15 November 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Houses of Mystery and Secrets, Part III: Showcase Presents The House of Secrets, Volume One

Comic trade paperback, 541 pages
Published 2008 (contents: 1969-72)
Borrowed from the library
Read October 2013
Showcase Presents The House of Secrets, Volume One

Written by Mike Friedrich, Gerard Conway, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Steve Skeates, John Costanza, Robert Kanigher, Raymond Marais, Jack Kirby, Mark Evanier, Virgil North, Sergio Aragonés, Lore Shoberg, John Albano, Jack Oleck, Mark Hanerfeld
Art by Jerry Grandenetti, George Roussos, Bill Draut, Jack Sparling, Werner Roth, Vince Colletta, Dick Dillin, Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Alex Toth, Mike Royer, Mike Peppe, Sid Greene, Jack Abel, Don Heck, Ralph Reese, John Costanza, Gil Kane, George Tuska, Gray Morrow, Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Frank Giacoia, Rick Buckler, Wally Wood, Sam Glanzman, Murphy Anderson, Bernie Wrightson, Alan Weiss, Tony Dezuniga, Jim Aparo, Sergio Aragonés, Nick Cardy, Lore Shoberg, Bernard Baily, Joe Maneely, Nestor Redondo, Bill Ely, John Prentice, Ralph Mayo, Jose Delbo, Mike Roy, Adolfo Buylla

The House of Secrets begins with a fairly lengthy (for this kind of comic, anyway) origin story for the House of Secrets itself. "Don't Move It!" (written by Mike Friedrich, art by Jerry Grandenetti and George Roussos) tells this whole tale of a house in Kentucky, built by one Senator Sandsfield with his bare hands entirely from materials found in Kentucky, who swore no one who wasn't of "pure Kentucky stock" would ever live in it. Quite what this means, I don't know, but when our story opens, the House's new owner is trying to transport it over state lines. (Presumably into Tennessee, as no river is mentioned, and I believe Kentucky's southern border is the only one not determined by a river.) With the House 200 yards from the state line, the owner dies, and the House stays where it is, and some time later, Abel shows up, recruited as caretaker by a mysterious man who turns out to probably be an embodiment of the House itself. How all this squares with the histories of Cain and Abel given in The Sandman, I don't know.

Like in The Witching Hour!, the reader is often a viewpoint character in House of Secrets, coming to visit Abel and hear his stories-- along with Goldie, Abel's friend that no one else sees or hears. In The Sandman, Abel had a pet gargoyle named Goldie, evidently after this invisible friend. The frame stories are fairly fun. They're never quite as complicated as those in The Witching Hour! at its heyday, but they usually run a few pages and feature Abel and Goldie up to something, often investigating the strange House they live in. Cain pops up a lot, and you can see the seeds of their wonderfully macabre relationship in The Sandman, though Cain never murders Abel here.

I liked the reference to a "wandering wolfman" who told Abel one of his stories-- presumably the wolfman's name was Marv. There's even one story where Abel and Goldie wander into the nearby suburbs for some tale-telling, pass through the middle of a tale currently happening, and end up meeting Mordred from The Witching Hour! (In another, all three witches come over for a visit.) Not to mention that at one point, we readers get to enjoy a comic book that Abel himself is reading: "Reggie Rabbit, Heathcliffe Hog, Archibald Aardvark, J. Benson Babboon and Bertram the Dancing Frog" (written by Len Wein, art by Ralph Reese), who end up mocking their own dialogue balloons! House of Secrets is definitely more inventive than the other series in this way, I think. With time, alas, the frames shrink away to just a page or so, and Cain stops appearing.

As in both The Witching Hour! and House of Mystery, there are some good stories here. I particularly enjoyed "Bigger than a Breadbox" (writer unknown, art by Mike Royer and Mike Peppe), where an elderly woman enjoys a postal romance, "The Ballad of Little Joe" (written by Gerard Conway, art by Bill Draut), where aliens mistake a man's beloved puppet for an Earth life-form, "After I Die!" (written by Jack Kirby and Mark Evanier, art by Bill Draut), about a man determined to find out what the dying see, "World for a Witch" (written by Jack Oleck, art by Bill Draut), about a group of orphans whose orphanage-runner escapes her life's misery in a magic picture, and, of course, "Swamp Thing" (written by Len Wein, art by Berni Wrightson), the beginning of that much-famous character. I also really enjoyed "The Day After Doomsday..." (written by Len Wein, art by Jack Sparling), a recurrent series of two-page shorts about Adam and Gertrude, the last two humans alive after a holocaust (the same as Kamandi's Great Disaster?). They're both kinda hilariously dumb.

Overall, it's another good bunch, and I'm glad The Sandman led me to it, even if the two series don't line up quite precisely. (Well, unless the Dreaming is in southern Kentucky.)

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