D.C. Comics' "The House of Mystery": A 1970s Hit
"Do you dare enter THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY?"
Long-time fans of comics and sequential art remember that iconic tag-line well.
Ask a modern-day comic book fan what D.C. Comics is known for and the common—and most appropriate—answer will be "superheroes." The publishing house that brought the world Batman, Superman, The Flash, and Wonder Woman does boast a truly amazing collection of iconic heroes.
D.C. Comics did publish a great many titles outside of the superhero sphere. For decades, D.C. Comics published a host of popular horror and war comics well into the early 1980s. Of the supernatural-oriented scare books, The House of Mystery was the flagship book for many years.
Of course, there were scores of other horror anthology books published by D.C. Comics during the Bronze and Silver Ages. Ghosts, House of Secrets, The Unexpected, and Tales of Ghost Castle were among several titles produced by the iconic comic book house.
With so much of the same talent working on all the books, the various anthologies were not much different from one another. Of them all, the long-running The House of Mystery title remained the top horror anthology D.C. Comics created.
A Fun Little Vampire Tale
The three volumes of Showcase Presents: The House of Mystery reprint issues #174 through #226 of the book. Fans who pick up these collections can re-live a large part of the 1960s and 1970s tales published in the comic.
One very simple (and fun) tale is "House of Horrors" written by Jack Oleck and illustrated by Nestor Redondo and published in The House of Mystery #197 in December 1971.
Frank's new girlfriend Anna lives in a creepy old house on top of a hill. After driving her home after a date, he notices two people moving a COFFIN into the old house. Frank becomes highly suspect of the goings-on in ye' old house and starts to poke around to figure out what's behind the mystery of the coffin.
Anna is not too thrilled with his idiocy and he is embarrassing her in front of her brother and sister whom she lives with. Frank is undeterred and drags the law into the mess.
Frank even brings the law into the situation as he claims the family is hiding a VAMPIRIC secret! Brother Jan does own three wooden coffin-like crates and they are filled with dirt . . . for the purpose of growing rare mushroom indoors!
Is Frank crazy or are the three siblings really vampires?
You have to read the story to find out.
Basic, traditional monster stories like these are a lot of fun to read. The reader keeps guessing until the end of the tale to find out what the answer to the mystery is.
And there was no need for excessive violence or exploitation to grab the reader's attention. All that was required was a great deal of suspension of disbelief and a desire to read a very fun horror tale.
A House of Mystery for the Me Decade
House of Mystery was not a title born of the 1970s. The comic book debuted in 1951 during the horror boom fueled by E.C. Comics and Tales from the Crypt. When public opinion turned against horror comics, The House of Mystery survived by drastically toning down its horror content.
In the 1960s, Warren Publishing revived unapologetic horror comics in the form of Creepy Magazine and Eerie Magazine. D.C. Comics returned its anthology books to horror territory albeit in accordance with the comics code.
The House of Mystery's 1970's output it worth examining because the style of the comic tales works quite well. The quality of the writing was not juvenile nor did it wallow in excessive violence. The spirit of the book remained true to the fun "old-time" comic books once embodied while also presenting homages to the classic horror movies that were a staple of television from the late 1950s through the early 1980s.
Sadly, reruns of old horror movies were slowly losing steam in the 1970s and the hardcore monster fanbase was shrinking. Many of D.C. Comics' horror anthologies seemed to also lose steam in terms of sales.
"Me Decade" comic book fans who needed a horror anthology source did have one throughout the 1970s. The House of Mystery delivered the (Comics Code approved) goods and a nice alternative to the superhero-heavy spinner racks of the era.
The Mystery Concludes
The quality of the writing in The House of Mystery remained strong past the 1970s and into the 1980s—but not strong enough. Issue #321, published in October of 1983, was the final issue of the first series. The House of Mystery and host Cain would return again in later years. Things were never the same as the glory years though.