Friday, July 10, 2009

40 Years Ago Today From DC Comics -- House of Mystery #182

House of Mystery #182 (On Sale: July 10, 1969) has another cool cover by Neal Adams.

We begin with "The Devil's Doorway" by Jack Oleck and Alex Toth. Wealthy student of the occult, Phillip Warren, buys a strange mirror from a New England auction. Phillip mentions his wife's misgivings about owning the piece and the auctioneer says that it is perfectly safe as the contents of the house were exorcised over a century ago and that the records of the exorcism are in the family records in City Hall.

Satisfied, the mirror is shipped home, but almost immediately strange things begin to happen. Phil's daughter Beth begins to disappear for hours at a time and when she does show up she says she has been in the mirror playing with Mr. Belial. Beth is told to stay away from the mirror, but just a few nights later she brings her father a gift, an ancient cult demon statuette used in black magic.

Beth once again claims that she has been in the mirror and the the gift is from Mr. Belial. Knowing the mirror has been exorcised, Phil tells his daughter to stop making up stories and sends he off to bed. But Phil can't sleep and that night while sitting in front of the mirror he sees inside it a strange world. He walks into the mirror and meets Mr. Belial, AKA Satan, who says that he has been expecting him to arrive. Satan explains that he finds students of the occult a challenge and since he could not leave the mirror he had to find a way to lure Phil into his world. He threatens to soon have Phil's wife as well.

Phil hurls the demon statuette at Satan and fights his way past demons to finally reach the mirror portal. Once outside he takes an axe to the mirror and then burns what remains. However, once the mirror is completely consumed Phil falls into a coma, yet a fitful coma of nightmare dreams. Days later the dreams end and Phil tells his wife that he was just sick and hallucinating. Now that Phil is better his wife tells him that their daughter Beth has vanished, that she has not been seen since the night Phil destroyed the mirror. But the mirror is harmless, the mirror had been exorcised. Phil heads to City Hall to look up the records of the house and finds that yes, everything in the house was exorcised, except a mirror that has been sent out to be gilded.

This story is a real winner and Alex Toth's artwork is an amazing workshop in minimalist line-work in the support of a story. This is wonderful work from Toth.

This is Jack Oleck's first credited work at DC, though he is known to have written both issues of Bother Power: The Geek. This only makes sense as Oleck was Joe Simon's brother-in-law and as Simon has said, "the number one scriptwriter for Simon and Kirby since the early days of Young Romance," though, it would seem, largely uncredited. According to the Jack Kirby Museum, Oleck also worked at Atlas in the 1950s when the company was publishing 85 titles a month, but exactly what work he did is not known as there are few records from this era. Jack also wrote for EC Comics doing war stories for Aces High and science-fiction for Incredible Science Fiction.

As a credited writer Jack Oleck would write more than 200 stories for DC, mostly in the horror/mystery books, but a few wars stories and humor stories for Plop! and the first three issues of Kong, the Untamed. Jack also wrote both of the paperback anthologies of adaptations of The House of Mystery stories and EC Comics The Vault of Horror paperback as well.

Oleck also wrote novels, including Messalina. As reviewer Joe Kenney says on Amazon, "Published in 1959 and continuously in print for the next several years, Jack Oleck's Messalina is now long out of print and barely remembered. Yet it is historical fiction of the best sort: trashy, exploitative, packed with violence and graphic sex. No "detectives in togas," no poorly-written military fiction, no thinly-veiled Christian glurge - this is a full-on romp in the salacious world of Imperial Rome, more Technicolor than Elizabeth Taylor's "Cleopatra."

Messalina recounts the tale of the real-life woman who married Claudius, the fourth emperor of Rome. She's known to history as a backstabbing schemer with an insatiable lust for sex, so don't go into this novel expecting a G-rated story of ancient Rome. Oleck takes us from her youth to her end, barring no details of her cold-blooded and predator-like ways: for Messalina, sex was a means to power, and boy did she know how to use it. "

Next is "Grave Results!" a "Cain's True Case File" by Marv Wolfman and Wayne Howard.
It tells the story of the Chase family of Barbados and how each time they go to bury a family member in the family crypt they find the caskets thrown about the crypt and overturned, even though the crypt is sealed each time with molten lead to keep anyone out. The two caskets belonging to the original owner of the crypt and her grand-daughter are never disturbed. Eventually the family has to leave the island to escape the cursed crypt. Reprinted in House of Mystery #229 and Showcase Presents: The House of Mystery Vol. 1 TPB.

This little piece of fluff was Wayne Howard's first work for DC and his first credited work anywhere. He contributed to comics fanzines in the mid-1960s before becoming an art assistant at the Long Island, New York studio of Wally Wood in 1969 and the Wood influence is evident in every panel Howard ever did. Wayne would only draw four stories for DC, though he would ink another 8 over the next 13 years. Howard also did work for the short-lived Web of Horror black and white book that also appeared in 1969.

Howard did work for a number of publishers. He penciled a story in Gold Key's TV-series tie-in The Twilight Zone and inked stories for Warren's Creepy and Eerie. At marvel he did inks for Worlds Unknown, Marvel Team-Up, Thongor! Warrior of Lost Lemuria in Creatures on the Loose and the Marvel black and white Haunt of Horror.

But none of this is what Wayne Howard is known for. Wayne Howard was the first American comics' cover-credited series creator, with the Charlton horror anthology book Midnight Tales which carried the blurb: "Created by Wayne Howard" on each issue. Howard did other work for Charlton, but it is with this book that he made his mark. Charlton writer/editor Nicola Cuti says that Howard's credit was granted since "it was his idea, his concept, his everything." Howard created the main characters, host Professor Coffin, The Midnight Philosopher, and his niece, Arachne, who in a twist on the horror-host convention would themselves star in a story each issue. Howard also developed the notion of having each issue be themed. He penciled and inked every cover, most of the stories and he even wrote a few of them.

In Comic Book Artist #12, Charlton editor George Wildman, described Howard as, "sort of shy. Easy come, easy go",and said Howard had married the sister of one of Wildman's early secretaries. In the same issue, Nicola Cuti said the heavy-smoker artist "always wore the same outfit: a white shirt, a kind of tan bush jacket, black hat, black pants and black tie. ...I was over at his apartment, and he opened up his closet, and there were 20 white shirts, 20 bush jackets, 20 black pants...."

Wayne Howard's last known comic work was for Warlord #64. Always a bit of a recluse, when Comic Book Artist attempted to contact him in 2001 they were told that "the artist/writer had no interest in delving into the past." Wayne Howard, one of the first African-American comic book artists of the Silver Age, died December 9, 2007 at the age of 58.

Next we have a one-page ad for the House of Secrets featuring Cain and written and drawn by Joe Orlando. That is followed by a Cain's Game Room by Sergio Aragones.

The last story in the book is "The Hound of the Night" by Robert Kanigher and Jerry Grandenetti. It was reprinted in Showcase Presents: The House of Mystery Vol. 1 TPB.

Edited by Joe Orlando.

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