a man sitting on the courthouse steps who looks exactly like him. Racing back into the swamp, he spies a reflection of himself as a skeleton in the water. Putting two and two together and coming up with five, Johnny decides that he's dead and can therefore go on a cop-killing spree. After all, "You Can't Kill a Corpse." When the cops come, though, they put an end to Boyd's afterlife in a hail of bullets. Putting two and two together again as he lies dying, the suddenly bright Johnny Boyd decides he must have been looking at someone else's skeleton in the water. We've discussed before the recipe for a good shock ending: it has to be from out of the blue, unexpected, and the writer can't cheat in the buildup to that twist. Despite 150 years of lurid pulp and funny book story writing, Carl Wessler just couldn't make himself agree to either stipulation. Mordred's final panel appearance wins the gold medal for Dumbest Expository in a DC Horror Story of All Time (in fact, we'll give her Silver and Bronze as well). For one thing, the skeleton Boyd catches a glimpse of is, as Mordred says, that of an "ancient Indian." Why would the bones be lying, uncovered, near the surface of the water if they've been there so long? And the two panels clearly show the bones lying in a different position. CHEATING! Then, to add insult to injury, the witch claims that the twin Boyd saw in town was a "mirage in the shimmering Everglades heat!" CHEATING! A really bad story in a really bad issue of a really bad title.

No, seriously, that's what she said!

Jack: I didn't think this story was all that bad, but if I looked in the water and saw a skull I don't think my first thought would be that I was dead and seeing my reflection. Before challenging the cops to a shootout I'd make double-dog sure I was a phantom!

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 33

"The Hangmen of Specter Island?"
Story Uncredited
Art by E.R. Cruz

"The Fangs of the Phantom Hound!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"Visit From a Strange Specter"
Story Uncredited
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Jack: Athens policeman Dimitri Basilis won't retire until he captures Nikos Kosta, a/k/a the Executioner, who shot Basilis's eye out. Kosta hides out on Akros Island, where he was once a prisoner. Exploring the ruined jail, he is attacked by the ghosts of other prisoners, many of whom he betrayed. He is taken to the gallows by "The Hangmen of Specter Island" and his neck is put into a noose. The next day, Basilis finds Kosta dead, with rope burns around his neck and vultures already circling his body. How was he killed, since the gallows are rotten and could not have supported his weight? There is about 3/4 of a story here, but as usual the uncredited author did not have an ending.

"The Hangmen of Specter Island?"

Peter: I liked this one, despite the feeling that "Uncredited" didn't use his detectives to their fullest potential. Whoever wrote "Specter Island," it's clear to me that it's not Dorfman or Boltinoff as there are some subtle nuances to be appreciated (such as the almost throwaway back story to Basilis' missing eye) and a genuinely creepy air to the proceedings. I was so fascinated with the Basilis character that I'd have liked a few more pages devoted to that side of the narrative. Why are the detectives burying the most-wanted felon in the Balkans on that island? Wouldn't they drag his corpse back as proof of death? What about an inquest? However, Jack and I have learned (the hard way) never to look a good Ghosts story in the mouth.

Jack: On a camping vacation with his family, Jason Calder is shocked when a ghostly hound visits the campsite. His wife convinces him that it's safe to stay out the week and they drive to town to buy food, leaving their two young sons alone. In town, the rental agent tells them the legend of Brutus, an 18th century dog who was killed while fending off a pack of wolves. To this day, "The Fangs of the Phantom Hound" terrorize campers. Meanwhile, back at the cabin, the boys are menaced by two escaped convicts. Suddenly, the ghostly hound attacks, killing one of the criminals and sparing the boys.

"The Fangs of the Phantom Hound!"

Peter: Well, I really feel out of sorts. Two good Ghosts stories in one year is an accomplishment; never mind a pair in the same issue! Admittedly, most of my wide grin is based on Ruben Yandoc's gloriously atmospheric renderings but the words of "Fangs..." are all spelled correctly and seem to form into cohesive sentences. Am I in the right magazine? Extra star attached to my rating for this month's best line: "It's a ghost dog straight outa hell...!"

"Visit . . ."
Jack: Lying in bed gravely injured, Oliver Sloane recalls the terrible car accident that nearly took the life of his wife and son. He receives a "Visit From a Strange Specter," who tells him that he must choose whether his wife or his son will live--not both. Sloane chooses to let his wife die, knowing he'll inherit her fortune. What he did not realize is that he was already dead and that's why he could talk to the specter. More a vignette than a story, and at four pages Alcala barely has a chance to get going.

Peter: All right, now I know someone slipped something into my Coca-Cola tonight. Three for three! Never been done before. Hold on to this, Murray Boltinoff, as it probably will never happen again: Ghosts #33 is the best DC Mystery funny book of the month! Yes, you read that correctly. The deal is sealed with the effective twist ending and lovely art of "Visit," the latter successful despite all my claims that Alfredo works better outdoors than in claustrophobic settings. This story could very well be a play, with most of the scenes revolving around Sloane and the specter (who resembles a certain DC character with almost the same moniker). Refreshing (and uncharacteristic of DC bad guys) that Sloane is allowed to simply pass away at the climax rather than have death shoved in his face, despite being a greedy, cold-hearted bastard. One question, though: why is the accident set in 1969? I thought it was meant to imply Sloane had been in a coma for five years but, clearly, that's not the case as we find out in the climax. Odd that.

Luis Dominguez
The House of Secrets 126

"The Haunter and the Haunted"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Quico Redondo

"On Borrowed Time"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alex Nino

"Weird Wanda"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Ernie Chua

Peter: Little Pauly wants to become a member of the Oak Street Bobcats and the initiation is an overnight stay in haunted Grenly Manor. No sweat, thinks the toddler, if it will get him into the street gang, so Pauly shuts himself in and gets ready for whatever may come. Bloody axes, specters, and decapitated heads finally send the boy racing towards the exit. Out from the shadows come the two boys who are initiating Pauly, pleased with the job they've done. Next day, when Pauly doesn't show up at home, the youths head back to Grenly where they find the little boy waiting. Pauly explains that, as he was hightailing it, he fell down the stairs and broke his neck, Now, Pauly is the Grenly ghost. Nice twist (never saw that one coming) and nice art elevate "The Haunter and the Haunted" above just about everything else this month. Why would a group of street thugs want a little kid like Pauly in their ranks anyway?

"The Haunter and the Haunted"

Jack: A corny name for a street gang and a corny story. Quico Redondo's art can't hold a candle to that of brother Nestor.

Peter: A jewelry store owner gives cold-blooded killer and thief Eddie Malloy a special kind of watch just before he's murdered by Eddie: a time-travel time piece. For every minute the watch is set forward, the holder is hurled one week into the future. Eddie scoffs but when he tries it, sure enough he ends up in the future. Malloy begins a crime spree that baffles police and adds plenty of moolah to his retirement fund. Eddie gets a brainstorm: he'll steal millions in diamonds, take a trip five years into the future and pawn the score when the heat has died down. The heist comes off without a hitch but when Eddie sets his watch for five years into the future, he finds himself hanging off a girder on an unfinished building. When he tries to reset the piece to further afar, the watch stops working altogether. Eddie falls to his death and a cop on the street notes that the corpse's watch has a corroded and rusty battery, typical of the kind of battery that only lasts one year. Rather good twist to "On Borrowed Time" but a bit complicated and it made my head hurt trying to figure the whole thing out. Who cares though, when you've got Alex Nino providing visuals?

El Nino!

Jack: Right, the usual excellent work by Nino props up an old story with a fairly clever twist ending. It seems to me that a jeweler who could make a watch like this would have known to use a better battery!

Peter: "Weird Wanda" Whitman, once a gorgeous ice skating sensation and one-half (with husband Horace) of the Whirling Whitmans, has a complete mental breakdown when her husband leaves her for another man. Well, at least that's what Ben Grant, co-owner (with Wanda) of a top-notch ice skating rink, wants the world to think. Actually, Ben conked Horace on the noggin when the latter threatened to turn the former over to the police for embezzlement. Now, Ben patiently waits for the missing Horace to be pronounced dead so that he can off Wanda and take ownership of the rink completely. When the seven years are up, Ben puts his dastardly scheme into effect but Horace proves he's aces on the ice, even as a ghost. We've seen these DC Mystery villains murder over sexy women, over multi-million dollar inheritances, over buried treasure, but over an ice skating rink? Geez, how dated does this story feel? The pedestrian script is not helped any by a rare "phone-in" from Ernie Chan, whose work here could be mistaken for that of John Calnan.

Jack: After being missing for seven years, Horace was declared legally dead. Did anyone else learn that from the Superman TV show, as I did? Didn't a crook hide in a lead-lined box for seven years so he could be declared dead and free from prosecution, or something like that? Of course, that makes perfect sense. Note from the panels reproduced here that ghostly Horace is a dead ringer for Bruce Wayne. At the end of the story, Mr. Grant is found frozen under the ice. How did he get under there and how did the ice freeze so quickly? Is Horace not only a keen skater but also a whiz behind the controls of a Zamboni?

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 160

"Death of an Exorcist"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Rico Rival

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

"The Fear Master"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Sparling
(reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected #88, May 1965)

"Bewitched for a Day"
Story Uncredited
Art by Bill Ely
(reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected #5, September 1956)

"The Riddle of the Glass Bubble"
Story Uncredited
Art by Mort Meskin
(reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected #18, October 1957)

"Panic in the Dark"
Story by Bill Dennehy (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Lee Elias

"The Wizard of the Diamond World"
Story Uncredited
Art by Bill Ely
(reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected #93, March 1966)

"Doom Was My Inheritance"
Story Uncredited
Art by Gene Colan
(reprinted from My Greatest Adventure #74, December 1962)

"The Man Who Was Death!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jim Mooney
(reprinted from House of Mystery #5, August 1952)

"The Unlucky Birthstones"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ramona Fradon and Charles Paris
(reprinted from House of Mystery #56, November 1956)

"The Enchanted Costumes"
Story Uncredited
Art by Mort Meskin
(reprinted from House of Secrets #6, October 1957)

"Among Us Dwells a Man-Beast"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Jack: Clyde is wooing wealthy Marla, but her father sees right through the con man/paramour. When Mr. Peters threatens Clyde with a knife during a car ride, Clyde loses control of the car and it crashes, sparing Peters but killing Clyde, whose body disappears under water. Peters is tortured by Clyde's voice in his head and undergoes a physical transformation, becoming haggard and ugly. An exorcist appears on the scene and discovers Satan lurking in the Peters home, but soon they witness the "Death of an Exorcist" and Satan seems to triumph. But wait: the exorcist is Clyde in disguise, having planned to give Peters's soul to Satan so Marla would be free to marry. Satan is not satisfied with losing Peters, so he takes Clyde and heads back to Hell. How does Kashdan do it? Issue after issue, he pumps out such convoluted and ridiculous stories! The plot twists come so fast and furious that it can be hard to keep up, not that it's often worth the trouble.

"Death of an Exorcist"

Peter: Another of those Scooby-Doo endings we hate so much. I'll never understand why a guy with supernatural powers, in this case a warlock, would need to connive and manipulate his way into an inheritance. Why doesn't he just wave his wand and make a pile of dough appear? And don't warlocks have more important things to covet, like the souls of little children or something? When exactly did Clyde make this bargain with Satan? Before or after the car went into the drink?

What we see in the mirror each morning.
Jack: Dr. George Mowbray calls the police to confess to murder. He thinks back to how his nagging, greedy wife Lucille resented the extra time he had to spend at work to afford her expensive tastes. To keep up his studies he needs a steady supply of corpses, which can be provided by a shadowy figure. When the latest fresh corpse is that of his wife, Mowbray suddenly realizes that he is the one who has been killing people to supply their corpses for study. How often have we seen this twist? Too often, I think. The unreliable narrator gimmick is wearing thin!

Peter: I had the "shock" ending figured out the second Mowbray's new assistant showed up and refused to show his face to the boss (and to us). This plot has been done several times before and, I hasten to add, chances are good it was done better.

We can't see!
Jack: Poor young Ben, confined to a wheelchair, likes to give scraps of food to a friendly squirrel who visits his window. His mother rushes off to the hospital to see his father, who was in an accident, so Ben is left home alone. A tramp enters the home and plans to rob it, locking Ben in a closet until a pack of hungry squirrels scratch their way through the closet door to call for help. Soon, the thief lies at the foot of the stairs, having fallen and injured his leg. When Ben's parents return home, they find the thief dead on the kitchen floor, food for the hungry squirrels. Paging Marie Provost, immortalized in song by Nick Lowe as the silent film star eaten by her pet dog after she died, alone and forgotten. Sadly, we don't get a good look at the last meal.

Peter: Mother of the year nomination goes to our little hero's mom, who leaves her wheelchair-bound youngster to fend for himself at night. Is it just me, or is it strange that mom and son don't seem too shaken up (in fact, they're all smiles in that last panel) after watching  a man being devoured by squirrels on their kitchen floor?

Where wolf?
Jack: Villagers suspect a werewolf as the beast that has killed their livestock and now has taken a human life. Mayor Hendrick vows to buy silver bullets and hunt the fiend at the next full moon. Right on schedule, the werewolf appears and is shot down--it is Hendrick, who did not have the nerve to take his own life. At only four pages, there is little plot development, yet this is the closest thing to a decent new story in this sub-par issue of Unexpected.

Peter: The outcome was predictable but the fact that Hendricks puts into play his own death by pushing for the silver bullets is a nice twist. Two solid art jobs by Yandoc in this issue.

Jack: I was reading an article in Back Issue, my new favorite fanzine, and it said that teens who visited the DC offices in the late 1960s were handed free, original art from the vaults to take home. I have to wonder if they gave away all the good stuff and that's why we're seeing the dregs in the reprints at this point. Two stood out for me this time: "Doom Was My Inheritance," a 1962 effort by Gene Colan with flashes of the brilliance that would flourish at Marvel in the late '60s and '70s, and "The Unlucky Birthstones," from 1956, with art by Ramona Fradon, who has come out of nowhere to become a quirky favorite of mine.

Early Colan magic!

Peter: It's obvious that, by the end of 1974, the poor guy who scoured all the back issues of Secrets, Mystery, Unexpected, and My Greatest Adventure had mined all the gold that was to be had and was forced to begin reprinting the "second best" stuff in these 100-page behemoths. What we're left with now are mostly faux supernatural tales that are explained away in the final panel. Witness "Bewitched for a Day," where the dim-witted protagonist, Henry, wishes for something new in his hum-drum life and has his prayers answered when everything is flipped on its head. His wife is now a gorgeous blonde, his son has had a sex change, and everyone at work has a new face. Of course, the upswing, in the end, is that his wife had "noticed him brooding lately" and conspired with a hidden camera TV show to play a big trick on her hubby. If this particular fantasy had been played out over at Warren, Henry would have buried a hatchet into his scheming wife's noggin but this wet noodle just chuckles and sighs. Echoes of the Talking Heads in Henry's rant on the splash: "This isn't my house! And these aren't my wife and child!"



Best Script: Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley, "The Night of the Teddy Bear" (HOM #222)
Best Art: Alfredo Alcala, "The Night of the Teddy Bear"
Best All-Around Story: "The Night of the Teddy Bear"

Worst Script: George Kashdan, "Flight Into Fright" (Weird Mystery Tales #14)
Worst Art: Don Perlin, "Murder by Madness" (Unexpected #154)
Worst All-Around Story: Carl Wessler/Jerry Grandenetti 
                                          "Something Sinister About Uncle Harry" (The Witching Hour #45)


  1 "The Night of the Teddy Bear"
  2 "Like Father, Like Son" (House of Secrets #116)
  3 "The Specter's Last Stand" (Ghosts #25)
  4 "Nobody Hurts My Brother!" (House of Secrets #115)
  5 "The Man Who Died Twice" (House of Mystery #225)
  6 "Lady Killer" (Weird Mystery Tales #10)
  7 "Pay the Piper" (House of Secrets #125)
  8 "The Sunken Pearls of Captain Hatch" (Weird Mystery Tales #10)
  9 "The Specter of the Dark Devourer" (Ghosts #31)
10 "Visit from a Strange Specter" (Ghosts #33)


Best Script: Jack Oleck, "Garden of Evil" (House of Mystery 226)
Best Art: Bill Payne, "Blood on the Moon" (Ghosts 31)
Best All-Around Story: "The Man Who Died Twice" (House of Mystery 225)

Worst Script: George Kashdan, "Hound You to Your Grave" (Secrets of Sinister House 16)
Worst Art: Jerry Grandenetti, "The House That Death Built" (Secrets of Sinister House 18)
Worst All-Around Story: George Kashdan and Don Perlin, "The Freaky Phantom of Watkins Glen" (Ghosts 26)


1 "Evil Power" (Weird Mystery Tales 9)
2 "Puglyon's Crypt" (House of Secrets 116)
3 "Lady Killer" (Weird Mystery Tales 10)
4 "The Very Last Picture Show" (House of Secrets 118)
5 "The Claws of Death!" (House of Mystery 224)
6 "The Right Demon Could Do It" (House of Secrets 120)
7 "The Man Who Died Twice" (House of Mystery 225)
8 "Child's Play" (House of Secrets 121)
9 "Garden of Evil" (House of Mystery 226)
10 "The Carriage Man" (House of Mystery 227)

Next Up... The Best DC War Stories of 1963!
On Sale June 15th!


AndyDecker said...

Your really should add "Best cover" to your best/worst listing. The cover art even of duds like "Ghost" is sometimes way ahead of the tepid stories. Just think of the melting ice-cone-face. Even the kids in a haunted house motif, which is done too often, have some atmospheric covers.

Jack Seabrook said...

Andy, that's a great idea. I'll add it to the list for 1975!

Todd Mason said...

GHOSTS's covers Always were better than the stories! Even moreso than the other titles. You've caught up with the first HOUSE OF SECRETS I bought off a spinner rack...goodness.

Jack Seabrook said...

Isn't it funny how you remember things like that? It's always the covers that trigger the memory. I remember sitting in front of my grandmother's house in 1968 in Texas reading Brave and the Bold #78, which has a cover date of July 1968. That's about as far back as I can recall a specific comic, since I had just turned 5.