04 December 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Houses of Mystery and Secrets, Part V: Showcase Presents The House of Secrets, Volume 2

Comic trade paperback, 493 pages
Published 2009 (contents: 1972-74)
Borrowed from the library
Read November 2013
Showcase Presents The House of Secrets, Volume 2

Written by E. Nelson Bridwell, Bill Meredith, Jack Oleck, John Albano, Lore Shoberg, Sergio Aragonés, Sheldon Mayer, Raymond Marais, Steve Skeates, Bill Riley, Maxene Fabe, Arnold Drake, George Kashdan, Michael Pellowsky, Gerard Conway, Michael Fleisher, Doug Moench, David Micheline
Art by Bernie Wrightson, Nestor Redondo, Jack Katz, Tony Dezuniga, Frank Redondo, Vic Catan, Abe Ocampo, Lore Shoberg, Tom Palmer, Sergio Aragonés, Mike Sekowsky, Alfredo Alcala, Alex Niño, June Lofamia, Ruben Yandoc, E. R. Cruz, Quico Redondo, Rico Rival, Jack Sparling, Virgilio Redondo, George Tuska, Gerry Talaoc, Jim Aparo, Bernard Baily, Jess Jodloman, Fred Carrillo, Flor Dery, Romy Gamboa, Rudy Nebres, Luis Dominguez, Nick Cardy, Frank Bolle, Nardo Cruz, Ramona Fradon, Ernie Chan, Gerry Boudreau, George Evans, Arthur Suydam

Like all the titles in the DC horror renaissance of the late 1960s and 1970s, House of Secrets has its individuality drained out of it by the slow diminishing of its frames; what were once multi-page stories are now panels (or rarely a whole page) in an issue. It's disappointing, especially as the reason I am reading this is the presence of Abel, our stuttering, terrified host.

What are particularly charming are the recurrent "Cain & Abel" pages, single pages of three panels by Sergio Aragonés, each panel showing Abel and his murderous brother doing something different together. Sometimes these are simply Cain belittling or pranking Abel, but others give us something more-- Abel getting something good because he is good, Cain causing his own comeuppance, or at their best, a brief glimpse of the true affection the brothers share. In one, they stroll through a crowd of people horrified by a triple-bill of horror films they have just scene, the only ones smiling; I love the idea that they spend their time popping from the Dreaming over to Earth to see horror films. My favorite is one where they are playing what looks like "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots," only their two boxers are hugging, embarrassing them. It's all a warped but endearing depiction of brotherly love.

Individual stories still manage to do some good work, though. There's some child creepiness at work in "Goodbye, Nancy" (written by John Albano, art by Vic Catan, Frank Redondo, and Abe Ocampo), about a kid's odd new playmate. "Small Invasion" (written by Sheldon Mayer, art by Alex Niño), about an alien who means to conquer the Earth but ends up working in a logging camp, is oddly charming, and has some amazingly grotesque art. "A Lonely Monstrosity" (written by John Albano, art by Nestor Redondo) is a cruel tale about a couple who scheme to deprive a grotesque-looking man of his own fortune. I really liked "Skin Deep" (written by Jack Oleck, art by Alfredo Alcala), about an ugly man who commits murder and disguises himself to marry an attractive woman under false pretenses, as well as "Act III Eternity" (written by George Kashdan, art by Jess Jodloman).

There are many more-- despite its lack of the frames I enjoy so much, this is probably one of the better Showcase Presents volumes of vintage DC horror. Much of that is due to the dual artistic talents of Alex Niño and (especially) Alfredo Alcala, whose luscious, grotesque, beautiful art enlivens even the most stale of narratives. Even their lettering is a cut above the rest!

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