Saturday, October 02, 2010
As I've mentioned before, horror comics back in the days when the Comics Code held sway contained little in the way of actual horror, and therefore had to find alternate stories to tell, usually in the form of poetic justice fables featuring monsters preying on bad guys (but with no gore). Charlton's Scary Tales #3, published in 1975, is yet another example, and like the previous Charlton horror comic I've featured, is more interesting for who worked on it than for its stories.
The first story is titled "Distress," written by Paul Kupperberg and drawn by a young Mike Zeck. Kupperberg has written about a zillion comics since then, including the mostly forgotten Arion, Lord of Atlantis (a book I remember liking back in the day; it remains in the Vault, but I hope to cover it at a future date), and was also senior editor at Weekly World News for a while, according to Wikipedia. Zeck, of course, was the penciller of Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars, as well as a long run on Master of Kung Fu.
The story is rather silly. A medieval warrior wanders into a strange town where the people shy away from him in fear. He is approached by an old man in a tavern, who tells him the wizard in the castle on the cliff keeps the villagers terrified and has even kidnapped the old man's daughter. When the warrior turns down the offer of "mere gold" to rescue the girl, the old man basically pimps his daughter out. Next thing you know, the warrior is climbing the cliff with his fucking lance strapped to his back.
And a good thing, too, because after he loses his sword fighting off bat-winged demons during the climb, he needs the lance to run through a creepy dwarf.
It's obvious that this was published in the days when the Comics Code's power was waning, given the sexual suggestion and the clear intimation that the lance has run the poor little dude completely through. Of course, once the warrior finally reaches the chamber where the girl is being held prisoner, he is frozen in place by the evil wizard (who just happens to be the old man from the tavern), and oh yeah, the daughter is a vampire. TWIST!
The next story is titled "Satan Weeps," written and drawn by an uncredited Steve Ditko. and it's introduced by the busty Vampirella wanna-be from the front cover, only she's also holding a whip. Why? Cause it's sexy, I guess. It has nothing to do with the story or her character.
The protagonist of the story is Arnold Printz, a guy who thinks the small town where he lives is boring, so he decides to liven things up by worshiping Satan. Since the jocks put him down, he decides to take revenge by casting a voodoo-style spell to cause abdominal pain to the star of the football team, then invites the guy over to his house to make the pain stop.
His plan somehow involves having the jock sell his soul to Satan, only the jock tells him to stuff it, and in the ensuing struggle, Arnold's statue of Satan is broken. And then...
Seriously, what the fuck? I have no idea what that ending is supposed to mean, and every explanation I come up with is stupid. There aren't even any decent Ditko hands. Then again, 26 years later, we got Devil May Cry, so it wasn't a total loss.
Ditko follows this up with a two-pager titled "The Vengeance of the Canoes," which distills all the tropes of the standard Comics Code horror tale down to the bare essence. Poor natives row out to a luxury cruise liner to sell hand-made native goods. A tourist offers fifty cents for a carving of a war canoe, which the native has priced at two dollars. The native, desperate and hungry, accepts, and the tourist laughs at him for being a poor salesman. Then as the liner is leaving, it swamps the canoes, causing the angry native to call down the "curse of the canoes." The tourist then decides to toss the carving overboard, since it won't fit the decor in their New York penthouse. The canoe grows to giant size, and the huge warriors sink the cruise liner full of greedy tourists. Moral: don't be greedy or else cheap, crappy knickknacks will kill you.
Next comes the bane of young comics readers, a text feature. And it's a really weird one. It's a ghost story titled "House for Sale," in which a real estate agent is tasked with selling a haunted house. He decides to fix it up before selling it, though, which the ghost apparently likes, and the agent likes the house so much, he wishes he had the money to buy it himself. Next thing you know, the agent inherits a lot of money (a little more than he needs to buy the house), and falls in love with the beautiful lawyer who comes to inform him of the inheritance. And they all live happily ever after. That's right. It's a ghost love story.
The final story is "The Card of Death," starring Countess Von Bludd, the Vampirella wanna-be. She is bored, stuck in her drafty old castle, so she takes off to Monaco or someplace, where she can find rich, evil men to eat. Her first meal is Golden Gus Fogarty, whose evil, we're told "emanated from his pores," though we never find out exactly why she judges him evil.
Anyway, she kills Fogarty, then kills an evil old sheik, then saves a whistleblowing Mob accountant from a hit-man before heading back to her castle again to rest up from her vacation. There's really nothing exciting here, just a series of panels showing the Countess in a series of mod, low-cut outfits, neither very scary nor very racy. And despite the title, there is not a single card in the story (okay, one panel does show the Countess at a gambling table apparently holding a card, but it's a throwaway panel and the card is not significant). It mainly takes place in a casino, though, so I guess that's close enough.
Now you understand why the 80's were such a giddy time in comics. Because we'd been mostly stuck with crap like this for over 20 years.