In just a few days’ time, Halloween will be upon us. To mark the occasion, I thought I’d adopt a theme for the days leading up to Oct. 31 and focus on some spooky (or supposedly spooky) comics. While comics are more usually associated with the super-hero genre, horror and the macabre have been hallmarks of the medium for decades as well. Thanks to strong traditions cemented by EC Comics in the 1950s, horror and suspense comics will always be with us despite those efforts years ago to eliminate them.
First up is an issue of a horror anthology published by DC. This particular issue, a delightful and inexpensive flea-market find, takes us back to 1981…
Writers: Paul Kupperberg & George Kashdan
Pencils: Tony DeZuniga, Howard Bender & Ken Landgraf
Inks: DeZuniga, Robin Rodriguez & Vince Colletta
Letters: Todd Klein, John Costanza & Shelly Leferman
Colors: Jerry Sharpe & Rachelson
Cover artist: Michael W. Kaluta
Editor: Jack C. Harris
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: 50 cents
I came across a vendor at a flea market not too long ago who was unloading a whole mess of comics from the 1970s and ’80s, as well as some select comics from the 1960s, and I went nuts. I picked up a hundred of the things (got a good deal), and I’ve been having a blast thumbing through them. Among the discoveries were a bunch of issues of Ghosts, several of which featured the Spectre and Dr. 13. This is an odd horror comic mainly because the bulk of the storytelling in the issue revolves around a guy who doesn’t believe in ghosts and has made a career of disproving reports of the supernatural. Still, it was fun to revisit a rather obscure character that’s enjoyed a couple of revivals in the 21st century and to observe the state of corporate comics production from three decades ago. Overall, the quality of the comics craft in this magazine is middling, to be kind, but it’s also campy and succeeded in entertaining me on that level.
While recuperating after a close brush with death on his most recent adventure, Dr. Terrence Thirteen, noted debunker of the supernatural, finds he’s checked into a so-called “haunted hospital.” With the help of a former military medic-turned-registered nurse, Dr. 13 sets out to find a rational explanation for the weird incidents and deaths that have occurred around the hospital. Their investigation brings them face to face with some Haitian voodoo practitioners. Meanwhile, Dr. Paul Geist shares a touching ghost story from his files, and a murdering thief runs afoul of a mountain-dwelling group of cultists.
The highlight of the book is the introductory page, which offers a brief prose ghost story accompanied by a Tony DeZuniga (according to the Grand Comics Database) illustration. The story purports to be “From the Files of Dr. Geist,” though it doesn’t really tell us who Dr. Paul Geist (he does turn up in the Dr. 13 story in a supporting role). The writer of the succinct story isn’t identified, but s/he definitely has crafted a haunting and effective ghost story that achieves an appropriate mood in a surprisingly tight timeframe. The lettering for the story looked as though it might be the work of Todd Klein (who was credited as the letterer on the second half of the Dr. 13 story later on). I emailed Klein, and he confirmed it was his work. He does a solid job, and one can see the beginnings of the depth of his craft here that’s much more apparent today in the special prints he offers on his website, featuring short prose pieces from such writers as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Bill Willingham.
The Dr. 13 story in this issue was clearly intended to run in two separate comic books. Each eight-page sequence boasts a different title and even a slightly different creative team (the second segment has a different inker and letterer than the first). The latter approach serves the story well. Howard Bender’s standard super-hero house style doesn’t make for a terribly spooky or suspenseful read, but when he’s joined by inker Tony DeZuniga for the second half of the story, the inker’s darker, distinct style eclipses Bender’s straightforward linework, making it look more like a horror/suspense story. Paul Kupperberg’s script isn’t terribly scary either, but it’s definitely fun. It feels a bit like an episode of Murder She Wrote, as we watch Dr. 13 try to delve into a mystery that feels quite artificial in nature.
The book closes out with more cookie-cutter story and art, but at least this one — “Spectral Witness,” which was penned by George Kashdan and serves as the inspiration for Michael Kaluta’s stunning cover artwork — is an actual story of the supernatural. The plot is clunky, but the twist at the end is fun, albeit goofily surreal. Again, artwork that was developed for a different genre altogether is used for this ghost story, and it doesn’t serve the story well. The backgrounds are lacking, and the action at the story’s climax is confusing and unclear. Again, as a study of the state of comics of a bygone era, though, it offers a worthwhile few minutes of oddball diversion. 6/10
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