House of Mystery #196 (1971)

I was thrilled when DC released their recent 500-page collection of House of Mystery because many issues of that comic had been on my wantlist for a long time, and I had pretty much tought they would never be reprinted. After all, superheroes rule the roost these days, even in reprints, and it’s rare to see non-hero material reprinted. I hope that DC can continue with their horror reprints because it’s damn exciting to see some of this great material back in print.
 
That collection runs to HoM 194, so I recently picked up issue 196. Like many issues from the prime run of this series, this issue features a bunch of fine artists: Gray Morrow, Gil Kane, Nick Cardy and the sublime Alex Toth. Okay, so the stories aren’t nearly up to the level of quality of the art. At least they’re not complete losses. Even the story writen by Gerry Conway in this issue isn’t all that bad. Conway was a horrible comic writer, but was well known for his science fiction novels he wrote in the early ’70s.  His story here, "A Girl and Her Dog," might have been one of his first comic scripts. And really it’s not terrible, depicting the story of a young girl orphaned by World War II who finds a horrible curse below her orphanage. The story takes some really pointless twists and turns, but the wonderful Morrow art saves it.
 
These stories were kind of limited by the constraints of the comics code. At that time, zombies, mummies and vampires were all forbidden in comics. So companies had to make due with threats like the benign alien in Toth’s story and the leprechans of Kane’s story. I don’t think that constraint made the stories better, but it did force some the creators to use some inventiveness, rather than have to fall back to the same old evil critters.
 
Of course, within a few years, the code relaxed and Marvel could have a comic featuring the Son of Satan as a lead character. And comics never looked back.
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