Monday, October 26, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Sixty-Four: October 1975

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

Luis Dominguez
Ghosts 43

"The River of Phantoms"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Frank Redondo

"The Boy Who Cried Ghosts"
Story Uncredited
Art by Buddy Gernale

"Specter in the Stone"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by J. B. Ingente

"3 Corpses on a Rope"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Lee Elias

Jack: Kurov, a Nobel Prize winner in physics, tells reporters that he escaped the Soviet Union with the aid of a ghostly boatman, who ferried him safely along "The River of Phantoms." His story is seconded by the captain of the ship on which he now travels. In 1906, the captain's family had fled Czar Nicholas with the aid of the same ghostly boatman, who turned them all into specters just long enough to avoid being killed by bullets from the czar's soldiers. An unusually evocative story from Wessler, it made me look up Kurov and the Ghostly Boatman of the Dnieper but, alas, both appear to be invented. There is a real river by that name, though.

Peter: The art by Frank Redondo keeps this one from being a total waste of time.

Jack: Belgium, 1970, and young Jean-Pierre is "The Boy Who Cried Ghosts." After he annoys his grandparents twice with his hollering, they lock him out the third time, and soon Gramps finds Jean-Pierre dead in the cemetery outside. Three pages is plenty for a silly little story like this.

Peter: This one made no sense at all to me. How did Jean-Pierre die? And how would he then see his own ghost?

Jack: Alabama, 1904, and train engineer Robert Musgrove is killed in a crash just before he is to be wed. His wife soon disappears, but later local residents observe a "Specter in the Stone," an image of the young woman imprinted on the monument that marks Robert's grave. Another short tale--two pages--but decent art.

Peter: Another confusing one. So the woman died and then became part of the stone? How much time passed before she became part of that stone? Ingente was yet another member of the Filipino Invasion at DC and, while he displays a nice style, he only had a few more credits (chief among them as inker on a couple issues of DC's Kong the Untamed) before dropping out of sight altogether.

Jack: Baltimore, 1849, and three medical students steal the body of Edgar Allan Poe from its grave to sell for anatomy studies. A church bell rings and Poe's ghost warns the men that they will be "3 Corpses on a Rope" and that they all will die by the rope that rings the bill. One by one, they pass away, the first two at the foot of the bell tower and the third under water when he tries to dispose of the deadly rope. Messing with real people is dangerous, as Wessler discovers in this tepid tale, but Lee Elias surely could have done a better job of rendering the writer whose face is so well known.

Peter: The climax saves this one from being a total ho-hum. Four strikes and you're out this issue but at least we get pretty pitchers to look at.

Bill Draut
The House of Secrets 136

"Buried Treasure"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Frank Reyes

"Last Voyage of the Lady Luck"
Story by Maxene Fabe
Art by Ramona Fradon

Peter: Jeff Hunt believes that his grandfather's fortune should go to him and not to his two brothers so, after the old man decrees that the grandson who finds the "Buried Treasure" inherits the fortune, Hunt murders his two siblings and prepares to make a "killing." When Gramps falls ill and sends his man-servant, Chin, out on an errand, Hunt pressures his grandfather for the location of the fortune, while confessing to the murders. The old man has some 'fessing of his own to do: he suspected Jeff of the crimes and played ill. Chin enters the room, having heard the entire monologue, and he and Jeff battle. Hunt is accidentally killed and Gramps has him buried in a special coffin: one made of solid gold, his entire fortune.

Right next to "the swamp witch on the edge of the bayou" in the cliched and overused plot device department is the greedy relative. Lord knows Jack Oleck has used this one countless times before and it's showing its age. The only deviation here is, of course, the solid gold coffin. A nice twist but it can't save this from being a bore.

Jack: Boring yes, but I was happy to see a quick bit of karate at the end when Chin chops Jeff. The credit on this story says Frank Reyes but all the way through it looks like Alex Nino was involved, perhaps in the inking. Many of the panels really look like Nino's style.

Peter: Young Paul Parker's parents are lost at sea and he's forced to live with his aunt and uncle, two elderly, crusty barnacles who couldn't care less about the boy and make no bones about it. The old timers are feeling the money pinch as they've just invested all their money in a new ship. Feeling rejected, Paul races from the house with suicide on his mind. He makes his way down to the docks, where he runs into a salty old sea dog who shows Paul the boat his uncle has just bought, a broken-down pile of lumber that may not make its way out of port.

The old man tells Paul there's a way to make sure the ship succeeds and then shows the lad a "mystic ship," a child's size boat on rockers. They take the ship back to the house of his (perturbed) relatives and he learns how to "sail" the toy. Sure enough, his uncle's boat breaks all sea records on its first journey and, soon, the old codgers are rich. Thinking nothing of sharing their wealth with their young ward, the couple instead pressure Paul to keep the fame and fortune alive. Unfortunately, the second trip doesn't go so well and Paul's uncle is fuming, threatening to send the boy to an orphanage if their luck doesn't return. The boy returns to his room and, when the ship leaves for its next voyage, hops back aboard his mystic ship. The next morning, Paul's uncle bursts in to share the good news: the voyage had been a success. He finds the lifeless body of Paul, his lungs filled with water.

A very downbeat ending to this enchanting fable (well, excise all the child labor laws being broken and it's a bit of a light fantasy, no?), which rewards the guilty and punishes the innocent, something we see very little of here in the DC Mystery titles. Ramona Fradon's art has run hot and cold for me but, on "Last Voyage of the Lady Luck," it's bullseye perfect, cartoony enough for the subject matter and whimsical enough to make the reader expect a happy ending. Then Maxene Fabe lowers the boom! If the story ran uncredited, I'd swear this was from the desk of Michael Fleisher. Only Mike has been this mean and cruel to his characters in the past. Watch for "Lady Luck" to pull into Top Ten Harbor in a couple months.

Jack: Maxene Fabe does a nice job of "paying tribute to" (ripping off) D.H. Lawrence's 1926 short story, "The Rocking-Horse Winner," even down to naming the boy Paul and following essentially the same plot, replacing a race horse with a sailing ship. If this story caused anyone to seek out Lawrence's fiction, that's a good thing, but without crediting the source that's hard to imagine. Fradon's art is outstanding and reminded me in one panel of something Will Eisner would have drawn in the late '40s.

Bernie Wrightson
The House of Mystery 236

"Death Played a Sideshow"
Story by Coram Nobis (David V. Reed)
Art by Steve Ditko and Mike Royer

"Deep Sleep"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Paul Kirchner and Neal Adams

Peter: Tom Mapes is in love but his object of affection won't have a thing to do with him so he goes to see carnival "spiritualist" Dr. Krupke for advice. Unknown to Tom, Krupke is a con-man and charlatan; he tells the boy to bring all his money to burn in Krupke's urn in order to prove that love is more important than money. Like a dope, Tom falls for the act and brings his entire life savings to burn a little at a time. Krupke switches the dough out for counterfeit, which he burns in his "sacred urn." Once the dough is gone, he tells Tom not to propose marriage for three days (the carnival leaves in two), but the intended gets wind of Tom's foolishness and elopes with another man. When the frazzled and broken-hearted young man comes back to demand his money be returned, the con-man bashes him over the head and dumps his body in the river. When Tom's friends are told of his death, they go to the sheriff and the group hatches a plan. They'll scare Krupke into confessing by having one of the boys pose as Tom's ghost. That night, Krupke is visited by a scary spirit and exits the tent, screaming for sanctuary in jail. The boys are excited that they've succeeded until they find out the ruse got waylaid;  they realize it was really Tom's ghost!

Groan. Not this one again. How many times did we see the old "sorry, Bob, I couldn't get the werewolf make-up on in time, the road washed out, and I got a flat tire, so what happened?" climax when the DC horror titles were chock full of reprints? If you were in love with a girl and she didn't love you back, why would you go to a fortune teller? Didn't this town have a Swamp Witch Haddie like every other DC town? The return of Steve Ditko sounds great in theory but this Ditko wasn't the same guy who lit up our childhoods with Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. By 1975, Steve was doing his work predominately for Charlton but had just set up shop again at DC, where he worked on Shade, the Changing Man, Stalker, and a revival of The Creeper. "Death Played a Sideshow" should have appeared in one of those Charlton titles; it certainly doesn't fit in the House of Mystery.

Jack: Peter, m'boy, you are 100% wrong! Ditko was great at Charlton and his return to DC was wonderful, just like this story. The tale moves along pleasantly and is nice and simple, without the convoluted, confusing twists and turns we see from Wessler and Kashdan. The art is clean, simple and smooth, and I thought it was delightful. I did not see the twist ending coming because I was having such a good time. I know we've seen the "Banquo's Chair" switch a zillion times but for some reason it fits perfectly here.

Peter: John Lawson is summoned to the estate of his friend, Alan Trent, and asked to watch over Alan and his sister Elizabeth should anything happen to them. Alan tells John that he and his sister share a rare disease that makes them appear dead. They both fear being buried alive and ask John to stay with them as a safeguard. Elizabeth dies very soon afterward and Alan inters her in the family mausoleum with a chain connected to a chime inside the house. Should Elizabeth "rise from the dead," she will be saved. John stays but, after a week of no sleep, he's lost his patience. When Alan falls asleep, John chooses that moment to relax a bit as well. Alan awakens, relating a horrible dream about his sister and the men rush to the mausoleum. There they find that Elizabeth had awakened and struggled to leave the tomb but was too weak to succeed. Alan is beside himself and so John agrees to live out his days with the man, feeling guilty that he'd drugged John on the night Elizabeth rang the chimes.

Had the DC Mystery Bullpen run out of ideas by 1975? The two stories in this issue seem to make a good case in the affirmative. "Deep Sleep" is about the most unoriginal Jack Oleck script we've seen. Yes, there have been bad ones, but nothing so cribbed as this Frankenstein-like stitching together of several Poe stories. The return of Neal Adams should be a celebration but if anyone can see a hint of Neal in there, please point it out to me. It's evident to me that Paul Kirchner got his inspiration from old Hammer film stills (Alan Trent is clearly Peter Cushing and in one panel, we get Peter Cushing's head on Chris Lee's Dracula body!), with the rest of the art see-sawing between eerie and uninspiring.  Unfortunately, this issue is a sign of things to come.

Hammer's Greatest Hits

Jack: I was excited when I saw Neal Adams's name on this story, but I am at a loss trying to figure out what he did. Granted, the layouts are kind of nice and there is some spooky work with shadows and color, but the faces and figures look nothing like any Neal Adams art I've ever seen. The last page has a cool layout with three narrow panels depicting a character drinking from a glass; they remind me a bit of what Neal was doing (briefly) in the X-Men during his short run on that title.

Luis Dominguez
Unexpected 169

"What Can Be Worse Than Dying?"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"How Ugly the Face of Death!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"5 Miles to Midnight"
Story by Wesley Marsh (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Lee Elias

Jack: Matt Halstead thinks he got away with sabotaging his own Middle Eastern oil wells to collect the insurance money, but when fall guy Reza shows up and vows revenge, Matt knows he will soon wonder: "What Can Be Worse Than Dying?" Reza was on the receiving end of some Middle Eastern justice that left him missing an arm, a leg and an eye, so when Matt returns to the states his dog is first to feel the pain, losing a leg. His son then loses an arm after a car crash. Matt tries to protect his wife by pretending she lost an eye in a fire, but the fire gets out of control and Matt becomes Reza's last victim, losing an arm, both legs and an eye. I am not one of those fans who loves to see gore, so I found this story to be in bad taste. It's a shame Ruben Yandoc's art is wasted on something like this.

That's just wrong!

Peter: Not bad. Not bad at all, but everything about "What Can Be Worse..." is wrong for Unexpected; it belongs in one of the titles that spotlights darker material like HoS or HoM.

Jack: Wilson staggers through a future wasteland, suffering from radiation poisoning. He is captured and subjected to surgery to try to halt his deterioration, but the operation fails. He is sent back to the wasteland to live among the other freaks, who looks like us--the normal folks below ground look like monsters. "How Ugly the Face of Death!" is derivative but the art is rather impressive. It's funny that the last two stories by Alcala featured similar themes.

In Interlaken, NY, Rod Serling
just rolled over in his grave.
Peter: Should have been titled "Farewell to the Master," as this is the last we'll see of Alfredo Alcala after a tenure of three years and 59 stories. As far as I'm concerned, this journey has only strengthened my argument that Alcala was the best artist who ever drew for the DC Mystery line but, unfortunately, "How Ugly..." is not nearly his best work. Though there's no inker credited, I have to believe there was one involved as this Alcala looks buried under an inkpot. This little 3-page rip-off of "Eye of the Beholder" (from The Twilight Zone) is easily forgotten but what will be remembered are at least a half-dozen horror classics Alfredo put his pencil to from 1972 through 1975.

Jack: While wandering through the Scottish countryside, James Macrae and his young son Donald happen upon the little town of Midnight, where they visit a house to pay their respects to the dead. To James's horror, the townsfolk are celebrating the death of a miser named Angus Ferguson, who suddenly sits up in his coffin, announces that he's not dead, and orders them out of his house. He tells James and Donald that they are the only decent people he has met and gives them the key to his safety deposit box. The townsfolk go crazy and James fights them off, telling Donald to run for it.

Confused and lost, Donald winds up back where he started and has to hide in Ferguson's coffin from the returning townsfolk. His coffin-mate is dead, shot by the villagers, who haul the coffin out for burial. A fight breaks out among the ruffians and Donald is spared, happily reunited with his father. A complicated little story, "5 Miles to Midnight" is easily the highlight of this issue of Unexpected, and Lee Elias's art is growing on me.

Peter: A strange one, this. Boltinoff tricks us into thinking the old man is the villain when he's actually the "innocent." The climax is weak but I liked the set-up enough to give "5 Miles to Midnight" a thumbs-up.

Ernie Chan
Weird Mystery Tales 23

"The Quiz Show"
Story by Michael Fleisher
Art by Fred Carrillo

"Fair Exchange"
Story by Sergio Aragones and Steve Skeates
Art by Wally Wood

Peter: Horace Perkin is caught embezzling by his boss and given one week to repay the 25K he's "borrowed," or it's lights out for Horace. Wonderfully for Horace, his afternoon mail brings an invitation to guest on Outwit the Clock, a TV quiz show which pays out big bucks. Horace arrives at the show and is put through a series of dangerous stunts, such as bobbing for apples while his head is in a guillotine. Horace manages to survive all the ordeals he faces on "The Quiz Show" and is rewarded with a new car and forty grand. Ecstatic, the embezzler drives off the set, through the door and discovers he's been shrunken. He's run over by a taxi and squashed. The host of the show and his three gal-pals all change back into witches and ride their brooms into the night, laughing merrily. Mike Fleisher's script is pretty dumb (although I'll admit the final panel drew half a chuckle) and it's not helped at all by Fred Carrillo's generic art.

Jack: We usually can count on Fleisher for a good story with a killer twist ending, but not here. I was enjoying the story quite a bit, despite the artwork, until the dumb twist at the end. I was thinking, "why did he and his car suddenly shrink?" and then I found out that everyone on the quiz show was a witch! Makes perfect sense. Was it a coincidence that they targeted Horace, or did they know about his embezzling? Fleisher does a good job of satirizing a mid-'70s TV game show, but he should have come up with a better ending to tie the whole thing together.

That's definitely Wally

Peter: Seymour can't stand his rich, smothering Aunt Sybil and the little weasel wants to eliminate her and gain access to her wealth. Seymour's girlfriend has a better idea: they'll trick the gardener, Don Pascual, into murdering Sybil and they'll be free and clear. They drug the man and make him believe he's dying and then Seymour appears in Don's room, disguised as Death. Delirious, the man asks Death if there's any way he can immediately avoid the afterlife and he's told the only way is to murder Sybil and then the Grim Reaper will grant him a stay of ten years. Seymour throws his aunt a party and, at that shindig, Pascual kills Sybil. When Seymour and his girlfriend arrive on scene, they discover that their ruse worked too well and Pascual has gone mad, believing he's made a deal with Death for even more years. He shoots them both. Two "greedy relatives" stories in one month is a bit much but at least "Fair Exchange" has a decent twist in its tail. Wally Wood, much like Steve Ditko, had seen better days. I'm wondering if someone else inked this without credit as there are only a few glimpses of the genius on display here; the art is drab and lifeless, two adjectives I'd never applied to Wally's work before.

This, though, is debatable

Jack: I liked this one quite a bit as well. It looks like mid-1970s Wally Wood to me. Wood's return to DC around this time was exciting to me, just like Ditko's return. As you note, the twist is a good one.

Luis Dominguez
Witching Hour 59

"Reunion in Blood"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"The Hanging Judge"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Buddy Gernale

"The Corpse Wore Shoes"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by E.R. Cruz

Jack: Paul Carlin returns to Carlinsberg at his father's urgent request, only to find his hometown a mess. It seems a monster has been killing townsfolk and being a general nuisance. Paul learns that the monster emanates from his father, whom the villagers were loath to kill. Paul announces that he'll take care of it and goes to his father's house, where he finds that Emil, a servant, has already killed the old man. The fact that the monster's latest rampage occurred after Pop's death means that Paul is a monster, too, and he and Emil grapple until both are dead. The end of "Reunion in Blood" would be more surprising if we didn't see a monster coming out of Paul on the very first page!

Spoiler alert!
Peter: This is not bad for a George Kashdan script (always with my disclaimers, right?) but did Georgie really believe he'd surprise us with that finale? With the exit of Alfredo Alcala (whose last DC horror story appears in this month's Unexpected), Ruben Yandoc becomes the go-to guy for creepy, detailed art.

One angry judge!
Jack: Judge Bradford Karnes is known as "The Hanging Judge" because he sentences murderers to hang each and every time. After having committed murder and receiving a similar sentence, the judge kills his lawyer and escapes from prison, UNEXPECTEDLY also killing the messenger who was bringing word from the governor that his sentence had been commuted. Did I say UNEXPECTEDLY? Oops, wrong comic. Sadly, other than the narration by the three witches, The Witching Hour and Unexpected have become interchangeable.

Peter: Well, we can at least be glad "The Hanging Judge" was only three pages long.

Jack: Lorraine Abernathy is a pretty, hired girl with designs on her employer, Jeb Kemp. When a tornado approaches, Lorraine locks Jeb's wife Julie out of the storm cellar, causing Julie's death. "The Corpse Wore Shoes" that Lorraine fancied, so she steals them from Julie's coffin and takes to wearing them, even to her wedding to Jeb a few months later. Julie's coffin rises from the grave after a flood and then again after an earthquake, but the third time it comes back Lorraine loses her mind and the Kemps find those pretty shoes right back where they belong. Have there been many story titles more mundane than this one? At least we have some nice-looking female types drawn by Mr. Cruz.

Peter: Lori steals the shoes off his dead wife's corpse and all this dope can say is "I wish you'd found a better way to be thrifty!"? Then the guy opens up his wife's coffin in front of his children? There's something a bit off about this family.

Tales of Ghost Castle 3

"The Demon's Here to Stay!"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ernie Chan and Bill Draut

"A Very Private Hell!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Redondo

"In the Eye of the Beholder"
Story by Mal Warwick
Art by Bill Draut

Peter: Andre LeBraun's a big boy and his parents become worried about their son when he starts exhibiting symptoms of telekinesis, which wouldn't be such a big deal if they didn't live in a village known for burning witches at the stake. Andre just wants to be left alone with his dog but, when the village medicine man becomes involved and recommends an exorcism, there's going to be hell to pay. When the votives and pews take to the air and spin, the exorcising priest throws up his hands and the doc turns Andre into the town sheriff. Andre is burnt at the stake and his heartbroken parents return home.

Andre's cur shows up and is given a very unfriendly welcome by Paul LeBrun. Suddenly, the house comes down on Paul and his wife and, as he is dying, the man realizes that the wrong witch was burned at the stake. "The Demon's Here to Stay" is a really long story that meanders; every other panel seems to be Paul and his wife discussing how strange their son is with yet another party. This is the ugliest Ernie Chan art I've ever seen, almost Draut-ish in its awfulness, but the whole affair is semi-saved by a twist I never saw coming. Sometimes that's all it takes to elevate a DC Mystery story from dreck to... well, not complete dreck.

Jack: You taught me well, because I knew it was the dog by page four. Ernie Chan must have drawn stick figures for layouts because this looks 100% Draut to me.

Peter: Tyrone Blake murders his young girlfriend, Tina, when she decides to end their relationship, and then he runs home to his wife and children. But Tyrone can't seem to escape his evil deed, as it plagues his dreams and taints everything he sees. When his wife suggests they move to the country, Tyrone jumps at the chance to escape the city and his memories but, even with the new surroundings he can't shake Tina. The exact opposite of the opening story, "A Very Private Hell!" has a strong foundation, a clever gimmick (Frank Redondo uses a "split screen" format to show how Tyrone sees everything bleakly while his wife takes in the beauty around her), but a weak and inane climax. Bob Kanigher seems to be batting .500 with his mystery stories lately.

Jack: The gimmick of having everyone else see things as they are while Tyrone sees them through a lens of horror was interesting, though never explained. I suppose it was due to his own guilt. Frank Redondo's art is okay, but he's no Nestor.

Peter: Aliens search Earth for civilization and are delighted to find the planet teeming with life. Unfortunately, for mankind, life is in "The Eye of the Beholder" as we discover these visitors are made of metal and they perceive our vehicles as the real civilization. When they spy the occupants of the vehicles, they believe them to be parasites and drop a nasty "bug bomb," wiping out mankind. An amusing three-pager with a nice twist (something we don't see much of in these short-shorts) and the best art you can expect out of Bill Draut.

Jack: I completely agree. This one was fun and the art fit the story perfectly. It's a clever idea to suggest that the machines are the real inhabitants of Earth and that the humans are parasites who latch onto them. Mal Warwick's stories are more science fiction than horror.

Peter: And that ends the three-issue run of Tales of Ghost Castle, a title launched at a time when the sales of the DC Mystery line were dwindling. This won't be the last short-run horror zine launched in the 1970s, as 1978 will see five issues of Doorway to Nightmare, an anthology hosted by Madame Xanadu, a mystic who would find fame and fortune among the spandex decades later. The highlight of DtN was the cover art by Xanadu creator Mike Kaluta.

In the 65th TNT-Pineapple-filled Issue of
Star Spangled DC War Stories...
You Will Believe That Planes Can Fly in Train Tunnels!
On Sale November 2nd!


Grant said...

I can't help being sentimental about that familiar plot of "Death Played A Sideshow," because I ran into it for maybe the first time in a House of Mystery issue from 1971 (and I've never had MANY DC horror comics) in a story called simply "Fright." That one also had a pretty clever extra twist (at least, to me) AFTER the twist about the hoax being prevented.
It's also entertaining seeing the name "Swamp Witch Haddie" ANY place, because to me "Swamp Witch" is one of the most underrated spooky songs ever, and I don't think I've ever heard a pop culture reference to it till now.

Peter Enfantino said...

Y'know, Grant, I've got in my original notes to mention Jim Stafford and I completely forgot. Thanks for bringing that up. "Swamp Witch" is indeed a classic, one which has an eternal spot on my iPod.

Don't come look'n ag'in!