Welcome back to Longbox Junk, home of comic reviews nobody ever asked for!
It's October, so we're having a bit of Halloween fun by spotlighting some of the spooky stuff in my (and my daughter's) collection. This time out we're stepping into the Longbox Junk paper time machine and travelling back to 1963 for a Retro Review!
As you can see from the number of "unknown" credits below, information on this issue is a bit sketchy. To my knowledge, the review below is the only one that has ever been (and probably ever will be) written. Once again, it makes me happy to know that writing this blog sometimes gives me the opportunity to fill in some missing comic knowledge out there for people who might be looking.
The information on this series in general is pretty sketchy. It had a pretty hefty run of 97 issues, because in those days publishers didn't care much about that sweet, sweet reboot #1 with multiple variant covers money. They wanted a reliable seller to chug along as long as it possibly could. Heck, 97 issues could probably be called a SHORT run back then! This comic series actually outlasted Boris Karloff himself , who passed away in 1969 (the final issue came out in 1980). But I digress. . .
This is actually a licensed property. A tie-in to a short-lived anthology show similar to The Twilight Zone called "Thriller" that was hosted by Boris Karloff. It only lasted 2 seasons. . .but once again, in those days a "season" was about FORTY episodes! The show actually boasted a pretty stout roster of acting talent (including Karloff himself in several episodes).
I watched a couple episodes of the show last night while looking up information on this comic series, and I have to say I found it was actually pretty good (at least the ones I saw. . .one of which starred a young William "I. Will. Enunciate!" Shatner). If you like Twilight Zone, you'll like Thriller. It's a bit obscure, but definitely worth a look. Full episodes can be found on Youtube.
The comics actually started coming out AFTER the final episode of the T.V. show and, like the show, had Boris Karloff as the host, setting up each story at the beginning and then showing up at the end to deliver a punch line, moral, or similar pithy epilogue.
But enough background. Let's take a look at this comic. . .
TALES OF MYSTERY
GOLD KEY (1963)
COVER: Unknown (George Wilson?)
As usual, let's take a look at the cover before we get into the stories inside.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. In my extremely humble opinion, Gold Key has some of the best painted comic book covers EVER. No matter what's inside, Gold Key has some reliably great covers. . .and this one is no exception.
I love the dark sea stretching from top to bottom and side to side, filling almost the entire cover. In a small space, the artist manages to capture the vast emptiness of the ocean perfectly! The tiny figures on the storm-tossed boat reinforce the sense of scale, and the beautifully-detailed ring adds a sense of mystery.
This isn't the BEST Gold Key cover (My personal favorite is on their 1968 one shot adaptation of King Kong), but it stands right up there in the long list of great covers put out by the company.
There's no firm information on WHO painted this cover, but based on the Gold Key covers I DO know the artist of, my best guess would be prolific Gold Key cover artist George Wilson. Don't take it as absolute, but I'm 90% sure Wilson painted this beauty.
So that's the cover. Let's get into the stories. . .
RING OF FEAR
SCRIPT: Eric Friewald & Robert Schaefer
PENCILS: Dan Spiegle
A trail of murder and betrayal follows those who possess an ancient and priceless Aztec ring, beginning with the death at sea of famous explorer (and the ring's discoverer) John Ruskin. Ruskin's daughter Mary is convinced that an Aztec curse is at work as those around the ring die under mysterious circumstances.
When the ring finally passes into the hands of her brother, Mary decides to end the curse by throwing the ring into the sea. . .but as she does, she slips and falls down a cliff, almost dying herself. Mary's brother reveals that the ring is a fake. The real ring is in a museum vault.
All the death following the Aztec ring wasn't from a curse, but the result of greed.
Not a bad story at all. A bit predictable, but very well-written as it follows the twists and turns of the fates of the men who die for their greed. The art is also surprisingly good for a Silver Age comic, but once I found out Dan Spiegle was the artist, I wasn't as surprised. He was an extremely solid and prolific artist and his fine character work here elevates the story beyond the simple morality tale in the script.
All in all, a very enjoyable story and a great start!
PENCILS: Tom Gill
Next, we have the first of three one page features spotlighting actual historic mysteries in this issue. This one briefly sketches the true story of the only man known to have been swallowed by a whale and survive to tell the tale. There's nothing spectacular about this page-count filler. It's a straightforward retelling of the event with serviceable artwork. Here it is in its entirety. . .
Next, we come to a text piece that I found pretty interesting. It's a straight science piece about the danger the Earth is in from being hit by an asteroid, using previous impacts as examples of our imminent doom. It seems a bit out of place, but it's also probably the scariest thing to be found in this comic.
THE SECRET OF OAK ISLAND
PENCILS: Tom Gill
Now we come to the second of the three one page features spotlighting actual historic mysteries. This one briefly sketches out the discovery of the Oak Island Money Pit. . .something my wife is now absolutely obsessed with, thanks to "The Curse of Oak Island" reality show on History Channel. But I digress! Basically, a mysterious pit with some strange artifacts was discovered on an island off the coast of Canada, but nobody has managed to get to the bottom of it yet, despite hundreds of years and millions of dollar's worth of trying.
This brief introduction to the mystery is pretty straightforward (Here, they credit pirates with creating the Money Pit), with art that tells the story, but doesn't try too hard. Here in its entirety. . .
PENCILS: Mike Sekowsky
Next, we come to the second "feature" story. It goes like this. . .
In the Amazon Jungle a Witch Doctor keeps the local villagers in constant fear of the evil spirits she can summon. Only her daughter, Zilma, is free to do as she pleases. . .up to a point. Zilma is in love with a man named Pablo. The Witch Doctor doesn't like Pablo.
The Witch Doctor tells her tribe that she has seen Pablo bring sickness to them in her dreams, driving them into a frenzy. With Pablo's life in danger, he and Zilma run away with the help of two friendly Peace Corps volunteers. . .but the Witch Doctor uses a voodoo doll to make Zilma sick.
Pablo uses a little magic of his own when he throws a rock and tells it to find the cause of Zilma's sickness. The Witch Doctor is seen falling to her death off of a cliff. It's uncertain whether it was an accident or if Pablo's magic was the cause.
Pablo becomes the tribe's new Witch Doctor and all ends well.
Okay, I'm gonna be honest here. This story is pretty bad. Unlike the tight and clever narrative of the opening story (even if the ending was a bit predictable), this one wanders all over the place. In my description of the story above, I just followed the main line of the story. There are several sub-plots that appear and disappear throughout the story.
There's an alligator that may or may not be a spirit creature. There's the Peace Corps workers accidentally opening the tomb of Pablo's father with dynamite and his angry spirit wandering around. There's another spirit that comes out of a stew pot that may or may not have been summoned by the Witch Doctor to attack Zilma. That's a lot of sub-plot in twelve lousy pages. . .especially since most of it has little to no bearing on the main storyline.
The art also takes a downhill slide compared to the opening story. There, fine lines and great character work enhanced the story. Here, the art is clumsy and workmanlike, featuring sloppy colors and Amazon natives with Elvis Presley hair. There, I found the art unexpectedly good for a Silver Age comic. Here, it's sadly exactly what I expect.
I realize that comparing one story with another might seem a bit unfair, but even taken on its own and without comparison, this story has an unfocused narrative and art that is okay, but doesn't even try to reach any higher than that.
AND FINALLY. . .
THE MAN WHO LIVED FOREVER
PENCILS: Tom Gill
The comic closes out with the last one page spotlight on true mysteries in history. This one briefly sketches the mystery of the Count of Saint-Germain. . .a historic figure who made outlandish claims that led people to believe he was hundreds of years old. I'm no expert, but from what I've read of this, it seems to be a case of someone saying whatever he wanted without fear of anyone being able to prove him wrong. These days, I'm pretty sure a $30 background check and some Google detective work would be enough to keep his name out of the history books. Here's the feature in its entirety. . .
First, I realize this isn't a "Horror" comic at all. I didn't know that coming in. Since Boris Karloff was such an influential figure in the horror genre, I assumed that a Boris Karloff comic would be a horror comic. It's actually more of a "Suspense" comic in the vein of Twilight Zone.
Does that make it a BAD comic? Not really. It's not a great comic by any means, but it has a very nice signature Gold Key painted cover, a really good opening story, and a couple of somewhat interesting features. Unfortunately, the second story isn't very good, which basically puts about half the comic under the bar.
Good taken with bad, I'd have to say this comic is still pretty good and worth picking up if you come across it for a decent price. It's not something I'd really recommend putting effort into hunting down, but I'd also say not to pass it by if you happen to see it.
Up Next. . .
I'm fillin' your pumpkin bucket as full of Halloween Longbox Junk as I can.
Be there or be square!