The Usual Suspects #58
Welcome back for another edition of The Usual Suspects. Still in the spirit of the season, I had to rush back to writing again and squeezing in another article for Halloween. Last week, I looked at Marvel’s Horror properties. So, it’s only fair that this week we look at the Distinguished Competition’s darker corners and cover DC Horror books.
So, DC has been around a bit longer than Marvel. And from my earliest selections you will see how they jumped onboard the horror train early on starting in the 50’s. DC was following EC Comics lead and trying to capture the audience of books like Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror. Pre-code Horror is a whole other subject which I hope to get to next week. So, let’s just stick a pin in that for now.
Now, getting back to DC riding the coattails of EC Comics; they would utilize a Horror anthology format. And eventually Horror Hosts, of course. So they actually hired an EC Comics veteran to run their horror books in to 70’s, and they reached back into the bible and grabbed inspiration from the original sibling rivals, Cain and Abel to host their lynchpin Horror Anthology series.
I mean you can’t have a great Horror series without a great host, right? I mean from The Crypt-Keeper, to Elvira, to The Ice Cream Man; all horror anthologies need a memorable host to introduce their tales of terror.
Yes, Elvira whom we all know from late night TV was used by DC as the new horror host for House of Mystery replacing Cain. It made sense to try and capitalize on what was popular for the time. I remember her fondly. Not much better than a sexy Horror host in my opinion. So, it was either Elvira or Rhonda Shearer.
Gone are the days of the late-night B Movie hosts. I’m not gonna lie. I loved USA’s Up!..All Night. I know Rhonda wasn’t strictly a horror host, but what are you gonna do. My brain associates her with it. But, there really isn’t anyone left, except for Svengoolie. I didn’t know much about him, but my buddy Keith told me I really need to watch him on MeTV. And what’s crazy is that DC is still supportive of the late-night horror host having just did a Svengoolie variant just recently.
Still, if you’re my age, having grown up in the 80’s/90’s than there really is only one Horror host and that would be the HBO version of the Crypt Keeper. He’s the first that comes to mind and would be hard to replace in my mind as the go-to horror host.
Sure, he doesn’t really look his comic book counterpart, but I love this creepy Muppet. I mean, the awkward marionette movements were part of his charm. That and the voice. Pure magic. Besides the comic book version looked more like Marty Feldman’s Igor than anything else.
OK, so I may have wandered a bit off topic there with the horror hosts so let’s get back to the books. So, DC had a good thing going for a while with their top 2 horror titles featuring those kooky brothers, Cain and Abel. But DC chickened out when the federal government investigated comics for the perversion of our youth. So, once the anti-horror backlash began, DC switched their focus of their top Horror titles to science fiction and fantasy. They had the Martian Manhunter headline the House of Mystery while Eclipso was introduced to take over House of Secrets.
Yeah, DC really came up small with that move caving into the pressure.
But fear not true believers, wait, that was Stan and Marvel. Did DC ever have anything similar? Any famous phrases? I don’t think so; as they didn’t have a hype-man like Stan Lee. But that said, in the late 60’s Horror started to make a comeback. So both of the above titles shifted back to their horror roots and gave us more classic tales of fright. Heck, they gave us Swamp Thing in HoS92.
And DC added more titles along the way with The Witching Hour, Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion, and the like. Eventually those classic series would give way to more “modern” horror with the launching of the Vertigo Imprint. Their titles like Swamp Thing, Hellblazer, and Sandman would begin crafting horror tales for a new generation.
And these new titles would highlight eventual comic writing heavyweights like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and Garth Ennis. So enough of the overview, let’s look at some actual titles. Let’s get into it.
1st DC horror comic
The House of Mystery was DC’s first Horror title. It all started here and there have been several volumes over the years bearing the House of Mystery name. This was an anthology series that told various supernatural and mystery type tales. And it is an actual location, as well, in the DC Universe. It was even featured in the kids animated series Justice League Action.
Yes, in case you weren’t sure that was a kid version of Constantine with a lollipop instead of his trademark smoke. But you can also see if you watch the episode, that even that children’s cartoon used the House of Mystery’s original host Cain to introduce the tale.
But as I noted above, House of Mystery started out as a horror anthology series, featuring tales of the supernatural. However, with the advent of the Comics Code Authority and its restrictions, the series quietly was revamped into a science-fiction type book and featured other mystery/suspense type tales that were permitted by the comic code. So, they rolled with J’onn J’onzz and Dial “H” For Hero for a while.
Eventually with issue #174 in 1968, EC Comics veteran Joe Orlando was hired by DC to take over as editor of House of Mystery. By that time, both DC and Marvel began challenging the Comics Code Authority and tested the boundaries with what they could do, so the series returned to its overt horror themes.
The first issue under Orlando was just a reprint issue of old horror/suspense stories, but the return to its horror roots would truly begin with #175. Orlando using the format he knew so well, would give the series its own Crypt-Keeper. So, this issue would introduce a new figure to the series, Cain, the “Able Caretaker” of the House of Mystery who would introduce nearly all stories that would run in the series before its cancellation. And yes, he does look a bit like the Daredevil villain, Owl Man.
Market Analysis: Not a lot of copies out there to be moving. Only a couple on the market right now if you are looking. A raw for $650 or a CGC 4.5 for about $1k. Or if you don’t mind the purple label, you can get an 8.5 for under $1,200. Personally, I balk at restored. I don’t know, it bothers me. I’d rather have a copy with chewed corners than a trimmed or color retouched copy. I don’t know why, I have a very strong restored prejudice.
But if you look below, you can see very few sales in any grade actually occurred this year. 1951 was nearly 70 years ago now, so copies of this book aren’t crowding long boxes or even taking up real estate on your LCS wall.
This was the companion series to House of Mystery. Granted it didn’t roll out until 5 years later, but these days, these books are seen as 2 parts of a whole. Perhaps that’s in part due to this series eventually getting its own host in the form of Abel.
The original House of Secrets is also a location in the DC Universe and it first appeared in this issue.
As I noted, later we would be introduced to Abel, Cain brother, who would be shown moving into the House of Mystery with his brother Cain until the House of Secrets was transported. This took place in DC Special #4 in 1968.
Abel would eventually take up residence in the House of Secrets and would introduce us to perhaps the most famous DC Horror books of them all, House of Secrets #92 the 1st appearance of Swamp Thing.
Now I already covered that book back in Usual Suspects #18 , So I won’t be looking at it directly again. But it’s worth noting that Cain and Abel would appaear in each others titles and really stretch the boundaries of the medium.
Their very purpose in introducing stories to the reader is in itself a 4th wall breaking action. But beyond that, they would go on to even interact with the comic creators. Case in point, issue 292 of House of Mystery had Cain meeting his editor Karen Berger.
Karen Berger would go on to be a comic book rock star, eventually heading up Vertigo and delivering all of those classic titles we all associate with the DC Vertigo line. These days she is over at Dark Horse with her own sub-imprint, Berger Books. But that’s beside the point.
But getting back to Abel and The House of Secrets, I think it’s worth noting that Alan Moore told a tale in Swamp Thing #33 where Cain murdered his brother Abel for recounting the origin of Swamp Thing. This of course harkens back to their namesakes from the bible.
Abel would return, and both brothers appear to possibly be immortal and apparently indestructible. Abel can resurrect from any fatal wound inflicted by his brother Cain who bears the “Mark of Cain” which evidently protects him from all harm.
At least that’s how it worked on Supernatural. Remember when Dean got the Mark of Cain from Carlton Lassiter? I know I’m not the only one who watches Supernatural.
Market Analysis: Again, not a lot of copies of this one on the market either. There’s a copy of Issue #1 & #2, both 3.5’s, together for over $1500. Or you can sneak a CGC 1.8 for $330. Outside of those there are a couple raws around the $250 range.
Not a lot of graded copies changing hands as it looks like only 2 copies were sold this year. But over $4k for an 8.5 in 2016. Wonder what that would do in today’s market. Easily over $5k I would think.
Origin & 1st appearance of, Deadman (Boston Brand)
Speaking of the 60’s, DC’s first Science fiction title, Strange Adventures, even switched over to the more supernatural for a bit to capitalize on the popularity of the genre. They introduced characters like Animal Man in Strange Adventures #180, and Enchantress in #187.
They went full on supernatural/fantasy with issue #202 and even got a new logo. This led to the introduction of Boston Brand’s Deadman in #205. This issue was drawn by the legend Carmine Infantino and is also well known for being the first narcotics-related story to require prior approval from the Comics Code Authority.
The next issue would see Neal Adams take up the reins on Deadman and make him his signature character on his road to becoming a comic’s legend himself. This title would eventually go back to sci-fi reprinting Adam Strange stories by issue #217.
Market Analysis: Decent amount of options on the market for this one. Most raws are in the $100-$200 range depending on condition. Some of the nicer looking copies are seeking a premium that is more in line with some of the graded copies.
Plenty of slabs available too, with the top listing being a CGC 9.0 up for $2,300. They have competition as another CGC 9.0 is listed at $1,575. And that price is right in line with the last CGC 9.0 that sold last year.
1st appearance of Mordred, Mildred and Cynthia.
Another popular horror series was The Witching Hour, which ran for 85 issues from 1969-1978. This series was hosted by three witches, Mordred, Mildred, and Cynthia.
The series featured some pretty nice Nick Cardy covers for a good part of the run. Just gorgeous stuff. I still miss the days when a cover told a story. I love a good pin up cover, but really, this stuff scratches me right where I itch.
This was another anthology series that delved into the spooky and supernatural. The series would suddenly combine with The Unexpected as part of DC’s Implosion in 1978. The Unexpected absorbed some of the other DC horror titles of the time including House of Secrets, The Witching Hour, and Doorway to Nightmare into its pages.
The witches (Mordred, Mildred, and Cynthia) were later revived along with the horror hosts as key characters in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman. But more on that series later.
Market Analysis: The market has plenty of copies to go around. That said for $1,200 you can have the full run of #1-85 or be most of the way towards a $1,500 CGC 9.6. Most raw copies are about $100 these days for #1.
Not a whole lot of volume moving, but you can see process have been on a steady rise over the last few years. But if you aren’t too particular on grade you can sneak a cheap copy for like $30.
Bernie Wrightson's 1st, professional work.
Now this book should probably be more sought after than it currently is; as it is a Horror key. Not for its content; but for its art. This issue of House of Mystery featured the 1s professional work of Bernie Wrightson who would go on to be a legend.
A lot of folks don’t collect 1st work, but I really think it’s worthwhile. Especially if you are a super-fan of the artist. This is a niche collecting practice in the hobby, but you can see solid value in artist’s firsts. I had mentioned this book all the way back in Usual Suspects #26, but it took me forever to track down a solid copy of Samurai Santa #1 which featured Jim Lee’s 1st published work.
And being a big Jim Lee guy all the way back to my childhood collecting days of the X-men in the 90’s, this was a must have book for me. Now a lot of folks feel the same way about Bernie Wrightson.
So, as I mentioned before, DC moved away from Horror for a while on this title, but they brought back the Horror slant with issue #174. And then artist Bernie Wrightson's first professional comic work was in the story “The Man Who Murdered Himself” which appeared in issue #179. The entire 3-page tale is below.
Market Analysis: There are not a lot of copies of this one out there. No graded copies available at the moment and the raws are priced all over the place with similar looking issues seeking $40-$200. Then you have to also look out for this issue being included in lots.
The thing about a book like this is that a lot of sellers may not know what they have. This would just blend into the horror run they’ve picked up or found and not know the significance of this issue.
1st appearance of Destiny.
An interesting little tidbit is that this title was used before it was actually a series of its own. Back in 1971, DC used the title Weird Mystery tales for their DC 100 Page Super Spectacular #4.
That book was a bunch of reprints from titles like House of Secrets, The Phantom Stranger, Tales of the Unexpected, and House of Mystery. This was much like the current DC 100 Page Giants that have now moved on from being Walmart exclusives to being sold in comic shops.
Now the ongoing title for Weird Mystery tales would launch in the summer of 1972 and was originally hosted by Destiny. She is a character that Neil Gaiman would include in his Sandman run as one of The Endless along with Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium.
Market Analysis: Prices on these are all over the place as you can secure a raw copy for anywhere between $10 and $125. Not many slabbed copies available. A reasonable $140 for a CGC 8.5, or a couple of signed copies. One of which is a CBCS Red Label signed by Jack Kirby.
Origin and 1st appearance of, the Demon (Etrigan)
Ok that was pretty lame, but I’m running short on time and I still have a few books to get into. I never said I was Marshall Mathers.
Anyway, Etrigan the Demon is an interesting character outside of his penchant for rhymes. He is mostly a heroic character who, despite his violent tendencies (being a demon and all), he usually finds himself allied with the side of good. It’s always going to be a fun storyline when you see Etrigan show up.
Even though Etrigan arrives on the scene speaking in rhyme, that wasn’t how he spoke exclusively.
Later writers in the 80’s started to write him exclusively in rhymes. Could’ve just been the choice of the writers at the time, but by the time Alan Moore got a hold of him in 1985, he explained it away as Etrigan being a Rhyming Demon now in the Swamp Thing 1985 Annual, and then Neil Gaiman inferred in Sandman #3 that by becoming a rhyming demon it meant that Etrigan had received a sort of promotion in hell.
Whatever the reason, I always think of him as rhyming and get a kick out of it in small doses. Don’t think I could handle that over the long haul of an ongoing series though. But no worries, this was retconned as a spell cast on him by Morgaine Le Fey and broken in Wonder Woman #135. So, any rhyming now is just a writer’s choice.
Market Analysis: A whole lot of copies out there. They weren’t shy about printing this one. That said, top copies appear to be a pair of CGC 9.6’s listed for $1,200. If you don’t mind a beat reader copy you can snag one for under $10. But mostly this seems to be a $40-$50 book with higher grade copies looking for over $100.
Origin of Swamp Thing, 1st appearance of Alec Holland.
So, this book is getting the DC $1 reprint treatment next week. Perfect opportunity to grab one to read if you don’t own the original. I preordered one. Now this may not be Swamp Thing’s 1st appearance as that was in House of Secrets #92 as we’ve already established. Once again, I already covered that book last Halloween in Usual Suspects #18, so no need to hit upon it again just yet.
Now while House of Secrets is the 1st appearance of Swamp Thing, it is not the 1st appearance of Alec Holland. That occurs in this issue as it reveals the origin of Swamp Thing.
Confession time, I still haven’t finished watching Swamp Thing on DC Streaming. It is really good, but I just lost momentum. I’ll have to get back to it. It had a really cool body horror vibe going on with it. Reminded me of John Carpenter’s The Thing in the early episodes I saw. And Swampy looked legit.
I’m also old enough to remember the original Swamp Thing movies. Those were really great. Well, at least I remember them fondly that way. Haven’t seen them in years so I have no idea how they hold up, but I will say Swampy was a lot more jolly than he has been on his DC Streaming show. I mean look at how affable this guy was.
Now that’s a pile of leaves and roots that I want to grab a beer with.
And just one more thing about Swamp Thing that I found interesting. Most would assume that House of Secrets #92 was the first appearance of the Alec Holland Swamp Thing we all know. But that Swampy was actually Alex Olsen, who became Swamp Thing near the turn of the century. Didn’t you notice how old-timey everything was?
Then Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson recreated the Olsen character as Alec Holland who makes his comic debut in this issue. So, does that make this the true first appearance of the Swamp Thing we all know and love?
Well I wouldn’t go so far as to say that either as Alec Holland dies in this issue. As explained in Saga of the Swamp Thing #21, the Swamp Thing is actually a separate entity that had absorbed Holland's memories and personality.
So, the creature isn’t really him, would that make the Alec Olsen version possibly the same creature or entity? Honestly, I don’t know much about any of this for certain as this is mostly from research, inference, and vague recollections. So, any Swamp Thing experts out please feel free to throw in your two cents on this one to clear it up.
Market Analysis: Plenty of option on the open market. You can grab a raw for as cheap as $50 but most copies are between $100-200 depending on what grade you want. CGC 9.8 seem to be around $4k, so this isn’t a cheap buy.
Given the current asking prices, that $2,500 CGC 9.8 sale back in June is looking like a bargain.
1st John Constantine in his own title. 1st appearance of Papa Midnite
Okay so here’s another character with his own series for the 1st time. Once again, I have already cover John Constantine’s confusing 1st appearance way back in Usual Suspects #18. Whether you are in the camp that likes the unnamed cameo in Saga of Swamp Thing #25 or the more widely accepted 1st in Swamp Thing #37, those are both books worth owning. As is this Vertigo book.
John Constantine is an iconic character in the world of the supernatural. They don’t just let any character run on a title for 300 issues. Seriously think about it. How many DC Titles got to make it to 300 issues without restarting, renumbering, etc.
And say what you will about Keanu Reeves’ Constantine, I liked that movie. Was it The Constantine from the books? Didn’t sound like him. And didn’t look like him as his hair and jacket were too dark. But the spirit of it was there, and it even had a somewhat tolerable Shia LeBeouf in it.
That said, I would say the NBC version was closer to the version we expected. And I liked that show as well. Cancelled before it’s time. But at least Matt Ryan (no not the QB) got a reprieve and was able to return as the character in the Arrowverse. But I’m sure you’ve had enough of me talking about movies and TV. Back to the book.
So this issue also featured the 1st appearance of another popular character in the world of DC Supernatural characters, Papa Midnite. And that was a heck of an outfit he was rocking. Not many guys can pull off the Top Hat, Coattails and grass skirt look.
Market Analysis: Not a particularly tough book to find and also not too expensive, all things considered. CGC 9.8’s are up for between $200 and $368 at the moment. Raws can be snagged for as low as like $20 or up to $150. So, shop around and you can certainly find yourself a deal.
Again look at the sales chart below and you can see the prices aren’t out of control yet.
1st appearance of Morpheus
Confession Time Part Two, I still haven’t read this series yet either. It is absolutely on the to-do list, but I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. It’s just one of those weird little gaps in my education. It’s like I consider myself a movie guy, but I have never seen It’s a Wonderful Life. Just one of those things.
That said, I’m pretty sure that despite my ignorance, I can at least convey the importance of this issue in the realm of DC supernatural titles. Neil Gaiman crafted a masterpiece that many consider true literature. Not just another funny book.
But as we know, this series spawned so many characters as well as reintroduced and reintegrated some classics like the Hecatae, or Cain and Abel, or introducing us to The Endless.
And I am really curious about how they hope to adapt this series for Netflix. Will the common audience be on board? Who will they cast? What will this look like? Will it be anything like what they did with American Gods?
Apparently the connection between Wesley Dodds and Morpheus is explain in Sandman Midnight Theater. I’m gonna have to find this book because I need to know how we go from Red and Yellow Kirby capes to emo albino Marilyn Manson.
***Edit – The Kirby Sandman was another Sandman, Garrett Sandford. Not the Wesley Dodds Sandman from JSA. That said the WTF sentiment still is applicable.
Out of Context I am just left wondering WTF?
Market Analysis: Only 30 years old so there are plenty of copies to be had if you are willing to pay up. Ever since the Netflix series was announced, prices have skyrocketed. Not sure we will get another lull until we either get bad news on the adaptation or it actually airs and people do what they do and move on to the next thing.
So CGC 9.8’s are listed as high as $1k, but you can get one for closer to $400. Unless you want it signed and then it will cost you a bit more. Even raws will cost you at least $75 on the low end, and upwards of $250 on the high. The ship has sailed on cheap copies.
So, in our final section this week, I will offer a few other first appearances from the shadows of the DC Universe. They are not all 1st appearances as some books just caught my eye and felt like sharing. Please enjoy.
Nick Cardy Cover Art
Well, this is just an awesome Nick Cardy cover. Not much else needs to be said about this issue. The cover says it all.I mean it’s called Ghosts and offers 3 True Tales of the Weird and Supernatural. What more do you need?
Typical Sales Data:
CGC Census 9.8 – 1
1st Madame Xanadu
Madame Xanadu is a character that could pop up anywhere in the Supernatural DC Universe.
That said, I believe she was on an episode of Swamp Thing on the DC Streaming service. I didn’t get to that episode yet, but that is the type of one-off appearance I was referring to.
And she’s popped up most recently in Justice League Dark in the Rebirth universe. Fingers crossed they still adapt that team to a movie. Still wish the Guillermo del Toro version got off that ground. That would’ve been something else.
Typical Sales Data:
CGC Census 9.8 – 24
1st appearance of Lucifer Morningstar
Well this is one of those minor key first appearances I was alluding to in my Sandman write-up above. Lucifer not only had his own comic series but a pretty popular television series as well.
Unfortunately, I have yet to check it out on Netflix, but I will get around to it. I’ve heard good things. And despite getting cancelled by FOX, who have never stupidly cancelled a show before it’s time (cough Firefly cough); it was revived on Netflix.
Typical Sales Data:
CGC Census 9.8 – 78
1st appearance of Death
And here’s another Sandman 1st. Outside of Morpheus, I don’t think there’s a more popular Vertigo character than Death.
There is a rare version of this book that features an editorial by Karen Berger. Good luck finding one of those.
But the regular edition is probably the 2nd most sought after issue in this series just after Issue #1.
Typical Sales Data:
CGC Census 9.8 – 208
Diamond Retailer Summit Jim Lee Variant
Now there is a regular version of the Jim Lee cover, but this redder covered version is more sought after given that it was only given out at the 2010 Diamond Retailer's Summit.
Not sure how many copies there are of this book, but these Retailer editions are always in high demand. Apart from appearing to be a bit more red than the normal Jim Lee cover, this one also prominently shows a Not For Sale message where the price would be.
And with Vampires back in vogue, this could be a series that we get news on very soon as being adapted in some form.
Typical Sales Data:
CGC Census 9.8 – 35
…Ok that’s enough from me this week…