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  #61  
Old 10-18-2018, 12:02 PM
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House of Secrets #58

Written by UNKNOWN! Drawn by Lee Elias


Now I know last time this was going to be a trip to the House of Mystery and here we are with a House of Secrets story, but I have a reason for this: my copy of Showcase presents House of Mystery Vol. 1 decides that they start with House of Mystery #174. There's a reason for this: this is the issue where House of Mystery stopped publishing superhero stories. Previous to this issue, it was the book that featured the adventures of Robby Reed and his H-Dial ("Dial H for Hero!") and the Martian Manhunter.

I am a little bummed that they don't reprint the REALLY early issues in this volume but this new era is probably more important. First, the covers are really good. Check out some of these.




And here's something I haven't noticed before: each cover features a scene from the story in the
issue (except that first one) but injects some kids into them, who are the reader surrogates. That's a nice touch that I like.

Anyway, the problem is that the first issue of the new era is all reprints from various "House of Secrets" and "House of Mystery" issues. (BTW, if you are wondering if I am going to bring up Cain and Abel, I will eventually but it doesn't come up this issue). The only original material is that, from here on in, there's a wacky/spooky page 13, usually drawn by Sergio Aragones! And I will reprint those because they are delightful, as you might imagine.

But none of those are the cover for House of Secrets #58. No, the cover to that is not nearly as good but also very, very Octo-Good.

It's much weaker and less evocative than the previous covers but... I also love it? First of all, I don't know a damned thing about Mark Merlin. I've seen the name in the Wizard Magazine price guide back in the day, but had no idea who he was. Based on this cover, he's a sad sack preppy who solves supernatural crimes. Also, he hangs out with Dr. Zarkov from Flash Gordon.

Also "You are charged with crimes against the unknown" is a great line. I mean, I couldn't begin to imagine what that would entail. How do you try that? And Mark reacts to it not with defiance but with... a hang dog expression. He's this close to saying "I'm sowwy."

I'll be honest, the big two are usually good at recycling characters, even if for just a cameo, that I'm shocked I haven't seen Mark Merlin appear in another comic before. This character fascinates me, but I also fear that seeing any more of him will break the spell. I just prefer to imagine him as a spiritual detective who looks bummed while animal men yell at him.

Also, sadly, I will not be talking about the cover story. Sorry Octo.

No, this one is about a magic pot! It's a tale called "The Wondrous Witch's Cauldron". And it is the least Halloweeny story about a witch's cauldron I can imagine. We begin at the bottom of the sea.


Man, we were SO close to seeing the world's most successful trout. I'd buy that comic. Just flopping around, cursed with immortality so he's air drowning forever while surrounded by money and sexy women and/or men.

Anyway, based on the word balloon, this is a talking cauldron. And he just wants someone to listen. The cauldron then begins to tell us his back story.


But the old woman was actually a witch and her "lock the door" line is her having fun because that night she uses magic to break in and steal her own pot because I guess witches are cheapskates.


They aren't floaters either, because she doesn't pass the witch test that, let's face it, has no good outcome for the taker of said test. So the pot travels from owner to owner.



I kind of love this. Is the implication that the pot made itself steam up to give him the idea? Because for so many reasons, that's a leap. That would have happened with pretty much ANY pot, right? It seems the magic of the pot requires a lot of luck. I feel like the pot is sentient but will never be able to accomplish anything so he takes credit when someone else has the same idea so he can brag to... no one. This is... sad.

But a fun sort of sad.

Cut to... ITALY! WORLD WAR II! The pot is being used by the allies in a small village they are occupying. The Nazis try to sneak into town to get the drop on them when...


The magic seems to be that of slightly interesting coincidence. Man, that pot is really upset (literally, on that first panel.) I love how ticked off it is. It really feels that it needs to be thanked for... just being there? Hey, guess what stupid pot? People don't thank pots.

It's just a weird premise for a comic about a pot who wants kudos but the only magic he has is thinking and not being able to act on it, then expects thanks when things happen to him.

In his last adventure, a thief tries to hide stolen money in the pot, who is being used as a charity collector pot for a street Santa. This is, of course, after the pot thinks at the thief SO HARD!


And so after his many... accomplishments?, the pot is thrown away, nobody understanding it's true power to think about helping you and taking credit for it. BTW, being underwater is a bad time to finally learn to mouth talk, which he does in the very first page.

The lesson of this story? Don't be a pot.

Next time: "The Man Who Hated Good Luck"!

Until next time...

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  #62  
Old 10-19-2018, 11:35 AM
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House of Secrets #17

Written by UNKNOWN! Drawn by Doug Wildey


So this is continuing my coverage of House of Mystery #174 which is almost all reprints, save for a Sergio Aragones piece I'll share later.

Next up we have "The Man Who Hated Good Luck." I really have nothing to add so without further ado... that thing I said!


Wow, you couldn't get any more Silver Age than this set up. BTW, this never happens. The character is never chased and there's no "curse of good luck" he must avoid. It's a kind of cute story, though, all things considered, even if it feels like we've seen this kind of thing before.

Our story begins with "girl reporter" Jane visiting her hometown and her crush from her younger years Don Baker, who we first see smoking a pipe and looking like the Church of the Subgenius guy. They sit down in front of the TV because Don is watching to see if he has the winning ticket in a raffle, with the prize being $25,000! And Don wins. But his reaction is not what Jane expects.


He 100% did NOT tell her that, by the way, unless that first panel is considered in continuity and taking place before this scene, in which case... WHAT?

Anyway, DON, you did not say that at all. Don doesn't admit this mistake, but he does begin telling the tale of why he ripped up the lottery ticket.

Don reveals that he was walking through Lincoln Park when a runaway horse nearly ran over a mysterious stranger (I've never been to Chicago. Is this a common concern?) The stranger is thankful but also maybe a leprechaun or something because he promises to give him a reward... but only if he passes a strange test.


So this is really less of a horror story than a fairy tale. Which I'm cool with. But House of Mystery #174 begins with a corpse hand beckoning us into a creepy old castle, so this is a little misleading, I think.

Anyway, the man disappears. As he finishes his story, he asks Jane if he is foolish for ripping up the ticket. Jane can't come up with an answer and we soon see some people who were digging on his property who tell him they found a treasure chest. Don surmises it must have been buried by a pirate named Salazar, which is a great pirate name, and contains valuable pearls.

But Don decides to reject the second of the rewards the stranger warned him about.


Um... the stranger didn't say shit about selling your property. That seems like a weird move. You could have just been nice and gave him the chest. Or maybe the two caretakers who found it. I bet they'd appreciate it. Come to think of it, you could have just GIVEN someone your lottery ticket. Guess what, just because you reject something doesn't mean someone else can't have it. There are probably people who could have really used it. But selling his house at cost is his solution and he's got to live with it.

In the next panel, Don learns that he's inherited a castle in England and he begins to wonder if he's been stupid.

Yes. Like, I don't mind so much your blind faith in the mysterious stranger. That's the fairy tale rules. But again, selling your house because it shared space with treasure seems really stupid.

Anyway, Don decides "fuck it, Imma gonna take the castle. Wanna come with?" Jane's response it "You know I'd go anywhere with you." Which is more than I do as their relationship really hasn't build much since page one. But whatever, this is a six page story, so we don't have a lot of room for character development.

Anyway, Don is a former war pilot so he decides to rent a plane to fly over the Atlantic because he is, as he wonder allowed earlier, "a fool".

Sure enough, they get caught in a storm and crash. Thankfully, the two survive and manage to make it to land, where Don has an epiphany that isn't about the stupidity of selling his land.


What, the crash?

Oh, true love. Eh, I think you could have achieved that without pointlessly endangering your lives but sure, let's go with that. They are stupid, but it's still pretty sweet.

Back at home, Don wonders if he was foolish (YES!) to reject those gifts (eh, that part doesn't concern me so much) Jane reveals they all were bad prizes anyway: the ticket was a fake, the pearls would have rotted away due to the ravages of time (I bet the chest was still worth something, though, even if just as a historical relic) and the castle crumbled into the sea.


Aww. That's sort of sweet. Frankly, I was hoping he'd just give stuff away and learn a lesson about the beauty of charity, but love being better and less fleeting than worldly goods is pretty nice too. Also, should we assume he's just been sleeping on Jane's couch until they decided they are in love? I mean, maybe he bought his own place, but I'm not sure he got a good deal on the property where he said "NAME YOUR PRICE!"

Next time: "Museum of Worthless Inventions!"

Until next time...

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  #63  
Old 10-19-2018, 12:07 PM
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Look, the stranger may not have said to sell his house, but he also didn’t say not to, and when you’re dealing with rumplestiltzkins and the like, you hedge your bets.
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  #64  
Old 10-19-2018, 04:21 PM
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Doug Wildey also did the main character designs and illustrations for Jonny Quest. Fun fact, maybe, if you're into that kind of thing
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  #65  
Old 10-19-2018, 05:15 PM
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Actually, yes, I appreciate it. I didn't do any research, so I was asking myself "Who is this guy." So now I know. Frankly, if you asked me, I just would have assumed Johnny Quest was more Alex Toth stuff (BTW, Toth does some work in House of Mystery and it is the bomb!)
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  #66  
Old 10-19-2018, 11:10 PM
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Toth seems to be associated with every HB cartoon of that time EXCEPT Jonny Quest!

I think Wildey drew some adaptations of classic Jonny Quest stories for Eclipse or Comico in the 80s, too. He's a great illustrator but he's certainly no Toth.
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  #67  
Old 10-21-2018, 06:14 PM
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Is that the one that William Messner-Loebs wrote for?
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  #68  
Old 10-23-2018, 08:31 AM
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House of Secrets #13

Written by UNKNOWN! Drawn by Bernard Bailey


Before we start, page 13 of House of Mystery #174 is...


I should point out that while Aragones did the art, the "writing" was by Joe Orlando. Now Orlando is a legend and I helped edit the series but it seems so strange to call this page written, even though it is probably true? It's one line of dialogue and "draw a bunch of monster". Although, I wonder if he did a very rough draft/composition example that Aragones went to town on. Anyway, it's the only original piece this issue and Aragones makes a meal of it.

Moving onto the next story...


Our tale begins with a tour of the Museum of Worthless Inventions by a curator (who notices a strange shaft of light he assumes is from the sun).

The first exhibit is a machine that turns old junk metal into gold coins. And the invention, to everyone's amazement, actually seems to work. But the museum curator reveals that it was just a cheeky prank.


One visitor why anyone would waste their lives on this junk but the curator retorts that the inventors sincerely wanted to help people, even if it is junk.

The curator then shows a pill that was supposed to become a potent fuel source when combined with water. When he demonstrates it's inability to function (do you really need to demonstrate something NOT happening? Especially if it's a pill that might dissolve. I mean, if you got a HUGE surplus and just need to get rid of some of them, I guess it's happening). Anyway, if drops a match into it and... it begins to burn. Everyone else understandably thinks it's another prank, but the curator knows it is not.

That night, the curator decides to take some pills home to test them, but sure enough he isn't even that far when someone needs some fueling up. He decides to try the pills which, even if you were positive it wouldn't work, seems like a bad idea. Do you even know what is in those pills or what they might do to an engine. To make it work as instructed, you need to add water, which would be a bitch for this guy to get out. Anyway, the pills work, but the curator isn't 100 percent sure it isn't a couple of coincidences.


He goes from doubting to making the leap (a very large and spurious one) to "maybe that shaft of light made all the inventions work!" He decides to try them out.


He starts testing them out and sure enough, the things work. In most comics, this guy would become a super-villain but instead, he decides to help the nearby hospital when he discovers that their power has gone out. If the power doesn't return soon, several patience could die.

The curator brings over a perpetual motion machine and though the doctors initially want nothing to do with his nonsense, a surgeon lets him do it, as he is the same man who the curator helped earlier with his car trouble.


The curator is a hero. But one panel later and things change: it turns out the fake gold coin that the curator produced earlier was real and a man who took it home figured it out and decided to steal it for all that money. The curator is upset, fearing that these men could single-handedly ruin the economy with gold. I know that is supposed to be possible but does anyone know how much gold you'd need to make to do that? I'm just wondering if it something a couple of thugs with one machine could accomplish this. I'm not saying the curator is wrong, I just sincerely don't know the math on this.

But the curator has a plan...

One that probably should have ended in his car mangled death. But instead, it ends with the baddies being arrested and the curator discovering that all of the inventions have returned to normal because the story is over. The story ends with the curator waxing how the brief working of the inventions is like some kind of posthumous reward for the inventors tireless but, until just then, fruitless work.

This was a cute story, kind of. Like one of the lamer Twilight Zones. Its a cute idea and I like the idea that it is about the well-intentioned failures. But it's not particularly strong. Bernard Bailey isn't bad. Also worth noting that the constant lack of credits in this era are pretty damning about how creators were treated. It's info that is lost to time (though I suspect in a lot of cases it was editor penned stories, since a lot of them were rip-offs of other stories).

Next time: Hey, there is a Mark Merlin story in here. I completely forgot.

Until next time...

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  #69  
Old 10-23-2018, 08:40 AM
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I get that this comic was written before Nintendo’s were invented, but would anyone really go to a museum full of things that do not function for fun?
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  #70  
Old 10-23-2018, 11:06 AM
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I'm going to be a bit kinder and say that I get the appeal of a museum of half-baked inventions with good intentions. What I don't get is the demonstration of something that isn't even going to work. That energy pill wasn't even supposed to fail spectacularly. It's one thing if it's the "oh, you thought it worked for a second. Wasn't that fun? That moment of joy is what the original creator sought out." but you could have put a tic tac in water and gotten the same dramatic effect.

BTW, not EXACTLY the same thing, but pretty close...

https://failuremuseum.com/
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  #71  
Old 10-23-2018, 04:56 PM
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My understanding is that Aragones' English was pretty shaky into the 1970s. Orlando probably just wrote out the final copy a'la Stan the Man
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  #72  
Old 10-23-2018, 05:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ghosttaster View Post
My understanding is that Aragones' English was pretty shaky into the 1970s. Orlando probably just wrote out the final copy a'la Stan the Man
I thought that might be the case, but I didn't want to make any assumptions.
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  #73  
Old 10-26-2018, 12:29 PM
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House of Secrets #43

Written by Jack Miller Drawn by Carmine Infantino (FULL CREDITS!)


So... I don't know much about Mark Merlin (apart that his awesome name belies his bland exterior) but apparently the two covers he's in involve monsters who want to take him to court. It's sort of like how weird it is that in every Scooby-Doo episode, everyone has the same "dress as a monster" plan (which is nuts, right? No one in the show ever commented on it, despite that being the ONLY plan people had).

Also, how great would it be if every supernatural legal battle was a small claims case.

"You broke our sacred stone! You owe us $700!"
"Never!"

In my scenario, Mark Merlin is always totally responsible but also really cheap.

I also wonder if that was the lesser known cover gimmicks. I mean, back in the day, DC threw gorillas at everything because they were convinced readers were *really* into gorillas. Maybe there was a brief period where they felt "You know what kids want to see? Strange creatures prosecuting humans."

I mean, I'm sold.

So, yeah, let's get into Mark Merlin's adventure "The Court of Creatures".


Mark seems like he's trying too hard to act "cool".

But it's a good set up for some monster adventures! Our story begins in a small principality of Cottswald...


Mark and his sidekick Elsa meet with the awesomely named Governor Tarsus, who warns them that Cottswald is currently besieged by the Cottswald creatures. Sure enough, they appear and we see a gang of winged furry monsters flying about.

It seems that centuries ago, the nation was attacked by invading vikings. To defend themselves, the court wizard summon a bunch of monsters to beat them up.


I like how they just become monster missiles, smashing themselves headfirst into these things. Hey, whatever works for you monsters. Anyway, the wizard de-summons them with a branch, stating they would return to defend the kingdom should they be needed again.

Mark asks why the monsters would show up and the professor explains that Merlin entered a sacred shrine, summoning to monsters to oust outsiders once more. Mark thinks it's hokum but Elsa points two of them out, seemingly passing freely through some walls into a nearby building.

Mark decides to try to hunt for that branch in the hopes that it could de-summon them and he and Elsa start moving through the streets to get to the museum. But when they try to get through a narrow alley.


As monsters swoop at them, Mark tries to shoot them, because apparently this tiny nation is open carry.


The bullets don't work! They run to what they think is safety but what turns out to be a... COURT OF CREATURES!




Man, that was a fast trial. Like, two panels, basically. Basically they tell them to get lost and they won't be killed. But Mark Merlin says "Nuts to that." (not literally, but essentially) and he and Elsa make a quick get away. The monsters are all like "Get them." as is there monsterly way and the two are chased upstairs. But this is all part of Mark's plan, as he finds some "costume feathers" (... I think he means wings, because that's what he's looking at) and begins his escape to reveal the truth of the monsters by escaping to a vomiting lion (which I assume is a statue. It's hard to tell in black and white. If not, that lion's been sick since panel one).




Mark reveals the entire countries been Scooby-Dooed (WHOA, FULL CIRCLE!) and the whole thing was done with special effect and hanging from wires despite the fact that in NO OTHER PANELS THAN THE LAST COUPLE are they raising their arms as if hanging from something and there's no talk of harnesses or anything. Seriously, I feel like Carmine was drawing the comic as he read the script and then got to the part where they revealed the wires and he was like "I'm a comic artist in the 50's. I've got to pencil 10 more comics this week and I got no time to redraw those pages." Frankly, I don't blame him.

Also, this is the second "horror" comic this month where the monster is a dude in a costume using pulleys (or in the case of this Mark Merlin adventure, "dudes") who get shot at and the reasons bullets won't work is because fuck you. Seriously, last time, the explanation was "you missed". This time, they don't even bother. Nothing. I would love for them to pan back to the alley and there's a corpse in a flying gorilla suit.

Anyway, the plan was keeping Governor Tarsus in power, which I didn't even know was on the table. Like, Tarsus appeared for three panels and all we know about him are his name and his job and some exposition about the creatures. I always hate mysteries that don't tell give us any explanation until after the fact. You are supposed to give clues, so we can feel like we can try to solve the mystery too. There's no cleverness into giving no indication of anything and also cheating with the whole flying thing. Ugh.

Anyway, Merlin enjoys the irony now that the bad guys are on trial... the very thing they did to them (I mean, I assume. He doesn't actually say or think anything)!


And that's it for my take on Halloween comics for this year. Whew, I was able to get through quite a few, actually. I'm proud of myself. And some of these were better than I thought they would be. But not Mark Merlin. Mark Merlin was not good.

Next time: Just in time for the upcoming American elections... What if Superman was President?!

Until next time...

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