House of Secrets 96
Story: Jack Oleck, Len Wein
Art: Bill Draut, Alex Toth, Dick Dillin, Wally Wood
Cover: Bernie Wrightson
What a stunning cover by Bernie Wrightson, the stuff of nightmares. The first story of the book and the inspiration for the cover is “World for a Witch” written by Jack Oleck with art done by Bill Draut. It’s about Emma Winter, a greedy evil owner of an orphanage who also dabbles in dark magic. We open up the story where she is practicing a spell that allows her to enter inside a painting of a scenic forest. I’m not entirely sure from the story why she wanted to do this, perhaps to extend her life by spending time in this other world? Several orphans are caught spying on her and she chases after them, catching little Tom and interrogating him to find the names of the other kids.
He doesn’t give in though, and receives a nasty lashing. John Favors, an assistant at the orphanage, is introduced as a kind man who needs work and therefore turns a blind eye to Emma’s cruel punishments. He pleas with Emma to let Tom go but is ignored. Later on, a little girl is cold at night and wanders into Emma’s office to find some coal to use. Emma happens to be inside the painting at the time and emerges from it to chase the girl down. She corners her in the basements and beats her to death. At this point John can take no more and phones for the police. Unfortunately he didn’t keep an eye on Emma and she stabs him in the back before he can finish the call.
With the blood of her assistant and a little girl on her hands, she decided to lay low for a while in her painting. The children finish the call to the police and they show up but cannot find her. We find out though that Emma’s escape didn’t go quite as planned. The children swapped the painting to something a little more gothic before she realized and went inside it. Enjoy eternal damnation Emma.
The second story “The Great Dimensional Brain Swap” is about as ambitious as the title. The opening panel has a strange alien swapping places with a professor who was working in an electronics lab. The lab assistant begins a dialog with the alien as we travel across dimensions to where Professor Wilson has been sent. Several aliens greet him and begin to give him a tour of their fabulous futuristic facilities. Along the tour Wilson observes some statues that look just like the aliens and one suddenly opens its eyes. While the tour guide is distracted, he is able to figure out that they are not statues but the normal workers of the facility in suspended animation.
He frees them and they explain the aliens he has been interfacing with are all escaped convicts. They were trying to flee the dimension and the leader swapped places with Professor Wilson. The convicts find them again and place the workers back in suspended animation. Before they are frozen though, they inform the professor that his human mind has telekinetic powers in this dimension. How convenient! He uses his mind to disarm the convicts and free the normal workers. He is then send back to his dimension as thanks and all is well.
The next story “Be It Ever So Humble…” has a young couple falling in love with a beautiful plot of land that seems too good to be true. When asked if anyone lived on the land prior, the real estate casually drops the story of Amos Whittaker who once owned a house but burned alive with it. Completely unfazed by that disturbing answer, the couple buys it and builds a new house on the land. What could go wrong?
Well when they wake up in the middle of the night, they find brand new exciting rooms with antique furniture and the spirit of Amos doing some interior decorating. The young woman comes to her senses and says to her dear husband that it is haunted and they need to get out. He disagrees, citing that they put a lot of money into this house so they will just have to deal with it. Besides, Amos is making entire new rooms and that is pretty useful. The additions are welcome at first, but slowly the couple grows tired of the old decorations and begin insulting Amos. Bad move.
Enraged, Amos Whittaker alters the layout of the house. The couple attempt to flee but find the front door now leads to an endless labyrinth of 18th century rooms. Trapped forever, the house disappears from the land it was built on once again. The last panels have the real estate agent bringing a new couple to inspect the land and continue the cycle.
The last story, “The Monster”, is written by Jack Oleck and drawn by the exceptionally talented Wally Wood. It is the star of the book, the imagery is terrifying. It’s about a young boy who is having hallucinations where everyone looks like horrific monsters. The doctors are trying to medicate him to make him better but he escapes and runs into the city streets.
As he is moves around the city, all the monstrous civilians are scared claiming the boy looks like a monster. They chase after him and he runs into a nearby alley to hide. He falls asleep scared and wakes up to several monsters who capture him and bring him back to the facility. Placed in a strait-jacket, he is medicated as the doctor explains to the nurse how horrific the boy is. The last page transitions to everyone else’s reality as the medication takes effect. The boy’s situation was so traumatic to him, he inverted his perception so that everyone else would appear as monsters and that he would be the only normal human to cope.
That is very dark and I loved it. The way Wally Wod is able to draw all of the warped monster versions of humans is fantastic. That doctor with his fangs and the nurse with her gigantic bug eyes is so disturbing. Overall the issue contained some great stories and even the ones that were okay had some nice art to carry them through.