House of Mystery 194
Story: Jack Oleck
Art: Alex Toth, Nestor Redondo
Cover: Bernie Wrightson
It looks like some of these issues in the 70s increased their page length to validate the price increases but used reprints of stories from the 50s. These reprints usually involved what was very popular at the time, or at least what was allowed to be printed due to the comic code restrictions. So they usually involved monsters or sci-fi. Nothing wrong with that, but I’m more interested in traditional horror or gothic horror. For that reason I’ll only be looking at the new stories created within each book.
For this issue, which has a fantastic cover by Bernie Wrightson, there are two new stories both penned by Jack Oleck. The first is titled “Born Loser” and is drawn by Alex Toth. I would call his work highly stylized for the time, not really matching up with the DC house style. It was a bit jarring at first because it was so simple but it grew on me. Our main character Homer is an accountant by day, amateur occultist by night. His wife is not thrilled by his hobby, and is actually questioning why she married him to begin with.
She sets her foot down about practicing black magic in the house and forces him to find another place to do it. His boss and unfortunately father in law chastises him at work. A coworker named Judith who fancies Homer tries to cheer him up. This is where the meta narrative merges with the story. He rents a room at the convenient House of Mystery with it’s landlord Cain.
It is here he starts dabbling in death and the other side. Using black magic he is able to temporarily die and resurrect himself. While trying to win his wife back Judith continues to support him in his hobby. In an unfortunate meeting, his wife sees him having dinner with Judith and has her father fire her. This is the last straw for Homer, and with a little temptation from the demons he has brought over from the other side, decides to seek revenge and murder his wife.
But before he does this, he makes sure that Judith will claim his dead body from the police. He goes through it with, shooting his wife in the back of the head, and is soon after arrested and tried. He pleads guilty confidently and sentenced to death by hanging. Not a problem for someone who has mastered the ability to die and come back to life. Unfortunately he didn’t realize that after death by hanging, the normal procedure is to cremate the body. So Judith comes to the police to collect his corpse but only gets his cremated ashes. Oops.
The second story is titled “The King is Dead” and is drawn by Nestor Redondo. His panels really make a mundane story come to life. Indeed the King IS dead in the starting panel. It is unclear if he died of natural causes or murder, but coincidentally a monster is hunted in the city below the castle. The shadowed creature evades the King’s army and a short time later Prince Karil enters the chambers of the King’s trusted advisors to be told his father is dead and he will be taking over. The advisors are internally concerned about the prince and his abilities to rule.
Prince Karil does his best however. But still on full moons, a monster stalks the city below, murdering without reason. As the deaths pile on the Prince finally confesses to an advisor that the culprit is him. On full moons he transforms into a creature who lusts for violence. The advisor does not believe him though and shortly after there are more killings. This time though, the army is able to shoot the monster in the shadows and track him only to find the prince injured with a gunshot wound.
Now the advisor believes Karil and agrees to confine him in chains on the next full moon. The prince does not believe this is enough though, nothing can contain the monster inside of him. He demands to be placed in a prison with steel doors and reluctantly his men agree. The next full moon comes and the guards standing outside the prince’s cell hear screams and violent bangs on the steel doors but do not attempt to open it until morning. Inside they find prince dead, with nobody else inside. They don’t know what happened but the killings stopped afterwards.