By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service

March 9, 2010 -- I’ve raved about this being the “golden age of reprints” before, but that doesn’t mean that everything old is worth buying:

* I wish I knew the editorial reasoning behind The Sinister House of Secret Love, an unusual title introduced by DC Comics in 1971.

The first five issues were in a genre and format I’ve never seen repeated. Secret Love was extra long – 48 or 52 pages for a 1970s quarter – and contained an extra-long comic-book story plus an illustrated text story, both in the gothic romance genre.

The first issue’s “Curse of the MacIntyres” is a clue why it didn’t catch on: These stories are awful. I’m not the target audience of books like Wuthering Heights, but at least they’re well-written and keep my interest until the mysteries were resolved. Not so these stories – several written by complete amateurs -- which are bathetic, over the top, predictable and painfully earnest. The art, some by old hands like Don Heck, seems phoned in.

Obviously, Secret Love didn’t work, and the hand-writing was on the wall with the fifth issue, which was renamed Secrets of Sinister House. With the sixth issue, the format shifted to that of ‘70s-era House of Mystery and House of Secrets – a (not very horrible) horror anthology with a pun-ny host. That format, which had the benefit of at least being familiar, lasted until issue #18, when the title was mercifully canceled.

The entire run is reprinted in Showcase Presents: Secrets of Sinister House ($17.99), including the Secret Love issues. It’s interesting as an oddity, but you can get your fill of the horror-anthology format elsewhere.

* Speaking of the horror-anthology format, Gold Key’s Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery lasted more than 100 issues using it, with Karloff himself playing host. Dark Horse has embarked on reprinting the entire run, with the recently published Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery Vol. 2 ($49.99) reaching issue #10 (June, 1964).

It’s really familiar stuff, with some sort of crime being committed, and a supernatural O. Henry twist at the end rendering justice to the bad guys. A little of this goes a long way, especially since Gold Key was using third-tier artists and had really lousy printing. The above-mentioned House of Mystery and House of Secrets did it better, and I found myself falling asleep a lot toward the end of this volume.

* Some 1940s titles are interesting because they feature A) strong, long-lasting characters, B) early work by legendary artists, or C) elements of historic interest. Then there’s Daring Mystery Comics.

Daring was Timely’s follow-up to Marvel Mystery Comics, which introduced us to The Human Torch and Sub-Mariner, and sold like gangbusters. Daring had a different bunch of nobodies each issue (with only a few repeating), and struggled through eight issues in two years before going on hiatus. Yes, even to the undiscriminating children who bought comics in the early ‘40s, Daring sucked.

Virtually all of the characters introduced in Daring were poorly-done knockoffs of better characters, and quickly vanished into comic-book limbo. They included The Fin (See: Sub-Mariner), K-4 and his Sky Devils (G-8 and his Battle Aces), Fiery Mask (Human Torch), Trojak the Tiger Man (Tarzan), Monako: Prince of Magic (Mandrake the Magician) and so forth.

Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Daring Mystery Comics Vol. 2 ($59.99) reprints issues #5-8, and is only useful as fodder for a Leonard Pinth-Garnell’s “Bad Comics” skit, providing you can do a passable Dan Ackroyd. Otherwise, wait for volume 3. That should be better, because Timely publisher Martin Goodman learned his lesson, and when Daring Mystery Comics returned in late 1942, it starred popular characters by established pros.

* The third and fourth seasons of Irwin Allen’s TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea are considered low points, as they leaned heavily on implausible sci-fi plots and a “monster of the week” (usually men in rubber suits). The second and last volume of the same-named comic book archives suffers from the same problem.

Hermes Press has done comics historians a favor with Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Vol. 2 ($49.99), which completes this 1960s Gold Key series by reprinting the last eight issues (#7-14, 1967-68). But as a reader, I found the stories (probably by Dick Wood and Marshall McClintock) silly and forgettable. The bland art by Alberto Giolitti and crummy Gold Key printing doesn’t help.

Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com.

Views: 270

Comment by PowerBook Pete, the Mad Mod on March 12, 2010 at 2:58pm
Are there any stories in Daring Mystery that show us how the Fin managed to walk through a doorway?
Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on March 12, 2010 at 4:18pm
BORIS KARLOFF: I found volume two to be much the same as volume one (and both are equally memorable). Frankly, I find it difficult to believe that today's ecomomy can support archival series such as this, Jesse Marsh's Tarzan and Turok, Son of Stone. The more of them I read, the less of them I feel I need to read (if you know what I mean). I would think there'd be more of a demand for EC hardcover reprint (which the market evidently can't support) than series of this nature, but just yesterday the owner of my LCS assured me I'm not the only one buying these at his shop.

DARING MYSTERY: I tend to read Marvel Masterworks in reverse order, so to speak, Silver Age before Golden. Consequently, I've bought this one and flipped through it, but haven't yet read it. I'm in the midst of reading Golden Age USA Comics Masterworks, though, and inputting the issues of the various series into an ExCel spreadsheet to get a better overview of how some of the monthly series fit in with the quarterlies, and so on. One story I've been very much looking forward is in the daring volume, though, I think: Simon and Kirby original, blink-and-you'll-miss-him, one-time-only appearance of the original Marvel Boy. I think there'll be an "Earth-J" version of that story in the near future, but I've got to get around to reading it first. I've read a lot about it, and if it's the one I'm thinking of, it may be the first Marvel appearance of Hercules. Or maybe it'll end up being a Dire Wraith or something. On Earth-J, on Earth-J...

VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA: I'm saving these two volumes until I'm in the mood (and have the time) to watch the TV series.

I'm really looking forward to the Gold Key Dark Shadows collection, though (solicited for March 31 release)!
Comment by Luke Blanchard on March 12, 2010 at 4:19pm
Bob Rozakis has written that when he sold comics from a van for DC in 1973 the "mystery" titles were quite popular with girls. I don't know if DC knew that in 1971, but I've seen Dark Shadows novels with a similar look to those first Sinister House of Secret Love issues. It makes sense to me that DC should have thought there might be a market there.
Comment by George on March 12, 2010 at 4:20pm
Sinister House of Secret Love was DC's attempt to imitate the then-popular Gothic romance/horror genre. I wasn't the target demographic, but I did buy a couple of the Dark Shadows paperbacks, which were in that vein.

In an interview, editor Joe Orlando described the typical covers of these paperbacks: a woman in the foreground, running from a castle or mansion with only one lighted window. DC aped this on some House of Secrets and House of Mystery covers, too.

Also in 1971, DC published Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love -- which became Forbidden Tales of the Dark Mansion with the fifth issue. The covers were blatant swipes of the Gothic paperback style. For whatever reason -- possibly the plummeting popularity of the romance comics genre -- these books didn't sell.
Comment by George on March 12, 2010 at 5:05pm
Re: "the 'mystery' titles were quite popular with girls"

I'd love to live in a world where the major companies published comics in many genres, aimed at all ages, all interests and both genders. Wait -- I did live in such a world! It was the '60s, when I was a child.

While not a big fan of most of DC's superhero efforts, I thought they excelled in other genres: mystery, war, western, oddball comics like Phantom Stranger, Swamp Thing, etc. I haven't read their old romance comics ... but with Gene Colan and John Romita handling the art, how bad could they have been? Orlando claimed the mystery books outsold DC's superhero titles in the '70s, and while I haven't seen the sales figures to prove this, it might have been true for a while.

Trina Robbins published a book a few years back, "From Girls to Grrrlz," a history of comics aimed at female readers. It's worth a read.
Comment by Martin Gray on March 14, 2010 at 2:53pm
It is surprising, some of the stuff that gets reprinted - there's a market for reprints of an old TV show remembered mainly for the constant sub sound effect? Mediocre mystery tales? Perhaps these are one-time curiousity purchases; then again, here's the second Voyage book.

Todd Klein talks a little about Sinister House of Secret Love in a typically excellent instalment of his logo studies: http://kleinletters.com/Blog/?p=7910
Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on March 15, 2010 at 9:03am
I read the "Marvel Boy" story in the Daring Mystery Masterworks over the weekend, and it was everything I hoped for and expected. (I also read a few other stories, but not the entire volume as I am in the midst of another reading project.) The first two and a half pages of the Marvel Boy story are pure fantasy (he is said to be the reincarnation of Hercules, said to have "died" circa 1927), but there's a strong temptation to say he's the offspring of an Eternal and a mortal woman (in much the same was Kirby's Golden Age Mercury was later retconned as Makarri). I'm also tempted to count Marvel Boy's fellow one-shotter Dynaman as an etarnal, too, but JMS has already claimed him (as "Dynamic Man") for The Twelve.

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