A Tribute to the of

Did I not say, last time, that I hoped I wouldn’t be in a position to do another tribute any time soon? I found out this morning (March 19, 2017) that, only hours prior, the great Bernie Wrightston had passed away. It felt like a punch to the midsection. While I didn’t get as close to Bernie as some, the interactions I had with him were always wonderful. He was, as everyone has said, a kind, humble, gentleman and you cannot imagine the thrill the couple of times that he actually called me up, just to chat.

I suppose now the story can be told. Oh, it’s nothing earth shattering, but when I got to interview Bernie in 2008 I did what I often do and requested he autograph one of his books for me. In this case, it was Swamp Thing #7 [Sage #207], where the creature encounters Batman. Bernie hesitated. He then agreed, but asked me not to tell anyone that he’d done it for me. I suspect it was so that his mailbox didn’t suddenly become jammed with stuff for him to sign. I quickly consented and he kindly did so. I figured other than telephone contact, I’d never be lucky enough to meet him anyway. Well…

Fast forward to 2015 when I managed to get a press pass to the San Diego Comic Con. First stop in Artist’s Alley? Bernie Wrightson, of course. I strolled up to his table and shook his hand and said, “Bernie, I couldn’t wait to finally get to meet you.” He said, “Hi, Bryan.” I was taken a little aback. “Okay, I’ve been told I have one of those voices you don’t forget, but…” “I read your badge.” We had a good laugh about that and then I bought one of his prints (Batman and Swamp Thing!) and he personalized it with an autograph and I walked away happy.

I don’t need to describe everything Bernie has done and while I’m more into the superhero genre than anything else, I do have some great examples of his work in my collection (published, of course) and never fail to appreciate his exquisite craftsmanship. The Webmaster gave me a couple of wonderful Bernie items over the years to include a copy of House of Secrets #92 [Sage #196] signed by both Bernie and Len Wein and a hardback of his Frankenstein book. The cover of BACK ISSUE #52, which contains my first published piece for them, is a Wrightston creation. I even managed to squeeze a quote from him into one of my later pieces for BACK ISSUE. Bernie was always a treat. For his last birthday I picked up a copy of reprint of one of his childhood favorite comic books and sent to him and I’m really glad now that I did. I never did hear back, but I hope it brought a nostalgic smile.

For this edition’s review, I dug through my Showcase Presents The House of Mystery Volume 1, which contains several of Bernie’s earliest efforts for DC, all in black and white, as Bernie’s material should probably be portrayed. I selected issue #186 from May/June of 1970 and sporting a cover by Neal Adams. The Secret of the Egyptian Cat! was written by Bob Kanigher, all art was by Bernie and the editor was Joe Orlando.

The story opens on a double-page splash featuring Cain and the House of Mystery itself in the background. Cain is eyeing a cat who gradually transforms into a beautiful Egyptian woman named Isha who tells her tale from when she served as a priestess in an Egyptian temple and served as the guardian of the ancient cat god, Nu-Ta.

One day she was attending to her duties when a stranger entered and professed his admiration for her beauty. She explains that she is beyond reach, but he forces himself on her, kissing her before the temple guards banish him. As he leaves he declares he is Konassos, who wanders the breadth of the world and that he shall return.

Later, he does just as promised and throws a vial at the feet of the guards, incapacitating them. It seems Konassos is a sorcerer and he uses more of his potions, soaked in a silken scarf, to overcome the maiden long enough for her to transform into a common cat. Konassos fits her with a diamond collar and keeps her as his captive through the ages until he happens across the House of Mystery, where he checks in for a while.

Isha is still furious after all this time and while Konassos has the antidote in his valise, he keeps it tantalizingly locked and out of the reach of her claws. As he slumbers, she slips out of her collar and roams, wailing in frustration at the full moon, which only draws more feral felines. One, Ra-Na, is her champion, protecting her against the other cats, but when Konassos observes the scene from the shadows, he poisons Ra-Na and buries him outside the house.

Later, the fiend has drunk himself into a stupor and slumbers deeply. One problem, though, is that he didn’t lock up his potions, so Isha takes advantage and works the cork loose, soaking a scarf that restores her to human form. With full use of her hands, she now works out her revenge and when Konassos awakens he is in an appropriate form: A rat. Isha tells him not to fear. She has company for him. She then introduces the other feral cats and the little 10-age tale comes to a close.

Even on a short anthology tale, Bernie’s attention to detail is striking, from his always incredible inks to the backgrounds and his versatility in drawing the columns and marbled floors, complete with shadows, in an Egyptian temple. Add in the simple fact that he’s doing Egyptian scenes, period, to include the work involved in rendering the multiple figures as Isha transformed to and from a feline and you’ve got vintage Writghtson at its finest.

I will miss Bernie, but he did so much in a life that was too short, that we’ll always have stunning representations to remind us of a prodigious talent. Godspeed, to the undisputed Master of the Macabre.

This portion should be familiar, dear reader. We’ll be back with a fresh review (and please, please, no tribute) on the 15th of April and this edition will go into the archives for your reference. I’m always open for feedback of all sorts, so don’t be shy. I can be reached any time at: professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you then and…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2017 by B.D.S.

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