Friday, January 8, 2010

House of Mystery #185

House of Mystery #185 (On Sale: January 8, 1970) has a cover by Neal Adams. For some reason this cover just doesn't work for me. I love the foreground figures, but something about the gaping-mouthed swamp in the background just doesn't register right with me.

Irregardless of my misgiving with this issue's cover, this is a wonderful issue of House of Mystery with good stories all around and more importantly, Joe Orlando brings a legend to DC for the first time and he performs like the legend he is. But that is later on.

We begin with "Boom!" written and drawn by Jerry Grandenetti. I liked this story and the way it utilized Cain. It begins with Cain running back to the House of Mystery being chased by something in the air following him. He makes it back inside when "Boom!," whatever it is lands on the roof of the house.

Deciding to meet his fate head on, Cain runs upstairs and sees something through the open window. It ends up being a man, wearing a parachute. He is an exhibition sky diver named Tony Saunders, who can't figure out how he landed at Cain's house in Kentucky when he jumped out a plane in California. Unable to catch a ride anywhere, Saunders settles down for the night in the house as Cain's guest, when a strange car pulls up to the house and two gentlemen in top hats and suits get out and ask for Tony Saunders.

Saunders goes freely with the two men, saying he "knew you'd come for me." The next morning, listening to the news on his radio Cain hears of the the death of sky diver Tony Saunders when his chute failed to open somewhere in California. Cain rushes to his front door and sees that Tony left him a gift: his parachute.

Next is a Cain's Game Room by Sergio Aragones and a Page 13 written by Joe Orlando and drawn by Sergio Aragones.

These are followed by a short three-pager, "Voice of the Dead" drawn by Wayne Howard and reminiscent to the "true" short stories around this time that were written by Marv Wolfman. A North Carolina farmer dies in 1921 and when his will is read he leaves everything to his third son, Marshall. This leaves his widow and her other children penniless. Four years later his second son begins having a reoccurring dream where the ghost of his father tells him to look inside his old coat for a sewn-up pocket. A note of the art here is that some attribute the inking of this story to Wally Wood, though DC does not. Wayne Howard was such a Wood devotee that it would be hard to say for sure, but I would tend to agree with those who say this is Wood's inks. It really, really looks like Wally Wood.

After nights of having the same dream the son goes to his mother's house finds the coat and a note inside saying to look in the family bible. There they find a later dated will which split his estate evenly.

This is followed by another Cain's Game Room, this one written and drawn by Joe Orlando, but none of these are the reason you should own this book. No, that is the final story in the issue, "The Beautiful Beast" by Joe Gil and the legendary Al Williamson. This is the only story that Al will both pencil and ink for DC and folks, it is just out and out, drop dead gorgeous! This is Williamson in his Secret Agent Corrigan prime. This is the story of Joe Carver, escaped killer who hides out in the swamp and the inescapable justice that lurks there. But the story is superfluous, the artwork is the real story. Handsome men, a beautiful woman, hulking dinosaur-like creatures, a fetid swamp, serpents, lost cities, gnarled moss-laden trees, cavemen-like warriors, exotic birds and flying reptiles; this is a story custom-made for the talents of Al Williamson and he delivers completely.

But there is more to the art in this story than meets the eye. In an interview in Comic Book Artist Michael Kaluta said this:

I never even thought about being an illustrator or comic book artist. I’d just finished my second year of college...I didn’t know what I was going to do, stay in school or join the army. After the next SCARP convention, Phil Seuling contacted me and said that Al Williamson had seen stuff that I did and was interested in talking to me about maybe helping with a story. That flipped me out. At the next New York Convention I went up to Al and he gave me a script that he was having trouble getting in to. He asked me to stretch it out. “Give me plenty of boots, girls, dinosaurs and stuff” he said. I made 7 pages into 12. Al still has my fumbling pencil originals and unless he gets mad at me we won’t tell anyone. They’re really awful, awful stuff. I was so uptight about doing the job that I just rendered and detailed it to death. Later Al did a fine job with the story and let me doodle a bit on a page or two. DC Comics published it under the title The Beautiful Beast.
Regardless of the pedigree of the artwork, it is some stunning stuff and certainly makes you wish Al Williamson could have done more work for DC. Al Williamson was born in New York City but spent his childhood in Bogotá, Colombia. Upon his return to New York, he took art courses from Burne Hogarth, whom he assisted on some 'Tarzan' Sunday pages.

He made his professional debut at the age of 17 with western and adventure series like 'Buster Crabbe' for Eastern Color, 'Billy the Kid' and 'John Wayne' for Toby and 'Outlaw Kid' for Marvel. He was the youngest member of the "EC family," joining when he was only 21 years old in 1952, He was considered "the kid brother," for most of his colleagues were family men. Williamson contributed to EC's Weird Fantasy, Weird Science and Tales of Valor, often in collaboration with the so-called "Fleagle Gang": Frank Frazetta, Roy Krenkel and Angelo Torres. Al especially loved doing pencil work, but was "deathly afraid" of inking, so often Frazetta undertook that task for him.

Al also did comics work for ACG, Charlton, Prize and Dell. In the 1960s, he assisted John Prentice on 'Rip Kirby' and did a 'Flash Gordon' comic book, which was a natural for Al as his fluid style is highly influenced by Alex Raymond's original Flash Gordon work. For King Features Syndicate, he took over the 'Secret Agent X-9' daily, which was retitled to 'Secret Agent Corrigan' which was written by the wonderful Archie Goodwin.

In the 1980s Al drew the Marvel adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back and eventually the syndicated Star Wars newspaper strip. When this strip folded, Al went back to comic books, working for Pacific Comics in Alien Worlds and Summerset Holmes. For Marvel he did the Blade Runner and Return of the Jedi adaptations and a couple of stories for Epic Illustrated. He then transitioned to becoming a full-time inker, working first at DC on Superman and then for Marvel where he inked a ton of stuff off and on through 2003.

Al has worked for Dark Horse and has done occasional inking for DC. His last work for DC was on Green Lantern #146 in 2002.

This entire book was reprinted in Showcase Presents: The House of Mystery Vol. 1 TPB.

Edited by Joe Orlando.

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