Monday, October 12, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Sixty Three: September 1975

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

Luis Dominguez
Ghosts 42

"The Phantom Frigate"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by E.R. Cruz

"Nightmare of Death"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Fred Carrillo

"The Spectral Sentries"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Lee Elias

Jack: In 1823, Captain John Terry's ship was run aground when smugglers on the Chilean coast doused the lighthouse. Vowing revenge on Juan Mateo, the chief of the smugglers, Captain Terry goes down with his ship. Fast forward to 1960, and Juan's great-great-grandson Hugo has fallen on hard times. Things only get worse when "The Phantom Frigate" appears and the ghost of Captain Terry aims his ship's cannons at Mateo's village, destroying it. Coincidentally, a huge earthquake killed thousands that night. Was it the tremors or the ghostly cannonballs that did the damage? Personally, I think it was the ghost ship. Science is so overrated.

Peter: I love a salty sea saga but this one's not much more than a vignette and it stars the most incompetent ghost in DC mystery history. Captain Terry's haunt exclaims "It took me a century to track down a Mateo but here I am!" The guy's a ghost! Aren't they supposed to have supernatural tracking powers (ghostly GPS) or something? And then he mows down just about everyone in the little fishing village except Mateo!

Jack: Ian and Claudine Tracy are bicycling through Wales in 1959 when they seek refuge from a storm in a railroad signal station, where the grumpy signal man appears to throw a switch and purposely cause a train wreck. Yet the wreck disappears as soon as the storm ends. The Tracys learn that it occurred 18 years ago and the ghostly signalman hanged himself after he was blamed for the catastrophe. Oddly enough, the Tracys find a cardboard box in the signal station containing newspapers about the crash and a hangman's noose! Peter, what do you make of this "Nightmare of Death"?

For this to happen . . .
oh, never mind.
Peter: This one's a howler (and, I assume, the funny parts weren't meant to be funny). Beginning with one of the most generic titles ever presented between DC Mystery covers (what's next? "The Horror of the Terror!"?) and culminating in an inane "twist" that makes no sense. I can see the trains and old man Fitch and maybe even the switchman's shack being specters but what about the storm that Ian and Claudine are stuck in? How could that be a specter? My favorite bit is Ian's discovery, in the box of Fitch's knickknacks, of the noose the switchman used to hang himself! How did that get there, Carl?

Jack: It's March 1917, and the Winter Palace at Petrograd is under siege. The czar and his family are taken by the Bolsheviks but Count Leonov escapes with the crown jewels, intending to use them to restore the royal family to the seat of power. He does not get far, though, before "The Spectral Sentries," ghosts or skeletons of those he had put to death, seal his doom in an avalanche. Talk about a muddled story with terrific art! The funniest part of this one comes when Leonov shoots a traitorous soldier and the man instantly turns into a skeleton. Leonov doesn't miss a beat and goes back to admiring the crown jewels. Now that's a man with his eyes on the prize!

A man not easily distracted!

Peter: I have no idea what's happening in that climax but I'm pretty sure our favorite DC Mystery writer (sarcasm) was equally befuddled. Is Carl, simultaneously, trying to scare us with his skeletal figures and offer up a rational explanation for why a corpse can fire a rifle? Lee Elias contributes strong visuals.

Bernie Wrightson
House of Secrets 135

"The Vegetable Garden!"
Story by Michael Fleisher
Art by Leopoldo Duranona

"Big Fish in a Small Pond"
Story by Michael Pellowski and Steve Skeates
Art by E.R. Cruz

Peter: Harriet loves tending to "The Vegetable Garden" with the neighborhood children but her greedy niece, Marion, and Marion's husband, Bill, want to put Harriet away in a home so they can inherit her fortune. Constant prodding doesn't work, so the devious couple put their plan into overdrive: they tell the mothers in the neighborhood that Harriet is unstable, kill her bird, and destroy her prized roses. The latter finally pushes the old woman over the edge and she agrees to move to an old folks' home but, before she can move, she overhears her conniving in-laws boasting about how well the plan worked. The boasting turns violent, though, when Bill accidentally kills Marion and tries to hide the body. Harriet stabs Bill to death and buries the pair in the garden.

Michael Fleisher borrows heavily from the classic EC tale, "Poetic Justice"; the first three-quarters of "Vegetable" are a blueprint of the earlier story. And it wasn't as though "Poetic" was dead, buried, and forgotten in a pre-code haze; it had been the highlight of the film Tales from the Crypt only a few years before. Harriet is the female Grimsdyke to a tee and the circumstances leading up to the violence are too similar to ignore: parents warned about unseemly senior citizens and a pillaged garden. What was this guy thinking? Separate that fact from the rest of the story and you've got an average "greedy relatives" drama, notable only for its creepy Duranona art (which, again, is probably better represented in black and white than color) and its darkly comedic final panel (reprinted here).

Jack: A mediocre story from Fleisher is paired with sub-par art and we see the writing on the wall for DC horror comics. Within a few months, the list will be cut substantially, and none too soon. Look at that last panel. Are we supposed to take from that that Aunt Harriet buried a hand here and a foot there? Is she a worse artist than Leopoldo Duranona? Does she expect little hand and foot plants to sprout? That reminds me of "Green Fingers," from Night Gallery. Perhaps I just don't like seeing anyone named Aunt Harriet treated cruelly. What would Dick Grayson say?

"Big Fish in a Small Pond"

Peter: Land baron Sam Spietz loves buying up properties for nothing and selling them for big profits but Sam can't get the Swansons to sell their old, decrepit pet store for any amount of money. This particular parcel is worth millions to Sam so he's willing to go a little bit farther than usual to acquire the gem. His assistant, Savin, tries to convince Sam that he can get rid of the old timers through black magic but Sam ain't buying it, so Savin decides to moonlight.

That night, Savin conjures up demons and sends them to the pet store, unaware that the Swansons already left town on vacation. Sam Spietz makes the mistake of picking just this time to burn the pet store down but, before he can, the demons arrive and possess the shop animals. Two days later, the Swansons open their shop to find the pets loose in the store and Sam floating in the aquarium. Certainly better than the opener (but not by much), "Big Fish in a Small Pond" concludes with an expository, letting us know what happened to Savin, ostensibly because the writers forgot about that aspect of the narrative. E.R. Cruz's art is good, but unfortunately there's really not much for him to draw other than people standing around and talking. Not a lot of action here.

Jack Didn't we read a similar story not too long ago? Those demonic animals are not particularly terrifying, which is also a problem with Bernie Wrightson's cover. This is a weak issue of one of the good titles--what does that mean for Unexpected and The Witching Hour?

Luis Dominguez
The House of Mystery 235

"Wings of Black Death"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Nestor Redondo

"The Spawn of the Devil"
Story by Maxene Fabe
Art by Ramona Fradon

Peter: In plague-ridden 14th Century Europe, con man Geoffrey Pitt finds that the public's fear has wiped out his "trade." Discovering that he can be paid 100 gold pieces a day for cleaning up corpses from the street, Geoffrey goes to the end of the village and consults with the wizard Asmodeus. Pitt asks the magician to cast a spell to render him immune to the plague and Asmodeus agrees, provided he's paid half the gold every day. Pitt reluctantly agrees and pays the man his fee for several weeks before growing greedy. Geoffrey murders the wizard but is pestered by Asmodeus's crow, which seems to be spreading an all-new plague in the village. It's not long before the villagers are banging on Pitt's castle door with torches demanding to see Asmodeus. When the wizard is not produced, the mob becomes convinced that Geoffrey Pitt is, in reality, the magician disguised. They toss him in the fire and the crow flies away, seemingly happy. Not a lot to be said about "Wings of Black Death." The story just sort of lies there (and it's a story we've seen countless times) and there's no reel oomph in the climax. Redondo's art is very atmospheric in spots.

Jack: You selected my favorite panel to reproduce! The setting for this story is unusual and it is very well told, at least until the last page, which is a bit of a letdown. Still, Nestor Redondo is perhaps the best artist still drawing for the DC Horror line by this point, so the pages look terrific. If only Michelinie could have come up with a better ending! This may end up in my top ten of 1975, partly due to lack of competition.

Peter: Mary Parsons wants a child badly but her husband will agree only to an adoption. Since Mary has had a mental breakdown recently, the adoption agencies are not knocking at her door. However, she and her husband meet with kindly old Doc Morton, who hooks them up with a genuine baby (ostensibly kept in a storeroom in his office!). Mary notes that the baby is a bit on the ugly side but beggars can't be choosers and she takes little Billy home. Quicker than you can say Damien: Omen II, the toddler is levitating cakes, climbing the walls, and snapping the dog's neck (an incident that, curiously, happens on the "spoiler splash" but not within the narrative) and Mary has lost her marbles again. She urges the Doc to take the monster back but no dice. Mary then overhears Morton talking to Billy about behaving or the world will find out that the kid is actually the demon, Belial. Exiting the building, Mary feels she has no other choice than to toss Billy in front of a speeding taxi. "The Spawn of the Devil" is dead and Mary is hauled off to the loony bin. Doctor Morton smiles, showing a full set of razor-sharp teeth.

I'm of two minds about this one: the topic is very edgy (and, to be fair, appearing a year before The Omen would hit screens) and I'm always amazed when something along the lines of a child murder got past the notoriously righteous CCA. "The Spawn of the Devil" is edgy, but it's also packed with lots of ludicrosity, including a baby with fangs, a couple that thinks nothing of a doctor who can produce a baby from his back room, loopy art, and an inane final panel (if Morton is actually Billy/Belial's father, then why is he smiling after witnessing his son's death?). And about that art: I dig Ramona Fradon's work most of the time--it's so different from the rest of the DC Mystery bullpen--but it ain't happening here. The drooling, fanged monster kid elicits laughs more than creeps.

Jack: Peter and I both keep notes on the stories we read, partly to help us come up with the best and worst at the end of each year. I use a rating of 1 to 4 for story and the same for art. If I could give out "5"s, this story would earn them with ease! It's crazy, funny, and scary, all at the same time. I've said it before: Ramona Fradon's art is a revelation. This is the breath of fresh air--or is it brimstone?--I needed to get through The Witching Hour! By the way, if you note the similarities to this plot and that of Nightmare At Twenty Thousand Feet, maybe Shatner could play Mary if this is ever made into a TV show!

Ernie Chan
Secrets of Haunted House 3

"Pathway to Purgatory"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"The Swinger"
Story by Mike Pellowski and Maxene Fabe
Art by Ramona Fradon

Jack: Duke Alain's forbidden love for his beautiful ward Catherine drives him to extremes. He blames his own crippled legs for Catherine's lack of romantic interest in him, so he embarks on a "Pathway to Purgatory" when he tortures a witch and murders her daughter in order to convince the hag to use her powers to restore his lower extremities to full vigor. To his surprise, Catherine still has no intention of breaking society's taboo, so Alain again utilizes torture and murder to convince the bishop to go forward with the wedding.

CCA approved?
The wedding night is less than satisfactory for the Duke, however, since Catherine runs screaming from the bedchamber and the villagers grab him and take him to the gallows, where he is executed. Only then is it revealed that the legs he was given by the witch are those of a goat! Jack Oleck redeems himself somewhat with this tale, which is a big step up from those he's been writing in mid-1975. Ruben Yandoc's art looks like it always does--all of his women look like they could be sisters.

Peter: Even though it feels padded at ten pages (there's a whole lot of dialogue goin' on here), I enjoyed this one. I never saw the twist coming and, sometimes, a good shock finale is all you need for entertainment. Jack Oleck proves he can still come up with a winner now and then.

CCA approved!?!
Jack: Carlton Phipps may be a rich playboy, but he's also a chicken, so he studies martial arts and earns a black belt. Walking through a bad part of town at night, he's itching for a fight and accidentally kills a cop, thinking him to be a mugger. He frames a passing tramp and the man is hanged for his crime, but his ghost soon starts to haunt Carlton, who has the strange feeling that he is being choked over and over.

Deciding to get out of Dodge, he flies off in his private plane, but bad weather forces him to bail out. Wouldn't you know it? "The Swinger" is hanged when his parachute snags on a tree limb. Not as knock down, drag out fun as "The Spawn of the Devil," but still very, very good. And that's a welcome thing in DC Horror stories by 1975!

Peter: Here, because of the dark humor present in the script, Ramona Fradon's art is perfect (as opposed to her work on "The Spawn of the Devil" in House of Mystery). I wish I kept a journal of twist endings because I'd swear that climax is a swipe from EC.

Luis Dominguez
Unexpected 168

"Freak Accident"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"The Patchwork Pal"
Story by Murray Boltinoff
Art by Flor Dery

"Who Killed Raggedy Annie?"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Gerry Talaoc

Jack: Approaching a well-guarded, highly secret government enclave, a super-spy kills a guard and puts on his hazmat suit, entering the restricted area with ease. The beating sun is hot, so he removes the hazmat suit and comes upon a race of hideously ugly humanoids. They knock him out and throw him in a pit, but some of the humanoid children help him escape, and he races back to be met by the guards, who promptly send him back among the humanoids. It seems they were the victims of a "Freak Accident" with biological weapons, and now that he has come in contact with them, he carries a dangerous infection. Soon, he begins to change into one of the humanoids himself. Predictable and dull, the only good part is the monsters that Alcala draws. I wonder if this was a file story, since we haven't seen his work in awhile.

Who else but Alcala?

Peter: If it gives us another look at the exquisite, finely-detailed, slammajammin' art of The Master, I'll wade through the worst of Kashdan's scripts. This isn't George's worst but it's not very good either.

Jack: Grumpy old Joe has a job carting body parts out of the hospital for disposal. When he suddenly turns cheerful, a doctor and a nurse sneak over to his house, where they discover that Joe used the spare parts to build "The Patchwork Pal," but when his little buddy failed to chat with him he knocked its block off! Yuck! I like Flor Dery's art, though.


Peter: There's not much surprise in a story whose "twist" is part of its title. That final panel is pretty grim stuff, though.

Jack: Parker has a headache that he traces to old Annie and a voodoo doll that she gave to young Jess. Parker kills Annie by tossing her down a well and continues his campaign to drive Jess's poor family off their land. Jess's father burns all of her dolls since, even though she's developmentally disabled, he thinks she's too old to play with dolls. Soon, Jess has a new doll, one that looks like old Annie. This one leads her to foil numerous schemes cooked up by Parker, until he finally has had enough and kidnaps the girl, intending to kill her. The doll tells her dad where she is and the cops arrive just in the nick of time to save her. Peter, Gerry Talaoc to me is like Ruben Yandoc to you--I can't get enough of him in "Who Killed Raggedy Annie?" and elsewhere!

Peter: Equal parts good Talaoc and bad. His human characters  (in particular, Parker) always seem to have some serious dental issues but Gerry can conjure up some horrifying images with the best of them. The panels of the Raggedy Annie doll lying on Jess's bed are pretty creepy. It's a strange, muddled script, though, as Jess's dad is introduced as a secondary heavy but then transformed into a caring dad by story's end.

Ernie Chan
Weird Mystery Tales 22

"A Death at the Races"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Franc Reyes

"A Reckoning in Eden"
Story by Mal Warwick
Art by Bill Draut

"Meet My Murderer"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Teny Henson

Peter: Leonard Snively trains greyhounds for the races but feels underpaid and under-appreciated, so he murders his boss and hightails it into the woods. On the other side of the forest, Leonard stumbles onto a rundown old town where the people are strange but seemingly friendly. Snively tells them what he does for a living and they're fascinated. The next morning, Leonard wakes to find the town deserted. As he walks down the street, he is confronted by a band of very big and nasty monsters. They chase him through the streets until he hits a dead end. A fence comes down between him and the hairy beasts and, eventually, he learns that the town is racing monsters and he's the bunny rabbit. "A Death at the Races" is built around a really silly script, with a climax that might have been ironic if it wasn't so telegraphed. Snively appears to be a big, burly dope but thinks (in thought balloons) like a well-educated gentleman. I'm thinking Fleisher's glory days are now behind him, unfortunately, but hopefully he'll prove me wrong. Reyes's art, on the other hand, speeds along like one of the featured greyhounds with our first look at the creatures (below) a highlight.

Jack: More and more, it seems like David Michelinie has moved into first place among DC Horror scribes as Fleisher's scripts continue to be weak. I was not impressed with Reyes's art, which seems too sketchy for me. I don't have a problem with dog racing, though I've never been to a dog track, so I had a hard time sympathizing with this story's message.

Peter: "A Reckoning in Eden" is a short-short about a rocket ship finding a replacement for Earth after three thousand years of space travel only to discover that there are already inhabitants and they look startlingly like sit-com characters. Warwick does what he can with just two pages but there's not much of a story and the climax is a bit confusing.

Jack: Warwick likes his sci-fi, doesn't he? I think the ending is supposed to tell us that inhabitants of Earth developed a faster mode of transportation and beat the ship to Eden, where they set up shop and developed a new California that was just as smoggy as the old one. Oddly enough, I like Bill Draut's artwork for this tale. It's a classic DC look that's much more finished than what Reyes does in the prior story.

Starring Suzanne Somers as
action-camera girl Tina Van Avery!
Peter: Famed photographer Tina Van Avery has taken shots of the most thrilling and daring adventures ever seen by man but one thrill evades her: Tina wants to photograph a ghost. One night, a thug breaks into Tina's lush apartment to steal her expensive equipment and, while in the act, strangles the girl. Days later, the police approach him and show him photos of his criminal deed. Tina had photographed her own murder! "Meet My Murderer" belongs in Ghosts (but I'd have to read it anyway, wouldn't I?) or, if taking the art into account, maybe Sinister House of Secret Love. Amazing that the ghost was able to snap photos of the murder even while Tina was still alive! Very kind of The Old Witch to explain to us exactly what happened in the previous panels just in case we're too dense to get it. That would have been helpful with the "Eden" story.

Proof that you don't have to be dead to have your own ghost

Jack: I had the same question as you, but if you look at the photos, I think a case can be made that Tina is already dead in the first one. In another panel, we see her ghost taking the pictures, so my take on this is that her ghost popped out of her body at the moment of her death and started snapping away. Of course, it would have been easier if she'd just haunted the robber into an early grave, but that would've deprived us of the twist ending.

Luis Dominguez
The Witching Hour 58

"Camp Fear"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by John Calnan

"The Witch of Raven's Pass"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ernie Guanlao

"Who Stalked By Night"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Frank Carrillo

Jack: Freddy's imagination and weird fantasies worry his parents, so they ship him off to summer camp, not realizing that it's really "Camp Fear!" At this camp, the boys are encouraged to look out for number one and treat everyone else with contempt. The worse they act, the better they are treated. Freddy gets with the program until his conscience gets the better of him and he fails to murder his bunkmate when they are out in a rowboat. Back at camp, he overhears that his bunkmate is alive and reporting the truth about Freddy's weakness to the head of the camp, who is a Satan worshiper. Freddy manages to escape, but when he gets home no one believes his story, and on returning to the camp they find it a burned out wreck. The real wreck is this story, in which the terrible plot is not helped by substandard art.

Peter: This sleazy, mean-spirited bowl of tripe is my front-runner for Worst All-Around Story of the Year. George just heaps unpleasantness atop unpleasantness, somehow forgetting that unpleasant doesn't automatically equal chilling or disquieting. I can just picture Kashdan at his typewriter rubbing his hands together and exclaiming "My loyal audience of nine year olds will love this one."

Jack: Rory Savage wants to buy a ranch owned by Herb and Jenny Lee because he knows there's oil below the ground. They won't sell, so he visits "The Witch of Raven's Pass" and asks her to kill them, handing her a photo of himself with the couple in happier times. She refuses, he shoots her, and a fire starts, burning the photo. Rory is killed in a fiery car wreck and Jenny--the real witch of Raven's Pass--is satisfied. Well, at least the art is better than that in the first story. The plot? Not so much. For some strange reason, Mildred (the fat witch) is drawn with a mouthful of sharp, pointy teeth.

Peter: Carl Wessler just keeps right on recycling the same old bilge issue after issue. One question though: Since Herb and Jenny were in that deadly photo with Rory, shouldn't they have gone up in flames as well? Yeah, I know; why do I bother asking? This is the first (and last) look we'll get at the art of Ernie Guanlao (1943-2010), yet another of the Filipino artists who stormed the DC Mystery Bullpen in the mid-'70s, thankfully nudging out the likes of Jerry Grandenetti, and elevating the titles (in the artwork department, at least) to something memorable.

Jack: Morty Macree, a mugger "Who Stalked By Night," decides to wear a skull mask to mug honest citizens. After a couple of muggings, the police catch up with him, only to see that his face now looks like the skull mask. Um, huh?

Peter: There's no answer to the question of why this guy's face would have been transformed by the mask. It just is. And that's the sign hanging above Carl Wessler's typewriter.

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1 comment:

Bird of Paradise said...

Wings of Black Death and a Raven sounds like it was inspired by Edgar Alan Poe and his famous poem THE RAVEN