Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 5

« Merchant and pirate were for a long period one and the same person. Even today mercantile morality is really nothing but a refinement of piratical morality. » — Friedrich Nietzsche

This charming rogue doesn’t look like he’s going to share his pretties with just anyone, so be sure to ask nicely.

This is Weird Mysteries no. 7 (Oct. 1953, Stanley Morse). Cover by Bernard Baily (1916-1996), whom we’ve previously spotlighted.

Stanley P. Morse ran a rather fly-by-night operation, even by funnybook industry standards, but someone in there had some taste, as evidenced by the classic material produced under its various dodgy banners (Aragon, Gilmor, Key Publications, Media, S.P.M., Stanmor, Timor…) by such notables as the aforementioned Mr. Baily, Basil Wolverton (including his enduring The Brain Bats of Venus) and a fledgling Steve Ditko.

This particular issue includes Fredric Wertham favourite Mother’s Advice, but really, the whole issue’s pretty wacky.

You know, this one. Art by Tony Mortellaro.

Still, the highlight of the issue has to be a brilliantly idiotic short tale intriguingly entitled… Sssshhh. Here it is:

In his spare time, Trapani was the driving force behind the Society of American Vintage-radio Enthusiasts, which makes him very cool indeed. Here’s a compelling account of the early days of the movement to preserve this crucial art form. And it wasn’t just passive preservation: here’s an original recording of classic radio plays he produced in 1972.


Birthday Boy Bernard Baily

« … drawn by a terrible hypnotic fascination, the gangster peers deep into Jim’s dark eyes and glimpses — DEATH! » — “The Spectre”, More Fun Comics no. 52 (Feb. 1940)

Today, we salute Bernard Baily (April 5, 1916 – January 19, 1996), recalled nowadays as co-creator of The Spectre (with Jerry Siegel) and Hourman (with Ken Fitch) and conjurer of many of the 1950s most notorious comics covers… but there’s much more. Let’s take a look, shall we?

More Fun Comics no. 64 (Feb.1941, DC); It’s curious that the Golden Age’s arguably most merciless avenger would wind up in the pages of “More Fun”. « The Spectre… was notable in the character’s original run for imposing violent retribution against evildoers. In Siegel and Baily’s first story, Jim Corrigan, upon being introduced, is immediately killed by being encased in cement and thrown into a river. A God-like figure intervenes and returns Corrigan to Earth to combat evil as The Spectre. In that first outing, The Spectre uses the power of his mind to skin an assassin alive, leaving only a skeleton. » [ source ] Read The Spectre’s nasty origin tale!
To my knowledge, there aren’t a lot of Golden Age superheroes whose costumes were so perfectly designed in the first place that no change whatsoever has been required over time. The Spectre has to be exhibit number one in that case.

This is Weird Mysteries no. 2 (Dec. 1952, Stanley Morse); Read it here!

« Be assured that the death certificate will read… death from natural causes! Yes — hah hah, natural causes! » Baily provides a strikingly modern cover for the final issue of Fawcett’s Suspense Detective, no. 5 (March, 1953). The insides are also top-notch, with thrillers by Baily and Mike Sekowsky. Read it here!

Here’s Weird Tales of the Future no. 7 (May 1953, Stanley Morse); The stench is palpable, Bernie.

One of the images that most undermined the comics industry’s case during the 1950’s furor over horror comics, this is Baily’s eye-searing cover for Mister Mystery no. 12 (July 1953, Stanley Morse). Injury-to-eye motif, the censors (or was it the collectors?) termed it. « Don’t worry, Mac, the sharp stick’s hot to make sure yer peeper don’t get infected. Now hold still! »

Behold Mister Mystery no. 14 (Nov. 1953, Stanley Morse); this one rarely turns up in any condition. Hey, tentacles!

In the Silver Age, Baily was back at DC, but straight superheroics weren’t his thing; here’s a rare exception. I must say, his Flash looks great, with the appropriate runner’s physique. This is The Brave and the Bold no. 56 (Oct.-Nov. 1964, DC), featuring Raid of the Mutant Marauders, scripted by Bob Haney and illustrated by Baily. George Kashdan, editor.

Baily’s bread-and-butter during the Silver Age was SF and fantasy stories for DC’s anthology titles. Utter balderdash, but often highly entertaining, thanks to that very ‘anything goes’ approach and a solid cadre of artists. This is Strange Adventures no. 186 (Mar. 1966, DC); read it here, you’ll see what I mean.

Whither National Brotherhood Week? Baily was also editor Jack Schiff‘s go-to guy for a series of public service ads that ran throughout the DC line during the Silver Age. This one, What’s Your B. Q.*? (*Brotherhood Quotient) appeared in books dated April and May 1966); Love those control questions.

By the 1970’s, Baily’s work was seen as quaint and outmoded. Editors sometimes experimented with inkers, in this case Bill Draut, whose own style, while out of vogue, produced interesting results when paired with DC’s most outré pencillers (e.g. Jerry Grandenetti, Ric Estrada…) This Baily-Draut splash appeared in Secrets of Sinister House no. 8 (Dec. 1972, DC); lettering by Ben Oda, ‘Auntie’ Eve and her birdie by Michael Kaluta.

« Lousy, filthy, stinking hobo! He’s no better than
the rats themselves! He’s in a class with them! » Grizzled Baily showed fine form in this late-career corker published in House of Secrets no. 107 (April, 1973, DC). Evidently inspired by Stephen Skeates‘ squalid tale of a rising flood, greed, murder and musophobia, the veteran artist lovingly rendered the precarious, musty milieu of Winner Take All!. In fact, the entire issue sets a high water mark for HOS: beyond a so-so Berni Wrightson cover, the book unusually contains two Alfredo Alcala yarns, one rendered in his realistic style and written by Jack Oleck, the other drawn in his delicious cartoony fashion and scripted by Arnold Drake. Read the issue here! « Whew! A lot more going on back then than even I realized! », commented Mr. Skeates upon being reminded of this story, a few years ago.

Another lovely late-period job was A Night in a Madhouse; it appeared in The Unexpected no. 148 (July 1973, DC), scripted by Carl Wessler. Read it here!


The Case of the Cackling Conjurer!

« Never keep up with the Joneses. Drag them down to your level. » — Denis Charles Pratt (1908-1999)

Longtime companions Bruce and Alex, who spend their days tracking down and investigating “queer events”, presumably for a guide they’re putting together, happen to drive near Oakville, where a gleeful oldster is on a tear.


I’m thinking Quentin Crisp, because his fellow raconteur and bon vivant Sir Noël Coward wasn’t especially into large, floppy hats.

« The very purpose of existence is to reconcile the glowing opinion we hold of ourselves with the appalling things that other people think about us. » — Quentin Crisp ( Denis Charles Pratt)

You don’t say, Bruce! Let’s face it, screwball ideas hardly ever fail to bear fruit in these zany yarns.

More action-packed merriment with Bruce & Alex, roving queerness inquirers!

Alex has a plan, and Bruce grasps instantly what Bruce has in mind. It’s like they’ve done this before. Somehow, Alex’s brainstorms always involve Bruce disrobing, and, judging from his expression, he’s unfailingly eager to comply.

This saga is that of The Cackling Conjurer (Strange Adventures no. 201, June 1967, DC), writer regrettably unknown, art by that magnificent oddball Bernard Baily. Edited, of course, by Jack Schiff; he may have screwed DC out of Jack Kirby’s talent throughout the 1960s, and nearly drove the Batman titles over the cancellation cliff, but he certainly produced some perversely entertaining crap. Incidentally, Schiff retired from comics two issues after this one, but surely that’s mere coincidence.

As you can see, the rest of the issue was quite mundane and utterly devoid of eccentricity. Cover by Carmine Infantino and George Roussos. That’s a rather… intimate hold the Mod Gorilla Boss has on Animal-Man, don’t you think?

– RG

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 30

« I hate war, Steve! I hate the people who cause it and I hate them with very atom of my being! So I pretend to respect the enemy, even like him. I try to minimize him with love! » — Gen. Maximillian R. Hart, The Zanti Misfits

Feast your rheumy peepers on Bernard Baily‘s (co-creator, with Jerry Siegel, of The Spectre) famous cover for issue 4 of Gilmore Publications’ Weird Mysteries, April 1953. The cover’s creepy promise was squandered, since Baily’s friendly lil’ fella never appears within the issue.

This one also contains a classic, though rather thin, Basil Wolverton story, « The Man Who Never Smiled ».

A few years ago, the cover’s original artwork was auctioned off for the tidily respectable sum of $33,460.00.

It fell to the American Comics Group (ACG) to follow up on the notion, about a year later in the pages of its Forbidden Worlds No.30 (June, 1954) and the cover-featured « The Thing on the Beach! » by the unknown scripter, and artist Harry Lazarus (not the Harry Lazarus, but one of the three Lazarus brothers working in the comics industry in the Golden Age.)

« It started with brutal murder… until nature decreed a weird revenge! »

Rogers was a right mother from the start, but when his captain had his fill of his homicidal shenanigans, dropping him off on a remote island to cool him off, a funny thing happened. He found nothing in the place save ants, which had made short work of the unlucky goat population and the local flora. So what did the crazy bastard do? He gobbled ants. For weeks. And became a giant ant himself, it follows. You are what you eat, right?

Anyway, Rogers has got to be the most pragmatic villain ever, quite content, in the end, to be The Thing on the Beach!

Which brings me back to where I started: some say (okay, well, I do) that Baily’s WM4 cover may have inspired The Outer Limits’ ultra creepy The Zanti Misfits. Or maybe they’re just oddball products of the same era.

You be the judge.

One of the carnivorous, Don Knotts-headed creepy crawlies in question. Incidentally, The Zanti Misfits was shot in one of the most popular filming locations of all, Vasquez Rocks. Check out which of your favourites were set there!

In 2014, the extraordinary William Stout created a series of drawings showcasing some of the most memorable Projects UnlimitedBears” from The Outer Limits.


Tentacle Tuesday: a visit to the House of Mystery

Welcome to the entertaining world of science-fiction/fantasy of the 60s! If you’re an admirer of extravagant creatures with improbable anatomy, or a fan of twisted stories that take questionable leaps of logic to arrive to an implausible conclusion, willkommen.

However, if, like me, you tend to root for strange creatures (most of which didn’t want to be discovered in the first place), tread gently.  If there’s one pattern in House of Mystery stories, it’s that the “monsters” (that fly in from space/emerge from the sea/crawl out of the depths of the earth/are born in fire/whatever else we can think of) get slain, more often than not, by well-meaning people… or not-so-well-meaning people who are afraid of anything that looks different. If they somehow manage to escape getting shot or bombed out of existence, they’re buried under a convenient avalanche or volcanic eruption.

House of Mystery no. 99, June 1960. Art by Bernard Baily. Yep, the Beast gets killed by the military.  It’s sad to think that our reaction to a friendly shape-shifting alien would be “kill first, ask questions later”… but it sadly rings true.


I know that it’s Tentacle Tuesday and everything’s possible, but… this? An octopus with spines on his tentacles (very conveniently placed, I might add) and the puffy eyes of a career alcoholic? A parrot-dragon with opposable thumbs?

House of Mystery no. 113 (1961), pencils by Dick Dillin, inks by Sheldon Moldoff and letters by Ira Schnapp. Err, guys… I don’t think either of these two monsters is all that interested in you, seeing as they both seem to be screaming in horror/pain. If the octopus is Water-Beast, the parrot must be Land-Beast – such wit! I would have gone with “pink thing” and “green bird thing”.


As Tentacle Tuesday continues, we are once again confronted with a situation where misunderstanding between species leads to needless conflict. Shoot first, sort it out later, is the mantra of any red-blooded man! I’m sorry, am I being a tad unsubtle?

House of Mystery no. 130, January 1963. Cover by George Roussos.


Some guys land on an island patrolled by creatures controlled by a beautiful woman. Well, there’s no need to quarrel, they can talk it out, right?

House of Mystery no. 133, April 1963. Pencils by Dick Dillin, inks by Sheldon Moldoff, letters by Ira Schnapp.

Okay, the woman seems to be friendly. So far, so good.

Art by Howard Sherman.

So perhaps everyone can go on their merry way and leave the island and its creatures alone? No, it’s not enough to just kill them. Oops! The whole fucking island explodes to smithereens when the guys detonate some explosives in a cavern and thus trigger an underwater eruption.  I mean, the real threat to these “nice” people was the evil guy trying to gain control of the beasts, but do they try to attack *him*? Nah, they focus on killing the octopus, instead! And the giant armadillo! And the furry rhinoceros!

« And soon, Beast Island sinks beneath boiling, steaming waters… », the omniscient narrator tells us. « The island is gone now – and so are the terrible things that walked on it, flew over it — and swam around it! » The power-grabbing asshole is okay, though – he escaped just fine!

There’s plenty more tentacles in House of Mystery – to which we will no doubt return.

~ ds