The Marvel No-Prize Book #1 (Marvel)

CREDIT: Marvel Comics

Rating: 5/5 – A Hilarious Highlighting of Marvel Mistakes!
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

Let me start by saying that this book is really, really funny! There are multiple pages where I laughed out loud as Marvel pokes fun at itself by highlighting their errors throughout their long published history. If you aren’t aware, since Marvel doesn’t issue them anymore, Marvel used to “award” letter writing fans a “Marvel No-Prize” for writing in and letting the editors know of mistakes they found within issues of Marvel Comics. It was called a “No-Prize” since there was actually no tangible reward given to the continuity questioning fans other than an empty envelope, but it was a point of pride for these nit-picky readers.

In 1982, Marvel decided to highlight the their own mistakes with a whole issue dedicated to these errors! The idea behind this issue was credited to the Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter with the help of writers and researches Jim Owsley, Roger Stern and Steven Grant. The book is narrated by Stan Lee in as he describes it, “caricature form”. Right off the bat, we’re introduced to a few mistakes that I actually went back and checked to see whether or not Marvel had corrected them in later reprints. For example, the first mistake highlighted is Peter Parker being called Peter Palmer, not once, but twice in Amazing Spider-Man number one. I pulled the Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus off the shelf and appreciated that they kept these mistakes in!

There’s another example of the Hulk’s alter ego being Dr. Don Blake, or Daredevil being drawn holding a gun, with a red holster that is part of his costume! Some of the mistakes are really surprising and it was a great walk through of Marvel’s history. My favorite parts of this issue though were the examples of Marvel poking fun at their own writing. There’s a highlighted scene that shows the Thing flying a jet by catching and holding a broken wing to the frame of the airplane, or another goof where in issue 219 of The Hulk, the villain Captain Barracuda is looking through a periscope in one panel, and in the next is shown wearing an eye-patch over the same eye he was just using. It’s examples like these that made this issue so enjoyable.

Marvel did a great job of pulling the panels right from the comics with a narration box that highlights the error. There are so many examples in this issue and I’ve only chosen a few so as to not spoil the surprises for you. As far as I know this issue hasn’t been collected, but it can be found as a back issue for pretty cheap. This is one of the funniest comics I’ve read in years and if you’re a fan of Marvel’s history, I can not recommend this book enough!

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Phantom Stranger #14 (DC)

CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 4/5- Is it the Swamp Thing or the Man-Thing…or Both?
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

I was in the process of organizing some comics and the fourteenth issue of Phantom Stranger caught my eye! First of all, this was one of the last issues of the Phantom Stranger series that I was missing as this was the toughest of the issues to find in decent grade and second, the cover had an image that showed a character whose image is really similar to that of the Man-Thing, with a tagline that read “Spectre of the Stalking Swamp!”, hinting at both “swamp-like” characters at Marvel and DC. Not only that, but after I checked the date on this issue, it came out the same year as both first appearances of Swamp and Man-Thing…1971!

The first story is called “The Man with No Heart” and was written by Len Wein with some fantastic art by Jim Aparo. In this issue a cultist is dying and in order to further his own life, traps the Phantom Stranger in a pentagram and orders him to give him his heart. After a rushed surgery and heart transplant, the cultist is haunted by the Phantom Stranger, eventually fleeing to an old castle where there is a twist ending that pays off. It’s a fun short story that was more enjoyable because of Aparo’s moody art, but definitley holds up on the writing.

The second story stars Dr. Thirteen and is titled, “The Spectre of the Stalking Swamp!” It’s here where we first meet the Swamp Creature in a story that was written by Swamp Thing creator, Len Wein! Unfortunately the story was a let down, but it had some hints of what we’d see with Swamp Thing. For example, in a panel on the second page it explains that an individual from a family of settlers in the bayou got lost in the swamp and was never seen again. Further, Wein writes, “some say that the fella never died, that he mingled with the swamp, became part of it”. It was cool to read and gives you the idea that this was probably written prior to both character’s introductions, although it was published after.

I don’t want to spoil the ending in this review, but I will say that there’s a reason why THIS Swamp Monster didn’t pan out and the other two did. That being said, this was a pretty fun read to see just how similar he is to the Man-Thing artistically, and to read about some of the ideas that would later be introduced with Wein’s writing of the Swamp Thing. As I mentioned earlier, this is one of the tougher Phantom Stranger issues to be found in decent grade so expect to pay a little more than the other issues, but if you can find one I’d consider it a deal considering the history and coincidences!

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
http://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Witching Hour #70 (DC)

CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 4/5 – Fellow Comic Readers, Things were Bleak in 1977.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

I enjoy going into my back issues and pulling something out at random to read, and lately I’ve been leaning towards older DC horror books. This time it was the Witching Hour number seventy, mostly because these are always stand alone issues and the fact that this cover was just the right amount of crazy to pull me in! Bee-men carrying a scared adult male towards a hive with a face carved into it that screams danger!

I love this era of DC Comics and while this issue doesn’t necessarily stand out with its stories or art, it’s the letter from the publisher that made me want to review the issue, but more on that in a moment. In this issue as the cover proclaims, there are three “shockers of surprise and suspense”. After opening up the issue with the three witches and some humor, the first story is the one that relates to the cover. In Drone of the Dying a hiker is suddenly attacked by a group of bees and is stung multiple times. After waking up in a hospital/institution, the sounds of buzzing is everywhere, which leads to a surprise ending that’s for sure a stretch, but fun nonetheless.

The second story titled Humpty-Dumpty Hobo has the best art by Ernesto B. Patricio but is only two pages long, and the third is a story that I didn’t enjoy all that much, but again had some nice art by Filipino artist E.R. Cruz. So again, why review this issue? It’s for the letter by Jenette Kahn, the former publisher and president of DC Comics. In it, she starts off by asking the reader when they saw an ad for $1 comics whether they:
A. Felt it was the greatest thing in comics
B: “Rip Off!” Rip Off” and no comic is with a buck!

I’m a huge fan of Kahn and I really appreciate her honesty in this article, especially when later she states, “Fellow comic reader, things are bleak”. It’s that line that stood out to me. She doesn’t sugarcoat the state of the industry back then (the issue is cover-dated April, 1977) and gives a history of comics pricing and their move towards the decision to do $1 comics when the current price was just 30 cents. This was a great snapshot of comics history and proves once again, there have always been and always will be complaints about the price of comics. If you’re not happy with current prices, then I’d recommend this issue not just for the fun stories and cover, but for the history lesson as well. You can probably find this book for not much more than a current comic, which in my mind is a steal!

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Superman #344 (DC)

superman_v-1_344

CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 3.5/5 – Superman Battles Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster!
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

Sometimes when you’re organizing your collection, you come across books that immediately draw your attention. For me this week, it was Superman number 344. It was the striking cover by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez that has Superman looking terrified while in the grasp of Dracula and Frankenstein that made me stop and pull this one out to read. Garcia-Lopez has the three figures on top of a castle against a dark red sky while lightning and rain fill the cover. It’s one of those covers where you can’t help but be interested in the story inside.

Unfortunately the story inside just isn’t as strong as the cover would make you believe, due in large part to the art. I’ll start out by saying that Curt Swan’s Superman is one of my favorite interpretations of the character. Swan is the artist in this issue along with Frank Chiaramonte and while his version of Superman is what I’ve come to expect, his drawing of Frankenstein and Dracula never look all that threatening. In fact, his Frankenstein Monster is a bit goofy looking and there’s a panel where the monster is eating cakes out of a delivery truck, in broad daylight, that immediately made me think of the Hostess ads that ran through comics during this time period (and there is a Hostess ad starring Hawkman in this very issue for our reading pleasure!).

On the story side, Paul Levitz provides a script based on a story by Len Wein. Superman and Lois are invited to an old castle that may or may not be on the outskirts of Metropolis which is never explained, to write a story about the historic castle, and participate in a seance. As the seance takes place, the two monsters interrupt the ceremony and eventually go after the medium, causing Superman to intercede and take on both “magical” creatures.

It’s always fun to see Superman take on adversaries who are magical in nature since he has a weakness against them, but unfortunately Frankenstein is never really much of a threat which makes the monstrous duo much less imposing. It’s still a fun read though and the ending is all sorts of goofy which made me smile, but you don’t have to rush out and pick this issue up, which you can for probably just a couple bucks.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Haunted #21 (Charlton)

bwhl21

CREDIT: Charlton

Rating: 3.5/5 – Baron Weirwulf’s Haunted Castle!
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

Charlton’s Haunted began in 1971 as a horror and suspense anthology similar to House of Mystery or House of Secrets. In the first twenty issues, the stories were hosted by a small ghost-like creature named Impy. Then with issue number twenty-one, new host Baron Weirwulf took over and the title changed to Baron Weirwulf’s Haunted Library, but only on the on the cover. The title actually remained the same in the indicia. You can see the Baron on the cover, exquisitely painted by artist Don Newton. Weirwulf explains to the reader on the opening page that he’s the new proprietor of the haunted castle and that the books on the shelves of the library within are some of the most unusual tales ever told! The first story is a true gem and the best of the book.

Tom Sutton writes and draws the tale that’s heavily inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft called “Out of the Deep”. After a man named Mr. Hardy washes up on the shore of a small island with a bell tower as one of just two buildings, an old man within who quickly learns (or knows) that Hardy has killed his crew mates. Within the bell tower are engravings of fish monsters and Cthulu-like creatures. As the bell begins to ring Hardy believes that it tolls for him, but instead it rings for something much worse. Seeing Sutton’s art is a great treat and although it’s not as strong as some of his Warren work, it’s still fantastic.

The second story of the issue is called “Enter Freely and of Your Own Will” and is scripted by Frank Hayes with art by Pat Boyette. It’s essentially a Dracula story although the villain isn’t Dracula. It does have the twist ending, but the twist wasn’t all that shocking. The art by Boyette is a bit plain and the Dracula character isn’t all that scary, but Boyette tells a clear story in its eight pages. It should also be noted that Weirwulf doesn’t narrate the opening of this story, or the endings of any of the stories which is more common with the Warrens Magazines, EC or DC Comic hosts.

The final story has Joe Staton on the pencils and although the art looked great, the story wasn’t all that memorable. In “Pool Shark” a modern day sea bum/pirate kills a tribal witchdoctor by feeding him to the sharks, which makes him afraid to ever enter the ocean again. Of course he isn’t as careful as he had planned and tragedy strikes. Staton’s art can give Sutton’s opening story competition for the best looking of the two, and if the story were more enjoyable it could have, but the ending seemed a bit too far fetched and closed the book on a low note.

That being said, this is still a solid issue with some great talents providing some beautiful art and the first story alone is worth seeking this issue out. In the letters page at the end, the editor explains that “some publishers try to force their illustrators to conform to a certain style and standard. In our opinion this is a mistake. An artist should have a free hand…..creativity is encouraged. We want our writers and artists to feel uninhibited when they work on a Charlton assignment.” Seeing the art here is reflective of this thinking and now it’s time for me to search more of these issues out to see this creativity first hand!

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Secrets of Haunted House #1 (DC)

Secrets_of_Haunted_House_1

CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 3.5/5 – Destiny and More Host this Haunted House of Stories.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

I’ve written quite a few vintage reviews of horror comics and along the way have either been introduced to, or reunited with some wonderful hosts. Whether it be the Witches in the Witching Hour, Lucien from Ghost Castle, or even Baron Weirwulf from Haunted, I have a fondness for these horror hosts. Secrets of Haunted House is another horror anthology comic from DC that started in 1975 and had a pretty decent run until its end in 1982. So who’s the host of this first issue? Well it’s Destiny, a host we’ve seen before in another anthology from a few years before titled Weird Mystery Tales. In this first issue, we see him on a cliff alongside Cain and Abel from the Houses of Mystery and Secrets, as well as Eve from the Secrets of Sinister House. Although these hosts are all here, it’s Destiny and Cain that provide the two tales for this issue that’s rounded out by a three page framing sequence.

The first of the two stories is titled “Dead Heat” and it’s about two ambulance drivers that have a twisted sense of humor by tallying the scores of the victims they save and lose. It’s written by Michael J. Pellowski and scripted by Robert Kanigher with really wonderful art by Ernie Chua. I enjoyed the story quite a bit up until the very end. It of course has a twist ending, but that ending unfortunately didn’t make a whole lot of sense. The ending and the story itself are both cool ideas, but together they’re poorly executed. Thank goodness for the second tale titled “Fish Story”…

In “Fish Story” we see Cain hosting a man at the House of Mystery who tells him a story about a fish creature that after months of captivity ultimately becomes a monster. It’s written by Jack Oleck with art by Alex Nino. The art is sensational and the creature itself, who you can see on the cover by Luis Dominguez, doesn’t compare to Nino’s frightening interpretation inside. And the ending? It’s a twist that I didn’t see coming and is quite clever in its execution. It more than made up for the ending of the first story and makes this issue a must read.

There’s also a one-page Sergio Aragones strip that’s cute, but not all that memorable. This issue finishes off with a note from the editor explaining why Destiny is the new host of Secrets of Haunted House. It turns out that after Eve took over hosting duties for Weird Mystery Tales, sales on that book went up! So Destiny moved into a new house, along with a few other hosts. Not a ringing endorsement for the host of this first issue, displaced because he wasn’t popular in his last gig, but at least they were honest! I love all things DC horror so this was a must buy for me, but if you can find a copy on the cheap, it’s worth it for the history, hosts and the second story.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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House of Mystery #174 (DC)

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CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 3.5/5 – The Return of Horror…Reprints…
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

House of Mystery was originally a horror anthology that began back in 1951. Similar to E.C. and plenty of other horror titles of the time, when the Comics Code Authority started to enforce tougher rules and regulations, House of Mystery changed its focus to include more science fiction stories and in even later issues, super heroes like the Martian Manhunter headlining the book and even the original Dial “H” for Hero with Robby Reed. Then in 1968, Joe Orlando was chosen to be the editor of the book and horror returned to the House of Mystery with issue number 174.

I recently picked up a run of House of Mystery that includes issues 174 through the final issue, number 321. Although I did have to purchase some duplicates that I already had in my collection, buying comics in a large run like this can usually be had at a cheaper price/per issue. Although the cover is a true classic and is a new piece of art created for this issue, the internal stories consist of reprints from earlier issues, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t enjoyable. For the most part they were, although there were a couple misses.

The first story is titled “the Wondrous Witch’s Cauldron” and has an actual cauldron with a mind of it’s own trying to find an owner so it’s not left alone. It’s a bit hokey and definitely a wordy tale, but still enjoyable despite having some art that didn’t work for me.

The next story titled “The Man who Hated Good Luck” was my favorite of the book, and goes against the grain in believing that all short horror anthology stories have to end in a dark or horrific twist. Don Barker does everything he can to avoid good luck like winning the lottery, or inheriting a castle. We’re not sure why until the very end which is sweet and touching and because it wasn’t horrific, I actually didn’t see it coming!   We then get a one-page Sergio Aragones pin-up/story, a visit to a museum of worthless inventions and finally a story called the Court of Creatures that unfortunately ended the book on a low note.

Issue #174 of House of Mystery is historic as the return of horror to the title, but since this is full of reprints, you may be better off starting your collection of this series with issue 175 which also features longtime House of Mystery host Cain.  175 is next on my now huge stack of House of Mysteries to read and I’m looking forward to reading and hopefully reviewing it soon!

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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