Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Twenty-Nine: "The Case of M.J.H." [7.16]

by Jack Seabrook

Henry Slesar did not often miss a chance to open up one of his short stories when adapting it for television, but "The Case of M.J.H." is a notable exception. First published in the August 1959 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (and reprinted in A Crime for Mothers and Others as "Won't You Be My Valentine?"), the story concerns lonely Maude Sheridan, who gave up on love years ago and is comfortable living alone and working for Dr. Ernest Cowper, a psychoanalyst, until she meets Jimmy French at a party. French pursues her and she begins to care about her appearance once again.

Soon, Jimmy professes his love for Maude while admitting that he's "'a pretty rotten guy'" who got in trouble in his youth. Maude falls hard for Jimmy and Dr Cowper notices that she seems happier. Meanwhile, the doctor is worried about a patient of his named Harrison. Jimmy tells Maude that his criminal life is not all in the past, confessing that "'I'm a crook, and a cheap one at that.'" He says that he needs money to marry her and he asks her to bring home some of Dr. Cowper's files for him to review.

After three weeks of resistance, Maude agrees and brings home a stack of files, which Jimmy combs through, settling on one labeled "M.J.H." Maude explains that M.J.H. is Martin J. Harrison, a 54-year-old securities analyst who is married but who is seeing a 17-year-old girlfriend on the side. Jimmy plans blackmail and calls Maude the next day to say that his plan is working.

Robert Loggia as Jimmy French
On Monday, Maude goes to work and Dr. Cowper does not show up until 2 P.M. He is upset at having lost a patient and blames himself. He tells Maude that Harrison shot and killed a man the day before and was arrested. Cowper explains that there was no young girlfriend--it was a delusion. "'And when a blackmailer threatened him, he protected his fantasy with murder.'"

In late 1961, Slesar adapted his own story for television, writing the teleplay for an episode with the same title that was broadcast on Alfred Hitchcock Presents on NBC on Tuesday, January 23, 1962. Robert Loggia starred as Jimmy French and Barbara Baxley was featured as Maude Sheridan. The program was directed by Alan Crosland, Jr.

Barbara Baxley as Maude Sheridan
As was often the case when adapting a short story for television, Slesar expanded his story, showing events that were only told in the story and adding scenes. However, as I will explain, he missed his chance to make the most dramatic change of all.

The show opens with a nicely played scene where Jimmy and Maude meet for the first time in an automat. Maude is nervous and shy, unused to being the object of a man's attention, while Jimmy is confident and gregarious. Slesar does a nice job of dramatizing their meeting, which in the story had simply been referred to as having occurred at a party. Automats were popular, inexpensive places to eat in 1962, especially in New York City, and seeing one in this episode provides a window into the past. The last Horn and Hardart's automat in New York closed in 1991.

The second scene shows Maude at work at Dr. Cooper's office (the spelling of his name is simplified for the TV show), where she is confident in her exchange with the doctor but less so when Jimmy surprises her by telephoning her and asking her out to dinner. Barbara Baxley shows Maude's shyness both in her voice and in her mannerisms, as she plays with her hair nervously, reverting to behavior befitting a schoolgirl.

Maude protects herself with her cat
In the third scene, Jimmy comes home with Maude after their date and joins her in her apartment. Again, Baxley uses physical cues to demonstrate her character's internal feelings; she rather comically holds her housecat to her chest protectively throughout the scene, using it as a barrier to keep Jimmy from coming too close. As in prior episodes directed by Alan Crosland, Jr., tight closeups are used to underline moments when the characters discuss particularly serious or emotional issues.

Scene four takes place some time later, since Maude is now much more comfortable around Jimmy as they share a candlelight dinner at her apartment. She has fixed her hair in a more flattering style and she wears an attractive dress. Her speech and mannerisms also display an easy familiarity with her companion and she calls him "'darling.'" However, he appears unhappy, confesses that his criminal activity is not just in the past, and tells her that he is in debt for $2000 is at risk of going to jail. He swears that he will change after "'just one more job'" and asks her to bring home the files. When she refuses, he storms out.

Jimmy looks through the patient files
In scene five, Maude buzzes Jimmy's apartment and then waits for him alone in the hallway of his building after an unpleasant interaction with his rude landlady. He comes home at night and we realize that she has been waiting there for a long time. She confronts him with the fact that he has ignored her calls for two weeks and then she hands him a bag with the doctor's files.

The next scene is set in Jimmy's apartment, as he goes through the files. He sees one marked "M.J.H." and the camera dissolves to the office of Martin J. Harrison, where another scene occurs that was only hinted at in the story. Jimmy visits Harrison in his office and blackmails him; this time, Diana--Harrison's teenaged girlfriend--is 18, not 17, surely a change required by the television censors. Jimmy is cocky and arrogant, demanding $10,000 in cash. When Harrison says he needs time to raise the money, Jimmy tells him to bring it to his place at 9 P.M.

Theodore Newton as Dr. Cooper
Here is where Slesar makes a surprising blunder. The show ends as Maude arrives at work the next morning and Cooper tells her the bad news. This would have been a perfect time for Slesar to add a scene dramatizing the interaction between Jimmy and Harrison at Jimmy's apartment, where Jimmy could have confronted Harrison with the details of his illicit affair and Harrison could have turned the tables by shooting and killing him. This would have added a dramatic climax to the show and would not have ruined the final revelation that Diana did not exist. It would have been more exciting than the dull expository of the final scene where Dr. Cooper explains what happened. It is curious that Slesar would miss this opportunity to add excitement to a script.

The direction by Alan Crosland, Jr. (1918-2001), is competent, as always, but without any particularly clever or unusual camera setups. This was one of the nineteen episodes he directed for the Hitchcock series; the prior one was "The Right Kind of Medicine."

Robert Loggia (1930- ), who stars as Jimmy, has been on TV since 1951 and in movies since 1956. He appeared in four episodes of the Hitchcock series, including Slesar's "The Money," and his long career continues to this day.

Richard Gaines as Martin J. Harrison
Barbara Baxley (1923-1990) trained with the Actors Studio and began her TV career in 1950, branching out into movies in 1955 with a role in East of Eden. She was on the Hitchcock show six times, including "Design for Loving" and "Anniversary Gift." She usually played a more alluring character, but here she shows her range by portraying a shy secretary.

Martin J. Harrison, the unfortunate victim of attempted blackmail, is played by Richard Gaines (1904-1975), a character actor who appeared in Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944) and Ace in the Hole (1951), as well as making 14 appearances as a judge on the Perry Mason TV series. "The Case of M.J.H." is listed as his last acting credit.

Henry Slesar adapted this story once more, expanding it to an hour for the CBS Radio Mystery Theater broadcast on August 22, 1974. This radio version may be heard online here. The TV show is not yet available on DVD or online.

"The Case of M.J.H." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 23 Jan. 1962. Television.
"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. Web. 25 May 2014.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. Web. 25 May 2014.
Slesar, Henry. "Won't You Be My Valentine?" 1959. A Crime for Mothers and Others. New York: Avon, 1962. 141-49. Print.

Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 25 May 2014.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 28: September 1961

The DC War Comics 1959-1976
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
Star Spangled War Stories 98

"The Island of Thunder"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"No Room to Fight!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Irv Novick

"Last Shot of the Triggerfish"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert

Peter: All his life, Nicky has been obsessed with dinosaurs, from building models as a youth to reconstructing the real thing in his job as paleontologist at a museum. When he's drafted and is sent into action, the only complaint he has is that the army doesn't send him to a part of the world rich with dinosaur bones. Very soon, of course, Nicky is up to his ears in the real live thing as his plane enters a mysterious white fog over an island in the Pacific and is gutted by a Pterodon. Once Nicky and his fellow GIs make it to "The Island of Thunder," they carom from one predicament to another until they are rescued by a passing plane. All Nicky can think, as the island's volcano explodes, is that he has no proof of his adventures.

Eight episodes in, the formula is running out of steam. Yeah, it's fun to see Andru and Esposito tackle all the possible combinations of thunder lizards you can imagine but, seriously, how about a little continuity here? This has to be the easiest series Bob Kanigher ever scripted and, perhaps, that's why he's doing it. Coming up with original plot ideas for Sgt. Rock had to be taxing (I won't even mention the demands of Gunner and Sarge) and how hard could it be to write: Panel 13: Stegosaurus. Panel 14: GIs throw grenades and say something along the lines of "I hope we can bomb this horror from the dinosaur age back into the past!" Considering we've got 38 more installments of The War That Time Forgot to come down the pike, I'm hoping the upcoming addition of series characters like The Suicide Squad will inject a little oomph! into the series.

Jack: I can only hope that's the case because the fun in this series right now is limited to wondering which dinosaur will pop up next. So far, they keep using the same ones over and over. The other thing I'm watching is how many times they rip off King Kong. In this exciting episode, we get the scene on the log over the ravine.

"No Room to Fight"
Peter: The men of ranger group Zebra Five must land on and conquer the smallest island in the Pacific, a piece of ground so small there is literally "No Room to Fight." I know these battles really happened in WWII and there were strategic reasons for holding down a piece of property this small but I'm not sure why a ship didn't just bomb the hell out of the island and take care of it quickly. We're not really educated to the reasons why this island must be taken and we just naturally assume, as we always do, that five good guys will win out over insurmountable odds. The climax is a bit rushed as well, while Irv Novick's art here resembles Jack Abel's.

Jack: I liked this story and Novick's art. There is a feeling that the men must keep driving forward relentlessly despite facing enemy threats at every turn. For some reason, the Japanese soldiers on this island are "giants," but our stalwart men defeat them anyway.

Peter: Frogman Brad finally gets to find out what happened to his submarine and its crew when the craft is found lying on the bottom of the ocean, emitting an S-O-S. Once he gets there, he finds that the experimental torpedoes, new weapons designed to lock in on sound, are operational. Lucky for Brad, since the enemy sub that sank the Triggerfish just happened to come cruising through the area. Brad activates the "Last Shot of the Triggerfish" but the captain of the Japanese sub is too crafty to fall for the new torpedo. Our hero must climb aboard the sub and make lots of noise before the torpedo will home in on it. Using a small replica of the Triggerfish and a whole lot of moxie, Brad makes the waters a safe place again. A rare non-Rock Kubert does not disappoint. Haney almost seems to elevate his writing (not that Bob is a bad writer) even more while he's got Joe on his team. It's a very exciting, unpredictable thriller with some very eerie scenes aboard the Triggerfish, now no more than an underwater tomb.

Jack: Easily the best story in this issue, "Triggerfish" boasts the usual great art from Kubert and a tense and thrilling story by Haney. Sometimes I really enjoy these frogman tales, especially after a lead story on Dinosaur Island! One notable thing about this issue is that two stories feature Japanese soldiers and there's not an offensive caricature to be found.

Jerry Grandenetti and Jack Adler
GI Combat 89

"Tank with Wings!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"Danger Sniper!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Russ Heath

"Nothing on the Nose!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: You'd think a Haunted Tank would have its share of problems, but hecklers? That seems to be the order of the day for the Jeb Stuart, the spookiest tank in World War II, and its crew, who are fed up being the butt of jokes from other tank crews. One of those crews, the Pershing, is manned by GI twins, both with a wicked sense of humor and a particular fondness for the smaller Jeb Stuart. About ten seconds after delivering their latest jibe, the crew of the Pershing is killed by a crimson-shaded Nazi fighter plane and Jeb and his men vow revenge. Their chance comes later when they are forced to load their tank onto a cargo plane and the aircraft is shot down by the same Nazi pilot. Loaded with its crew and a parachute, the Jeb is dropped thousands of feet up and becomes a "Tank with Wings," blasting the red buzzard from the sky. As far-fetched as it may be, there's no denying that the concept of a tank and a jet in a dogfight mid-air is the stuff of childhood fantasy. Kanigher and Novick pull it off nicely although (and here we go again), like The War That Time Forgot, I can see this "haunted tank" concept as being either limiting or incidental. This story in no way hinged on the appearance of a spooky tank. In fact, the biggest stretch this story was not a tank haunted by a Civil War General but the fact that the crew could survive the drop in the tank. A mite bit bumpy, I'd say. An extra half a star in my rating for offing the twins in the Pershing.

Jack: Do you think that the ghost of Jeb Stuart ever hangs out with Johnny Cloud's Great Spirit? This story features uninspired art by Novick and veers dangerously close to "repeat a phrase till it's worn out" territory, as ghostly Jeb keeps saying, "the war's full of surprises." It really wasn't that much of a surprise when the tank was dropped by parachute because that's what the initial splash page depicted. At least we didn't get the obligatory scene where everyone in the tank gets knocked unconscious and the haunted tank goes about its business on its own. This was the worst haunted tank story so far. I hope this is not the start of a downhill trend.

Peter: The most dangerous job in the army is the sniper hunter, one lone GI who must flush out the snipers perched on their tree limbs, waiting for unsuspecting soldiers. Our nameless hero shows us the tricks of the trade as he wishes he were anywhere but there. In the end, after flushing out several snipers, his CO grants his wish and reassigns him... to his own sniper's nest. This gets my vote for All-Around Best Story of the Year, combining stark Heath pencils with an unrelentingly suspenseful narrative, all topped with a big cherry of a climax. How could things get worse for our brave GI? By becoming the hunted instead of the hunter. I wish we could reprint the entire story here as bits and pieces don't do it justice. The splash of this story is a Russ Heath reimagining of last issue's cover by Joe Kubert (or was "Danger Sniper" originally scheduled for last issue and Kubert's cover based on the story?).

Jack: Wow! Easily in the top ten stories we've read so far. I got that EC vibe all the way through. Chapman doesn't churn them out the way Kanigher and Haney do, but sometimes he hits the nail on the head with a gritty tale of suspense. Heath's art is perfect. Once again, the technique of using the second-person singular for the narration ("You don't see the sniper . . .") works to create a mood that always reminds me of Cornell Woolrich's fiction. I agree with you, Peter--this is a classic.


Peter: Ensigns Joe Regan and Pete Dawson have a brand new TBF-Avenger with all the bells and whistles but the other guys in their squadron give them a hard time because the ensigns' bird has "Nothing on the Nose." All the other planes' snouts are decorated with kills but not this one. Jo and Pete do all they can to rectify the situation but their efforts continue to produce no results. "Nothing on the Nose!" That all changes when the boys have to eject and let their Avenger become a bomb, sinking a huge enemy battleship. Joe and Pete make it back to the base to find their new fighter, nicely illustrated with their fresh kills. I'm not even going to count the amount of times the title is used in the story. Despite that dreaded sense of deja vu, this was an exciting enough story (with great Abel art this time around) and, all around, one of the better war issues I've read in a while.

Jack: This story was going down repetition road until suddenly we got this caption: "And then, Whambo!--We suddenly had plenty on the schnozzola!" For some reason, the change from "nose" to "schnozzola" cracked me up. Abel once again delivers with nice art, especially in the battle scenes. Despite a lukewarm Haunted Tank story, this was a good issue, mainly because of the two good short stories by Hank Chapman.

Peter: This month's "Sgt. Rock's Combat Corner" has all manner of fascinating info for us fledgling WWII buffs, particularly the answers to questions about The Maginot Line (a line "across the French border, designed to stop tanks" equipped with "short concrete posts for tipping tanks over." Larry Ableson of New York brings up the fact that "some undersea mines had glass triggers" (actually, thin glass bulbs). How do I work this minutiae into a conversation at the bar with a blonde?

Jack: I think you start by not mentioning how much time you spend reading comic books!

Jerry Grandenetti
Our Army at War 110

"That's an Order!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Return of the Ghost Bomber!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: When Easy Co. comes upon a hedgerow that hides a nest of Nazi machine gunners, Bulldozer volunteers to sacrifice himself by going through to locate the enemy. Rock tells him no--"That's an Order!"--and comes up with a solution that saves lives. A second hedgerow proves more difficult, since there are two machine gun nests waiting behind it to catch G.I.s in a crossfire. Rock goes first and wipes out one nest with a grenade launcher, then his best men follow, against orders, and save his life.

After the hedgerows come the woods, filled with snipers hiding high in the treetops. A new, young lieutenant comes on the scene, ordering Rock around, even though Rock tackles him to save him from a sniper. The men grumble about Sgt. Rock having to take orders instead of giving them and they don't have much respect for his new boss until he takes off alone into a narrow ravine. Rock disobeys orders and follows him, saving him from Nazi gunners. In the end, Rock is the one who needs to be rescued, a feat that is accomplished by the lieutenant with some help from Easy Co.

Peter: Bulldozer's constant whining and asking Rock what he would do if faced with orders he knew to be wrong sets up an inevitable face-off between Rock and the looie. Despite the predictability, I really liked this one. What did surprise me was the fact that the lieutenant actually came through in the end, unlike the brass in the past who've been all bluster and no mustard.

Jack: It's 1917, and a huge German gun is sending shells from behind the lines that are causing heavy damage in Paris, France. Can two American pilots destroy the big gun using only a small, broken down biplane? The French paint Joan of Arc on the side of the plane for inspiration, and she works her magic, as the plane survives a crash into a swamp and another into deep water. Both times, the French citizens drag the plane out and fix it, and the Nazis watch as the "Return of the Ghost Bomber" eventually succeeds in its goal of destroying the big gun. I am always glad for a change of pace story and this is one. The WWI setting and the improbable triumph of the little plane make for a good story.

Peter: Even though it's a bit long (I suspect Kanigher had Haney stretch it a bit to accommodate the running length of the Sgt. Rock story), this is a stirring story of two guys who just wouldn't give up despite the odds stacked against them. It is lucky that the entire French resistance was waiting on the ground every time our heroes were shot down!

More Heath from "Danger Sniper"

Heath's splash for "Danger Sniper..."

and last issue's Kubert cover!


Monday, May 19, 2014

Do You Dare Enter? Part Twenty-Seven: August 1972

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

Alan Weiss
Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion 6

"The Psychic-Blood-Hound"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer

"Diary of a Dead Woman!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Jose Delbo

Peter: Psychic Karl (only his name has been changed) Burkel has been assisting the police with various crimes and doing a very good job. His latest premonition leads the police to the victim of the Sand Dune Killer, a discovery that might have taken the authorities years to stumble onto by themselves. Very quickly thereafter, the daughter of influential businessman Benton Cowell is kidnapped and Karl is called back in to do his schtick. Police accidentally kill the kidnapper at the ransom drop but our psychic hero saves the day when a vision of a movie theater marquee leads to the discovery of Cowell's daughter, safe and unharmed. The police keep the particulars under wrap but are beholden to Karl Burkel for his fascinating abilities. Okay, there's a lot of back story to this one and I can only touch the surface (visit this site for a whole load of info), so be patient.

Kirby's goosebump-inducing opener of the victim of a serial killer

Back in 1971, DC released an experiment called Spirit World, a black and white magazine written and drawn by new DC bullpenner Jack Kirby. Given a lousy distribution, the zine was seen by pert near nobody and was canned after one issue. Unfortunately (or fortunately, for us), Jack had a load of inventory for the second issue and, rather than let it gather dust on a shelf, the powers-that-be at DC decided to find the material a home. The first inventory story to pop up would be "The Psychic-Blood-Hound," a schizophrenic quasi-reality tale featuring meandering pencils by the King but a fascinating, exciting script as well. Kirby's art had taken a couple steps back since his flight from Marvel but there are still traces of genius to be found (that opening panel of the "Sand Dune" victim is a chiller) and the real gem here is the character of Karl Burkel, the troubled psychic who can't explain his gift (other than to offer up that it began when his "rifle backfired during combat action in World War II"). It's obvious Kirby was setting up Burkel for his own series but this was to be the psychic's only appearance. Kirby invests real life into what little bits of Burkel we see during "Blood-Hound" and it's a shame the feature wasn't carried over. As mentioned, Kirby's art is all over the place; there are flourishes of the "cosmic visions" we knew and loved in Fantastic Four but, for the most part, his panels lack any of the dynamic the King became famous for. The kidnapper is the prototypical Kirby bad guy, unshaven and hairy-armed, and there are several panels of people simply milling about. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the story, though, is the fact that the Sand Dune Killer is introduced (we never see the killer, only his handiwork) and then forgotten, a bit of oversight that might annoy others but I find to be a plus. That's what detective work is all about, working on one case when another rears its ugly head. I might be reading too much into this and the King might have intended on revisiting the Sand Dune Killer in a later chapter, but I prefer to think otherwise. This is a solid mystery story, easily the best of the month. Incidentally, Spirit World's "host," parapsychologist Dr. E. Leopold Maas, has an uncredited cameo at the climax of "Blood-Hound."

Jack: This is an exciting, fast-moving story, but it's also weakly written, as was so much that Kirby wrote by himself. The art is full-on '70s DC Kirby/Royer blockiness, and very like what we would later see in Kamandi. It's not really a horror story, though--more crime/suspense. I do recall the ads for Spirit World in DC comics but I never saw the actual magazine.

Meet the New King... Same as the Old King

Peter: Sadie Lennon is walking home through a cemetery when she twists her ankle and is assisted by a handsome gentleman by the name of Paul Hawkins. Paul takes a shine to Sadie and soon the two become lovers, with the only downside being Sadie's bedridden husband. Turns out Paul is a dabbler in the occult and has various talismans meant to perform sorcerous acts. Sadie uses one to kill her husband and rushes back to Paul. The two are married and, very quickly, Sadie discovers that her new hubby is Satan. The placing of "The Psychic-Blood-Hound" in Dark Mansion changed the dynamic of the magazine from Gothic Thrillers to Hodgepodge, a transformation that will become complete next issue. The last holdover from the Gothic period, "Diary of a Dead Woman," is an awful waste of space and time, all build-up and no pay-off. We literally find out Paul is the devil in the final panel, with no explanation for his fascination with Sadie (who, in case you didn't follow, becomes Sadie Hawkins by marriage) nor why he'd be setting up this elaborate charade all for the benefit of one soul. Don't the townsfolk suspect there's a bit of funny business going on when Sadie walks the streets arm in arm with Paul? Jose Delbo's art (usually quite stirring) is drab and boring; Sadie is homely (perhaps the aim?) and his depiction of Paul as the devil is laugh-inducing rather than eerie. If this was the direction the Gothic Formula was heading (rather than the well-written epic, "Death at Castle Dunbar," in last month's Sinister House #5), thank goodness the tombstone was etched and planted.

Could this be love?

Jack: Ugh. The art is homely and the story meanders on for too many pages. I do like the skull-head Pez dispenser that Sadie uses to work magic, though.

We doubt it!

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 138

"Strange Secret of the Huan Shan Idol"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Wally Wood

"The Murder Machine"
Story by Al Case (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Art Saaf

"An Old Chinese Custom"
Story by Bill Dennehy (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Fred Carrillo

"Shadow of the Devil-Doll"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"Strange Secret of the Huan Shan Idol"

Jack: Craig Kohlar is a man thirsting for power. He happens into an Oriental curio shop, where the proprietor, Choong Sun, and his lovely daughter Li lead Craig through an underground maze looking for the "Strange Secret of the Huan Shan Idol," a statue that will bestow a gift on the person who finds it. After some spooky moments they find the idol, but in Craig's haste to grab it it smashes. Choong Sun punishes him by branding a Chinese character on his forehead, but the whole thing may be a dream. Or maybe not. I'm not sure. The story is muddled but the art is excellent!

Peter: Wally Wood's art is the only saving grace of this really silly story. The obligatory "shock" ending is not a shock at all and I'm not clear what happened to Choong Sun and his daughter in the climax. Have they been banished to some purgatory for failing to secure the Buddha? Kohlar's character, determined to rule the world, would have come off a little more realistic if he'd been mentally imbalanced. As he's written he's just an ass who becomes dangerous. I had to laugh out loud when the shop owner obviously doesn't notice the symbol branded in the middle of Kohlar's forehead!

"The Murder Machine"
Jack: Novelist Kenneth Saxon calls his typewriter "The Murder Machine" because it creates such vivid characters and then doesn't let them live in reality! He falls in love with Laura, the heroine of his latest book, and writes himself into the story to be with her, but when she two-times him he goes off the deep end. At five pages, this vignette never really gets going before it's done and Art Saaf's art is overwrought.

Peter: I've a sneaky suspicion that I'm never going to warm to Art Saaf's work, which looks like so many other DC artists of the period, bland and unexciting. My laughter from the first story had just subsided when I got to the exchange between Kenneth Saxon and his psychiatrist:

Doctor (complete with coke bottle glasses that have little spinning circles in them): Don't you realize you're fantasizing... mixing reality with unreality? That you've fallen in love with nothing but a figment of your imagination?

Saxon: Yes, your explanation makes me realize that was the root of my trouble! You put everything in  focus... everything in its proper perspective!

One session and he's cured! Saxon's editor looks like Humpty Dumpty and Boltinoff can't make up his mind whether Saxon writes novels or scripts. Ostensibly, Murray knew the difference.

"An Old Chinese Custom"
Jack: Chiao Hua is so proud of his coffin that he takes it everywhere, since "An Old Chinese Custom" states that it's better to be buried in your own coffin than some "ignominious box." Unexpectedly, he sacrifices himself and drowns after a shipwreck because he allows a woman and her children to float to safety in the beloved case. This story is only two pages long, but it's better written than the first two in this issue and the art is striking.

Peter: "An Old Chinese Custom" is nothing more than a fragment but it's nicely illustrated by newcomer Fred Carrillo, another Filipino immigrant who will contribute quite a few jobs to the horror and war titles before moving on to Disney and television.

"Shadow of the Devil-Doll"
Jack: After kindly old Jamison dies, cruel Hurd takes over a hotel in the tropics. When he treats the natives with derision, he falls under the "Shadow of the Devil-Doll," until he kills Kwami, whose voodoo was giving Hurd a massive headache. Realizing that the doll made in his likeness remains cursed, he hides it in a cellar storage bin, where Kwami's dog finds it and rips it to shreds. Sadly, the same fate befalls Hurd. This is a fairly predictable voodoo story but Alcala's art once again makes it seem better than it is.

Peter: Though "Shadow" isn't a ground-breaker, it's probably the best story we've seen in Unexpected. That's not Unexpected to me though since it sees the debut of my favorite comic horror artist of the 1970s, Alfredo Alcala (1925-2000, here billed as Alfred P. Alcala). No one drew murky swamps, humid jungles, or haunted castles like Alcala. Even as a youngster I marveled at the detail put into every single panel the artist contributed here at DC and over at Marvel (in particular, his work on Tales of the Zombie) and Warren. I don't guarantee Alfredo will light up the sky every time out (even Neal Adams had his off days) but I do promise you'll never mistake his work for that of Grandenetti, Tuska, Saaf, or Calnan on any of the 57 stories we'll have the honor of covering in our tenure. The Art of Alfredo Alcala is a book long overdue in this world of whole volumes dedicated to John Byrne.

Jack Sparling
The House of Mystery 205

"The Coffin Creature"
Story by Mike Fleisher and Jack Sparling
Art by Jack Sparling

"Phony Face!"
Story by E. Nelson Bridwell
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Over the High Side"
Story by Lore Shoberg
Art by Alan Weiss and Ralph Reese

Peter: Gator poachers Stinky and Pierre stay out a wee bit too long one night and have to stay at the old deserted La Plat plantation, a swamp fixture most locals say is haunted by "The Coffin Creature." Once a beautiful newlywed bride who had married into wealth and who was murdered at the hands of a jealous relative, it's rumored that the ghost will haunt the swamp until she is reunited with the jewels that were stolen from her coffin. Stinky gets a bright idea and finds where the jewel box was hidden but then gets a case of "the greedies" and kills his partner to avoid the fifty percent luxury tax. Attempting to escape the swamp, Stinky runs smack into The Coffin Creature, who demands her goodies back. This one ticks all the cliche boxes: flashbacks, swamp ghost, greedy partner, etc., etc. With its sputtering, expository climax, how did this not end up in Unexpected or Ghosts? Sure doesn't read like a Michael Fleisher script to me.

Jack: I liked the bayou setting and most of the art, though Sparling's human faces still leave something to be desired.

"The Coffin Creature"

Peter: America's "most wanted criminal," Grant Weymore, is having a hard time hiding from the law until a stranger approaches him and introduces himself as a plastic surgeon. For a fifty percent cut of the cool million Weymore ripped off, the good doctor will change the villain's kisser so that no one will recognize him. Figuring he'll ice the doc after the operation, Grant gives a big thumbs-up and goes under the knife. Just before succumbing to the ether, he dreams the doctor has three arms. When the bandages come off, however, the criminal finds a grisly visage--he's been the butt of a joke by an alien from another world! I wonder if Bridwell thought about writing a climax to "Phony Face" or possibly filling in the blanks at all. Too much trouble, maybe? Why would a space critter come all the way to earth to perform plastic surgery on a criminal? I'm sure there's a very good reason but, if so, it's not forthcoming. This is the first American work by Gerry Talaoc, another member of the Filipino comic artist wave of the early 1970s. While lacking the detail of Nestor Redondo and Alfredo Alcala, Talaoc's a decent artist and I look forward to his continued participation in the DC mystery line. Slowly but surely, we'll see the old boys like Grandenetti and Sparling put out to pasture to make way for the new talent like Gerry Talaoc.

Jack: Bridwell's story is an old one but the art makes this gruesomely cool! The doctor refers to himself as Magog, which is an ancient name for an evil, "other" land that threatened the Israelites and is mentioned at various times in the Bible. It's a fitting moniker for an evil plastic surgeon from another world!

"Phony Face!"

Peter: Hard-ass biker Dave the Buck won't take no sass off no one nor will he stand for any guy tryin' to make time with his biker gal. Swearing he'll even fight the devil for her, Dave heads down the road to a wake for a fallen hog comrade. On the way, he's assaulted by a rider wearing a helmet with horns (hmmmm), but the mysterious two-wheelin' dervish gets away. Later, at the wake, the horned biker (hmmmm) returns and challenges Dave to a series of stunt rides, the last of which sees Dave take a tumble over the cliff on Demon's Road (hmmmm). No problem for The Buck's chick, though, since she's found a seat on a new bike, that of the devil! What a dopey story. We're in The House of Mystery so any surprise coming our way may be a bit muted by the constant Satanic references, wouldn't you think? Weiss and Reese pair up to present an almost underground look to the art, very pleasing to the eye and a nice distraction from the words. Overall, one of the poorest issues of HoM in years.

Jack: A website called Citizens For A Wilder West tells us that Lore Schoberg is supposedly the "pseudoname" of Lore Orion, "an artist, songwriter, and author with successes in all three fields." I have a hard time believing that someone born with the name Lore Orion would pick a pseudonym (or "pseudoname") like Lore Schoberg. I hope that the rest of his work is better than this poorly-written story. You can listen to his album called "Beach Bums and Saddle Tramps" if you're so inclined.

Surprise! He's really the devil!

Mike Kaluta
The House of Secrets 99

"Beyond His Imagination"
Story by Bill Meredith
Art by Nestor Redondo

"Beat the Devil"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jack Katz and Tony de Zuniga

"Goodbye, Nancy"
Story by John Albano
Art by Vic Catan, Frank Redondo and Abe Ocampo

Peter: Comic book artist Alex Thorsten is washed up. The editor of House of Secrets won't even look at his work again and they've given his office over to Neal Adams the new guy Neilson. In a mad panic, Alex races home and, on the way, decides to drop in on a "spiritual advisor," an old crone who tells fortunes and can hook you up with "the other side." Though entering a skeptic, Thorsten is soon viewing landscapes "Beyond His Imagination" and re-booting his muse. Alex becomes the top dog at the company again and soon begins living the high life. The euphoria is short-lived as the artist begins slipping back into the bad habits of dreary artwork and bad layouts. His only chance is to revisit the spirit world but this time the spirit world is waiting for him. Good golly, look what we found: a really good story by a rookie. Bill Meredith manages to wring a suspenseful story out of something that could very well have ended up yet another cliched mess. Yep, there are a few strange flourishes (so, DC artists were living so high on the hog in the early 70s that they could party all night and then show up to their own office the next day?) but, overall, the tale's a fresh one, with a dark, nicely nasty twist climax. Sadly, Meredith will contribute only one more script for the mystery line. Redondo's art is, as always, gorgeous. I'm amazed what some of these guys could come up with given so little time. Half a star deducted for the obligatory "Hitler in Hell" panel.

"Beyond His Imagination"
Jack: I deduct nothing! Four stars all around! I love the idea of the heartless DC comic editor pushing out the older, more experienced (expensive) artist in favor of the younger, more exciting (cheaper) artist, especially in light of your comment above regarding the Filipino artists pushing out the likes of Grandenetti and Sparling. My favorite panel is the one where Alex is naked in limbo but the clouds of mist conveniently cover his naughty bits. I wish I could identify the editors Redondo is drawing here--Joe Orlando? Carmine Infantino? One of them is called Murray, presumably Boltinoff!

"Beat the Devil"
Peter: Even as Thomaso is murdering a priest, he claims he'll repent some day... just not until the last moment. So the vicious bandit moves on with his life of crime until he's cornered under a bridge and shot by police. Satan appears before him and welcomes him to Hell. When Thomaso insists he was told he could repent as long as he was still alive, the devil shows the man his bullet-riddled body. Poor Thomaso could not "Beat the Devil." Interesting Jack Katz art can't help a nowhere story.

Jack: I read a very long but fascinating interview with Katz in an issue of Alter-Ego (#92, March 2010) that my pal Peter sent me. It made me appreciate his art much more than I used to do. I always just thought of him as the guy who drew The Last Kingdom, a comic that was advertised in fanzines in the 1970s and seemed to go on for many, many volumes. His art here is pretty good but, as Peter notes, the story is a cliche. We're seeing a lot of the devil this month!

Peter: Why is little Nancy trying so hard to kill her childhood chum, Andrew? First, she gets him to jump rooftops, then she wants him to play with dynamite, Most kids would get the feeling Nancy is up to no good but little Andrew's either too gullible or a bit tetched in the head. Things come to a head when neighbors rat to Andrew's father about his boy's new playtime habits and dad calls Nancy's parents, only to find out that the girl has been dead for some time. Father and son confront the ghost and say "Goodbye, Nancy." A real twisted concept, a juvenile ghost who's lonely and only wants her friend to join her again, is marred by a real dopey climax, complete with the obligatory final panel expository. I find it hard to believe Andy's dad wouldn't know Nancy was dead. This guy doesn't know what's going on with the kids who play with his son? In my neighborhood, that would have drawn a bit of attention. And did we really dress that like that when we were that young? Who the hell wears a wool sweater to play baseball?

Jack: The kids are weirdly proportioned and look like miniature adults. I knew there was something fishy about Nancy from the start. The strangest part of this story is that Dad marches right out and tells that bad Nancy to leave his son alone! And she does! Some malevolent ghost. I had the most sympathy for the poor parrot who eats Nancy's poison cookies and drops dead.

"Goodbye, Nancy"

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 22

"13 Rue Morgue!"
Story Uncredited
Art by John Calnan and Jack Abel

"The Haunted Hands of Guilt"
Story by Bill Dennehy (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by J. Winslow Mortimer

"Pity Me . . . Please, Please Kill Me!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Bob Brown and Dan Adkins

Jack: Leon is an aspiring writer in Paris who rents a house that had been occupied by Jacques Tremaine, the late, great writer. Little does Leon know that the address is "13 Rue Morgue!" Poor Leon gets a little too wrapped up in his idol, writing obsessively and fixating on solving a mystery left by the dead writer. He finds a roomful of treasure that Tremaine had stolen and hidden, then decides that the only thrill left to him is to take a human life. His girlfriend Christine nearly becomes his victim, but a handy gendarme happens by and saves her. A convenient tumble down a flight of stairs and a conk on the head return Leon to his right mind and he and Christine look to a bright future together. I think that a fall down the stairs and a conk on the head would have been preferable to reading this story. John Calnan is fast becoming one of my least favorite DC artists.

"13 Rue Morgue!"
Peter: As with a lot of the stories this month, I'm a little unclear on some of the details. I'm not sure that's the fault of (Uncredited) or the fact that I chose to read eight DC horror stories in one sitting. Are we to assume Leon has been taken over by the ghost of Jacques Tremaine because he put Jacques' overcoat on? If so, why does a tumble down the stairs cure the misguided young man of his haunt? My favorite foils, Calnan and Abel, team up to produce a work of amazing averageness.

Jack: Peter Goslar used to be a great classical pianist, but he's getting old now and his manager, Herr Schroeder, wants to replace him with the young hotshot, Johann Brenner, a gypsy with talent beyond his years. Goslar murders Schroeder and then has a car accident in which his hands are destroyed. Brenner, wrongly jailed for the murder of Schroeder, curses Goslar. After Brenner is hanged, Goslar has the young man's hands transplanted in place of his own, mangled ones, but they become "The Haunted Hands of Guilt" right before his first concert performance. The gypsy curse has turned the hands into those of a bear! Got all that? Sometimes it's a good thing when a twist ending is unexpected. Then there are stories like this, where it's just ridiculous!

"The Haunted Hands of Guilt"
Peter: Questions! I've got 'em! Was the car wreck planned? I'm not sure if J. Winslow Mortimer left a panel back at his drawing board when he turned in this job but (here we go again!) what is the meaning of that climax? In her outro, Cynthia mentions that after Peter sprouted big tiger paws (wolf claws?) the hangman came after him. Why would he do that? Does sprouting animal limbs indicate guilt in a murder? Wouldn't the hangman at least have removed Johann's noose before sending him to the hospital for the transplant?

Jack: Former Nazi Col. Shreiker is living in Buenos Aires as Ludwig Weber but can't hide from his former victims, who capture him and take him back to Germany, where he is forced to live in a Concentration Camp among other prisoners. The experience is so horrible that he begs, "Pity Me . . . Please, Please Kill Me!" He is kept alive but finally hides in a garbage pile, where he is accidentally incinerated. I'm not sure whether to be offended or not at this rather disgusting story. Who are the folks who are playing along with this charade and why do they still have to live like Camp prisoners? Having the Nazi incinerated at the end is going a little too far.

"Pity Me. . . Please, Please Kill Me!"
Peter: Like the previous story (and the story before it and...), I couldn't make heads or tails out of this climax. Was that a pit of human bones Colonel Shreiker has jumped into at the climax? I assume, though relaxed, the CCA wouldn't have allowed (Uncredited) to go into too much detail about the death camp but there might have been another way of cluing the reader in. "Pity Me... Please Kill Me!" just happens to be the phrase I cried out several times while reading this sub-par issue of The Witching Hour, surely a nadir.

Jack: The most frightening aspect of this issue was the "Now Monthly" blurb on the cover!

 Mike Kaluta
Weird Mystery Tales 1

"Horoscope Phenomenon or Witch Queen of Ancient Sumeria?"
Story and Art by Jack Kirby

"The Brothers Beaumont"
Story by Howard Purcell
Art by Howard Purcell and Jack Abel

Peter: Visions concerning the astrological signs haunt the dreams of three individuals. Police detective Kenneth Landry has an odd premonition concerning a telephone, a gun, and a beautiful goddess representing the sign Pisces. Next day on the job, Landry's skill is put to the test when a crazed gunman begins shooting at police. Kenneth calls the man on the phone and police are able to swoop in and capture him. The man's gun somehow triggered a psychic connection with the phone. While Diane Parker is searching for something valuable in the house willed to her by her late uncle, she has a vision of a crab woman (Cancer) who urges Diane to "find the door." Once she and her husband tear the place apart, they discover a priceless Oriental statue they're able to sell for a fortune. Writer Robert Baldwin is relaxing on a weekend vacation when he gets a vision of a lovely flower-crowned goddess (Virgo) who warns him of danger just before an electrical storm strikes the mountain beside him and hurls tons of rock at him. Miraculously, he escapes, unhurt. All three have been saved by the miracles of astrology.

Triton's sis?
Like "Psychic Blood-Hound" in Dark Mansions #6, this was an inventory story set for publication in Spirit World #2 before the axe fell. Unlike that gem, this one is dreadful, lacking anything resembling a story or common sense. Not all of this is Jack's fault but the meandering, boring narrative doesn't help. If "Blood-Hound" exhibited glances of the old superhero-era Kirby, this story screams Marvel in big font. All three goddesses would have blended in well with The Inhumans and the human characters all have the huge teeth and chiseled features of vintage Jack. I'm not sure if this was meant to be the first in a series of stories chronicling the exploits of common folk influenced by their astrological signs or if Jack just ran out of room for the other nine zodiac symbols. Oddly, editor E. Nelson Bridwell goes to the trouble of creating a host for the title, a spectre by the name of Destiny, but then includes the original epilogue to the story featuring the host of Spirit World, Dr. Haas (again, as in Dark Mansions, unnamed). A reader not privy to the behind-the-scenes shuffling would be completely confused by the appearance of this character.

Jack: And here we get to the heart of Kirby's problem at DC and why he never should have been writing his own stories. The art is pure Kirby, to me more DC Fourth World than Marvel, but the story is dull (or nonexistent) and the dialogue stilted. If Kirby truly plotted all of those great Marvel stories in the mid- to late-sixties, why did his writing skill suddenly desert him when he went to DC? Perhaps Stan Lee had more of a hand in the plotting and writing than Kirby fans would like to admit.

The remarkably boring art of Howard Purcell and Jack Abel

Peter: Two men are born miles apart at the same moment and share a lifetime. If one experiences pain, so does the other. This can be a really bad situation if one becomes a murderer and is sentenced to the electric chair. Colossally, monstrously, abysmally, remarkably bad, this one should never have been released. With its primitive art and even more primitive script, "The Brothers Beaumont" is 13 pages wasted on a strip without merit. We're seeing the ups and downs of Jack Abel on the war section of this blog but, it seems, by 1972, it was all valleys and no hills. With its melding of horror and war themes, "Brothers" seems like it may have been scheduled for the Weird War title (which, by this time, had seen six issues published) but Joe Kubert might have vetoed it (and that's purely speculation on my part). All in all, not a good start for the new title.

The true WMT #1: DC 100-Page Spectacular #4
Jack: I am a fan of Howard Purcell's art in the '40s and '50s but this story, one of his last published works, looks nothing like what he was doing decades before. Maybe his heart just wasn't in it anymore. By this point, he was teaching art at a community college in Pennsylvania.

Peter: The latest expansion in the DC mystery line, Weird Mystery Tales took its name from the DC 100-Page Spectacular from the previous year. WMT will see 24 issues published, with the final number seeing the light of a comic rack cover-dated November 1975. The first three issues featured the Kirby inventory but with the fourth issue (an issue that sees Joe Orlando take over from Bridwell as editor), the title will fall in line with the other mystery titles, showcasing tales of horror and dread.

Jack: That was the first of the many DC 100-Page Super-Spectaculars, some of which we'll be looking at when we get to 1974. All of the stories in this issue are reprints, but there are a few full page drawings by Berni Wrightson of himself, including one where he talks about how he loved to read horror comics as a kid!

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 6

"A Specter Poured the Potion"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Art Saaf

"Ride with the Devil"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by John Calnan

"Death Awaits Me"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Ghost Cargo from the Sky"
Story by Richard E. Hughes
Art by Jack Sparling

Jack: Pharmacist Anton Drucker (who looks a bit like Ben Franklin) is the biggest creep in Silesia in 1659. He fires his assistant Johann Kant for giving away free medicine to a poor old woman even though he had taken Kant's money for years and promised to leave him the shop when he dies. The injustice causes Kant to suffer a fatal heart attack, but his ghost returns a year later and mixes a special prescription to save a dying old woman. When a skeptical Drucker comes to investigate how "A Specter Poured the Potion," he finds that everything in his shop has turned to dust, and the shock turns him into a "mindless human vegetable." He then started writing stories for Ghost comics. Actually, I made that last part up.

Leo Dorfman relaxes after a
hard day writing for Ghosts
Peter: Let's see. Uninspired story: check. Dishwater art: check. Twist ending you see coming a mile away: checklist complete. Some of Saaf's "art" in this job (and, believe me, it's a job) looks like that of George Tuska. That's not a compliment.

Jack: When Mark Alden's wife Kathy fails to pick him up at the bus stop (Concord, Mass.: 1969) he catches a ride with a gruff man and his little daughter in their antiquated one-horse carriage. He makes it home safely, only to learn that the man was Hiram Dunn, an arrogant man who took a "Ride With the Devil" in 1791 and has been trying to get to Boston in his phantom coach ever since. Fortunately for Mark, he had a ghostly taxi driver, because the bridge between the bus stop and home had washed out! Kind of like this story.

Trust me, it's not worth the trip.
Peter: Though I'm not a fan of the Ripley's Believe It or Not style of many of these Ghosts stories, I liked this one. It has a little more edge to it than the usual "ghost haunting the apothecary" bilge we have to put up with. The fact that little Amy has to ride the country roads alongside her arrogant father throughout eternity simply because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time seems a bit, I don't know, harsh.

Jack: Baron Charles hears a terrible pounding in his head during his train ride to Nice to hook up with his honey, dancer Isadora Duncan. He is certain that she is sending him a message that "Death Awaits Me" on the train, but it turns out that she was predicting her own death in an open car. The story of Isadora Duncan is sad but true, though she probably would have died of shame if she had seen her death illustrated by Jerry Grandenetti.

"Great art" by
Peter: Stranger things have happened, I'm sure, but I find myself praising Jerry Grandenetti's work on "Death Awaits Me," which, like "Ride with the Devil," actually has an involving story. Jerry's drippy pencils seem held in check on this one, no exaggerated faces or endless cobblestone roads to muddy the landscape. The ghoulish cover seems to be illustrating this story; it was a long scarf that killed Isadora Duncan. On a side note, as a child I was traumatized when catching the last few minutes of the 1968 Duncan biopic, Isadora, starring Vanessa Redgrave. That final image, of Duncan strangled, is one that has haunted me since.

Jack: That explains a lot! It's the 1950s and, on the Pacific island of Jammur, the natives are tired of working hard for the rich white men with nothing to show for it. They determine that the secret to their masters' success is in the piers and landing strips they build, which allows the "Cargo Cult From the Sky" to come and deposit wealth. To the boss's surprise, it works and the natives cash in! This is a pretty good story, with art by Jack Sparling that almost looks like that of one of the Filipino artists.

Peter: Save the abrupt climax, "Ghost Cargo" becomes the third thumbs-up in one issue, surely the first time I've gotten through Ghosts without throwing the comic in the swimming pool. Could this be a premonition of good times ahead? Cross your fingers, Jack!

Never underestimate the power of the
bones of the ancestors

One more look at 1972's Best Dressed Sportsman from "Goodbye, Nancy"

Kirby art from Spirit World #1

The sparsely distributed first and only issue