02 December 2013

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

Comic trade paperback, 552 pages
Published 2006 (contents: 1968-71)
Borrowed from the library
Read October 2013
Showcase Presents The House of Mystery, Volume One

Written by Joe Orlando, Sergio Aragonés, Jack Miller, Bob Haney, Marv Wolfman, Charles King, Howie Post, Neal Adams, E. Nelson Bridwell, Jerry Grandenetti, Gil Kane, Mike Friedrich, Cliff Rhodes, Otto Binder, Robert Kanigher, Jack Oleck, Joe Gill, Gerry Conway, John Albano, Len Wein, Lore Shoberg, Virgil North, Alan Riefe, John Costanza
Art by Lee Elias, Doug Wildey, Joe Orlando, Sergio Aragonés, Bernard Baily, Carmine Infantino, Mort Meskin, George Roussos, Jack Sparling, Sid Green, Bill Draut, Neal Adams, Jim Mooney, Win Mortimer, Jerry Grandenetti, Bernie Wrightson, Gil Kane, Wally Wood, Frank Springer, Alex Toth, Wayne Howard, Al Williamson, John Celardo, Mike Peppe, Tony Dezuniga, John Albano, Leonard Starr, Tom Sutton, Ric Estrada, Frank Giacoia, Jim Aparo, Lore Shoberg, Gray Morrow, Don Heck, Russ Heath, Jack Kirby, John Costanza, Nestor Redondo

This volume of House of Mystery is where Cain, later of The Sandman fame, got his start. Unlike with House of Secrets, there's no set-up for the series: we simply launch into "The Wondrous Witch's Cauldron" (writer unknown, art by Lee Elias). The second issue collected here does have Cain briefly introduce himself before launching into a story, but it's just a page-- the origins of the House of Mystery aren't delved into at all.

That said, we do get bits of history that are built on. "The House of Gargoyles" (written by Bob Haney, art by Jack Sparling) is about a former boarder at the House of Mystery, in this case a fellow who was being pursued by gargoyles. The inhabitants of the nearby town are repulsed by them (House of Secrets will later tell us this town is located in Kentucky), but when the gargoyles get their man, they leave. However, they leave a little gargoyle behind who becomes known as Gregory-- and appears not only in this series, but in The Sandman (I think he might have birthed Abel's pet gargoyle, Goldie). Several other stories are about boarders at the House of Mystery, past or even present, such as "Boom!" (written and illustrated by Jerry Grandenetti), where a dead parachuter spends the night there, or "Dark City of Doom" (written by Gerry Conway, art by Tony Dezuniga), about a guy who travels through time to ancient Egypt.

In "Turner's Treasure" (written by Jack Olek, art by Alex Toth), we even learn that before coming to the House of Mystery, Cain was the building custodian of the Philosophy Department at State University. Does this mean Kentucky State University? Why was this never mentioned in The Sandman? Maybe he left the Dreaming during Dream's long absence to take a new job?

Other good stories included "The Roots of Evil!" (written by Marv Wolfman, art by Jack Sparling), about two rival plant scientists, "The Game" (written and illustrated by Neal Adams), an atmospheric tale about a kid who shelters from a storm with a ghost kid, "What's the Youth?" (written by E. Nelson Bridwell, art by Win Mortimer and George Roussos), where a creepy guy buys a youth potion to hit on a younger woman, and "Dark Night, Dark Dreams!" (written by Gerry Conway, art by Bill Draut), a great first-person story about a woman on the run seeking refuge. As you can see from the credits, the book is blessed with some first-rate talent, and I suspect the black-and-white reproduction makes the art even better than it'd've been on original publication.

My favorite part of these early House of Mystery issues is "Page 13," a recurrent feature on (duh) page 13 of each issue. Here, some demon has a new message or game or token for the reader every week. Things like membership cards you can cut out, letters giving the owners bad luck, paper dice, and so on. In one case, a story is too long and runs onto page 13, so it's all messed up, with the demon chortling about the "dumb editor." Another starts on page 13-- with artist Gil Kane being sucked into it! He ends up being attacked by his editors, who are demons, and trapped inside the House of Mystery forever. There's a lot of fantastic black humor, and it's a real shame that this feature fades out.

The best is the second one, where you drop a pencil onto a circle containing a number of possible fortunes, including "You Are Drafted," "That Trip Will Cost You" (complete with psychedelic lettering on "trip"), "Your Father Found It," and "You Will Be Caught in the Dormitory"! I never expected to see even covert references to drug use, pornography, and masturbation!

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