Friday, October 22, 2010

Do You Dare Enter...?

So I was just thinking that it was time once again to delve into the wonderful world of funnybook covers. When Joe Orlando landed in the editor's chair for DC's line of horror comics, he brought in a renaissance for their longest-running title. So tonight, I thought I'd give you a sampling of covers from that series, House of Mystery.

The series began in the early 50s as an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the EC horror line, which included such classics as Tales From the Crypt. But DC's horror line was much tamer (and lamer) than their competition, as the cover of House of Mystery #1 should show...

It's a valiant effort, don't get me wrong. That's actually a pretty scary-looking pack of slavering hounds (which I guess are supposed to be wolves). And the semi-see-through skirt on old Wanda there is actually a bit more risque than EC itself often was. But overall? This cover lacks the drama and sheer visceral thrill that EC was routinely delivering on covers like this:

Heh. Of course, that's also the sort of thing that got EC publisher William Gaines dragged before a Senate subcommittee hearing, while House of Mystery managed to survive those horror comic witch-hunts and the arrival of the Comics Code Authority. Albeit in an even-more-neutered form, as they switched from supernatural horror to science fiction and giant monster stories, as you can see... if you continue reading past the jump...

Now, that's still a pretty cool cover, I'll grant you. And this sci-fi period for House of Mystery did feature some pretty interesting work. But eventually it, too, gave way to sales trends, and the monster stories started sharing space with the adventures of super hero character J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter. Now, I'm a huge Martian Manhunter fan, but still. This was not a great period for HoM, and it only got worse when the lead feature switched over to the funky-cool, but completely ridiculous, Dial H for Hero.

Luckily for fans of horror comics, though, sales on the Hero-Dial-led House of Mystery were in the crapper. And that's when Joe Orlando was brought in to pull off a crazy idea: telling actual horror stories in the horror comics again! And he let everybody know he meant business right from his first issue (#174) with this fabulous Nick Cardy cover:

Awesome. I love that evil beckoning hand, alongside the series' new challenge to readers: Do You Dare Enter the House of Mystery? My answer? Hell, yeah!

Another thing I like about these early Orlando-era House of Mystery covers is the kids. While the Witching Hour had its old hag cover mascot, HoM always had a group of children on-hand for the horrifying shenanigans. Cardy started it with above cover, but most of these early HoM covers were done by Neal Adams, who used the kids issue after issue:

Just fantastic stuff there, probably my favorite work of Adams' career. The perspectives, the lighting, the mood, the composition... He even made that bed scary! This is stellar work, and they kept it at this level for quite some time. Adams turned in 18 classic horror covers (though some are better than others), and was followed by such future luminaries as BernieWrightson...

...and Michael W. Kaluta:

And even the covers that weren't from guys who would go on to be recognized as masters of comics art were pretty freaking awesome:

I have no idea who did that one, but it's nice work. Lots of black in service to a really striking image. I particularly love the vulture and black cat. Because, you know... If you didn't get that the black-robed figure poling the coffin through the swamp under a gibbous midnight moon was somewhat sinister, the presence of those two evil animals would clue you right on in.

The overall quality of the covers declines a bit after about forty issues, with some of the covers taking on a slightly more "four-color comics" quality. Though even these often have a nice "what the fuck" quality to them:

And there were still the odd gothic classics mixed in among them:

Until finally you get to crap like this...

...and you know that the glory years are long since done.

All the covers here are taken from the most excellent Cover Browser website. Go visit to see all the great Orlando-era House of Mystery covers, and many more besides.


  1. That last cover--do I see a shark underneath that wave that the skeleton is jumping over? Nice feature, love those moody colors on those old Adams covers--I bet Neal had a big hand in that.

  2. I wasn't sure who did the color work on those, Gary, so I didn't bring it up. But, yeah. The colors on those covers are fantastic. They might do as much as half the work, in fact...


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