Saturday, December 20, 2008

Out of the Vault - Dr. Spektor

In his legendary introduction to The Great Comic Book Heroes, Jules Feiffer wrote this about Fox Comics:

Fox had the best covers and the worst insides. The covers were rendered in a modified pulp style: well-drawn, exotically muscled, half-dressed heroes rescuing well-drawn, exotically muscled, half-dressed maidens.

When I was a kid, that torch had been passed to Gold Key/Whitman.

Okay, that may be a bit harsh. Gold Key actually put out some good comics, most notably their Disney-licensed stuff and Magnus, Robot Fighter. But in general, no company had a bigger disparity between their covers and interiors than Gold Key, except maybe Charlton, home of stiff-anatomy master Pat Boyette.

Gold Key (which also distributed its comics under the Whitman logo, don't ask me why) made most of its money from licensed properties, doing comic book adaptations of Disney characters and TV and movie adaptations like Lost in Space, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Dark Shadows. But they also had a few original characters, like the aforementioned Magnus, Robot Hunter and Turok, Son of Stone (whose name, at least, survives to this day as a video game character).

And then there was Dr. Spektor, or as the full title states, The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor. He was an occult investigator who battled monsters.

The sole issue I have is issue 10, published in 1974 (according to the indicia--the cover bears no number at all), the same year that Kolchak got his own TV series after two successful TV movies. I'm pretty sure I didn't buy this one, either. It either came in a multi-pack with something I did want (Whitman would often bundle three comics in a plastic pack to be sold together), or else it was bought for me.

When I was a kid, whenever we went on a trip, my step-mother would buy my step-brother and me a bunch of comics to read on the way. I don't think she even looked at them, just grabbed whatever happened to be on the spinner rack, because there would be this weird hodge-podge of Harvey kiddie comics and DC/Marvel superheroes, and Charlton romances. The Vault is riddled with baffling one-offs that I got this way.

Anyway, in the lead story of the issue, occult investigator Doctor Adam Spektor battles the rejuvenated mummy Ra-Ka-Tep in a sequel to a story from an earlier issue. The cover is your basic Gold Key painted cover, but the art inside isn't actually too bad. It's uncredited, but has a florid style that looks to be one of those Filipino guys who were all over the black-and-white books at Warren and Marvel, guys like Alfredo Alcala and Nestor Redondo and Tony DeZuniga and Alex Nino.

And yes, in fact, the miracle of the Internets tells me that the art for this issue was done by one Jesse Santos, whose early work looks really interesting.

In this story, written by Don Glut, Dr. Turhan, one of the few surviving members of the Sect of Anubis, resurrects Ra-Ka-Tep using a magic amulet. He brings the mummy to America and displays it in a museum in Dr. Spektor's hometown, knowing that this will lure the occult investigator to him. While they are visiting, Turhan overhears Spektor invite his psychic friend Elliott to a costume ball that he and his secretary/girlfriend Lakota (yes, she's an American Indian) will be attending.

Turhan's plan is simple: it is, in fact, the Batman secret identity ratonalization come to life. Since Dr. Spektor is too powerful, having defeated Ra-Ka-Tep previously, Turhan will take revenge on him by having the mummy capture Lakota for a human sacrifice.

The mummy bursts into the costume ball, overpowers Spektor and Elliott, and carries away the rather underdressed Lakota.

The mummy carries Lakota to Turhan's secret hideout in an unfinished subway tunnel, where Lakota is hypnotized and dressed in a traditional costume or something, giving us another bit of fan service. Bless you, Jesse Santos.

But before the ceremony can be completed and Lakota killed, Doctor Spektor bursts in and uses an even more powerful amulet to counter the effects of Turhan's amulet, sending the mummy after Turhan instead. Once Turhan is dead, the mummy crushes Spektor's amulet and threatens to kill him and Lakota, when suddenly the police arrive.

They shoot the mummy with a hail of bullets, but bullets don't even slow down the undead. In a vaguely-sourced word balloon, someone (maybe Elliott) says:

Don't waste your ammunition! You'll have to use the flamethrower on that monster!

Notice that he doesn't say, "you'd need a flamethrower to hurt that monster," which is what I took him to be saying when I initially skimmed the dialogue. No, he says, "You'll have to use the flamethrower...," and in fact...

Dude, you do not want to rob a bank in that town. Those cops are serious.

Anyway, all's well in the end, followed by a nonsense backup feature with way too many words about the origins of the Dark Gods that Spektor apparently battled in another issue, and that's all.

One other thing I noticed, though, is the ads. Not just ads for the usual kid things, like the life-size monster ghost and "Make Money Selling Grit," and the 100 pc. Toy Soldier footlocker for $1.50, but ads for black light posters and iron-on T-shirt transfers (from Roach Studios, man), and this ad for cloth patches from Gandalf Products.

Keep in mind, this was 1974. Hippies had not yet faded completely from vogue. But though comics were increasing their readership among college students, they were still mainly aimed at kids. I never stopped and wondered back then, though, why they had a full-page ad pitching patches with the Playboy Bunny and the Budweiser logo, or proclaiming one's status as a member of the U.S.A. Drinking Team. The ad's nonsensical copy states, "Each groovy patch measures 3". Made to sell for much, much more."

I'm sure it made much more sense if you were high.

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