Saturday, October 31, 2020

Journey Into Mystery #4

Halloween Post-A-Day 2020, Day 31

Journey Into Mystery #4


 A brief trio of tales kicked off by an HPL story



Editor – Roy Thomas

June 1973


Scattered throughout time there are comics that adapted Lovecraft stories, like wrapped treats waiting to be found. Part of my Halloween Crapbox “trick or treat” has been unwrapping these little candies to find out if they are good or ill. Maybe the adaption will feature off-putting art or attempt to say things story-wise that Lovecraft didn’t. I’m happy to report that this Marvel story gets it right and features decent backups as well.


It’s Halloween and I don’t want to belabor this, so let’s take a look, shall we?


“The Haunter of the Dark”

Writer – Ron Goulart

Penciler – Gene Colan

Inker – Dan Adkins

Colorist – N/A

Letterer – N/A


The tale up to bat first is Lovecraft’s The Haunter of the Dark, the last written of HPL’s known works. The story is a sequel to a story called The Shambler from the Stars, a tale written by a teenage Robert Bloch. Bloch was the person who gave us the prose version of That Hell-bound Train story we spent two enjoyable issues on earlier this month. Bloch was the youngest of the Lovecraft Circle, the group of writers who knew and corresponded with the celebrated author.


I’ve said something before about Bloch killing Lovecraft, so I think it is proper to explain that here. In Shambler from the Stars, Bloch erected a framework of himself as occult author Robert Blake and had himself visit a thinly-veiled imitation of Lovecraft in the form of a New England mystic who lives in Providence, Rhode Island…a mystic who doesn’t survive his encounter with other-worldly demonic forces. Thus killing off a likeness of himself proved quite impressive to the horror master. So much so that HPL does the same thing here: he used the character of “Robert Blake” who lives at the very same street address as Robert Bloch did at the time and then HLP…well, that would be giving things away, wouldn’t it. Lets like the comic tell the story, shall we?


We begin with a creepy church with people huddled outside worried that something might escape it. Across town a occult writer named Robert Blake seems to be watching too.


We flash back to Blake moving into town and noticing the ancient dark church with it’s villainous aspect. He becomes a bit obsessive about it, detecting a good story subject. Animals shun it and locals…well, they don’t talk about it much.


Or, like this officer, warn you away from it. Blake is undeterred, of course.


And his investigation of the hoary cult haven uncovers copies of the Neconomicon strewn about like church hymnals, coded manuscripts, and a dead body whose bones look burned.


But worst of all is this odd casket containing a mysterious gemstone, something that catches the light in such a odd way that Blake can’t stand to look at it. He closes the lid on it and rushes from the place, scared out of wits.


The coded manuscript is written in the Aklo language, an “ancient tongue of evil antiquity.” *smile* It gives the name of the cult that took over the church as the Starry Wisdom cult and goes into describing a demon that could be awakened by staring into the jewel he found. A history of the jewel also follows…


The notebook from the burned body comes from a reporter who closed the jewel box the same way Blake did. And closing it was a grave mistake. Grave.


Blake swears to never return to the now haunted tower, but his dreams start to bother him, getting worse each night. And the locals start reporting stirrings in the tower of the old church, all of which unsettles Blake all the more. He awakes that night as if under some kind of spell, forced to the tower by some unholy summons. He barely resists going all the way to the tower before breaking its control.


But according to the notes Blake has, light will keep the presence at bay. He turns on all the blubs in his house, hoping to ride out the night. Unfortunately a lightning bolt causes a power outage. The shadow of the haunter leaves the tower and seeks out the prey that unleashed it. Blake’s dead boy is found by a neighbor…


…and the third story is teased in the next issue box, a story by Bloch that was an answer to Lovecraft’s story. This was a great find and thrilled me to no end. I wish Marvel in the 70’s had mined all of Lovecraft’s work more thoroughly. It would have been great to see these artists interpret those pieces in this style.


Interesting aside, The Haunter of the Dark was dedicated to Bloch by Lovecraft. Bloch was the only individual to whom Lovecraft ever dedicated a story.


“The Price is Flight”

Writer – Dan Adkins and Steve Gerber

Penciler – P. Craig Russell

Inker – Dan Adkins

Colorist – N/A

Letterer – John Costanza



Next up is this amazing confection of a story by Adkins, Gerber, and Russell that is just too sublime for me to spoil. Read on and ENJOY this horror morsel.



And that is how you do it, ladies and gentlemen. I can’t think of a more perfect story. It mixes outstanding art with an understandable premise and takes the story in a direction both unexpected and warranted. I LOVED this one. Hope you did too.

On to the third, and sadly, final act!


“the Man with Two Faces”

Writer – Gardner Fox and Donald F. McGregor

Penciler – Winslow Mortimer

Inker – N/A

Colorist – N/A

Letterer – N/A


Body horror is always a win with me. I’m never secure enough in my own skin to not feel the neck prickles that start up when you add elements of the bizarre to someone’s anatomy. Let’s see how I fair with this tale, one that begins with a trip to the doctor. Note the story in the paper on our patient’s way in. It’s easy to overlook given the shocking reveal in the final panel, a much less friendly version of Kuato from Total Recall.


Here we go, spinning out how this might have occurred…


So, he helps out this shaman of this unknown Siberian tribe. That doesn’t sound particularly bad. And nicely the shaman shows the way to a billion dollars worth of ancient treasure.


But of course the guy gets greedy when offered only one measly diamond as repayment, and he shoots poor Nyokut Chsai dead. Then he plunders the riches, but not before Chsai delivers one final curse upon him.


Our narrator spends as much of his ill-gotten gains as he can buying cars, expensive suits and women…and then a few short weeks later…


And thus we are all caught up…which is sad because the patient decides to end it all by leaping from a window. The face has disappeared now, leaving the doctor the only witness to these strange events. The newspaper story about the murder victim losing its identity isn’t properly tied in, and the story feels like a muddle. I get it and I get where it was trying to go, but it just never pulled it all together.


Sorry to end on such a sad note as that final story, but glad I discovered this volume of Journey into Mystery. May have to seek out issue number 5 to read the follow-up Bloch tale.


Until then, mask up everybody and have a safe and socially-distanced Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Haunt of Fear #28

 Halloween Post-A-Day 2020, Day 30

The Haunt of Fear #28

Final nail in the coffin


Editor – Al Feldstein

August 1999 (Reprint 1954)


In 1954, with public sentiment turning against the horror and crime comic book genre and comic book publishers in general, William Gaines threw in the towel. His company, EC Comics, folded up shop. Gaines threw all of his efforts behind his new publication, a little title called MAD magazine, that dodged around the newly created comic book regulations by being a magazine, not a comic. And thus history was born.


This is where the bomb landed. This is THE final issue of one of the triumvirate of EC’s Horror line-up. Along with sister books Tales from the Crypt  and The Vault of Horror, the EC books were directly in the crosshairs of Congress’s Seante Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. The harsh criticism that blasted the books as being the source of all the evils known afflicting youth of the 1950’s was as wrong-headed as it was pervasive. With the comic industry rolling over under the scrutiny and doing things like banning the words “horror” and “terror” in book titles while banning depictions of half the monster tropes from even appearing in books…Gaines had enough.


He moved on to other things.


But he didn’t go quietly. Here is his one page goodbye to the genre in this VERY special issue of THoF:


So savor this one while you can. It’s a shame that Gaines wasn’t allowed to continue, given how many things spun out of fond remembrances of his books. Things like the movie Creepshow and the TV series Tales from the Crypt being the most directly inspired. Lord only knows the things unattributed that owe their existence to him and his books.


However, he would find plenty to occupy himself with his MAD magazine creation, a sign that you can’t keep a talented man shackled no matter what.


As for the stories in this issue? Oh, they are so, so good. Buckle in kiddies, it’s going to be a thrill ride for certain…


The Prude

Writer – Carl Wessler

Artist – Graham Ingels

Letterer – Jim Wroten


If you thought the book was going to slide quietly into the grave, you are sadly mistaken. Nope! Not a chance. So first out of the gate is this tale of censorship and authoritarianism gone wrong. If Gaines was headed into the grave, he was going to claw and scratch all the way down and drag as many young minds over the line as he could. We should really thank him for that.


We begin with powerful citizen Warren Forbisher, the town prude, going all “super-Karen” on the town’s elected officials over a perceived break in the moral code. Forbisher is upset because he has caught two of the townsfolk kissing in public. Labeling it SIN, Forbisher uses his considerable influence in an attempt to get the city official to make the public display illegal. He even pulls out the “Either for me or you’re for SIN” and I am LOVING all the parallels this story must have held for those reading it at the time.


Wessler only deepens those links by having reasoned arguments for why there should be tolerance for those activities Forbisher finds so detestable. Forbisher takes his case to the press, where he’s gotten other measures passed that didn’t seem quite so outlandish, however this time it doesn’t cut much ice. Appears the editor sees Forbisher now for what he really is: a petty tyrant. Thus the prude is forced to appeal directly to the people.


And you’d think they would be smart enough not to fall for it.


But you’d be wrong. Forbisher talks a good game and appeals to the “good” and “morally righteous” and gets the councilman tossed.


And he doesn’t stop there. Soon he has all manner of indiscretion vanquished to the point that men and women can no longer be buried together…EVEN couples already buried. And thus the town sets about erecting a new cemetery across the road and moving all the female bodies to it.


However, the grave digger tells Forbisher that there’s a dreadful problem. The women don’t like being separated…even in death. They dig themselves out of their graves and haul their headstones back beside their husband’s, and then bury themselves again. I love the “If the Dead can’t MOVE why’d we separate them in the first place?” question here. This is just a masterstroke.


And of course Forbisher’s real issue with everything stems from the fact that he was unfaithful to his wife. His mistress gave him an ultimatum of divorce his wife or she’d down some poison.


Forbisher called her bluff and left her dead on the floor. After that he couldn’t stand himself nor anyone else. He tried to make up for his moral failing by enforcing ridged moral order on everyone else. Thus projecting his moral failings upon everyone else. 


This is where the story gets so good because the metaphor is complete. The townsfolk who also had secret hidden guilts glommed on to the prude to hide their own feelings of inadequacy. Exactly like the Senate Subcommittee Members and the press and the populace at large. Gaines didn’t tell any story that hadn’t already been told time and time again. He just was singled out as a scapegoat to cover for the guilt everyone felt at not having a real clue how to reach out to the next generation.


Story wise we have to see Forbisher get his come-uppance and believe me, it is a doozey. First he keeps railing at the gravedigger because the bodies are together again. Finally he decides to spy on him and catch him in the act.


Unfortunately the gravedigger isn’t lying. The women do rise from the grave. Including Forbisher’s mistress Laura. And what she does to him isn’t discovered until the next morning…


You have to love that last line from the gravedigger. Perfection achieved.



Writer – Carl Wessler

Artist – Bernie Krigstein

Letterer – Jim Wroten



For all of you that loath big game hunters, this next one is right up your alley. The story follows John Carvel…

 …a wild animal hunter with a difference. He prefers to trap his animals and then torture them to death with a variety of sadistic instruments.


The sicko even goes so far as to light an African ant hive on fire.


Before he can off an ant that emerges from the hive still on fire, he hears the cry of an ape in one of his hole traps. He does his worst to the poor trapped beast.


He does the same to a black panther…and is prepared to do more…when he suddenly falls victim to one of his own deathtraps.


Caught, he can do little more than watch as animals gather of the type that he spent is life so cruelly slaying.


But they don’t do anything but watch. The spectator animals watch as the burned ant leads its legions of followers into the hole where they devour the man alive in what can only be called a fitting punishment.


Gristly, ghoulish, and great fun.



Writer – Carl Wessler

Artist – Jack Kamen

Letterer – Jim Wroten


Next up is Audition. No, it’s not that gross-out Japanese film. Kiri-Kiri-Kiri to you, too.


Nope. It is about Mr. Vitale’s all girl orchestra. A gig that is definitely hard to get into. I’m just gonna let this one roll on. Be ready to give the performance of a lifetime….




Well, she certainly was dying to get into that band. Love these weird inventive takes on story endings. They really are great.


500 Teeth

Writer – Al Feldstein


And another case in point…this little ditty about some killer home protectors.


A Work of Art

Writer – Carl Wessler

Artist – Jack Davis

Letterer – Jim Wroten


And last up, the final story to cap off the EC comics universe…a tale of a man deciding who should prepare his body after death. And a tale of someone putting everything into their work, so much so that it is like a museum piece, even if others do not truly recognize its value. Much like Gaines contribution to the literary works we grew up with. He produced true Works of Art. And he went out on his own terms. Enjoy...


Thursday, October 29, 2020

Black Magic #3

 Halloween Post-A-Day 2020, Day 29

Black Magic #3


Some old friends via reprints


Editor – Joe Simon

January 15, 1974



In the past I’ve harped a bit on Marvel “repurposing” old horror stories for new anthologies, so I suppose I should do the same here to DC. Even though this 1974 DC series pulls stuff from two legends for most of its content. Namely Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. We have three tales of terror from various issues of Vol 2 of Black Magic (this title being Volume 3 with that name), so let’s hop to it…



Nasty Little Man!

Writers & Artists – Joe Simon and Jack Kirby



We start this issue off with a train story and I’m kinda wondering if I missed some sort of chance to have Horror on the Rails week, what with all the terror train tales that have come up by chance this Halloween. Regardless, we being with three hobos jumping a freight car only to find it occupied…


By Paddy O’Day, a midget Irishman with a horrible temper and a lack of people skills. The tiny terror growls at the new arrivals, who don’t take his threats to heart. Before they beat the little person senseless, Paddy brags that he has the blood of wizards flowing through his veins, which causes one of their number to ask him to prove himself.


Which, lo and behold, Paddy does, conjuring up a mess of diamonds from his hat. The three interloper’s riches are short lived, however. The gems turn to rocks as soon as the trio pick any of it up. Paddy demures that what are diamonds anyway but lumps of carbon.


His trick doesn’t set well with the hobos though, and they threaten to strangle the life out of him. Once hands are laid on the little feller, a rumbling can be heard. As one of their number chokes the life from the midget’s body, a massive avalanche hurtles down the mountain straight at the train.


Only two of the men survive the accident by jumping from the car, but one is gravely injured. Prof and Lancy, his more healthy companion, find themselves alone in the wilderness and pursued by the undead spirit of the vengeful little leprechaun.


However, for all his fancy uninjuredness, Lancy can’t outrun fate as a hand snags his running form and drags him to his death. The prof runs on until exhaustion overtakes him and he collapses by a road. He comes to in a hospital.


His story cuts no ice with the doctor. As he is left alone to rest, he notices a visitor in his hospital window…


…But when prof turns to flee, he realizes the doc had to cut off both of his legs to save his life. And thus he is in no condition to get away from the nasty little man, who does him in at last.


The Angel of Death!

Writers & Artists – Joe Simon and Jack Kirby


And now on to the pandemic part of our show…We have Doc Jean Lescoux ministering to a deathly ill old man named Fernand. Through exposition we learn that the wife despairs that Fernand will die the same way a girl down the street did. Most of these fears are struck because both the girl and her husband saw “an angel of death” before falling ill. Doc Lescoux is more hopeful and measured in his assessment.


With is wife, the doctor is more truthful though. He worries about this malady shared by both victims that he cannot classify. Just then a boy arrives stating that the “angel of death” is over his house and his uncle Phillipe is sick. The doctor rushes to assist.


Just then a cry is heard in the street. The group runs out to find something large flying away from the man now injured. The doctor states upon seeing this creature that he knows what the enemy is.


With that, Lescoux arranges a meeting with Professor John Langford, responsible for the digging up of the hills outside of town. Seems the doctor recalls that the scientists there found fossils at their dig site and certain this is the cause, he makes it known that one of their “living fossils” (just go with it. We all know what’s wrong with that statement) is missing. And certainly it is, although the professor thought it was stolen. The doc lays it on him that the creature is alive.


And thus the townsfolk track the flying menace, burning houses suspected of harboring it.


But it isn’t until Loud Marius brings a large sackcloth bag into town that the nightmare ends. A package containing the body of a huge insect that Marius emptied his shotgun into after surprising it in his wood shed.


The Courts of Sleep!

Writer – N/A

Artist – Bob McCarthy



Our final visual tale takes place in a hospital. Silas Stone, an unscrupulous millionaire businessman, is harassing the nurses ahead of his expected surgery.


Even the doctor can’t talk sense into the terrible old miser, but is able to rush him in to surgery to take care of his “condition”.


Silas drifts off to sleep on the operating table and awakens back in his hospital room. He’s informed by the doctor that they lost him on the table, but somehow managed to revive him. He’s been granted a second chance at life. As with all these morality tales, Silas is then show acting deplorably still, wasting the clear chance at being a better person. He bullies his way out of the required hospital stay, accosts people begging on the street, and instructs his drive to run over a neighborhood dog.


In a subsequent meeting with his lawyer, Silas rips the man for showing compassion to the people who owe Silas money. This action causes the lawyer to go off on Silas, who has a heart attack in the next moment.


Which Silas awakens from to find himself back on the operating table, only this time not to a very sympathetic operating theater. In fact, it ends up being a trio of quite devilish doctors set to treat him.


As a final goodbye, Black Magic throws in a one page ghost story in prose form. Give it a look.