Monday, February 22, 2016

Do You Dare Enter The Final Post? November/December 1976 + The Big Wrap-Up!

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

Jack Sparling & Vince Colletta
House of Mystery 247

"The Game of Death"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Steve Ditko and Wayne Howard

"The Ghost of Deadman's Breach!"
Story by Arnold Drake
Art by Jess Jodloman

Peter: Matt is Big Kahuna on the board at his local beach, the only surfer able to survive "Baker's Breach," twin columns of deadly rock just offshore, but then comes Gary, slick San Fran boy who bursts Matt's bubble. When a big-time promoter sees the two split the uprights one afternoon, he offers them a deal: they have a surf-off and the survivor gets the big payday, all broadcast before "20,000,000 spectators." Even though he's promised his girl, Fay, that he'll never tempt Baker's Breach again, the amount of greenbacks placed in front of Matt is just too tempting and he agrees. The night before the match, Matt invites his competition to the beach for a bit of a boxing match to clear the air between them but events take a nasty turn when Matt accidentally kills Gary. He buries the body on the beach and shows up to the big game the next day. The show must go on, according to the promoter, and so Matt surfs alone. Well, he thinks he's alone but, lo and behold, a second foam rider appears beside him: the ghost of Gary. Needless to say, Matt's surfing career ended that day.

"The Ghost of Deadman's Breach"

"The Ghost of Deadman's Breach" is not a great story but it's not a bad one either; a bit of a Rocky III on the beach (with a ghost), complete with Gary telling Fay that, when the match is over, she should trade up. Jess Jodloman's art is hit and miss, with some panels gloriously creepy (very reminiscent of Alfredo Alcala) and some stiff and awkward. I highly doubt you'd have twenty million viewers tune in to such a niche and local event and it's an odd choice to have Gary's ghost fully clothed on his surfboard but then the whole thing is silly if you think about it. So don't think about it.

Jack will surely disagree but Steve Ditko's art on the opening story shows, once again, that the artist's skills had declined severely since his heyday in the mid- to late-60s. Jack Oleck rolls out the second most over-used character in the DC horror universe (the first being the swamp witch, of course), the heartless big-game hunter, and adds absolutely nothing new to that sub-genre. The ending is really silly and, yes, I tried not to think about it... but I couldn't help it.

Ditko's Doldrums

Jack: I don't really see a decline from mid-'60s Marvel Ditko to mid-'70s DC Ditko; the Marvel work is over-rated while the DC work is under-rated. I don't think Wayne Howard is the best choice of artists to ink the great Ditko. The story is run of the mill until the last couple of pages when it gets kind of crazy and fun. Strangest of all is the offhand way that the main character is killed; I had to look back to make sure I understood what happened!

"Deadman's Breach" is very good Oleck and the usual from Jodloman. As you note, his art is hit or miss, sometimes from one panel to another. We have remarked before on his ability to draw luscious women, and a story where most of the gals are in bikinis lets Jess do what he does best. He even provides a helping of beefcake for the rare female reader to enjoy. His problem often seems to be with faces seen in close-up; his characters' teeth are often quite strange.

Ernie Chua
The House of Secrets 142

"Who Goes There?"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ernesto Patricio

"Food for Thought!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Leopoldo Duranona

Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Bill Draut

Peter: Anne Mason is being stalked by a specter, one who haunts Anne's dreams and threatens to destroy her sanity. When a psychiatrist recommends that Anne's husband, George, take the frazzled woman for a change of scenery, the couple head overseas. The dreams disappear but, ominously, on a "quiet English road," Anne spots the house from her nightmares and convinces George to buy the house so that she can get to the bottom of her haunts. One night, the ghost comes to Anne in her dreams and the frightened girl flees from her bed and falls to her death from the staircase. As she watches her husband weep over her broken body, Anne realizes that the specter was herself.


"Who Goes There" perfectly encapsulates this entire issue of House of Secrets (and, for the most part, the last couple years of the DC mystery line); it's a mess of cliches laden with mediocre art. I know we've read this exact story before because I've previously wondered aloud at the stupidity of someone buying a house that was part of their own night haunts. Why would George think purchasing a place that was driving his wife insane was a good idea? Why was Anne's (future) spirit haunting her? Why wouldn't it warn her instead? Oleck's script and Patricio's art are by-the-numbers, resembling one of those Gothic romance tales we were subjected to a few years before. "Food for Thought" and "Playmate" are also written around ideas that should have been taken out behind the woodshed and shot in the head rather than warmed up in the microwave, with "Playmate" being especially nauseous and maudlin. It's the antithesis of the classic "Nightmare" (also written, tellingly, by Oleck), in which the special needs kid is lured out of his shell by supernatural means. Syrupy and stupid, "Playmate" is a sad ending to our coverage of House of Secrets, a title which had its ups and downs but also presented, arguably, the single most important horror story in DC history.

Pathetic "Playmate"

Jack: "Who Goes There?" has sub-par art and a twist ending that is obvious from the start. "Food for Thought!" has slightly better art but a predictable story; once again, the man who can't be killed is subjected to a living Hell. "Playmate" has the best art of the three, which is a low bar indeed, and a distasteful story. If this is the best they could do, why bring HOS back from cancellation?

The Witching Hour 66

"A Scream in the Attic"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Fred Carrillo

"The Night Visitor"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Jose Delbo

"Half a Killer is Better Than None"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ernesto Patricio

Jack: Mark and Karen Balcher are at the home of another couple playing cards when a TV news flash alerts them that a lunatic has escaped from the state insane asylum. They see a photo of their beloved babysitter on the TV and race home, thinking their son Robbie is in danger. Meanwhile, Mattie, the aging sitter, is watching little Robbie when Bruno arrives, determined to take her back to the asylum. Mattie grabs Robbie and makes for the attic, while Bruno gives chase and lunges for her. He misses, pitches out an open window, and dies in his fall to the ground, just as Robbie's parents' friends pull up in front of the house, having missed "A Scream in the Attic." It seems they jumped to conclusions: Bruno was the lunatic and Mattie was someone he liked; for saving Robbie, she is invited to live with the Balchers.

Kids sure stayed up late with the babysitter in the '70s.

As usual, the story is filled with strange twists and turns and unexplained coincidences. The best I can figure is that Mattie actually was in the asylum but was cured and discharged. Bruno was a nut case who got to know Mattie at the asylum. The headlong flight out of the attic window stretches the bounds of belief, and the parents' overly dramatic car ride home is tough to take, but this is at least a bearable story, something I can't say for the two that follow it in this issue.

"We have to race home. Our child is in danger.
Should we stop for a drink first?"
Peter: Bearable? Oh Jack, you've been working too hard. I blame myself for the inevitable lapse in sanity. "Scream in the Attic" could well be the worst story of the year but, thankfully, we've agreed that this last year is so dreadful we won't be doing a Best of or Worst of 1976 overview. I love the second panel of the first page where Mark calmly hands his wife her coat so they can get home and stop the babysitter from vivisecting their helpless child. As for the runner-up for worst of the issue, "The Night Visitor" makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Who is the mysterious cigar-chomping Mr. Morke? If George Kashdan doesn't care, why should we? It's hard to remember a worse waste of time than Witching Hour #50.

Jack Sparling & Vince Colletta
Unexpected 176

"Having a Wonderful Crime"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by E.R. Cruz

"What Haunted Herbert"
Story by Al Case (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Jess Jodloman

"Escape to Treachery"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Gerry Talaoc


Dear Mom and Dad,

I'm "Having a Wonderful Crime" at summer camp. Last night, some of the older boys dressed up like skeletons and got me and my bunkmate Freddy out of bed. They put us through an initiation where we had to do all kinds of gross things like squeezing and squashing human eyeballs. Then they had us dig graves for each other! I got worried when I tripped and accidentally buried Freddy alive, but the counselor told me it was just a prank. We all went back to the gravesite but, UNEXPECTEDLY, the older boys forgot to un-bury Freddy. Know what? He was dead! I guess I'll get a new bunkmate now.



Peter: While Jack is taking a much needed rest, I'll just let you know that "Escape to Treachery" is not too bad. It's the story of rebel Pedro, who is tricked by his doctor into thinking he has only a few weeks to live and so plots to assassinate "El Presidente." There are a whole lot of twists and turns here and just the fact that the script made me think wins this the Best of the Month award (against really lousy competition, mind you).

Ernie Chan & Vince Colletta
The House of Mystery 248

"The Night Jamie Gave Up the Ghost"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Luis Dominguez

"The Vampire"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Peter: I'd love to be able to report that our House of Mystery coverage ends with a bang rather than a whimper but... "The Night Jamie..." is a so-so tale of a vengeful ghost with harmful intentions that has a bit of an edge to it but not much else. Jamie's grandpa has been dead for a month but the old codger still comes to Jamie and relates exciting tales of swashbuckling and big-game hunting, telling the young boy that he should follow his gramps into the unknown. Turns out the spook never liked Jamie's dad for marrying his daughter and wants to take the boy away from him just to make it even. The tale ends with a thud but Dominguez's art is a highlight. "The Vampire" is just another variation on "guess who the monster is" with predictable results.

"The Night Jamie..."

Jack: Let me see . . . in the Twilight Zone episode, "Long Distance Call," a boy's dead grandmother talks to him over a toy telephone and he nearly dies before his father intervenes and the grandmother lets go of her hold on the child. In Michelinie's story, a dead grandfather plays with a boy and leads him off so that his father is nearly killed. The boy chooses to save his Dad, breaking the grandfather's hold on him. I guess if David was going to "borrow" a plot, it was good that he borrowed from a classic.

Jack Sparling & Vince Colletta
Ghosts 50

"Home is Where the Grave Is!"
Story Carl Wessler
Art by John Calnan & Tex Blaisdell

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

"The Most Fearful Villain of the Supernatural"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Lee Elias

Jack: Jesse Hoyle is an eleven year old orphan who is being raised by his Uncle Martin, the caretaker of a cemetery. When local boys destroy tombstones and steal flowers from the graves, Jesse calls on a trio of ghosts to chase the boys away. Living among the dead has been educational for the lad, who demonstrates to a local schoolmarm and policeman that he has learned to read and multiply just by studying the gravestones.

The ghostly trio visits Jesse and Uncle Martin in the evenings, regaling them with stories, but every morning they must return to their bodies below the ground. After this unusual childhood, Jesse grows up and is drafted at age 18 to fight in the Vietnam War. He is assigned to an ammunition depot stateside and accidentally causes a huge explosion. Thinking he survived, he goes AWOL and runs home to Uncle Jesse and the trio of ghosts. When morning comes, he finds himself pulled inexorably toward the graveyard, where he sees that he is dead and buried.

Despite John Calnan's art, which benefits slightly from Tex Blaisdell's inks, "Home is Where the Grave Is" is an interesting story. In our DC War and Horror series, we have rarely come across a story that deals with the Vietnam War. This one features a young man who appears to be against the war, though his uncle tells him he must serve his country and sends him off to fight. Jesse is so upset about being a part of a war that he thinks is unjust that he doesn't pay attention to what he's doing and causes an explosion of ammunition. It says something about the country's mood in 1976 that, even in a kid's ghost story comic, a character would express these thoughts.

Peter: I just can't get past the dreadful art in "Home is..." nor the cliched ending (you mean Jesse was dead?! -- Holy Cow!). By default, though, it's the best thing in this issue. The final tale, "The Most Fearful Villain of the Supernatural" reads like one of those really bad Leo Dorfman "truth is stranger than fiction" ditties he used to run by us in the first few years of Ghosts. Instead, it's a similarly bad Wessler script that attempts to convince us that Bram Stoker actually palled around with Count Dracula before penning the famous novel. Based on the evidence presented in this issue, I can safely say I don't believe in Ghosts!


The Very Best of DC Horror 1968-1976

Over the past three years, we've dissected and discussed over 350 DC horror comics from 1968-1976 (that's over 1000 original stories!). So why stop at 1976? I had fond memories of my DC horror title collecting days in the early 70s but that nostalgia did not extend past '76 when, I remembered, the quality began to drop. The real story is that the quality began to drop a couple of years before that (right around the time of the 100-page experiment) when legendary artists like Neal Adams and Bernie Wrightson jumped ship. At some point I intend to put down my thoughts on the remainder of the DC horror titles post-1976. There was still a bit of life left in the old dog.

Published Post-1976:

73 issues of House of Mystery
62 issues of Ghosts
46 issues of Unexpected
42 issues of Secrets of Haunted House
19 issues of The Witching Hour
12 issues of House of Secrets
5 issues of the 1978  title, Doorway to Nightmare

In two weeks, we'll kick off our chronological survey of every comic book EC published; not just the horror, but the war, science fiction, humor and misc. the legendary publisher released in comic book form, month by month. We hope you'll continue to follow our rants and raves.

-Peter Enfantino & Jack Seabrook

As a wrap-up to our DC horror coverage, we thought we'd present our individual Best of DC Horror:


The House of Gargoyles (Oleck/Sparling)
(from House of Mystery #175)

Comes a Warrior (Kane/Wood)
(from House of Mystery #180)

His Name is Cain Kane (Kane/Wood)
(from House of Mystery #180)

... And in a Far Off Land (Skeates/Wrightson)
(from Witching Hour #3)

The Devil's Doorway (Oleck/Toth)
(from House of Mystery #182

Second Chance (Conway/Kane/Adams)
(from House of Secrets #85)

The Secret of the Egyptian Cat (Kanigher/Wrightson)
(from House of Mystery #186)

Nightmare (Oleck/Adams/Giordano/Orlando)
(from House of Mystery #186)

Trumpet Perilous (Uncredited/Sparling/Abel)
(from Witching Hour #9)

Hold Swiftly, Hand of Death (Conway/Toth)
(from Witching Hour #10)

Double Cross! (Skeates/Kane/Adkins)
(from Witching Hour #12)

Swamp Thing (Wein/Wrightson)
(from House of Secrets #92)

Curse of the Cat's Cradle (Uncredited/Toth)
(from House of Secrets #93)

A Girl and Her Dog! (Conway/Morrow)
(from House of Mystery #196

A Bottle of Incense... A Whiff of the Past (Conway/Weiss/Wrightson)
(from House of Secrets #94)

The Day of the Demon (Goodwin/Sekowsky/Anderson)
(from House of Mystery #198)

A Breath of Black Death (Conway/DeZuniga)
(from House of Mystery #200)

Unholy Change (Mayer/Talaoc)
(from House of Mystery #211)

They Hunt Butterflies, Don't They? (Fleisher/Alcala)
(from House of Mystery #220

The Night of the Teddy Bear (Fleisher/Carley/Alcala)
(from House of Mystery #222)

Like Father, Like Son (Oleck/Redondo)
(from House of Secrets #116)

The Specter's Last Stand (Uncredited/Rival/Cruz)
(from Ghosts #25)

Neely's Scarecrow (Michelinie/Nino)
(from Weird Mystery Tales #16)


Since Peter did such a thorough job of selecting the best stories, I wanted to highlight what I enjoyed most in the DC Horror comics from 1968 to 1976 from a broader perspective:

*The covers: Often, the best thing about a comic is its cover. For the first few years of this run, that meant Neal Adams. Looking back over his covers only reinforces how great they were. When his covers tapered off, Nick Cardy was there to pick up the torch and run with it. For me, getting familiar with Cardy's work was the single biggest surprise of this project.

*The art inside: The next best thing about DC Horror comics was always the inside art! In the early years, we saw great work from Adams and veterans like Alex Toth, Gil Kane and Wally Wood. By the middle period, the Filipino artists had taken over. For my money, the best of that group were Alfredo Alcala, Nestor Redondo and Alex Nino, followed closely by Gerry Talaoc and Ruben Yandoc. We also saw great work by younger artists, new to the field, such as Bernie Wrightson, Bill Payne, Mike Kaluta and Tenny Henson. Toward the end, Ramona Fradon rose to prominence and Steve Ditko returned. Of course, the single page strips by Sergio Aragones were always a highlight.

*The stories: The stories were usually the weak point for DC Horror, but there were exceptions. Jack Oleck was the best writer from start to finish, though in later years the quality of his scripts declined. The best writer overall was Michael Fleisher, though he nearly always worked with Russell Carley, whose contributions are not clear. David Michelinie, Steve Skeates, Sheldon Mayer and Maxene Fabe also made important contributions.

*The hosts: Cain always seemed to be the leader, followed by bumbling, frightened Abel. Mildred, Mordred and Cynthia were uneven--sometimes funny, sometimes annoying.

*The editor: Joe Orlando's books were hands down the best, from start to finish.

*The giant-sized issues: Loved them as a kid, love them today. The 1968-1976 period saw DC experiment with the Super DC Giants, the 52 (or 48) pages for 25 cents issues, and the 100-Page Super-Spectaculars. Besides just being thrilling for being extra long, these comics exposed us to reprints from the 1940s and 1950s. In the Horror books, this was a mixed bag, but every time we got to see vintage Alex Toth or Bernard Baily it was fun.

*The Gothic stories: These represented a change of pace from the endless parade of eight page scary tales and the romance/horror stories were fun for a short time.

*Swamp Thing: Was he (it?) the most important and lasting contribution of all of the comics we read? One could make an argument that this was the case.

In the Next Rip-Roaring Issue of
Star Spangled War Stories...
The Enemy Ace Returns!
And, in Two Weeks...


John said...

A great series, gentlemen! Well done!

John Scoleri said...

Congrats guys! This was a huge undertaking, and not only did you survive to the finish line, you maintained your schedule from start to finish! I'm looking forward to the jump into the EC pool, and will try to follow along with all the damn EC Archives I've been buying through the years.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, guys! I am really glad I don't have to read any more issues of Ghosts or Unexpected! You may have noticed that Peter stuck me with the worst series---

Greg M. said...

Hey, guys!

Just want to pass along my congratulations on surviving 3 years of reading DC Horror comics! It's always been a pleasure (and a bit of pain) reading your reactions. I'm looking forward to the projects you've got coming up.

See you in the funny papers!

Fontay O'Rooney said...

I've enjoyed following this series. Well done.

AndyDecker said...

A great series that will be missed. I enjoyed your write-up, it introduced me to a few artists I never appreciated.

As I know next to nothing about the actual content of EC, I will be there.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Fontay & Andy. It's great to know someone's reading these posts! I am really looking forward to EC.

Todd Mason said...

The 100-page issues were a favorite of mine, since I always loved the 1950s stories...given, indeed, how weak the then-new '70s scripts seemed to me, with the exception of some WEIRD WAR TALES and a very few others. But, then, I was already reading some of the best horror prose. All sympathies about reading GHOSTS...

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Todd. I still feel a strong nostalgic pull for the giant-sized DC comics, from the 80-page giants on down. Sometimes I think it might be fun to collect them again. Then I lie down and try to come to my senses.