Friday, October 30, 2015
GHOST MANOR #44
Ghost Manor was an anthology horror series put out by Charlton Comics. By this point, though, it had become a collection of reprints. Ghost Manor #44 reprints The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves #37. The stories are presented in what had become a traditional manner at this time. A horror host would introduce and/or narrate the story, sometimes interrupting to add their own commentary or even somehow (although rarely) participating in the story itself. This particular issues features five stories, each with their own twist.
For those who might want to explore this issue on their own, fellow blogger Stendec has scanned the entire issue.
"Dr. Waverly's People!"
PENCILLER: Steve Ditko
INKER: Steve Ditko
SYNOPSIS: Dr. Waverly has a theory about what happens when the body is slowly adapted to living at temperatures near Absolute Zero. He convinces a team of university students to help him conduct research in Antarctica, but those students soon realize Dr. Waverly's true motivations. Will they survive?
MY THOUGHTS: Honestly, this feels like the weakest story here. It starts with a splash page of several older teens//young 20-somethings running around in skimpy swimwear in the midst of a snowstorm while a maniacal-looking man in a parka looks on, gloating. I am not sure if this is supposed to entice the reader to go further or simply confuse the heck out of one. The story itself isn't absolutely terrible, but it really doesn't feel like something belonging to the horror genre. Dr. Waverly believes the the world will soon be coming to an end. Keep in mind that these stories were written during the height of the Cold War. He is convinced that soon the world powers will all fire nuclear missiles and kill off the world populace. By freezing himself and others at Absolute Zero they will be able to thaw post-war and restart the human race. The shelters they use in Antarctica keep the interior a comfortable 80 degrees. Waverly convinces all the team members to parade about in swimwear to be most comfortable and to be able to expose them to the extreme cold more easily when they step outside. This of course provides the perfect excuse for plenty of beefcake guys and cheesecake ladies in the few pages allowed.
Tricking the research team into this task is hardly the creepiest part of Waverly. It is more the way he pays attention to Shana. He is probably old enough to be her father, but he lusts for her in a not-so-hidden way. Waverly's plan slowly starts to take shape until Shana and Conrad stand up to him. They chase Waverly off, leaving him to his cold frozen wasteland, and manage to warm the others back to health.
The major failing in this story is its briefness. Had it been given more of a chance to develop, especially in the sense of Waverly becoming more of a cult leader, it would be more enjoyable. As it stands, it isn't terrible, but there is never a chance to really get to know any of the characters or to fully understand what is happening until it is over.
The art is pure Ditko glory. The male and female forms are wonderful to behold, even though they don't really give Ditko a lot of variety. Plus none of the women get to have bellybuttons. Comics Code and all that. Still, you find it hard to look away.
"Grant Every Wish"
PENCILLER: Charles Nicholas
INKER: Vince Alascia
SYNOPSIS: Frankie Fullhouse is a gambler down on his luck. He's crapped out for the last time and has to pay his debt. Without enough cash on hand, Frankie is given an offer from Mr. Nicholas, the casino owner. Sign over his soul and do whatever task is asked of him. If Frankie can't complete his contract, he'll spend eternity in Hell.
MY THOUGHTS: This is the typical trope of selling your soul without any other options available. Not saying it is a bad story, just pretty sure you have seen or read one very similar before. Frankie Fullhouse becomes a full-time winner after his deal with Mr. Nicholas. He wins so much that he actually comes to hate gambling because there is simply no risk involved. Mr. Nicholas calls in the favor to have Frankie play against another man whose soul Mr. Nicholas wants. Frankie loses, but tricks Mr. Nicholas into falling into Hell instead of himself.
The twist at the end is pretty nice. Granted, Frankie comes out on top mostly because of the Comics Code saying evil could not triumph. It is a morality tale that is supposed to show the evils of gambling. Even with the Afterschool Special feel of the moral story, it is a fun read. Every page is used to convey as much story as possible. Nothing feels rushed or left out.
The art is pretty standard for the Silver/Bronze Age. The demons in Hell are pretty comical by most standards, looking like something rejected from a Hannah-Barbera special. However, keep in mind the ever-present Comics Code. They were simply not allowed to look too horrifying. Hence their appearance. Otherwise, pretty nice.
"Mirror of Yesterday"
WRITER: Joe Gill
PENCILLER: Joe Staton
INKER: Joe Staton
SYNOPSIS: Lisbeth Craig buys a mirror that shows her not how she is but instead how she would have been as a well-off lady in the 19th century. A man offers to help her move the mirror home and while in transit he convinces her to let him stay for a day or two as he has recently become homeless. Soon other moochers are "crashing at her pad" and Lisbeth doesn't care for it in the least. The man, Rajah, has an abusive (and quite frankly rapey) personality. How will Lisbeth escape her situation and what role does the mirror play?
MY THOUGHTS: There is a reason this is the cover story. As much as I enjoyed "Grant Every Wish," this story is definitely much better written and the Joe Staton art sells it beyond belief.
When Rajah becomes physically abusive toward Lisbeth a mysterious gentlemen from what appears to be the Victorian era emerges from the mirror to defend her honor. He beats Rajah with his cane, but in turn starts a fire in Lisbeth's apartment. The two escape into the past via the mirror and leave Rajah to burn. The mirror is the only thing to survive the fire, with one of the firemen saying he swears he looks just like a knight in shining armor in the mirror.
This story--I don't know how to approach this one sensibly. It is easily the best of the issue. It flows perfectly, the story is unique, and Lisbeth is a likable and identifiable character. She is a young and relatively naive girl who has recently moved into her own place in the big city (presumably San Francisco given Rajah and his group being portrayed as a cross between beatniks and hippies). Like many horror stories, this one is also a morality tale, but told with a less forceful message. It is also a wonderful work of escapist fiction tinged with wish fulfillment. It would have been labeled as a tale appealing to both males and females back when such a thing was an issue.
Staton's art is killer. He portray's Lisbeth as pretty, despite her personal feelings that she is no more than average. All this is portrayed as much through his art as the story. Lisbeth bares her midriff the entire story, complete with bellybutton. So much for Comics Code enforcement. Also, at least once the line work suggests he butt crack is visible. Lisbeth dress in a provocative manner to fit in, yet she longs for a time much more romanticized in what a reader can only assume is a time period she has read much about. The mysterious man from the mirror reminds me of the DC Comics character Phantom Stranger, but only in appearance.
Truly a wonderful story that could easily hold up as a full-length tale.
WRITER: Nicola Cuti
PENCILLER: Charles Nicholas
INKER: Charles Nicholas
COLORIST: none (Black & White story)
SYNOPSIS: Two divers go swimming. A bright light appears and the two quickly realize they have been captured as pets for some type of fish people.
MY THOUGHTS: It took longer to type and read the synopsis than it does to read the actual single page story.
Even in its brevity, I enjoyed this story a lot. It's a great hook (pardon the fishing pun) for what could be a larger tale, but it also tells all it needs to in just a few panels. The art is great and the twist, while pretty hackneyed, is also fun.
ADDITIONAL: I know, I said five stories. There is a one-page text piece called "The Doors of Doom" that I neglected to read and review. Sorry. I honestly mistook it for a letters page until later.
My overall thoughts? This is a wonderful fun little anthology book. All the stories could hold up as episodes of either The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits (although some more than others, obviously). All the stories are "hosted" by Mr. Graves, a character not unlike the Crypt Keeper or even Rod Serling.
I acquired this issue from my cousin back in the mid-80s and completely forgot about having it until recently. This is the first time in close to 30 years that I have read it. As a kid I would have hated this, not being full of superheroes and such. I am glad I waited. This is a book that is a great read for those who have an appreciation of this genre. It's not for everybody, but many will like it if they give it a fair chance. The art might look pretty dated by modern standards and the stories can get corny. However, those are also part of the book's charm. I have never seen other issues of this series in back issue bins in my local shops, so I am unsure on the rarity of this series. I checked ebay and most issues seem to go for about $3-5 dollars each. But that's ebay. I am certain there are comic shops out there with many issues for $1 or less (and probably well worth the price if this one is any example).