A Tribute to the of

This time of year inevitably brings the great Bernie Wrightson to mind. If anyone personified the spirit of Halloween, it had to be Bernie. Coincidentally or maybe not so coincidentally, his birthday was October 27th and I’ve heard his epic birthday/Halloween parties were something you really, really hoped to receive an invitation to attend. I wasn’t able to get quite as close to Bernie as I did other interviewees [Sage #207], but he was pleasant, kind and just a sweet guy that I still miss.

Furthermore, I continue to be unable to resist DC's new 100-pagers at Walmart. A large part of it, I'm sure, is simply the joy of nostalgia, not only in those square bound beasts themselves, but the ability to pick up a comic at the store again. If only they were in a spinner rack, the experience would be complete. Anyway, they just rolled out the Swamp Thing Halloween Horror issue, featuring, of course, Bernie's signature creation and even Bernie himself thanks to his cameo in the reprinted Batman [#237] story, "Night of the Reaper!" I was also pleased to discover the final story in the book was a reprint of Len Wein and Bernie's original Swamp Thing story from House of Secrets #92 [Sage #196] from July of 1971. I found it an enjoyable read and recommend you checking it out for yourself if you're a fan of the genre.

In the spirit of the season and keeping Mr. Wrightson’s wondrous legacy in mind, I’ve selected a story from the House of Mystery title that Bernie plotted and illustrated and did a typically “monstrous” cover for, to boot. It’s issue #204 from July of 1972. Editing was done by the great Joe Orlando, who of course earned his own horror chops at EC Comics back in the day. While Bernie is credited with the plot for “All in the Family,” it was scripted by “Virgil North,” the nom de plume of Mary Skrenes, who, sadly, avoids interviews like the plague.

Sharp eyed readers may have noticed that the lower right hand corner of the splash page is signed "Wrightson '70" while the cover signature is dated '72; I do remember Tony DeZuniga, I believe it was, telling me how big an inventory Joe Orlando kept on hand, so, it's hard to believe that Bernie's work would just sit around that long, perhaps that's exactly what happened.

It’s only a 9-pager, but as usual, that’s more than enough room for Bernie to draw you into horrifying worlds with his incredible attention to detail, lighting and flat out nightmare inducing imagery. C’mon along. It’ll be okay…

Fred and Mary are in Bernie’s favored setting of a swamp and their car has, er, bogged down and Mary isn’t happy about it at all. “I knew I shouldn’t let you drive! Now look what you’ve done—you incompetent boob!” A couple of panels later, the verbal abuse continues from the shrew with, “What are you going to do now, dummy?!” Hen-pecked Fred suggests they go find a phone someplace and after about an hour of bumbling through the swamp the located they predictable, but still spectacular, ancient, spooky house.

Mary then gapes at the strange door knocker and tells Fred that she’s seen it before, in a nightmare. She then recounts to Fred the awful dream, wherein she was lost in this very swamp, then came to this same house and was greeted by a pair of off-putting people. One, a hunched crone and the other a tall, gawky man, “A pair of side-show freaks right out of those stupid old horror movies you collect!

Then, the man grabs her and throws her into a darkened room where she could hear a gurgling noise, smelled something like death and then determined that something was sliding toward her. Then she saw the horror (much like that amazing cover) coming toward her. “It was like a mass of cranberry jelly with tentacles and eyes!

She then awoke screaming and is worried that it may have been a premonition. Fred dismisses it with some rude commentary of his own, telling her she’s nuts and it was all a silly dream. They utilize the ancient knocker and are greeted by a lovely woman named Gloria carrying a candlestick. Fred explains their dilemma and she invites them in to dinner, commenting that she’ll help in any way possible, but she doesn’t have a phone.

Over a wonderful meal, Mary tells the woman about her odd dream and she remarks that it sounds like a perfect description of her parents. A shocked Mary asks if she’s an only child and the woman replies that no, she has a brother. Mary then turns to see the same gelatinous horror moving toward her. Their hostess calmly addresses “Ookey,” stating that he’s late for dinner again.

As Mary struggles with the slithering creature, Fred and the lovely Gloria politely converse and are oblivious to Mary’s pleadings and shrieks. Finally, after Mary has apparently been eliminated, Fred’s thoughts reveal his intentions: “It’s me and Gloria now. Goodbye, Mary!” He then excuses himself to take care of the car and Gloria tells him to hurry back, that she’ll have a nice surprise for him upon his return.

Making certain the car is on its way to the bottom of the bog, Fred thinks that it’s all worked out exactly as he’d planned and he picks up a lily to take back to Gloria. Bounding back through the rotting bog, Fred is surprised to be greeted by a familiar couple. They invite him back in and seat him on the sofa, explaining that Gloria is just changing into something more comfortable.

The final panel shows Fred sitting contentedly on the sofa, holding the lily, while a gloppy, tentacled creature creeps up behind him, ending this short story.

As per usual, attempting to describe the wondrous art of Bernie Wrightson is a fool’s errand. This story, along with pretty much everything the Master of the Macabre ever did, has to be seen to be truly appreciated, so I invite one and all to find this story (it’s been reprinted several times) and take it all in, from the swamp to the creepy interiors of the house to the shadows and lighting, which were all formidable tools in Bernie’s repertoire. I can only imagine the amount of time the pain-staking details required, but the results. Oh, the results.

Happy Halloween, readers! Until we return the first of November with the latest review. Meanwhile, you know the drill. Feel free to send an e-mail with your comments, questions and other feedback. professor_the@hotmail.com is the place to go.

Join us then and…

Long live the Silver Age!

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