Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Seventeen: "A Crime for Mothers" [6.16]

by Jack Seabrook

Fortified by liquor, Lottie Mead takes a taxi to Queens, where she visits Artie Birdwell and his wife. Their daughter Eileen is at school and the Birdwells are uncomfortable with their visitor. Seven years before, they had paid Lottie to let them have the daughter she was ready to abandon and they went on to raise her as their own. Now Lottie wants her daughter back, or at least a weekly stipend. The Birdwells throw her out and she tries but fails to find a lawyer until, a week later, Phil Ames appears on her doorstep and offers to help. He recommends that she kidnap the child, insisting that the law will be on her side once she produces a birth certificate that proves she is the real mother.

Ames surveils the Birdwell family and hatches a plan. Lottie moves into a hotel and, a few days later, she picks up Eileen at the school bus stop, weaving a story about having been asked by Mrs. Birdwell to take the girl shopping for a dress. They take a taxi to Lottie's hotel, where the child soon gets bored and falls asleep. Ames calls and says he's on his way. Not long after, he shows up at Lottie's door with a policeman, who accuses Lottie of kidnapping. It seems that Ames is friend and lawyer to the Birdwells, and he and his friend on the police force have tricked Lottie into agreeing to leave the Birdwells alone and finally let them adopt Eileen.

Claire Trevor as Lottie Mead
Even the girl is a fake; she is the policeman's daughter, and she tells her father that she had fun and hopes she can help him again.

Henry Slesar's short story, "A Crime for Mothers," was first published in the December 1960 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Like many of Slesar's tales, it is set in New York City and has as its theme the relationship between parent and child. Lottie is an entertaining character, a drunk and an extortionist who speaks with a Runyonesque directness. The twist ending is no great surprise and takes too long to play out, but the story is fun to read. Slesar adapted it for television and it was broadcast on January 24, 1961, midway through season six of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It was followed on NBC that night by "Choose A Victim," a Thriller episode starring Boris Karloff.

Patricia Smith as Mrs. Birdwell
The TV version opens with a scene at the Birdwells' home that has been added to the story. Mrs. Birdwell has bought a life-sized doll for Eileen and her husband Ralph (not Artie) accuses her of spoiling the child. The scene quickly establishes that Eileen is seven years old and that her mother played with dolls until she was 12. The doll takes the place of the child in this scene and we never see the real Eileen throughout the episode. Slesar sets up this threesome as a loving family and, when Lottie arrives, the contrast between her and Mrs. Birdwell is striking. Mrs. Birdwell has short hair and wears a frock with a Peter Pan collar, appearing almost childlike, while Lottie wears a cloth coat with a fur collar, a gaudy bracelet and earrings, and has a brassy voice with a New York accent. She refers to Eileen as "'the little girl'" and either fails to recall her name or cares little enough about her to use it.

Robert Sampson as Ralph Birdwell
Claire Trevor is brilliant as Lottie, her exaggerated appearance and performance making it clear that she is crass and always at least a little bit drunk--she turns down an offer of coffee as if it is hardly her drink of choice. Lottie picks up the life-sized doll and Mrs. Birdwell takes it from her, symbolically protecting her real daughter from the unfit birth mother. Lottie even takes a drink from a flask concealed in her purse as she stands in the Birdwells' living room. There is a nice camera angle on an over the shoulder shot-reverse shot between Ralph and Lottie; director Ida Lupino subtly places the man on a higher plane than the woman to demonstrate which character in the scene wields power.

Lottie's subsequent search for a lawyer is condensed into a brief scene where she meets with a lawyer played by familiar character actor Howard McNear. She later reclines at home with a drink and a cigarette when Ames arrives at her door. He is flirtatious and wears a cheap suit; Biff Elliot gives a strong performance as Ames, playing well off of Trevor. Unlike the story, where he is a lawyer, he is now a private (or "confidential") investigator. Again, Lupino excels in using smooth camera movement in this scene to frame each character perfectly and direct the viewer's attention to what matters. Her camerawork is efficient and avoids showing off, letting the story and the fine acting do the work.

Biff Elliot as Phil Ames
Ames matches Lottie's style of speaking and attitude perfectly in order to gain her trust. When he suggests kidnapping, the camera switches to tight close-ups alternating between him and Lottie, thus underlining the importance of this part of their conversation. The dialogue throughout the episode is sharp: later, Lottie tells Ames, "'I'm sorry I'm late, I had something terribly important to do,'" and he replies, "'Scotch or rye?'"

One curious thing about the story that the show attempts to clear up is the fact that the little girl, whose real name is Margaret, is used as bait to trap an alcoholic woman. What father would trust his little girl alone with Lottie Mead? The child actress who plays Margaret seems to be from another era, speaking rather haltingly, like one of the children in "A Charlie Brown Christmas," and wearing a skirt with a petticoat underneath. A great line from the story is improved upon in the TV show: Lottie tells the child that she is a governess and the child responds, "'A governess, like in Jane Eyre?'" In the story, Lottie replies, "'What's that?'" which is funny enough, but on TV, Lottie's reply is "'Where's that?'" which is even funnier and may well have been an ad lib.

"'Ya like anchovies?'"
The child, played by Sally Smith, does not appear to have been an experienced actress and seems to be reciting her lines by rote. But Trevor is a pro and does not let the scenes flag, offering the child "'movie magazines'" to read while killing time in her apartment. Margaret jumps up and down on Lottie's couch and Lottie rescues a liquor bottle that had been stashed under a throw pillow, taking a quick drink and offering the little girl anchovies as an after-school snack!

The time in the apartment is compressed from the story and the telephone rings right after Lottie and Margaret arrive. By the time Ames shows up, Lottie is noticeably drunker. Instead of a policeman, Ames is accompanied by Charlie Vance, an ex-FBI agent. The final twist is altered as well, as little Margaret is revealed to be the daughter of Ames, not the policeman. This makes it slightly more acceptable that she would be used as bait to catch Lottie, since Ames has her in his sights for all but a short while.

Howard McNear as the lawyer
"A Crime for Mothers" is a good story that became a great TV episode due to the combined efforts of Henry Slesar, Ida Lupino, Claire Trevor and Biff Elliot.

Ida Lupino (1918-1995) was born in London and appeared in movies starting in 1931. She came to the U.S. in 1934 and appeared in such films as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939) and They Drive By Night (1940). She began directing films in 1949 and TV episodes in 1956; while she never acted in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, she directed two, as well as nine episodes of Thriller and one of The Twilight Zone.

Sally Smith as "Eileen"/Margaret
Claire Trevor (1910-2000) was born Claire Wemlinger in Brooklyn, New York. Her film career stretched from 1931 to 1982 and included such classics as Dead End (1937), Stagecoach (1939) and Key Largo (1948), for which she won an Academy Award. She won an Emmy Award in 1956 for "Dodsworth" and appeared in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The Claire Trevor School of the Arts in California is named after her.

Biff Elliot (1923-2012) was born Leon Shalek and appeared in five episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including the Slesar-penned "One Grave Too Many." A website is devoted to his career. Howard McNear (1905-1969), aka Floyd the Barber, also appeared in "One Grave Too Many." Mrs. Birdwell was played by Patricia Smith (1930-2011), who had an almost 40-year TV career but only appeared in this episode of the Hitchcock series. Robert Sampson (1933- ), who played her husband Ralph, was also seen in "The Changing Heart," while King Calder (1897-1964), who played Charlie Vance, was seen in "The Gloating Place."

"A Crime for Mothers" has just been released on DVD but may be viewed online for free here.

King Calder as Charlie Vance

"A Crime for Mothers." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 24 Jan. 1961. Television.
"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.
Slesar, Henry. "A Crime for Mothers." A Crime for Mothers and Others. New York: Avon, 1962. 9-17. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Do You Dare Enter? Part Fifteen: August 1971

The DC Mystery Line 1968-1976
by Peter Enfantino,
John Scoleri &
Jack Seabrook

Berni Wrightson
 The House of Mystery 193

"Voodoo Vengeance!"
Story by Alan Riefe
Art by Tony De Zuniga

"Dark Night, Dark Dreams!"
Story by Francis X. Bushmaster (Gerry Conway)
Art by Bill Draut and Tom Palmer

Peter: Claude Vachon runs his Haitian plantation with an iron fist, lording over his slave laborers with threats of "Voodoo Vengeance!" The slaves try to fight back with their own voodoo but, one by one, the uprisings are squelched by the evil Vachon. The plantation owner sees the writing on the wall and hatches a plan. Vachon vows to die and rise from the dead, forever to haunt the workers. He loosens a stone in his mausoleum for escape, then takes an herb that gives him the appearance of death. His "body" is buried and, as he is about to move the stone, a huge boulder rolls down the mountain and seals the crypt, leaving Vachon to a slow and painless death. Tony De Zuniga's art really saves this slow and tedious revenge saga, a plot we've seen dozens of times before (and since).

John: This starts off as a promising tale, but ultimately disappoints. All the effort that went into building up the story is wasted when ends with the coincidence of him getting trapped in the mausoleum.

"Voodoo Vengeance!"
Jack: Worst of all is Cain's moral at the end telling us not to "mess around with anybody's relatives or religion." Since when is Cain so serious? I expect some corny puns or evil cackling from our favorite caretaker.

Peter: A young lady checks into her new sublet apartment, only to be harassed by a nasty landlord. The man follows her into her apartment and, while there, the radio plays a news report of escaped asylum inmates in the area. After falling asleep, the girl awakes, only to be terrorized by the landlord, who really wants her apartment bad. In the end, we discover that it's actually the woman who's one of the escapees and she dispatches the pest with a thrust of the blade. One of the oldest cliches in all of horror comics, the innocent who is actually the crazy, doesn't get dusted off so much as redrawn. No reader with a horror IQ will make it past the third page without guessing the "twist." A really bad issue of HoM.

Jack: Whew! I guessed this one right off. I can't blame Gerry Conway for allowing this to be published under a fake name. Cain stutters in fear like his brother Abel in the frame sequence.

John: Yeah, perhaps all those years ago, the shocker that the last escaped convict was - gasp - a woman, might have made for a more surprising finale. 

"Dark Night, Dark Dreams!"

 Unexpected 126

"You Are Cordially Invited--to Die!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Dick Dillin and Vince Colletta

"A Cat Tale"
Story by Al Case (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Rich Buckler

"The Doomsday Drum"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Joe Maneely
(reprinted from House of Secrets #9, April 1958)

"Please Let Me Die!"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Bruno Premiani

"The Town That Buried Me Alive!"
Story by Uncredited
Art by Alex Toth
(reprinted from House of Mystery #149, March 1965)

"Seek Your Own Grave!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Jack: Hiram is rich, old, and evil, and when he is on his deathbed he makes a bargain with a gentleman who works for Mr. Grimm to extend his life for an hour in "You Are Cordially Invited--to Die!" Despite his insistence that he will make up for all of his sins, he promptly goes and murders one of his employees to gain the plans for a lucrative new invention. Mr. Grimm's butler shows up to collect Hiram after his hour is up, but Hiram asks to see Mr. Grimm and talks him into another week of life. Hiram is nabbed by the cops for murder and races back to Mr. Grimm, agreeing to work for him in exchange for protection. As a result, he becomes Mr Grimm's new butler, doomed to bargain with other dying men. Dick Dillin turns in another uninspired job on this tale, whose conclusion is far from unexpected.

John: Sure, a mean old bastard on his death bed gets an extra hour to live, and he decides to try and negotiate a deal on a technology he wants to own? Yeah, right. Increasing the value of my portfolio would not be number one on my list of things to do with one hour to live.

Peter: An interesting premise peters out into nothing special. I kept waiting for the reveal that "Mr. Grimm" was actually Cain, as the mansion Grimm owns sure looks like the House of Mystery.

Jack: "A Cat Tale" turns tragic when landlord Mr. Harris poisons all of cat lady Mrs. McDougal's feline friends. She attacks him and the excitement kills her but he knows she has eight more lives. Two pages and long at that!

John: I guess after complaining about the long tales that end poorly, I should at least appreciate the brevity of this loser.

Peter: "A Cat Tale" is a really dumb short-short with passable art by future Marvel superstar Rich Buckler. That's the only reason to waste a couple minutes on this one.

"A Cat Tale"
Jack: Drummer Ken Kirby's popularity is on the wane until he steals "The Doomsday Drum" from a Native American, ignoring the warning that it will haunt him. Unexpectedly, it does just that and keeps popping up every time he tries to destroy it. He confesses the theft to the police and ends up in jail. Frankly, I don't understand the end of this story, even though Peter thinks it makes sense. The best part of this story is the cool art by Joe Maneely, which has a '50s horror comic vibe missing in this issue's first two stories. Maybe that's because it's reprinted from a 1958 comic.

Peter: File "The Doomsday Drum" under "dumb but enjoyable." It's all explained logically in the end but don't think too hard on it or you'll get a headache. Fabulous art by Golden Age great Joe Maneely, who made Marvel's Black Knight one of the most exquisitely illustrated strips this side of Prince Valiant. You could do far worse than this Silver Age DC reprint.

John: Maneely, who I wasn't familiar with before this tale, does have a great style that would be right at home in EC comics, but for my money he doesn't get better than the initial splash illo of Ken chopping his drums with an axe.

Jack: Old Charlie Kimble is a prisoner who hears the voices of his dead friends in his head and longs to join them. A fellow prisoner knocks him out, steals his clothes and dies in an attempted escape. When Charlie wakes up, he feels better, no longer hears voices, and wants to live. After reading this story, I'm thinking the grave might not be such a bad idea after all.

Peter: "Please Let Me Die" is strictly amateur hour in both script and art. If I was editor Murray Boltinoff, I'd have been hiding under my desk when crap like this came in the door. I can't draw a straight line but I'm somehow confident my doodles would look better than those of Bruno Premiani. According to Wikipedia, this was the Golden Age artist's final work before retiring.

John: Wow, the editors, knowing whatever artist was going to follow Maneely probably didn't stand a chance, wasted no opportunity in scraping the bottom of the bucket.

"Please Let Me Die!"
Jack: When Wayne Bostwick returns after a long absence to his home, he finds that it is "The Town That Buried Me Alive!" Everyone thinks he's his twin brother Roy and, after awhile, Wayne begins to think so, too. But when Wayne is jailed as Roy and accused of using shoddy building materials in a dam project, he must use his wits to prove his real identity. Not much of a chiller, this story shows us an earlier stage in Alex Toth's development as an artist, one where his work is more realistic and less fanciful than what we've grown used to in the early '70s. Still, his draftsmanship is excellent and better than that found in the new stories in this issue.

This panel hints at the direction
Toth would soon take.
Peter: This is an engaging read but it comes with a really confusing expository. It kept me guessing and that's what counts, I guess, in a story that's supposed to have an Unexpected finale. The most interesting thing about this story is seeing how radically different Alex Toth's art was just a little more than a half decade before. His art was very stylish and stood out from all the other DC hacks but wasn't nearly as moody and atmospheric as it would become with the "new wave" of mystery titles. If "The Town..." and "The Doomsday Drum" are any indicator, it would have been kinder to readers (and a lot cheaper on the overhead) to go all-reprint with Unexpected rather than fill it with junk like the new material. By the way, a little trivia: the word "unexpected" was hastily added to the climactic panel of each of the reprints to give it a "new" feel (in those early days, reprints weren't acknowledged).

John: I've not been enamored with Toth's work to date, this was less garish than usual. Hopefully this is a good sign of things to come.

Jack: An old miser living in a ghost town in the desert is killed by three hoodlums who seek his gold. After he dies, his faithful dog leads each of the men to their doom. What would an issue of Unexpected be without a Grandenetti story? I have to wonder if the poor artist had something wrong with him when he was drawing these. It makes me pine for the work of Frank Robbins.

John: Yes, welcome to amateur hour, but I have to say I prefer it to Premiani's work in this issue.

"Seek Your Own Grave!"
Peter: I never thought Jerry Grandenetti's art could get any worse but now here's the proof. I like the fact that the Unexpected's nameless narrator has to spell out the unexpected twist at the end of the story: "Unexpected? Don't you remember the old miner's warning--that if he died, he'd take the three of you with him?" Oh, right, that's why the three guys end up dead! Thanks! This was the first of the over-sized quarter books--52 pages for only a quarter!--as well as the first monthly title in the mystery line. Of course, in the case of Unexpected, it's clearly quantity over quality. The jumbo-sizers will last only eleven months but Unexpected will maintain its monthly schedule until March 1974 (missing only one month, May 1973), when it will be fattened up again, this time to 100 pages for 60 cents. Next month, the 52-page virus infects the other mystery titles (see note below).

Note to our readers: Because of the DC mystery line explosion of 1971, our bi-weekly coverage of DC horror/mystery will now cover only one month per post rather than two. In the next few months, we'll see the line rapidly expand to seven titles, many of them monthly, and that's a lot of stories for two old men to absorb. We trust you'll still enjoy our nostalgic journey. It'll just take a little longer to get to the finale.

Look for it on your newsstand!
Just don't expect to find it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 15: August 1960

By Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Joe Kubert
 Our Army at War 97

"What Makes a Sergeant Run?"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Secret of the Ace's Helmet!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"You Can't Borrow a Star!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: New recruit Timmy asks Rock, "What Makes a Sergeant Run?" and Rock has a hard time coming up with a cogent answer. Luckily, battles keep getting in the way, but Timmy is tenacious, and Rock's difficulty in formulating a response leads to some good-natured ribbing from the combat-happy Joes of Easy Co. Finally, after a tense showdown with a tank Timmy tells Rock that he doesn't need an answer in words--everything Rock does for his men provides answer enough.

"What Makes a Sergeant Run?"
Peter: It’s a ludicrous plot hook that Timmy keeps stopping right in the middle of gunfights and mortar explosions to ask Rock “what’s a sergeant?” like some deranged parrot. Even less likely (at least in regards to the Sarge we’ve become familiar with) is that the question actually weighs on Rock’s mind and he finds himself (amidst the same explosions and shelling) pondering the subject while trying to keep his company alive. Though it’s a bit vague, am I right in assuming this incarnation of Easy is wiped out at the climax of the story, leaving only Rock and Timmy?

Jack: I don't think so--isn't that the rest of them standing outside the house in the next-to-last panel? Soon after his time in WWII, Timmy bought a lovely collie and starred in a TV show named Lassie. Lt. Walsh discovers the "Secret of the Ace's Helmet!" in the second tale, set in WWI among battling biplanes. German Ace Von Talz picks off the best of the Allies one by one until Lt. Walsh figures out his winning maneuver with a little help from a clue written inside the helmet of one of his fallen comrades. The coolest thing about this strip is the battles in the air between biplanes.

"Secret of the Ace's Helmet!"
Peter: This strip makes no sense to me at all. Why would Doug, in the heat of an aerial battle, take his eyes off “the road” long enough to discover and read a message in Roy’s helmet? And about that message: if Roy had figured out Von Talz’s trick, why didn’t he shoot the German down? Did he only discover the “secret” as his plane was descending in flames, so he whipped out a feather quill and jotted down the message in his hat before he hit the ground, knowing that Doug would take the helmet along with him on his next mission? I need answers.

Jack: Bill is embarrassed that he has not been awarded a Silver Star so that he can display it in a photo to be sent home to Bill Jr. Despite the urgings of his fellow G.I.s, he knows that "You Can't Borrow a Star!" and he has to go ahead and earn one on his own by dispatching a bunch of Nazis and a tank during some intense fighting.

"You Can't Borrow a Star!"
Peter: I’ve found that most of the stronger war tales are not built around a specific gimmick (here being Bill’s aim to get a silver star for the express purpose of impressing his kid) but upon the characters and the events that seem to almost spring up around them. Yep, those stories, in these early days, are few and far between but they do happen. Not here. Bill comes off as such a jackass (not, I’m sure, Bob Haney’s goal), almost forgetting he has other soldiers around him, whining that no one witnesses his acts of valor and, therefore, he can’t be rewarded. The message to most of these short tales, good and bad alike, is that war brings out “the best” in men but this tale shows us otherwise.

Jack: Bill is a real whiner, isn't he! And note that he still doesn't have a star at the end, but only the promise of one, yet that doesn't stop him from posing for a photo with someone else's star that he sends home to Bill Jr. I hope the lad did not read this comic book years later and learn the truth.

Jerry Grandenetti
All American Men of War 80

"The Medal Men!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Christmas Tree for a Sub!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Red Letter Battle!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: A green recruit finds it hard to get "The Medal Men" to talk about their experiences leading up to the pinning of their medals. He becomes obsessed with winning one regardless of the risk. I know we've read something very similar to this before and I have to believe that story was more interesting than this one. Well, maybe not. The art here is really bad, Andru/Esposito at their "Opie Taylor" worst. It's an interesting cover design (which is redrawn on the splash by Ross and Mike), very eye-catching.

"The Medal Men!"
Jack: You know where we read this before? In "You Can't Borrow a Star!" in this month's Our Army at War. It does seem like certain themes pop up in more than one comic in the course of a month, doesn't it? One other interesting thing about this story is that it is only 12 pages long and not a "two-parter." Most of the DC war books have been featuring slightly longer stories that are broken up at a seemingly arbitrary point and labeled "two-parters." In the prior issue of All American Men of War, the two-part lead was 13 pages long. Now, we get a 12 page one-parter. Perhaps they realized that calling stories "two-parters" was not creating much excitement in the comic-buying public. We'll see what develops as the months march by. One other note: the hero strip "The Metal Men" debuted a year and a half after "The Medal Men," with the same creative trio of Kanigher/Andru/Esposito at the helm.

"Christmas Tree for a Sub!"
Peter: The crew of submarine Triggerfish, feeling a bit low during the holidays, decide to go ashore in Japan and cut down a Christmas tree for their ship. They're spotted and the deadly battleship Shinaru sneaks up and cripples her. In an effort to fool the enemy, the sub jettisons its tree and some other possessions to the surface. The ruse works and the sub surfaces, torpedoing the Shinaru. A fairly exciting read (albeit complete with a schmaltzy climax) and, more importantly, decent art by Jack Abel. Strange that a Christmas story would be featured in a comic cover-dated August (and on sale in May)!

Jack: My favorite part of this story comes when the Japanese woodcutter spies the Yankee Dogs cutting down a tree on his home island and exclaims, "By the Emperor's Sword!" The next caption is priceless: "Quickly, on rope-soled sandals the woodcutter ran to a nearby naval base . . ."

"Red Letter Battle!"
Peter: Eddie is about to celebrate his "Red Letter Day" with girlfriend Renee in Paris but the Nazis have other ideas for the young GI. This is one of those implausible tales where the German army throws its entire armada at two men and can't slow them down. Abel's art is back to its usual muddy look, with one character indiscernible from the next. In Sgt. Rock's Combat Corner, the Sarge has the unenviable task of answering this tough question from Charles Wade of Paterson, New Jersey: "What would you do if you pulled the pin on a grenade and then decided not to throw it?" Amazingly, Rock does not begin his answer with "Bend over and kiss..."

Jack: Renee is not nearly as tough as Mlle. Marie, our favorite battle doll. In fact, Renee seems like a bit of a pill. Doesn't she know that her G.I. squeeze might have other things keeping him busy? As for Sgt. Rock's Combat Corner, you missed what was (for me) the most interesting bit of trivia--the bazooka was named after a trick musical instrument played by a comedian named Bob Burns!

Jerry Grandenetti
Our Fighting Forces 56

"Bridge of Bullets!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Letter to a Frogman!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

"Ace on the Spot!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Bridge of Bullets!"
Jack: Gunner and Sarge have a new assignment: find a bridge and blow it up before the enemy uses it to cross and attack! After some harrowing near-misses they find the bridge but get trapped in the middle as Gunner hangs by a rope and an enemy plane bears down on them! Luckily, Gunner is "a man with a gun" and he is able to take out the plane and the enemy troops on the ground. See "The Rope Fighters" (G.I. Combat 82, July 1960) for the same predicament that is portrayed on the cover of this issue. This scene stretches the bounds of reality.

Peter: Yet another time-waster starring Whiner and Grump. DC should have wised up and morphed this strip into a superhero series as it sure isn’t believable as a “true to life war saga.” Gunner and Sarge manage to duck all streams of bullets, mortar, and aerial attacks thrown at them and emerge smiling and joking. Grandenetti’s art, as usual, is sketchy, with several panels looking unfinished.

"Letter to a Frogman!"
Jack: Certain that the "Letter to a Frogman!" he received from his gal Sally is a "Dear John" letter, Wally is afraid to open it and makes a series of mistakes, including putting the wrong explosive package on an enemy sub. His distractions lead to his being injured in an explosion and he ends up in the hospital being tended to by Sally, whose letter (had he read it) told him that she was now a Navy nurse.

Peter: Far from believable, this one should have been saved by the art of Heath but Russ must have had an off day as only a few panels here reach his past glory. The story is incredibly dumb, the idea that this professional frogman (constantly dealing with death) would be letting a simple letter risk his life and that of his partner just doesn’t ring true. The climax is right out of Girls’ Love Stories, the romance title DC was selling at that time.
"Ace on the Spot!"

Jack: I thought the Heath art was a big step up from everything other than Kubert that we've seen this month. Captain Hill is an "Ace on the Spot!" when he shows up for flying duty in Korea after having flown 50 missions in WWII. The only problem is that he has never flown a jet in combat duty before and now all of the new fliers are looking to him for guidance. He gets off to a shaky start but finds his groove soon enough.

Peter: "Ace on the Spot" was the last story I read this week and wins “Best of the Month” honors by default. It’s not that it’s a classic (we’ve seen the “old timer from WW2 comes in to show the young guys a thing or two” plot a few times already) but it’s exciting enough and the art is surprisingly good for Andru and Esposito. With only one art job apiece by Russ Heath (and a weak one at that) and Joe Kubert, this was a mediocre month at best.

Jack: I agree. This was good work by Andru and Esposito but at only six pages it's hardly a classic.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Sixteen: "The Man With Two Faces" [6.11]

by Jack Seabrook

Henry Slesar adapted his own story, "The Man With Two Faces," for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode first broadcast on December 13, 1960. The story begins as Mrs. Wagner prepares herself for a visit to the police station, having been the victim of a mugger who got away with her purse and nine dollars. Her daughter Mabel and her daughter's husband Leo share her apartment after having moved back to New York City from California the year before. Mrs. Wagner meets Lieutenant Meade at the station and looks through volumes of mug shots; she is noticeably shaken by a photograph of Will Draves, alias Willie the Weeper, born in San Francisco.

Mrs. Wagner tells Lt. Meade that she did not see the mugger's face in any of the books. Back at home, she hesitantly questions Mabel about Leo's background, telling her daughter that "'You're everything in my life now.'" Mabel telephones Lt. Meade and tells him that she is coming back to the station to talk to him again. At the station, she tells Meade about Will Draves, claiming that he resembles an old boyfriend of her daughter's and showing Meade a snapshot to compare to the mug shot. Meade says that he doubts it is the same man and coaxes Mrs. Wagner into admitting that the man in the snapshot is Leo.

Mabel returns to her apartment, happy and relieved. As Mabel and Leo get ready to go out for the evening, Lt. Meade suddenly arrives at the door to arrest Leo, who is really Will Draves. He also arrests Mabel, a/k/a Mrs. Draves, to the horror of Mrs. Wagner. Somewhere, on a deserted street, a mugger discards a purse, having netted only nine dollars.

"The Man With Two Faces" is the earliest published story by Slesar to have been adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents to date. It first appeared in Manhunt in August 1956. The story shares themes with many other Slesar stories that have been adapted for television, such as a mother's love for her daughter, hidden identity, and betrayal. The New York setting is familiar, as is the plot device of a person having to interact with police for the first time.

Slesar did not make many changes when he adapted the story for television. An opening scene is added in which Mrs. Wagner and a friend leave a movie theater and she walks home alone through a neighborhood that her friend suggests is unsafe. The questionable nature of the neighborhood is confirmed when we see a man and a woman embracing against an alley wall together before they disappear down the alley. As Mrs. Wagner walks, the silence of the street is broken only by her footsteps, then there is a musical sting as the mugger attacks.

Spring Byington
In the apartment scenes, Leo calls Mrs. Wagner "Mom" or "Alice," giving her a first name that the print story lacks. Spring Byington, who plays Mrs. Wagner, appears too old for the role as the mother of Mabel, who is played by Bethel Leslie. Byington was 74 years old at the time and Leslie was 31, an age difference of 43 years. The biggest problem with this episode is Bethel Leslie's performance, since her reactions often do not seem to fit the situation. She plays Mabel as a tough woman and her negative attitude toward her mother lessens the surprise at the end when it is revealed that she is part of a husband and wife criminal team.

Steve Dunne
Steve Dunne, as Lt. Meade, is very good. Dunne has a face that was made for black and white TV. He is a natural performer, having been seen before in the episode "Special Delivery." The scenes at the police station between him and Spring Byington are the highlights of the episode. The scene in the record room, when Mrs. Wagner spends a long time looking through mug shot books, is especially well handled, with ominous music and a palpable sense of heat and fatigue.

The direction by Stuart Rosenberg is competent, with occasional use of a mobile camera and a few interesting shots, such as one in a mirror near the beginning and a low angle shot in the records room. The last scene in the story, where the thief discards the purse, is eliminated in the TV show. It seems that Slesar chose to focus his teleplay more on the relationship between mother and daughter and to downplay the irony that is present in the story, in which a minor theft sets in motion a chain of events that destroys Mrs. Wagner's makeshift family.

Bethel Leslie
Mothers and daughters, mothers and sons--these themes appear over and over in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes adapted from stories by Henry Slesar; recall the false mother in "Heart of Gold" and the mother in "Pen Pal" who secretly takes her daughter's identity when writing to a convict.

Spring Byington (1886-1971) was in movies from 1930 to 1954 and on TV from 1951 to 1968. Films in which she appeared include Werewolf of London (1935) and Meet John Doe (1941); she also starred in the TV series December Bride from 1954 to 1959 and in Laramie from 1961 to 1963. She was on Batman twice but this was her only appearance on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Harp McGuire
Steve Dunne (1918-1977), born Francis Dunne, was in movies from 1945 to 1973 and on TV from 1951 to 1973. He starred on radio in The Adventures of Sam Spade from 1950 to 1951 and on TV in The Brothers Brannagan from 1960 to 1961. He was on the Hitchcock series five times and on Batman twice.

Bethel Leslie (1929-1999) was on TV from 1949 to 1998 and made the occasional movie. She also appeared often on Broadway and even wrote for TV. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show.  Finally, Harp McGuire (1921-1966) played Leo; he was also in "Madame Mystery."

Stuart Rosenberg (1927-2007) directed "The Man With Two Faces." He spent nine years (from 1957 to 1966) working in TV and then made his name in movies, directing until 1991. He directed five episodes of the Hitchcock series, three episodes of The Twilight Zone, and the Paul Newman classic, Cool Hand Luke in 1967.

"The Man With Two Faces" is not yet available on DVD but may be viewed online for free here. It originally ran on NBC at 8:30 on Tuesday, December 13, 1960, and was followed at 9 by the adaptation of Fredric Brown's novel, Knock Three-One-Two on Thriller.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.
"The Man With Two Faces." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 13 Dec. 1960. Television.
Slesar, Henry. "The Man With Two Faces" Clean Crimes and Neat Murders: Alfred Hitchcock's Hand Picked Selection of Stories by Henry Slesar. New York: Avon, 1960. 114-125. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Do You Dare Enter? Part Fourteen: June-July 1971 / Best and Worst Thus Far

The DC Mystery Line 1968-1976
by Jack Seabrook,
John Scoleri,
& Peter Enfantino

Neal Adams
House of Mystery 192 (June 1971)

"The Gardener of Eden!"
Story by John Albano
Art by Jim Aparo

"Image of Darkness"
Story by Bob Kanigher
Art by Gray Morrow

"Nobody Loves a Lizard!"
Story by Virgil North
Art by Don Heck

Peter: Doctor Adam Eden (you heard me) and his beautiful wife, Eve (yep!) move into their brand new mansion, only to find it already inhabited by a slow-witted hunchback named Boris. The doctor tells Boris to get out immediately but his wife takes pity on the malformed dimwit and hires him on as the "Gardener of Eden." After a few weeks, the doctor notices Eve enjoying quite a bit of time with his new employee and decides to bury the hatchet... in Boris's skull. Eve confronts her murderous husband and tells him she's never loved anyone but him. Ashamed of his rash act of violence, the doc decides to make Boris the recipient of a new synthetic brain he's been working on.

The experiment a success, the exhausted surgeon hits the sack, only to wake later to find himself strapped to a gurney and prepped for surgery. Boris has relieved Eve of her maiden brain and replaced it with a similar plastic one and is now about to do the same for Adam. John Albano had obviously been watching a lot of late night horror movies as he hits every brain transplant cliche right on the head. Why the dopey doc would want to put a super-high-intelligent brain into a man he'd just tried to kill is not really explored. Nor is the very fast transformation Adam has from respectable doctor who ignores his wife most of the time to jealous, salivating murderer. Jim Aparo does his best with what little he has to work with (I picture the story notes something like "Boris is a big, ugly hunchback") and at least we've got that fabulous Neal Adams cover. Do you think Neal would have liked to read one of these scripts that actually involved kids in danger?

Jack: I thought it was kind of rude of Dr. Eden to make a snap judgment that Boris must be retarded and then hand him a wad of cash and tell him to go live somewhere else. We are told that Dr. Eden is "usually charitable," but he sure acts like a jerk. Fortunately, the always-reliable Jim Aparo makes this ridiculous story nice to look at. And what exactly is a plastic brain?

John: There's something particularly odd and yet creepy about the way Aparo drew Boris.  Thankfully, the depiction really helps the story.

Peter: 19th Century Andrew's got a problem: he's a really ugly, malformed hunchback with bad teeth (think, I don't know, Boris from the last story), but things may be looking up. He's found a mirror that transforms him (in his words) into a "Young... Handsome (and) straight" man. Setting aside his preference for men, Andrew travels through the mirror into our present day and falls in love with beautiful Susan. They take up residence at the House of Mystery and all seems wonderful until he discovers that he has to go back through the mirror every night at midnight or face transforming into the ugly princess before Susan's eyes. Susan puts up with it at first but then has her suspicions until one night she witnesses Andrew changing back into Boris. End of story. I've dozed through probably half a dozen Robert Kanigher horror stories and not one of them is half as good as the worst Kanigher war story I've read. There's some confusion here as to how much time elapses between the day Andrew heads through the mirror and the first night he discovers the drawback to his paradise. The guy does all kinds of interesting things, hits parties, discos, night clubs and meets and woos Susan and convinces her to live with him. Did this all happen in one day? How could he not have known he'd turn back into his old creepy self? Was he drunk all those nights? The Morrow art is steadily declining, going from what I once thought of as stylish to a more by-the-numbers look. One more thing: this gimmick of Cain popping up as a character in these stories doesn't make sense. Granted, Andrew is a supernatural presence but Susan seems to be a nice lass. Doesn't she think it's weird that Andrew has no visible means of support and they're living in the House of Mystery with a graveyard caretaker?

Jack: I'm surprised at your negative reaction to this story. I thought the story was decent, until the corny ending, and I liked Gray Morrow's art better than I've liked it in other stories recently. I thought it was nice how he was starting to get away from the overly freaky designs and just draw characters and scenes a little bit more realistically. I even liked his depiction of the swingin' seventies lifestyle. I'll admit it's a little jarring to go from a Jim Aparo Cain in the first story to a Gray Morrow Cain in the second story, especially since Morrow's version of the caretaker looks like a college professor. By the way, while we all know it's really the House of Mystery, Andrew refers to it as the House of Cain.

Peter: "Nobody Loves a Lizard" is a four page piece of fluff about an orphan, constantly berated by the orphanage director, who has a fondness for reptiles. All ends happily when he's adopted by a beautiful lady with a giant tail. Don Heck's art here is actually palatable and the story, such as it is, is pretty harmless. By default, "Lizard" is the best story in the issue and that's not much of an endorsement.

Jack: I liked "Image of Darkness" better but I agree that this is above average art from Don Heck. It doesn't make much sense as a story but I like the talking lizard. Little known fact: this was the first credit (per IMDB) for the diminutive actor who would later go on to work for GEICO.

John: Better than a Humpty Dumpty appearance, for what it's worth.

Berni Wrightson
House of Secrets 92 (July 1971)

"Swamp Thing"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Berni Wrightson

"After I Die!"
Story by Jack Kirby and Mark Evanier
Art by Bill Draut

"It's Better to Give..."
Story by Virgil North
Art by Alan Weiss and Tony deZuniga

Peter: History (and some of the creators involved) tell us that it was simply a coincidence that Man-Thing and Swamp Thing appeared on the newsstand virtually at the same time. Len Wein wrote "Swamp Thing" (introducing a quite dissimilar character than the one who would later garner his own title), then took a taxi over to Marvel, where he wrote an installment of the Man-Thing series (originally slated for Savage Tales #2 but eventually surfacing in Astonishing Tales #12, June 1972), and then basically re-wrote the House of Secrets short, mixing in some very similar elements from the Marvel series. Way too close, says Roy Thomas in an interview in Alter Ego #81: "Gerry and I thought that, unconsciously, the origin in Swamp Thing #1 was a bit too similar to the origin of Man-Thing a year-and-a-half earlier. There was vague talk at the time around Marvel of legal action, but it was never really pursued... We weren't happy with the situation over the Swamp Thing #1 origin, but we figured it was an accident. Gerry was rooming with Len at the time and tried to talk him into changing the Swamp Thing's origin.

Len didn't see the similarities, so he went ahead with what he was going to do." Roy goes on to say that his monster was a knock-off of the Heap, a swamp creature that had a back-up strip in Airboy Comics during the 1940s. In any event, this particular issue of HoS quickly became sought after on the collector's market, and one of the most expensive single issues in the entire mystery line. So what about the story itself? It's a bit different than the origin story related in Swamp Thing #1 (which is more of a reboot of the short story) but the skeleton remains the same: Alex Olsen (later rechristened Alec Holland) and his partner, Damian Ridge, are dabbling in some sort of chemistry (the formula the pair are working on is not the only vague plot point in this story--the characters are dressed in what appears to be 19th Century clothing) in a huge estate on the edge of a swamp.

Unbeknownst to Alex, Damian secretly covets his partner's wife, Linda, and rigs the laboratory equipment to explode while Alex is working. Damian tells Linda that Alex is dead and then buries the man (alive) in the swamp. Linda and Damian soon marry but it's a strained relationship. Believing that his new wife is suspicious of his friend's death, Damian decides to off her but Alex, now risen as swamp monster, arrives in the nick of time and gets his revenge. The obvious highlight here is Bernie Wrightson's dark, moody art but Wein's simple story works well enough that we empathize with seven feet of moss and muck. Even if this story had not spawned the multi-armed Swamp Thing franchise, this would still have been one of the best, most atmospheric short stories DC ever ran in their mystery line.

Jack: I completely agree. This is a great story! Going back a little further than the Heap, this story has its origin (whether Wein recalled it or not) in Theodore Sturgeon's "It," published in the August 1940 issue of the pulp, Unknown. The monster in that story is also risen from a dead man's body in a swamp, though Wein and Wrightson bring a lot more humanity and pathos to their character. The DC Comics Database, which usually has less information than the Grand Comics Database, notes that Wrightson used Mike Kaluta as his cover model for Swampy and Louise Jones as his cover model for Linda. Louise Jones was married to Jeff Jones, but later married Walt Simonson.

John: A great story, worthy of its classic status, but honestly not Wrightson's best work, in my opinion.

The rest of this script maybe?

Peter: Maxwell James becomes obsessed with the "beyond" after watching his wife's reaction just before death. When legitimate doorways are blocked, James decides to kill his freeloader brother-in-law and extract the secret as the man fades away. Not being an expert with a gun, things go backasswards for Maxwell and it's he who takes a bullet. As he dies, he pleads with his wretched in-law to look into his eyes. The man does so and the truth sends him swirling into insanity.  There's nothing wrong with not having a character to root for but the story meanders and see-saws so much you give up trying to figure out the point of it all. Proof that Jack Kirby's best writing involved superheroes fighting cosmic menaces. Another really bad tale that looks as though it's been in a file folder for 15 years and missed its on-sale date. There's a reason for that... In a fascinating piece in The Jack Kirby Collector #40 (mostly given over to a discussion on the birth of Kirby's Kamandi), Mark Evanier relates how "After I Die" came about. It was based on a story written by Kirby and Joe Simon for one of DC's early anthology books, Black Magic, and resurrected by Kirby when Carmine Infantino asked "The King" to help boost the flagging mystery line. Kirby handed the original story over to Evanier and told him to "rewrite and modernize" it but, when Jack got Evanier's script, he didn't care for it and rewrote the whole thing. When the story was about to run, Evanier was so unhappy about the experience that he requested the story run without his byline. I'd have done the same.

Jack: Oddly enough, the story ran without any credits at all. One would think they would have wanted to promote Kirby's involvement. I did not mind the story as much as you did, possibly because I was so elated from reading "Swamp Thing" that I gave this a pass. I will say that the brother-in-law, Hal, looks much too young.

John: If you hadn't pointed out it was Kirby, I think I would have read it and moved along, without even realizing it.

Peter: Smilin' Sam, a hobo, discovers a crying child in the junkyard he lives in and helps the little runt. Suddenly, his luck turns good and he discovers a veritable money machine: a faucet that spits out dimes. When another vagrant gets wind of this, he murders Sam but then has to face the wrath of the little boy, who's come back to visit Sam. Yet another of those yarns that either has you scratching your head or burning the comic book in disgust (since this particular issue is worth so much, I'd vote the former). Who exactly is this little kid and when he exacts revenge for Sam by absorbing the man into a balloon and popping it, does the bum explode as well or what? I have no idea! The murderous "bum" by the way looks like a dock worker rather than a "malicious tramp." The final two pages are given over to a short-short called "Trick or Treat," of which the less said the better.

John: I thought the balloon popping was a cool idea.

Jack: I guess I was on such a high from "Swamp Thing" that I liked all of the stories in this issue! The kid turns out to have been a baby warlock, according to Abel. He would later grow up to star in a Marvel series of his own but he had absolutely nothing to do with Jeff Jones.

Nick Cardy
 Unexpected 125 (July 1971)

"Screech of Guilt!"
Story by Jack Phillips (George Kashdan)
Art by Art Saaf

"Escape Into the Unknown!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Sid Greene

"Know No Evil!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Jack: Nicholas shoots and kills his business partner, Clinton, after the man discovers that he has been embezzling from the company coffers. Clinton's pet parrot heard the whole thing and with a "Screech of Guilt!" squawks out the final verbal exchange between the two men. Nicholas tries to kill the bird but it escapes. It then follows him, driving him slowly crazy until he is attacked and killed by a company of parrots at a bird sanctuary. They should have called this story "The Tell-Tale Parrot." The art isn't half-bad for an issue of Unexpected but the story is predictable.

This is why you're not supposed to get out
of your car at the drive-through Jungle Safari Park
Peter: A completely ludicrous story that I still managed to enjoy for some reason. This parrot has got to be the most intelligent creature in the solar system. He not only memorizes and apes the entire conversation held during the murder but then knows when to keep his beak shut (why he doesn’t say anything in front of Martha is anyone’s guess). The finale brings up an interesting question: did Polly the bird plan the murder of  Nicholas? How would the parrot know that Nicholas would take that highway (through the Parrot Jungle!!!) and release him in just the right spot? Did the bird set up Nicholas’s murder with all his parrot friends ahead of time? I can just see the “director’s cut” version of this story where all the parrots are in a circle while Polly maps out the plan: “Rawwwk, okay he’ll release me here and I’ll fly in and we’ll all shout the speech we’ve been practicing and then we’ll tear him to ribbons with our little beaks!” Yep, too much time spent on something that should have been rejected at the editor’s table as “simply too stupid” but I think this is one of those rare “birds”: the story so outlandish, so inane, so completely devoid of quality, that it becomes entertainment.

John: Okay, I figured you guys were talking up an issue of Unexpected to get me to give it another chance. I'll be darned if this isn't the most entertaining tales to come out of these pages. That said, I'm still not ready to give Unexpected another chance.

Jack: On the run after a prison break, Lefty climbs the scaffolding of a rocket ship about to take off and hides inside. In an "Escape into the Unknown!" he finds himself launched into space, alone. He begins to hallucinate as time passes until finally the satellite returns to Earth and Lefty emerges--sporting long, gray hair and looking decades older. He escaped a life sentence in prison only to spend 48 years alone in space! Another fairly predictable story, though well-executed. I did not expect the Rip Van Winkle conclusion.

Peter: The set-up is pretty lame (security is hilariously bad at this rocket launch and I'm not sure the scientists would launch a rocket knowing there was an ex-con hiding somewhere on the base) and the pay-off is tired but the story’s pretty harmless. Sid Greene’s art resembles that of a reined-in Jerry Grandenetti. The edges are still a bit rough but it’s not as exaggerated.

Jack: Ferghol tells Mr. Barnes that sniffing the fumes from some weird, rare flowers will transfer the evil parts of his personality into a horrible creature named Amram for 24 hours and allow Mr. Barnes to commit any crimes he chooses. The authorities will "Know No Evil!" attaches to Barnes because all of the evil will be with Amram. Barnes successfully carries out a string of robberies, but the spell only lasts 24 hours. He sneaks a look at Amram, who is grotesque, having taken onto his body the effects of all of the crimes done by other men. When Barnes is dying, after having been hit by a truck, he confesses the truth, and his confession reverses the effect on poor Amram. Amram wants to find the other criminals whose evil deeds have been loaded onto him and get them to confess, but Ferghol stands in his way, so Ferghol is killed trying to prevent Amram from finding peace. Amram goes to the police and ends up in the courtroom of Judge Gallows, who believes his story. This supposed miscarriage of justice is one of the events that leads Judge Gallows to be removed from the bench. Meanwhile poor Amram waits for criminals to confess and return him to health. Whew! Hard to believe they fit all of that into eight pages. Believe it or not, the cool Nick Cardy cover of this issue is an "interpretation" of an event from this story. Jerry Grandenetti's art is bearable for a change.

Peter: I’d have liked to see more of the trial (I mean, you’ve got this eerie judge, why not use him?) but this was certainly better than the other Judge Gallows stories we’ve been subjected to. The empath idea is a sophisticated one and I’m fairly sure it was lost on most of the ten year-olds who might have picked the issue up, but I certainly applaud writer George Kashdan for attempting something a little more adult than haunted mirrors and cursed felines. The real Jerry Grandenetti (as opposed to his twin, Sid Greene) turns in an acceptable art job as well.

By the way, a letter from Ted Moynihan on the Unexpected Mail page reminds us we forgot to mention a couple of Super DC Giants published in late 1970 and early 1971 that concern us around this blog. Super DC Giant was a 68-page special that was published sporadically beginning in October 1970, with 15 issues appearing through Summer 1976. The numbering was funky but number S-20 (actually the 8th issue) was a special House of Mystery issue. That issue reprinted:

Cover for Super DC Giant #S-20 (1970)1/Black Magic for Sale (from HOM #46, January 1956)
2/The Second Death of Abraham Lincoln (from HOM #51, June 1956)
3/The Thing in the Box (from HOM #61, April 1957)
4/The Laughing Ghost of Warwick Castle (from HOM #56, November 1956)
5/Riddle of the Red Roc (from HOM #63, June 1957)
6/The Lady and the Creature (from HOM #63, June 1957)
7/The Thief of Thoughts (from HOM #66, September 1957)
8/The Ghost Snowman (from Sensation Mystery #114, April 1953)

3, 5, and 7 feature art by Jack Kirby while 8 is drawn by Mad (and Mademoiselle Marie) legend Mort Drucker. Jack Sparling provided a new framing sequence for the reprints.

Cover for Super DC Giant #S-23 (1971)Super DC Giant #s-23 was a special Unexpected number, reprinting:

1/The Demon in the Mirror! (from Sensation Comics #109, June 1952)
2/The Man Who Walked Like a Mummy! (from HOM #48, March 1956)
3/The Thing from the Skies (from Tales of the Unexpected #13, May 1957)
4/The Face in the Clock (from TOTU #14, June 1957)
5/Captives of Creature Castle (from HOM #104, November 1960)
6/The Secret of the Little Black Bag! (from HOM #9, December 1952)
7/The Girl in the Iron Mask (from HOM #66, September 1957)

On that same Unexpected Mail page, editor Murray Boltinoff gives us the wonderful news that the title has been promoted to monthly status. Oh happy day!

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 15 (July 1971)

"Freddy is Another Name for Fear!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Wally Wood

"Bayou Witch"
Story by Phil Seuling
Art by Gray Morrow

"I Married a Ghost"
Story by Al Case (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Art Saaf

Jack: Oversized simpleton Freddy ("Freddy is Another Name for Fear!") has wrecked another dormitory and can't be trusted anywhere but in the home of Dr. Sherman, who tells young colleague Dr. Barnes that he's sure he can cure the big lummox. A ghostly figure appears at Freddy's window to tempt him to escape, but Freddy keeps his promise not to try and tells Dr. Sherman about it. What Freddy does not know is that Dr. Sherman plans to use his patient to kill ambitious young Dr. Barnes. Turnabout is fair play when Barnes has Freddy kill Sherman and Freddy then kills Barnes too for good measure. George Kashdan's script is terrible and Wally Wood's art is below average for the great Mr. Wood. There are atmospheric panels here and there but even he couldn't do much with this story.

"Freddy is Another Name for Fear!"
Peter: This works up to a twist ending that never happens, a whimper rather than a bang. Wood’s art is weak, not up to the legendary work he’d presented innumerable times before. If I didn’t know better I’d say an inker muted Wally’s style but Wood did his own inking on “Freddy.” The reveal of the fake spectre outside Freddy's window is laugh out loud stupid.

John: Fortunately Wood left much better stuff for us to remember him by. 

"Bayou Witch"

Jack: When Heck Belleau claims Old Yeller Maggie is a "Bayou Witch," the backwoods folk turn on her and their luck becomes all bad. They head out with a lynching party but instead of the witch, they try to lynch Heck, until Maggie puts a stop to it. This dreadful story is told in rhymed stanzas in captions with no word balloons, which is a good thing because they would get in the way of Gray Morrow's art. Phil Seuling was a comic dealer who basically started the big Comic Con movement that led, decades later to the current annual behemoth in San Diego. As a writer, he makes a great salesman.

Peter: I think you're being a bit hard on this one, Jack, but it may be because I'm starving for something that's not horrible. Nice EC-ish art by Morrow (much better than the work he did on "Image of Darkness" in HoM #192) highlights an awkwardly-phrased horror poem.  I’m sure pop singer Jim Stafford read this story just before writing his own ballad to a “Swamp Witch.” The DC writers had a thing for backwoods escapades and swamp creatures, didn’t they?

John: Did anyone else think that the art really suffers in the reproduction here? I'd love to get a glimpse of the originals, which I imagine must have looked pretty sharp.

Jack: A slight glitch occurs with Gil and Jennifer's wedding plans the night before the big event. Gil drives carelessly on a rain-slicked road and Jen dies in the crash. She returns lickety split as a ghost and Gil is so excited that, within hours, he is able to announce that "I Married a Ghost." Everyone thinks he's nuts but he insists that he's sharing his happy home with the late Jennifer. His friend Jack plays along until Gil almost dies from gas poisoning that may have been caused by his ghostly wife, whom Jack thinks wants Gil to hurry up and join her in the spirit world. Jack has a doctor come and take Gil away but Jack wonders if he may be falling under Jen's spell. A lackluster issue of The Witching Hour closes with this dud of a story, where the bad art more than matches the weak tale.

"I Married a Ghost"
Peter: I sure wish I was old enough to have written comic books in 1971. Judging by this story, anyone could land a job at DC. You certainly didn’t need to be talented. Another story that ostensibly builds to a twist climax but leaves me wondering why they bother in the first place. Last issue’s trips to the science fiction well brought up some good bucketfuls but perhaps editor Murray Boltinoff wasn’t willing to commit to a radical change. An sf comic book titled The Witching Hour probably would have confused all the ten year-olds anyway.

John: Another story bettered by the Nick Cardy cover art. On the bright side, Swamp Thing proves that every once and a while, something good will crawl out of the dreck...

We somehow managed to forget our time-honored tradition of picking the best and worst stories of the year so we'll kind of make up for that here. The following are our picks for the Best and Worst Script, Art and All-Around Story for the first 3 years we've covered:


Best Script: Jack Oleck, "Nightmare" (House of Mystery 186)
Best Art: Neal Adams, "Nightmare"
Best All-Around Story: "Nightmare"

Worst Script: Steve Skeates, "Strain" (House of Secrets 86)
Worst Art: Mike Roy/Mike Peppe, "A Face in the Crowd" (The Witching Hour 6)
Worst All-Around Story: Carl Wessler/Ed Robbins, "Diary of a Madman" (Unexpected 115)


Best Script: Jack Oleck, "Nightmare" (House of Mystery 186)
Best Art: Al Williamson, "The Beautiful Beast" (House of Mystery 185)
Best All-Around Story: Gil Kane/Wally Wood, "Comes a Warrior" (House of Mystery 180)

Worst Script: George Kashdan, "The Phantom of the Woodstock Festival" (Unexpected 122)
Worst Art: Jerry Grandenetti, "These Walls Shall Be Your Grave" (Unexpected 124)
Worst All-Around Story:  Sam Glanzman, "Please, Don't Cry, Johnny"" (House of Secrets 91)


Best Script: Jack Oleck, "Nightmare" (House of Mystery 186)
Best Art: Sergio Aragones, for his always reliable contributions
Best All-Around Story: "Nightmare" (House of Mystery 186)

Worst Script: I chose to bestow this honor to Unexpected
Worst Art: Alex Toth, "ComputERR" (Witching House 8)