Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Classics - House of Mystery #146

A little over 20 years ago I was at the Chicago Comics Con looking through some Silver Age DC Comics, and standing next to me was another guy looking at some early issues of Supergirl.

A voice asked, "Why are you interested in those comics?" It was longtime DC editor Julius Schwartz, and he was asking the question to the guy next to me. The guy said, "Because I like them. Why?" Schwartz said, "Just wondering."

It struck me that "I like them" was a great answer to the question. There are lots of comics (new and old) that I read that may not be of outstanding quality, or particularly collectible, or even qualify as cult favorites - I just like them.

This issue of House of Mystery is as good an example as any. Cover dated October 1964, it contains three stories, and none of them are particularly good. (Also, none of the art or writing is credited in the comic.)

The first story is "The Girl With the Fatal Touch," and it's a silly story about an alien girl who shows up in a remote town and destroys gold with a touch. It wants to be a detective story with a twist, but it's really just dopey.

The second story is "The Man Who Never Existed," and it's about a daredevil who thinks he's famous, yet despite his amazing stunts, no one knows him. The reason why (and the wrap-up to his career) would require a greatest suspension of disbelief than I could muster.

The third story stars J'onn J'onzz, Manhunter from Mars, and this would be the reason for picking up the comic - if this story was any good. (These days the character is known as the Martian Manhunter.)

I recently picked up the second DC Showcase volume reprinting J'onn's Silver Age adventures, and it tells us that the story was written by Jack Miller, and the art was by Joe Certa.

And there's no faulting the skill of the creative team - they turn in a professional job that was certainly entertaining for kids - it's loaded with action, two different monsters and and "unstoppable" menace.

To my grown-up self, the story is painfully slight. A monster appears from the mystic object called the Diabolu Head, and serves as a protector to a giant egg, which hatches an even more terrible meanace - one that even J'onzz can't stop. Luckily, Zook is there to save the day.

Silly stuff, but despite stories like that I was always a fan of J'onn J'onzz, and I never understood why he wasn't more popular. He had a great look (the green bald thing was way ahead of its time), interesting powers (matching Superman in many ways, with a few other abilities thrown in), he had an exciting civilian career as a police detective and he had an alien friend/sidekick/pet named Zook, who had some interesting powers of his (its?) own.

Looking back, it's easy to see why the character didn't last longer. The stories are just gimmicks, there's no real character development and almost no supporting cast, and the adventures were just plain weird.

So with three short, weak stories in this comic, what possible reason would I have for hanging on to this comic? Maybe it's nostalgia, maybe it's just my fondness for the character - but the real reason is, despite its faults - I like it.

Don't let anyone tell you otherwise - that's all the reason you need.

Grade: C-


Dwayne said...

Maybe it's because his vulnerability was to fire. Not being set on fire, being close to fire. Kinda lame if you think about it... or even if you don't.

Anonymous said...

This was the kind of comic I would
pick up and look through, shrug, and put back. You're right, it wasn't that good. And I only had maybe 12 cents to spend, and right next to that comic was Action and Adventure and Superboy and Detective and Batman and Superman and World's Finest and Challengers of the Unknown! And that was before I got into Marvel Comics!
So, House of Mystery just didn't make the cut. Too many better choices...but hey, somebody must
have liked it. It ran for years!

Sam Kujava

Anonymous said...

I remember buying this issue because I already had the other issues in the spinner rack. My feelings mirror your own in this issue. I can now look back at it with a little more fondness just because I'm older. It was a different time in comics for sure.

Beau Smith
The Flying Fist Ranch

Chuck said...

Dwayne, I agree - being vulnerable to fire had to be the lamest weakness ever. Tough to be a hero when a guy smoking a cigarette can beat you.

Sam, when I was a kid distribution was pretty spotty, so you tended to latch on to whatever comics you could find - and more than once, The House of Mystery was the only thing worth buying. Ah, the long-ago days before comics shops were born.

Beau, it's funny that some comics get worse wih age - I read them and wonder, "I liked this? What was I thinking?" Luckily, some books hold up just fine. This wasn't one of them.