Superman #344 (DC)

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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)

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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)

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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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Tales of Ghost Castle #1 (DC)

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CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 4/5 – A New Host for DC Horror – Lucien the Librarian!
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

If you look at some back issue reviews we’ve written in the past, I have a true love for the horror comics and magazines from the 1970s and 1980s. Although Creepy and Eerie are my favorites of the genre with their amazing lineup of creators, comics like the Witching Hour, House of Mystery or Skywlad’s range of magazines are always must buys when I can find them. Recently during one of Comicconnect’s monthly auctions I picked up the first issue of Tales of Ghost Castle, a series that only lasted for three issues in 1975. This first issue’s creators include Marty Pasko, Paul Levitz, Frank Redondo, Sergio Aragones and more so there’s plenty of quality telling some fun stories!

Tales of Ghost Castle also includes the first appearance of Lucien the Librarian, a character who’s mostly known for his appearances in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Here we’re introduced to him as the host and narrator of the four stories, which is a staple of horror comics and magazines of the time. Lucien is the caretaker and librarian of a castle in Transylvania where he pores over an extensive library of texts and tomes with his werewolf companion who has the clever name of Rover.

The first story that Lucien tells is by far the best of the bunch written by Paul Levitz and titled “A Child’s Garden of Graves”. It’s an adoption story that goes horribly wrong and has an ending that for its time as well for being in a DC comic is quite horrific when you think about it. A problematic young girl is adopted by a family and unfortunately she doesn’t get along with her new siblings. Her gardening skills take a dark turn and set the reader up for a story that can hold its own against DC’s other more popular, and longer running horror series.

We also get the story that’s referenced on the cover about a man and his mushrooms. It’s a theme that we’ve seen done plenty of times before, but it’s still an entertaining short tale that’s mushroom hook sets it apart. We also get a one page story where Aragones tells a funny, yet a bit juvenile gag and a clever story titled “A Soul a Day Keeps the Devil Away” about an office in hell where the staff has to keep up the daily quota of delivering a new soul a day or else they’ll be “fired”…which I would have loved to read more about 🙂

Although Tales of Ghost Castle didn’t last long, after reading this first issue I’m now on the hunt for the other two to complete the set. As far as I know, Tales of Ghost Castle hasn’t been collected so you’re best bet is to search the back issue bins. I was able to get the first issue in a comicconnect auction graded 9.2 (not slabbed) for $12 which I feel is a pretty fair price. Tales of Ghost Castle may be one of the lesser known DC horror books of the time, but after reading this first issue it’s not because of the content.

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

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Secret Origins #10 (DC)

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CREDIT: DC

Rating: 5/5 – Four Origins That Add to Phantom Stranger’s Legacy.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

The creative lineup for this issue of Secret Origins includes names such as Alan Moore, Jim Aparo, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Joe Orlando and Ernie Colon.  This issue of Secret Origins’ talent roster is really something special and the stories and art that are produced by these talents live up to, and even exceeded my reputations. Secret Origins number ten is a spotlight on Phantom Stranger. A couple weeks back I reviewed the Silver Age reintroduction of the character so I’ve been on a bit of a Phantom Strange kick. In that review I had mentioned that the Phantom Stranger’s origin had never quite been defined up until the New 52 version of the character. Instead, the character has had multiple interpretations of his origin, providing a mystery around the character and where he came from.

This issue of Secret Origins embraces the mystery and takes it one step further by having four different stories by four different creative teams, each presenting a different take on the character’s origin with the first of the four stories being my personal favorite.

“Tarry till I Come Again” is written by Mike W. Barr and drawn by the amazing Jim Aparo. The opening splash page has the Phantom Stranger standing in front of a silhouette of Jesus hanging from the cross on Mt. Sinai, then quickly moves to the current day with Phantom Stranger inside a church asking for confession. This confession is where the Stranger explains that after King Herod kills his young child and wife, he bribes a soldier to be able to whip Jesus before he’s nailed to the cross. It’s a powerful story in words and Aparo’s art as he conveys all the emotion and anger in the young Stranger’s face. Each story is resolved in its ten pages so you get enough to tell a complete tale in each chapter and the ending here is as solid as the rest of the story.

Paul Levitz and Jose Garcia Lopez’s second story is titled “…and Men Shall Call him Stranger”. In this origin tale, the Stranger is an honest and honorable man living in a city that’s full of sin and morally corrupt society. Before the city is destroyed by the hands of God, an angel visits the stranger and offers salvation. Instead of being saved, the Stranger chooses to stay and save all those he can. It’s another powerful story that highlights Garcia-Lopez’s abilities to draw the human form and give his characters dynamic poses.

After a third story that’s a bit weak in comparison to the rest, Alan Moore and Joe Orlando finish the issue with a tale called “Footsteps”. One of the greatest writers in the medium telling an origin tale about one of DC’s oldest characters is reason enough to seek out this issue. Moore and Orlando shine in jumping back and forth between a group of homeless people living beneath the city and the Strfanger’s journey between heaven and hell and his meeting with Satan.

Four stories by four great creative teams including some of the best who have ever worked in the medium should have you searching out and reading this issue. It’s not a definitive origin for the character, but instead four interpretations of the character’s origin that add to his legacy and make him more interesting and compelling because of it. This issue can be found in many places for just a couple dollars and that is definitely a bargain for the quality found within.

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

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Kobra #1-4 (DC)

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CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 3.5/5 – Kobra’s Publishing History is Better Than the Story Itself.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

The very first issue of Kobra has quite a few names in the credits box that I wasn’t expecting. The story is presented by Martin (Marty) Pasko with art by Jack Kirby, D. Bruce Berry and Pablo Marcos. Also, it’s listed that the plot is from Jack Kirby and Steve Sherman. Although the cover itself is surprising in that it’s by Ernie Chan and not Kirby, I also didn’t expect to see so many different creators involved on the interior of this and later issue. Luckily, about halfway through this first issue editor Gerry Conway explains the genesis of Kobra and just how it came to be in a letters page called the “Snake Pit”.

According to Conway, Carmine Infantino wanted Jack Kirby to create a story and characters around the concept of the Corsican brothers, conjoined siblings who after being separated at birth, can still feel the other sibling’s pains. Kirby took the idea and with the help of his assistant Steve Sherman and inker D. Bruce Berry created a first issue that unfortunately never saw the light of day in its original form. Kirby had decided to leave DC and head back to Marvel before the first issue was ever published which left the fate of Kobra shelved until Conway got a hold of it and had a new creative team make some changes.

That new creative team consisted of a personal favorite DC writer of mine, Martin Pasko, as well as artist Pablo Marcos who was brought in to redraw some of the scenes involving the hero Jason Burr, giving him a more youthful appearance. You can tell there were quite a few changes with this book because even in this first issue letter to the readers, it says “we turned to crack cover artist Joe Kubert” to essentially finish the issue, but as I mentioned previously and as you can see, the cover is clearly by Ernie Chan, with Kubert’s cover not appearing until issue number four. So, after all that creative information how was the actual comic itself? Well, unfortunately not that great except for Kirby’s art of course.

After a beautiful opening splash page by Kirby, the villain Kobra is opening a giant rock with an alien robot hidden in its center. Kobra is planning on using this robot which he calls the Servitor to do his bidding, which means killing his brother. It’s here that we then meet the good brother Jason Burr who’s being questioned by a detective at a student union building. Pasko’s script is definitely of it’s time with Burr asking the detective if he’s a Narc and stating “I’m not into any of that stuff (drugs). I get off on life…can you dig it?” I read plenty of back issues and you definitely give the writers of the time a pass, but neither Kobra as a villain or Jason as a hero are all that likable.  In addition, the dialogue and convenient storytelling make this first issue fun, but eye rolling at the same time. We do get to see the twins’ origins before a final confrontation that seemed to have come out of nowhere at the end, hinting at the changes the story and creators may have gone through in its confusing creation.

Kirby’s art is of course typical Kirby which I enjoyed quite a bit, but the characters never connected with me even reading up to issue number four. This series ran for a total of seven issues, but the rotating artists and confusion around the book’s publishing didn’t stop with that fourth issue. On the last panel of issue three it says “wait until next issue” and gives the title of issue four’s story, but on the very next page, the editor’s letter states that this is the last issue of Kobra! Not only that, but issue two’s art was by Chic Stone, issue three was by Keith Giffen and four by Pat Gabriele. Whew! I think the production history of Kobra is more interesting than the comics themselves and although I’ll need to find the last few issues of this series to see how it all turns out, I’m more than happy to read what I can find on just how and why this series went through so many creators!

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

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