The Phantom Stranger 23, 1973 “Panic in the Night!”

In this second week of October fun, it will be my last week spotlighting the Phantom Stranger, sadly. No worries though, as I’m sure he’ll make more appearances down the road. This is my last issue from this run, though. but the other issues that feature a different creative team are still pretty good. The character is awesome but for me, these two creators took him to heights no one else had before or since. Alright, onto the story…

The setting is Paris, France, and the police find a prowler in a cathedral. He’s ringing the bells and laughing at his behavior at the same time. The villain looks like the Gentleman Ghost, but the police refer to him as Quasimodo. A plane lands at the airport, and the Phantom Stranger and Cassandra Craft exit the aircraft, and she tells the Stranger that her powers of perception are telling her this is the place of a disturbance. The Stranger then begins to question some locals about an organization that calls itself the Dark Circle. Later that very same night, a crowd is horrified to see the same ghostly figure from the cathedral sawing through the chain of a huge chandelier. If it falls, it will surely kill a few dozen people at the least. The Stranger jumps in at the last moment to save the day. But he still must contend with the Dark Circle, and they have abducted Cassandra! Awesome story by Len Wein in this issue. He really gets this character perfectly, and I feel it’s one of his best jobs in comics. Jim Aparo (interior and cover art) has done more than a serviceable job on many characters/books, but this one for me is right up there with his best (The Spectre, The Brave and the Bold). What a great team.

The back up story in this book is something to be celebrated as well. Marv Wolfman and Mike Kaluta (via Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley) bring us “The Spawn of Frankenstein!” Two men digging in the Arctic find the remains of the Monster and are hell-bent on reanimating this abomination. A welcomed switch from Dr. 13. for sure!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Phantom Stranger 21, 1972, “The Resurrection of Johnny Glory!”

October is finally here! As you can see, it might be a new month, but I’m going to continue to spotlight the Phantom Stranger! These issues by Wein and Aparo are right up there with any short run in comics for me. The stories are creepy and moody, and you also get a Twilight Zone vibe from them. This run needs to get more airtime, and I intend to give it to the masses. Both creators are nothing short of legends, and they deserve it.

The story starts out with a guy named Johnny, as he’s being led to the electric chair for his crimes (murder). The switch is thrown, and Johnny is toast. The onlookers flinch from the scene. Later at the morgue, two shady looking individuals show up with paperwork stating that the body of Johnny is now their property. They take the body to an underground cave, where the rest of their satanic buddies are hanging out. They perform a ritual and bring Johnny back to life! The head man tells Johnny he was resurrected to murder a saint! There’s a spiritual leader from a middle eastern country that is touring the area, and this group wants him dead! Written by Len Wein, with art by Jim Aparo!

As usual, we get a Dr. 13 backup story. “Woman of Stone” is the usual set up where he debunks something that appears to be magic/sorcery. Not a big fan of the character, but I do recognize good scripting by Len Wein and art by Tony DeZuniga.

The cover is super cool, but I do have a nitpick about it. It’s the exact same image from the first splash page inside the issue. And I mean exact, no variation whatsoever (except the background). So kudos to Aparo for the cover, but the fact that it’s reused for an interior page is not awesome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Phantom Stranger 19, 1972 “Return to the Tomb of the Ice Giants!”

Welcome, to week four of the Halloween siege! In this week’s post, I’ll be spotlighting one of my favorite characters from DC comics, The Phantom Stranger! This character has been a favorite of mine ever since I began diving into the supernatural universe of DC comics. I talked about a story starring him on a podcast for Halloween in 2019 (click here to listen in!), and that is probably my favorite story about this enigmatic entity! But now, on to this story!

Our tale begins with the Phantom Stranger giving a monologue to us about the follies of mankind. We then see two men searching for something in the Arctic Circle. They have some machinery working to pump oil out of the ice, but then the pressure decreases rapidly. When they check the line, they’re stunned to see a sword the size of a Cadillac cutting through the line! We see a giant hand reaching out for them, and then they are gone. Back at the main office, two more men talk about how many have gone missing up here and they aim to find out why. A man named Blake then takes a jeep out to the work site, but an earthquake opens up a hole in the ice, and it looks like he’s a goner. A hand reaches out to save him, and it is none other than the Phantom Stranger that comes to his aid. The man in charge still wants to proceed with pipeline, though, but the Phantom Stranger and Blake try to talk him out of it. His greed will not allow him to stop, and it might just be his undoing!

This morality play by Len Wein (writer) and Jim Aparo (art) is not only a good one, but still holds relevancy in 2020. It doesn’t feel like you’re being force-fed their opinion or nonsense either. The story works well in all phases and truly shows the ability of both creators to tell a good story. The dialogue and visuals are both on par with anything of its time.

There’s also a backup story about Dr. 13, by Steve Skeates (writer) and Tony DeZuniga (art). This one involves a man that is being haunted by a ghostly voice that sounds like his dead father!

A bonus feature of Mark Merlin, Sleuth of the Supernatural closes out the issue nicely. This reprint stars the talents of Arnold Drake (story), and the art team of Mort Meskin and George Roussos!

This incredible issue is kicked off by the talents of Neal Adams! The cover is spectacular!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DC Limited Collectors’ Edition C-23, 1973 “The House of Mystery”

As October is finally winding down, one more over-sized book must get the royal treatment! And there is not a better place to walk into than The House of Mystery! Over the years that title has had many themes (pre-code horror, superheroes, then back to horror), but it really didn’t take off until 1968, when editor Joe Orlando took over the reigns (issue 174). Within just a few issues, we saw the first professional work of the most seminal horror artist of the Bronze Age, Bernie Wrightson (issue 179). Some would argue he’s the horror artist of all time, and there’s a good argument for it, but obviously that subjective, and could be talked about for decades (and probably will be).

Looking specifically at this book, we get a Nick Cardy cover, and his contributions to the comic book world cannot be in question. His decades-long  work for DC comics is nothing short of astounding. Inside we get a frontispiece by Jack Sparling, with the familiar host, Cain, telling us we are about to be in for a surprise! The first story, “The House of Gargoyles,” is scripted by Jack Oleck, with art by the aforementioned Sparling. Next, there is an incredible story called “The Secret of the Egyptian Cat.” Written by Robert Kanigher (long time DC scribe that wrote many war stories), and although he does a fine job, the artistic prowess of Bernie Wrightson is what really makes this one memorable.

The third story (“The Widow’s Walk“) is another good one, with Howard Post scripting, and the art team of Neal Adams and Joe Orlando! Very good story top to bottom! We are then treated to a two-page splash of Cain by Wrightson (black and white version), and the image is absolutely stunning. A better, more iconic image really doesn’t exist in comics. Another story (“His Name is… Kane“) with another hall of fame artist follows, as Gil Kane (pencils) and Wally Wood (inks) bless us with an art combination for the ages. The script is by Mike Friedrich, who worked for DC and Marvel during his career. As if all of this wasn’t enough, enter Alex Toth (art) with “The Devil’s Doorway.” Another script by Jack Oleck, and once again, no offense meant, but the artwork really lifts this one up quite high. Toth is a master that did everything his way, and should be lauded for it. Lastly, we get another gem from Neal Adams, Joe Orlando, and Robert Kanigher. “Nightmare” is the perfect way to finish off this extraordinary book! The book is also filled with funny pages by Sergio Aragonés, and even features a cut out, table top diorama on the back cover!

 

 

The House of Mystery 192, 1971 “Dare You Enter?”

Eight simple words, that’s all it takes to get my blood pumping. Do you dare enter The House of Mystery? An anthology title from DC comics that started in 1951, the book went on for an amazing 321 issues! The stories were all over the place of course, as the times changed (and the comics code), so did the material. Honestly though, it wasn’t until the Bronze Age that the book had some of the best creators on it.

The cover to this book is by none other than Neal Adams (pencils and inks). He proved that no matter the genre, he can produce incredible work. The inside brings three different stories (along with some extras). The first is “The Gardener of Eden” by John Albano (writer) and the exquisite work of Jim Aparo! A doctor learns a new lesson the hard way! “Image of Darkness” brings a tale of terror when a husband and wife are having domestic problems. Written by Robert Kanigher, and art by Gray Morrow! Finally, “Nobody Loves a Lizard!” shows a boy with a pet lizard that has an incredible secret. Writer Virgil North, with art by Don Heck!

 

The Phantom Stranger 30, 1974 “The Children’s Crusade!”

The magical and mystical is an area of comic books that should never get boring. With so many ways you can go with the story, characters, and settings, it’s a wealth of creativity. One of the grooviest characters under the DC comics banner is definitely the Phantom Stranger. His history is shrouded in mystery, but his prowess as a magical being is not. Immortality, teleportation (of the highest order), energy blasts, time travel, all sorts of magical spells and even omniscience!

In this particular issue, we see the Phantom Stranger up against a Pied Piper type villain that has a group of youths mesmerized, and worshiping a demonic entity! The kids are completely in his sway and wish only to do his bidding. And although the Phantom Stranger is powerful, he underestimates the power of his enemy, and pays for it dearly. He’s captured and seemingly helpless against these forces of evil! Written by Arnold Drake, art by Gerry Talaoc, and edited by Joe Orlando!

There’s also a back up story featuring the “Spawn of Frankenstein.” This multi-part story ran in the back pages of Phantom Stranger for a few issues (this was the last chapter, it switched over to Black Orchid with the next issue). Honestly, to say it borders on the bizarre is a compliment. I’ve only read a couple of these so I’m not even 100% sure what the end game was for this story line. Writer, Steve Skeates, artist, Bernard Baily.

 

The Phantom Stranger 33, 1974 “Deadman’s Bluff!”

Supernatural characters are a huge draw for me. Whether it’s movies, television, comics, etc., they always seem to deliver a little something extra you don’t always get from superheroes. Now, take two of these characters, put them in the same book, and you’ve got something special! On one side, you have Deadman- a temperamental ghost that inhabits the bodies of the living to get things done.  On the other end of the spectrum, you have The Phantom Stranger. A guy who has been portrayed in a few different ways over the years with a couple of back stories. Both are intriguing, engaging, and unpredictable.

I’m starting to believe there might not be a better way to start off a comic from this genre than with a cover from Jim Aparo. To say that they’re eye-catching isn’t giving them their due justice, especially when dealing with the supernatural. The story is by Arnold Drake (RIP), a man who began his career in the 1950s, and worked on everything from The X-Men to Batman. Mike Grell (art) is a name most will know from his work on titles like Green Arrow, and a host of others. He’s one of those guys that don’t get mentioned very much but made some fantastic contributions to the industry and should get more credit. The legendary Joe Orlando was the editor of this great issue and rounds out the creative team.

 

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Giant-Size Werewolf 5, 1975 “The Plunder of Paingloss”

In my time-honored tradition of spotlighting goofball villains, this one is a doosie! When the front cover of a comic book exclaims…”The Peril of Paingloss,” it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re in for something wacky. That said, Werewolf by Night could fight a troupe of clowns and I’d buy it, so maybe I’m not the best measuring stick for this one. Moving on, Jack Russell and his confidant, Buck Cowan, end up embroiled in some mystical mayhem that almost kills the two of them! Yes, by the mighty Paingloss (try to hold back your laughter)!

I didn’t know who the creative team was on this one until I got it home and checked it out. I wasn’t shocked to see the name Doug Moench (writer) in the credits. He did plenty of work on this title and during this period for Marvel. You could always count on a solid script/story with him at the helm. The artist is one that I’ve seen before, maybe once or twice, and Yong Montano (pencils/inks) definitely delivered in this issue. The letterer is another name that doesn’t evoke the Bronze Age feel, but Marcos Pelayo does a fine job. The rest of the cast is the usual bunch of stalwarts in Len Wein (editor), George Roussos (colors), and a wonderful cover by Gil Kane (pencils) and Tom Palmer (inks)! There are a couple of back-ups as well, and one features art by the legendary, Joe Orlando!

 

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Weird Adventure Comics 435, 1974 “The Man Who Stalked the Specter!”

Yeah, I’m a Marvel Zombie, but sometimes, a comic is so cool, no matter who the publisher is I must buy it. That’s the case with this one! The character “The Specter,” is one that is creepy and heroic at the same time. His run-ins with Deadman are pretty cool too, so check those out. Characters that are ghosts have always intrigued me (Gentleman Ghost, Deadman, etc.). Most of the time they’re always in the middle of a story that has a supernatural aspect, and that’s most of the allure for me. There is also a good Aquaman back-up story (Steve Skeates writer, Mike Grell art) in this issue as well!

The name Michael Fleisher (writer), is one that most avid comic book readers should know. I know his work from the Ghost Rider stories he did back in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s. The artwork (cover, interior pencils and inks), was by a man who I’m growing ever fond of, and it seems that Jim Aparo never disappoints me. The editor was another solid name in the biz, Joe Orlando!

 

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Vault of Evil #14, 1974 “Midnight in Haunted Manor”

 

It’s been a little while since I presented a horror comic, so I thought, “why not now!” Of course, when you make that decision, it must be a good one, so today we have Vault of Evil #14! This series presented some older material (mostly from the 1950’s), and showcased some of the greatest artists of all time! In this issue, we see some eerie stories, some of which don’t even have proper credits attached to them. We do know the artists, but not the writers. Four weird tales of horror adorned this issue, and believe me when I say, they nothing less than awesome!

The first story is rendered by Steve Ditko, and we all know that he can do “creepy” as well as anyone! The last story is one that is quite spectacular, and features artwork by none other than Gene Colan! Wedged in the middle of those two stories is one (The Albatross) by long time DC editorial stalwart, Joe Orlando. He was actually an assistant to Wally Wood early in his (Orlando’s) career! Any way you slice it, this title is one that every collector needs, provided you don’t have the originals! Cover by ‘Rampaging’ Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia!

 

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