Wednesday, February 3, 2010

House of Secrets #85

House of Secrets #85 (On Sale: February 3, 1970) has a cover by Neal Adams.

Able is visited by brother Cain in this issue's wrapper story, which features some rather good Bill Draut artwork. The wrapper leads into our first real story, "People Who Live in Glass Houses..." by Len Wein and Don Heck. Some kids sneak into an abandoned house of mirrors only to find a mirror which casts no reflection. The kids hide when they hear someone coming. That someone turns out to be Mordecai Gaunt and he steps into the mirror and disappears.

The boys come out from hiding and are pulled into the mirror by Mordecai where they learn that through the power of a stone, the Rock of Ages, which Mordecai killed a Tibetan wizard to possess, Mordecai was able to enter the world of the mirror and gain immortality. His image in the mirror grows old, while he remains young. One of the boys snatch the stone away from Mordecia and he chases the kids out of the mirror. Once in the real world, the kid throws the stone at the mirror, shattering it and the fixed image of Mordecai it now reflects.

The next story is the classic "Reggie Rabbit, Heathcliffe Hog, Archibald Aardvark, J. Benson Babboon and Bertram, the Dancing Frog" by Len Wein and Ralph Reese. This is only two pages, but we get some great funny animal artwork and some great Wally Wood-inspired science-fiction work.

This is Ralph Reese's first work for DC where he would draw almost a dozen stories, all for the mystery/horror books. Ralph Reese began his career at the age of 16 as Wally Wood's assistant. His first solo comic work was for the short-lived but much loved Web of Horror black and white magazine. He also did a number of strips for National Lampoon, including The One Year Affair. He worked at Neal Adams' Continuity Associates between 1972 and 1977 and did a lot of work inking penciler Larry Hama.

In the 1980s Reese worked on the Blade Runner adaptation and an number of the Bantam Books "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. In the 1990s he pulled a stint on the Flash Gordon newspaper strip and did considerable work for Valiant Comics on Magnus Robot Fighter. Reese's last work for DC was in 2009 on The House of Mystery.

The real gem of this issue though is "Second Choice" by Gerry Conway, Gil Kane and Neal Adams. It combines beautiful artwork with a really great story. Abel reads this story from the biographical section of the library in the House of Secrets. It is the tale of Henry Landsbury, born in 989, the son of a scholar, but who for years has lived in a village under the thumb of a dark sorcerer, a masked monster in possession of the Star Ruby, which gives him ultimate power over the people of the land. We meet young Henry the day he tries to stand up to the sorcerer in the streets, only to feel the harsh sting of an enchanted lash. Henry's mother rushes to his side and warns Henry to be less like his father, who died fourteen years ago when he too was fed up living under the sorcerer's rule and tried to do something about it.

As fate would have it that evening Henry overhears a conversation in the local tavern of a white wizard named Glarn who resides at Stonehenge. Henry decides that night to travel to Stonehenge and plead the case of his village to the wizard Glarn. When he gets there Glarn it appears has been waiting for Henry to arrive and asks Henry for a token from his home village that Glarn may use as a focal point for an incantation. He gives Glarn a talisman given to him by his father before he foolishly ventured to the wizard's castle.

With that Glarn opens a gate between Stonehenge and Henry's village and calls forth the black wizard into battle, saying that now that he has a clue to his true nature he will prevail. And battle they do, though finally, in the end, Glarn prevails, the dark wizard is destroyed and Henry returns to his village to live out the rest of his life in peace.

But, Abel finds the ending of the tale unsatisfying, that Henry was more a spectator than a participant in the single most adventurous happening in his life. Abel wonders what would have happened if Henry had not heard of Glarn and had instead yielded to his "second choice," and followed his father's path, sword in hand.

As Henry nears the wizard's castle he is set upon by a flying beast and though shear will alone slays the creature. He is then transported by a dissolution spell to the black wizard's castle, where the wizard taunts him and opens up a pit of hell in front of him. Standing tall with sword in hand, Henry begs the wizard to fight him, but the wizard's spell does away with Henry's sword, leaving him without weapon. Still Henry marches forward saying he will take him on barehanded for killing his father. The wizard laughs at Henry and pulls off his hood just as Henry lands a massive blow to his face, knocking the wizard off balance and back into the hell pit, his face that of Henry's own father.

And now Henry realizes that his father must have defeated the wizard all those years ago. And then he sees the Star Ruby, "The supreme power--the supreme glory...A tempting, near over-powering prize--To be supreme, to own the world...must have been too temping for a man such as my father, a glory seeker... a man like my father... a man like me!"

This story was reprinted in Deadman #2 and Deadman #3. The entire issue was reprinted in Showcase Presents: The House of Secrets Vol. 1 TPB.

Edited by Dick Giordano.

No comments: