Monday, July 20, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Fifty-Seven: March 1975

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

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 36

"The Vengeance of the Ghoul"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Fred Carrillo

"The Phantom Hound"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Don Perlin

"The Boy Who Returned From the Grave"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by E.R. Cruz

Jack: In a remote Kenyan village in 1929, someone has stolen ivory from the village storehouse, so the villagers approach the local graveyard, where a spectre-like ghoul points out the culprit. A youth named Kamba confesses when identified but begs for his life and, for the first time, the ghoul agrees to spare him because of his youth. Five years later, Arab traders arrive to enslave the villagers, but Kamba leads them to the graveyard, where the slave traders face "The Vengeance of the Ghoul." Standard Ghosts fare, but for a change Dorfman tells a half-decent story.

"The Vengeance of the Ghoul"

Peter: Again, we find that the best thing about most of these Ghosts stories is the title. At least we get decent artwork from Fred Carrillo but Dorfman (as usual) forgets to fill us in on some of the important details (what's this ghoul's back story and, if he's a ghoul, how come he's not snacking on any corpses?).

Jack: The streets of the big city were a harsh place for a blind beggar and his dog in 1970, but when Eric Blair kills the blind man in a hit and run accident he finds himself tracked and killed by "The Phantom Hound," which appears to be the ghost of the man he killed. Dreadful from start to finish, this is an early contender for worst of 1975.

The 1970s produced some terrible comic art!

Watch out for those eyes!
Peter: I'm allergic to anything with Don Perlin's name attached but I managed to make it all the way through this (duty!) only to find it was as stupid as I expected it to be. Did they really bury the bad guy in the hole the dog dug? The logistics of that act would be more interesting to me than the story we're presented with.

Jack: In 1911, a boy named Maxim is pronounced dead and buried, but his mother senses him calling two days later and has the coffin dug up. "The Boy Who Returned From the Grave" now has white hair and a strange stare. Worst of all is his ability to tell folks when they're about to die. Shunned by society, he grows up lonely until the day when he foresees the death of his beloved parents and himself in a fire. He picks a fight so they throw him out and he dies alone in a fire, having saved the people who loved him most. I have to hand it to Leo Dorfman, this is a pretty good story, and E. R. Cruz's art doesn't hurt!

Peter: This creepy little tale has some very nice art by E.R. Cruz and a satisfying twist ending.

Luis Dominguez
Weird Mystery Tales 16

"The Curse of the Fool Moon"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Frank Robbins

"The Witches' Way"
Story by Paul Levitz
Art by Noly Panaligan

"Neely's Scarecrow"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Alex Nino

Peter: Uber-nerd Courtney is the butt of many jokes at F. Wertham High (inside joke alert!) but the bullies have gone one step too far and Courtney seeks professional help. He finds aid in an old witch who gives the boy an incantation that will transform him into a werewolf for three nights but... (there's always a but) if Courtney fails to read the counter-spell on the fourth night, he'll remain a lycanthrope until the day he dies. When the change comes, Courtney discovers he has no control over the beast so, on successive nights, his animal side rips and tears through bullies and stuck-up cheerleaders. Since all he wanted was to scare his tormentors, the troubled teen rushes home on the fourth day to read the anti-spell, only to find his mom has cleaned his room and burned the offensive book (no more "occult trash" for her little boy), leaving Courtney to dread "The Curse of the Fool Moon" for the rest of his life. Any bits of wit, humor, and suspense are buried under the tons of rubble known as Frank Robbins artwork. The first victim (well, the first victim if you don't count the reader), cheerleader Marcie, seems to be levitating and performing a Pilates workout all while being torn apart on the splash page. In a flashback, several pages later, Marcie is shown to be about twelve feet tall or else Courtney is a dwarf. All in a day's work for Frank.

Frank Robbins' cheerleader defies gravity.

Jack: When I saw that this was drawn by Frank Robbins, my heart sank and I expected a train wreck. I suppose my expectations were so low that I was pleasantly surprised. The art fit the story, which was above average for what we've been reading in the DC horror books.

Some of Noly Panaligan's gorgeous
art from "The Witches' Way"
Peter: Melissa, daughter of the Duke of Kobar, wants to rule the kingdom but knows several bodies will have to be buried before that can become reality, so she enlists the aid of a local witch to dispose of her two brothers. The only obstacle becomes the Duke himself but then Melissa becomes worried that the old witch will spill the beans so she decides to make the ancient crone victim #3. Unfortunately for Melissa, witches don't die easily and the old biddy angrily reveals to Melissa the small print on the contract: the Duke's daughter is transformed into an old witch herself! A weak climax to an otherwise decent story, "The Witches' Way" is highlighted by the exquisitely detailed pencils of newcomer Noly Panaligan, the latest winner in DC's Filipino artist harvest of the mid-1970s. Noly's style would best be described as "Luis Dominguez Meets Reed Crandall." Luckily, we'll see more of Panaligan in the future.

Jack: I agree with you--good story with a letdown of an ending. The art is impressive but somewhat static, like illustrations in a book rather than dynamic comic art. I hope we see more of this artist and that he loosens up a bit.

Peter: Luke Barrow is a ruffian and a cad; no one would argue that. He scares little kids with his tales of living scarecrows and manhandles the beautiful Lil, a gal he couldn't afford to make time with if she let him. When Luke sees Lil in the street with another guy, a richer guy, he goes a bit nuts and decides to rob Mr. Neely and take Lil out for a night on the town. Unfortunately for the bungling thief, Mr. Neely comes home and catches Luke in the act. Barrow accidentally kills Neely and hoofs it, posse in pursuit. The only way to hide is to empty the straw and take his place in the clothes of "Neely's Scarecrow." The ruse works until the little boys return to test the theory of living scarecrows with a pitchfork. I'm a sucker for a good scarecrow story (and sometimes, even a bad one will do) and "Neely's Scarecrow" fits the bill. Michelinie (fast becoming the heir to Michael Fleisher for Best DC Horror Story Writer) weaves together both plot threads organically without resorting to glaring contrivances; it all seems to fit naturally. Nino's work, as always, is suitably creepy, with the obvious standout being the aftermath of the boys' experiment (right). Sure to be Top Ten this year, eh, Jack?

Jack: I liked it, but not in a Top Ten kind of way. The story kind of ambled along until the chilling ending, though even that was predictable. I complained about Panaligan's art needing to be looser; well, Nino's art in this story is almost too loose and scratchy for me, and I'm a big fan of Alex Nino's work. I had the same thought about Michelinie channeling Fleisher and that final, shadowy panel is a winner.

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 52

"The Hidden and the Hideous"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Lee Elias

"Honeymoon for a Corpse"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Don Perlin

"Flowers for Your Funeral"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by June Lofamia

Jack: Ernest Hoskins arrives late for his morning train and boards one that happens to be waiting for him. He spends the day in a daze, wondering if he's going out of his mind. That night, he takes the train home and is greeted at the door by monstrous versions of his wife and children, all of whom try to kill him. When they succeed, he reverts to similarly monstrous form. Carl Wessler has a knack for writing stories that are a) stupid and b) make no sense. Lee Elias tries his best to illustrate this dreck in order to clarify it, but "The Hidden and the Hideous" should have stayed hidden.

We just don't get it!

Peter: I have no idea what Carl Wessler was trying to say here. Is this his idea of a "deep meaning" story? If so, keep trying, Carl.

Peter makes Jack read another issue
Jack: Spencer becomes Wilma's fourth husband but faces a "Honeymoon for a Corpse," since her family disobeyed Satan in the past and now the Dark Lord comes once a year to claim another soul. Wilma loves Spencer and gives her life willingly to spare him. Too bad we were not spared this disaster of a story. And I thought the one before it was bad! Did Don Perlin get paid for this art?

Peter: Look out, Jack, I think we're in danger of scraping the bottom of the barrel! Don Perlin really is one of the worst artists ever to work in the majors but "Honeymoon for a Corpse" is really bad even by Perlin standards. George Kashdan contributes another one of his "Duh!" twist endings.

The female mind at
work, according to
Carl Wessler
Jack: Lucy Royce grows jealous when she spies on her hubby and sees him bringing flowers to another woman. She mails the woman a poisoned box of candy so that her rival will be pushing up daisies. Soon, though, Lucy will need "Flowers for Your Funeral," when she finds out that her husband was moonlighting as a flower delivery man to earn money to buy her a birthday present. The woman to whom he repeatedly delivered flowers gave him a box of candy to give to Lucy and, when she eats a piece, she drops dead of her own poison. The best thing about this story is that it's only four pages long. Lofamia wins Best Artist of This Issue by a nose.

Peter: A little clarity is needed: did Lucy ask the candy manufacturer to pop poison in the chocolate nut clusters or did she pack the box herself? If she was responsible for mailing (which I'm sure she was), how could she not have recognized the box of candy her hubby was handing to her? Much ado about nothing but these things make me scratch my head. Here's a four-page story where three-quarters of the running time is devoted to Lucy exclaiming "I'll kill them!" and making mean faces.

When Worst of the Year time comes, I may have to break tradition and pick this entire issue.

Jack: I'll second that!

Nestor Redondo &
Berni Wrightson
The House of Mystery 229

"Sir Greeley's Revenge!"
(Reprinted from The House of Mystery #181, August 1969)

"Sour Note!"
(Reprinted from The House of Mystery #179, April 1969)

"Nightmare Castle"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Nestor Redondo

Out of place? Yep, originally slotted for Secrets of Sinister House #6 (Sept. 72)

"The Dead Can Kill!"
(Reprinted from The House of Mystery #183, December 1969)

"I Was a Spy For Them"
Story Uncredited
Art by Mort Meskin
(Reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected #16, August 1957)

"Mask of the Red Fox"
(Reprinted from The House of Mystery #187, August 1970)

Peter: Newlyweds Carol and Phil Landon are heading for their honeymoon when the car breaks down in a torrential downpour and Phil must hoof it for help, leaving Carol behind. A stranger approaches the car and tells Carol that he works for a nice family who live up the road in a big mansion and that he can provide shelter from the storm, so Carol not so smartly agrees. Once she gets to "Castle Trull," Carol becomes a prisoner and later learns she will be married off to the son of Mrs. Trull, the mentally deranged and devil-worshipping Laurence Trull. Though she tries, Carol cannot fight the hypnotic powers of Laurence and his mother. Mrs. Trull explains that Carol was, in fact, the identical twin sister of Laurence's betrothed. Years before, Laurence had wrapped his sports car around a tree and killed his fiance, losing his marbles in the process. Mrs. Trull then tracked down Carol and engineered her entire journey to "Nightmare Castle." Just after the ceremony, hubby Phil pops up out of the blue to rescue Carol and drag her away from "Nightmare Castle." Down the road, they're picked up by the town sheriff, who scoffs at the story the young couple tell. An impossible scenario, claims the cop, since Laurence and his mother were burned at the stake as witches a century before. Carol and Phil go back to their life, trying to forget the horror they'd endured but something keeps nagging at lovely Carol. Months later, she happily tells Phil she's expecting but, when the baby is born, the couple recoil in fear: the cute little nipper has his dad's horns and hooves.

Revealed at last!
Jack's baby picture!
Robert Kanigher's "Nightmare Castle" is an over-stuffed relic of a bygone day, the last of the "Gothic mysteries" that DC was dabbling in at the beginning of the 1970s (at least, I hope it's the last one). In fact, according to the GCD, the story was originally slated for Secrets of Sinister House #6 (September 1972) but shelved, ostensibly, because Secrets was down-sized from its previous 52 pages to 36 and also because of a general steering away from the Gothic genre. So, why wait over two years to dust this one off the shelf and subject us to it? Because it was there and paid for. Padded out to an insufferable 36-page length, "Nightmare Castle" suffers not only from its snail-like pace but also from (and this is an old complaint, I know) a general lack of interest on the part of the writer. Kanigher was without peer in the war comics genre but would leave no cliche untackled when it came to his rare excursions into mystery land. It's inconceivable to me that, when Bob turned in his script for "Nightmare," editor Joe Orlando didn't remind Kanigher that the little baby with horns twist had been done very effectively only a few years before and might still be fresh in the public's mind. Also befuddling is the reaction to the child's appearance by the delivering doctor and nurse, who seem unfazed by the li'l devil.

Jack: Other than the sequence where the dead rise from their graves as ghouls or ghosts, this really doesn't seem to fit in House of Mystery, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. As you point out, Kanigher pulls out every cliche in the Gothic romance genre. It is a dark and stormy night when the newly married couple's car runs out of gas. A spooky butler named Boris leads the wife to a castle. There is a lost twin. Some of the lines are worth repeating:

"The crimson shapeless mask that had once been his companion's face bubbled in front of his shocked stare."

"I don't know who these cats are--but you're my woman!"

Kanigher displays an unfortunate tendency toward hip lingo, such as "groovy," but the story is fun and moves along quickly.

Not the brightest colonoscope in the lab
Peter: Since four of the five reprints have already been covered in past posts, that leaves only the anemic "I Was A Spy for Them," wherein a scientist concocts a "spectra-magnet," a gizmo that "absorbs light--and retains it!" The invention comes in handy when the prof meets up with aliens who promise him vast secrets of the universe in exchange for some of Earth's vital diagnostics. As we've learned from various DC 1960s reprints, these scientists can actually be pretty dopey so it's no surprise to us, but quite to him, when the aliens turn out to be invaders. Luckily for our quasi-hero, these aliens are made up of "light" and he uses his heretofore useless "spectra-magnet" to soak the baddies up. It's harmless fun, nothing requiring any heavy lifting (or attention, for that matter), and it's graced by the very Gene Colan-esque pencils of Mort Meskin. Though the 100-page experiment was doubtless nipped in the bud due to expenses (and dwindling sales), DC pulled the plug at about the right time since the pickings of quality oldies were becoming quite slim. Still, to this day, the jumbo-sizers hold a fond place in many a fan's heart.

Jack: I love the 100-page comics but after reading through the DC horror selections I conclude that the superhero 100-pagers were much better. I read them all as a kid and loved seeing the stories from the '40s and '50s. Had I been interested in horror comics at age 11, when this issue came out, I would have been disappointed to find it filled with Gothic romance and reprints of stories from only a few years go. Still, the art is above-average, with Redondo turning in his usual good job on the new tale and reprints featuring work by Toth and Wrightson. As for Meskin, I always see more Kirby than Colan in his work.

Luis Dominguez
The House of Secrets 129

"Almost Human"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Franc Reyes

"The Lottery"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russ Carley
Art by Ernie Chua

Peter: Martha Kenyon has a dream of being young and pretty again. To that end, she enlists her husband, Lyle, and a guide, Grayson, to seek out the bee people, a legendary lost race located deep in the Amazon jungle. Martha's theory is that the bee people can teach her the theory behind "royal jelly" and she can apply that formula to turn back the hands of time. Things don't go well, unfortunately, and Martha is taken prisoner by the "Almost Human" tribe while Grayson is murdered (by Martha) and Lyle is critically injured. Lyle makes it back to civilization and brings the police back with him to search for his wife. After a long search, the men find Martha in a special "hive" in her new role as the Queen Bee.

A fat woman in pink jammies
was the best Reyes could produce?
This is not that bad of a story (even though I'm pretty much burnt out by both the "secret-race" and "thoughtless-explorers" sub-genres) but it's padded to the teeth with lots of needless expository panels. Even the "reveal" is padded; Oleck gives us several panels of Lyle and the police reacting in horror to Martha's new appearance which is, when all is said and done, pretty tame. Martha's gained quite a bit of weight but it's not like she's got a huge stinger on her bottom or yellow and black stripes on her skin (think blonde Cass Elliott). Newcomer Franc Reyes' work reminds me of Arthur Suydam, an artist we haven't seen enough of (but who'll pop up here in just a couple issues), nice and atmospheric (other than the "reveal," that is). I would have liked to learn more about these bee people though and since Oleck was afforded a few extra pages more than usual, I'm disappointed that bit of expository was ignored.

Jack: If you're going to steal from Roald Dahl, whose short story "Royal Jelly" shares some of the ideas in Oleck's story but handles them much better, you should at least make sure you have a bang-up ending, which this tale does not. I see Suydam in Reyes's art and I also see Wrightson influences. The big reveal at the end ruins the story, since Martha is just big and fat. Your suggestion of stripes and a stinger would have been better.

Peter: Businessman Bill Martin gets on the wrong train and ends up trapped for a weekend in a rural town known as Plumber's Junction. There's not much to do in the Junction but at least Bill showed up in time for "The Lottery." The winner, Bill is told, is handed a cashier's check for fifty grand. At the ceremony, Bill is dumbfounded to learn he's the winner but also mystified as to why the town mayor needs the name and address of Bill's wife. Soon after surrendering the information, Bill is clubbed over the head and wakes up in a cemetery as food for a vampire. We discover that the town has made a deal with the local blood-sucker: they'll offer up a sacrifice every year and the vamp will leave Plumber's Junction off the menu. Kind of a cute tale, one that you'd expect to go the (obvious) Shirley Jackson route but heads off into a different direction. I'd question the validity of a vampire who will sleep all year and take only one victim during that period and I would assume the widow would make inquiries into the writer of the check but you soon forget these little nits while perusing some of the nicest Chan art we've seen during this journey. Almost resembles Alfredo at times.

Jack: Happy "Steal From Classic Short Stories" month at the House of Secrets! If the first story cribbed from Roald Dahl, this one borrows heavily from Shirley Jackson, except this time, instead of the winner being stoned to death, he is killed by a vampire. I can only imagine how Russ Carley sold this one to Mike Fleisher:  "Mike! I read a real cool story and I think if we just change it a little bit here and there we can make it work!" Sheesh!

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 162

"I'll Bug You to Your Grave"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"Half a Man is Better Than None!'
(But Don't You Believe It)"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Bill Draut
(Reprinted from Unexpected #110, January 1969)

"When Is It My Time to Die?"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alex Nino

"Steps to Disaster!"
(reprinted from Unexpected #116, January 1970)

"The Corpse That Didn't Die!"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Pat Boyette
(reprinted from Unexpected 112, May 1969)

"The Vengeful Windmill!"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Bill Draut
(reprinted from Unexpected #109, November 1968)

"Friday the 13th Club"
Story Uncredited
Art by Curt Swan and John Fischetti
(Reprinted from The House of Mystery #4, July 1952)

"That Deard Old Gang of Mine"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Abe Ocampo

"I Fell in Love with a Witch!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Curt Swan and Stan Kaye
(Reprinted from The House of Mystery #1, January 1951)

"Free Me From the Bewitched Bell!"
Story Uncredited
Art by George Roussos
(Reprinted from My Greatest Adventure #71, September 1962)

"Master of the Voodoo Machine!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Bernard Baily
(Reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected #104, January 1968)

"The Man Who Betrayed Earth"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Kirby
(Reprinted from The House of Mystery #72, March 1958)

Jack: Mr. Elwyn hires Mr. Casey, an expert in electronic surveillance, to listen in on Mr. Franke, who is blackmailing various people, including Elwyn. One night, when Franke is alone in a pool, he is murdered by a shadowy figure. Elwyn then tells Casey to find Franke's hidden stash of money. Casey listens in at Franke's house, where his wife and daughter search for the hidden money. Hearing Franke's voice direct him toward the mausoleum, Casey plans to find and keep the money, but Elwyn and a goon surprise him and join him inside the mausoleum for the final stages of the search. Franke's disembodied voice leads them to a hidden cache of explosives and they are killed in the explosion. Franke's wife and daughter arrive on the scene and his ghost directs them to the money before going to its final resting place. Kashdan's muddled plotting is at work once again in "I'll Bug You to Your Grave." I could not figure out who killed Franke in the pool, but does it matter? This is yet another confusing story with an unsatisfying ending.

Peter: "I'll Bug You" is one of the better George Kashdan tales I've read. It's got a clever twist and some nice art but what is Alma doing in that final panel? Twister?

Right foot blue!

Jack: In his little curio shop, hippie/mystic Mr. Erghon is able to answer accurately the question his customers pose: "When is it My Time to Die?"  The police are suspicious, especially since each person who dies exhibits a cloven hoof print burned into their forehead. Policewoman Burke is assigned to follow Erghon but finds the real killer to be Dr. Welles. His daughter was killed in a freak accident when a bottle thrown from a passing bus window knocked her off her horse. Dr. Welles has been killing all of the passengers on that bus, one by one, since he could not know which one threw the bottle. He uses a laser gun to kill and it leaves a mark like a cloven hoof on the foreheads of his victims. Burke is saved from the mad doctor at the last moment by the cops, who are led to her location by Erghon, who had a vision that she was in danger.

Alex Nino turns in the best artistic performance of the month, but Kashdan's story is a confusing ripoff of one of Cornell Woolrich's best novels, Rendezvous in Black (1948), where a bottle carelessly thrown from an airplane window kills a bride and her distraught husband murders each of the men on the plane. I guess if you're going to plagiarize, it's good to use a quality source.

Remind you of anything?

Peter: Two decent Kashdan thrillers in one issue? Mabel, get my heart medication! This one's a nifty surprise, tantamount to a 1970s updating of one of those faux-supernatural stories we've been reading as reprints.

Jack: Jeff Rudley loved nothing more than playing poker with his friends, so when the last one dies he sinks into a depression. Soon, the police discover that someone has been digging up the graves of "That Deard Old Gang of Mine." It doesn't take much investigating to locate the corpses, sitting propped up around a card table in a gruesome game of poker that has but one living member. Ocampo's art is fine and the shock ending makes this story enjoyable.

Looks like fun!

Peter: And... then there's Carl Wessler. Carl manages to bring me back to Earth after such a great start to this final 100-page Super Spooktacular. The first half of "That Dead Old Gang of Mine" is like one of those gawdawful Hallmark movies, sappy and meandering, and the "shock" finale has been done several times before and much better.

Jack: With this issue, the DC Horror line's 100-pagers come to an end. Next month, it's back to normal size, and not a moment too soon. Other than the two stories from the early '50s with Curt Swan art, the reprints would have been better off in the dustbin of comics history.

"I Fell in Love With a Witch!"

Peter: The last 100-page DC mystery title ever is stuffed full of unspectacular reprints, the only standouts being of historical note. The only plus to "The Corpse That Didn't Die" is the striking art by Pat Boyette. What will Cyrus Marshall do now that he knows he's unloved? Does he go on with his charade? An intriguing premise but we're left high and dry by Dave Wood's abrupt climax. "The Man Who Betrayed Earth" is cut from the same cloth as the Jack Kirby tales that would become the norm a few years later in the pages of Marvel's science fiction anthologies and "I Fell in Love with a Witch" has some gorgeous art (but a snooze-worthy script) and the distinction of having been the very first story in the very first issue of House of Mystery. While the other publishers were clogging the stands with blood and guts, DC was taking the high road with tame material such as "Witch" and "Friday the 13th Club."

Oui! Oui! It's the return of Jack's favorite French femme fatale, Mademoiselle Marie, along with the first-ever team-up of Sgt. Rock, Johnny Cloud, and the men of The Haunted Tank! Don't miss the 58th Bombshell-Blasting Issue of Star Spangled DC War Stories!
                                    On Sale July 27th!

No comments: