Friday, October 28, 2011

"To Wed the Devil" - The Sinister House of Secret Love #2 (December 1971/January 1972)

It's almost that time of year -- Halloween! Not too many spooky romance comic tales out there... unless you count the brief foray into the Gothic Romance subgenre by DC and Charlton in the '70s. I have one such story to share today! For your visual and reading pleasure, please enjoy "To Wed the Devil" -- a "Graphic Novel of Gothic Terror" from DC's The Sinister House of Secret Love #2 (December 1971/January 1972).


The dark and brooding cover features an inset painting by Jeffrey Catherine Jones (Jeff Jones),* with border art by interior story artist, Tony DeZuniga. The five chapter story was plotted by Joe Orlando and scripted by Len Wein.

We are introduced to Sarah, a beautiful (if not spoiled) young woman who resides with her wealthy father and their dutiful and witchy servant, Agatha.


One day while walking through their immense estate, Sarah and her beloved white cat -- Tabbeta, come across Agatha in the middle of a pentagram performing a spell. Sarah is furious at her blasphemy, but Agatha is quick to explain that she is casting a spell in hopes that it will improve Sarah's chances at love. Though Agatha says she views Sarah as the daughter she never had, Sarah does not share her feelings of kindred devotion.


When Sarah and Agatha return to the main level of the home, Sarah is pleased to see that her uncle -- Samuel, has come to visit. He however, is not pleased with her treatment of Agatha. Uncle Samuel as well as her father, feel that Sarah is far too harsh and judgmental of the old woman. Sarah feels that firing Agatha is the only way to rid their house of evil, but Sarah's father is not having any of it. It was Sarah's mother and his late wife's dying wish to keep Agatha employed in their home.

"There is something wrong here, dear Tabbeta --
A feeling that chills the very air! Deep in the shadows
that
surround us, there is an evil afoot in this house!"


Fortunately for distraught Sarah, her beau Justin comes for a much needed visit. In a scene straight out of a regular ol' romance comic, Justin proposes. Sarah gives resounding approval to his request.


Deeply in love and quite ecstatic, Sarah and Justin go to announce their future plans to her father -- but he has other plans for Sarah's future. He explains to her that his investments have gone sour and that their fortune is completely gone. The only way he can make things right is to give Sarah's hand in marriage to an admiring Baron -- Luther Dumont, who will loan him the money he needs to get back on his feet. After hearing her father's pleas, Sarah agrees to marry the Baron, albeit tearfully. Understandably, Justin is furious when he learns the news and attacks Sarah's father, knocking him to the ground.


Without haste, Sarah is sent by carriage off to Bohemia to meet her new husband. She is accompanied on her journey by dutiful Tabbeta and witchy Agatha. Throughout the drive, Agatha is sure to remind Sarah that she has chosen the right path and that Justin was not the right mate for her. A part of Sarah starts to believe her. Suddenly, the carriage comes to a halt. Having lost a wheel, the driver gets out to inspect the damage. Out of darkness appears a band of thieves. In the ensuing scuffle, both the driver and Agatha are shot and left in the dust. Sarah makes a run for it, only to be halted by one of the aggressive highwaymen. Before he can assault Sarah any further, a mysterious pistol bearing man appears from the shadows.


The mysterious man carries Sarah and Tabbeta towards the Baron's lofty castle. Realizing her state of disarray, Sarah is horrified that she will have to meet her future husband looking like a "beggar come calling." Upon her arrival to the estate, the man gruffly instructs her to clean herself up for presentation.


Once Sarah is refreshed, an elderly manservant leads her to the library to be introduced to the Baron. Sarah pulls aside an ornate curtain and is shocked to find her rescuer inside of a pentagram. But, as fate would have it -- he is not only her rescuer... He is... the Baron!


And with that revelation, the Baron Luther Dumont draws his bride-to-be in his arms and (in a most exquisitely rendered page I must point out) bewitches her with his kiss. Sarah's past begins to drift away.


In what is the last chapter of the story, Sarah is abruptly shaken out of her dark and romantic dream world when she finds her treasured companion, Tabbeta dead. She feels it must be the work of evil and those feelings are confirmed when she is locked in her chambers. From behind a pillar emerges the frail manservant. He tells Sarah that he is there to help her escape. He instructs her to don dark garments and a veil to hide in the shadows. Sarah notices there is something distinctly matrimonial about the getaway disguise, but continues to dress as instructed.


The manservant leads Sarah down a dark staircase and through a passageway. Expecting to meet her freedom, Sarah is disturbed to see not the night air, but a gathering of darkly dressed figures. Before Sarah can utter words of revolt, the manservant reveals the awful truth! He is not a "he" after all, but Agatha! And Agatha at that moment isn't just the old woman whom Sarah was raised around, but the Baron Dumont's mother!


Sarah is quickly ushered to the alter to be married off to the sickening force of evil who momentarily captured her basest of emotions.


As the chanting commences, a familiar voice bursts from the darkness. Justin! He managed to track Sarah to her whereabouts -- and just in the nick of time too!


Justin succeeds in sending the Baron plunging to his death. The rest of the satanic tribe lunges on the two young lovers, but they manage to escape their grasp. As they run to leave the enormous structure, they are met by Sarah's uncle and his friend. Both men of faith -- they stand strong, holding up symbols to ward off the worshipers of evil.


Their faith is so strong in fact, that the house filled with evil explodes -- taking the worshipers (including old Agatha) as hell-bound captors.


And so, the epilogue tells us that Justin and Sarah were married -- just as they should have been in the first place. Sarah's father apologizes for the errors of his ways and all is forgiven. He is even offered help from local investors who learn that his finances had been tampered with by Agatha and the Baron for their own evil gain.


Despite her impending future as a working man's wife, and after all the craziness brought forth by her father, Agatha, and the Baron, Sarah is able to feel these words of hope...

"...Justin and I had our love, a power far greater
than any that wealth could attain. And somehow,
everything else seemed terribly unimportant
by comparison."


Click to enlarge!

There you have it folks! An epic story filled with fright and a dash of romance. What do you think? Do you prefer fanciful Gothic romances such as "To Wed the Devil" over the "everyday" high school and soda fountain variety? Or are both just as groovy in your eyes?! Feel free to share!

Happy Halloween!!!

*Update: This cover is most often attributed to Jeffrey Catherine Jones (Jeff Jones), but recent evidence has come to light that it may be the work of painter Jerome Podwil. See comments and this forum discussion for more information.

19 comments:

  1. I like both regular Romance & Gothic; this one is top notch regardless. The graphic qualities of these early 70's DC covers is striking no matter the era. There are some wonderful "Gothic" covers on some of the horror books from this period~ House of Mystery/Secrets. Keep it coming Jacque !

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  2. Joe Orlando was an excellent plotter. I don't know if he did any actual writing during his career, but the man knew story and storytelling.

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  3. Always found it amusing that the term "graphic novel" is right there on the cover -- some seven years before Will Eisner "invented" it...

    Love the Gothic Romance comics.

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  4. Allan, Rudolphe Topffer used the term Graphic Novel to describe his prototype comics in the 1800s!
    I really like this whole 3-issue run, a plum to be sure. Back issues command a premium price, but one day they shall be mine!
    I really like Jeffrey's painting, but the hot pink border kills it. Her cover for #1 of the series, as well as her Wonder Woman covers from the same time period, are much stronger.
    Thanks for posting this, Jacque!

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  5. Wow, I was wondering when/if you'd ever get to any of sole three romance stories I have in my own small collection, i.e., those contained in the "Dark Mansions of Forbidden Love" Blue Ribbon Digest (which, unfortunately, does not reprint the lovely covers Jones did for the original issues). And sure enough...
    This is a pretty nice little yarn; what I found interesting were some of the background details - like the uncle who's apparently a rabbi, and who's best buddies with, it would appear, a Catholic priest. De Zuniga's art, by the way, is perfect for this story: he pefectly combined the nice, clean figure-work typical of romance stories with shadowy and gloomy backgrounds to create the Gothic atmosphere.

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  6. 'surcease'? 'rutted sky'? You go Len! I love the more ornate language here, and the beautiful artwork. But what's with the strip giving way to illustrated prose? Was that a trademark of the book, or did they perhaps run out of time/pages?

    How wonderful to see a bride of the devil actually get away! I can't remember that ever happening in any of the many examples of the story seen in Seventies comics, films and TV. Thanks for sharing this one, Jacque.

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  7. Nice write-up, Jacque. I'm not sure that Sinister House #2 cover is by Jeff Jones. I suspect it's by Jerome Podwill, painter on many SF paperback covers.

    Jake Oster

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  8. Glad you all enjoyed this one! The DeZuniga art really does it for me and the pacing of the story is quite good! Not sure why the story ended with the text epilogue, but I think it probably was a combination of time/energy as well as postal regulations, since these were the only text pages in the issue.

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  9. Jake: I looked up Podwill -- here is a paperback cover (very nice!) http://hauntedhearts.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/the-ancestor-by-robin-carol1.jpg
    I am not an expert on either artist, so I am not sure. I was always under the impression that this issue's cover was by Jones.

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  10. Re: the cover art. According to the GCD, it is indeed Jones. Otherwise, the first three covers of "Sinister House" are very lovely paintings. I agree with Diana that the pink border coloring on this one really ruins the overall effect.

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  11. Nice. Yes, comics did occasionally use text pages in the seventies as a way to squeeze in a lot of information at once (there's a Son of Satan story in which the details of his Tarot reading are fleshed out in a text page, for instance). And Tony DeZuniga's art was always a pleasure.

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  12. GCD has been known to be wrong before. Jeff Jones usually signed his/her covers with a stylized “J” inside a square.

    Jake Oster

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  13. I find that the GCD is a great jumping off point, but I have found some errors in the romance issues. I think everyone who contributes to it (myself included) tries to fix things where they can and it is overall a wonderful resource! Jake -- do you know of any other good site with Podwill work? Maybe that will help give us a better idea?

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  14. Jacque: I made a mistake in my previous art attribution. Apparently Mr. Podwil spelled his name with only one "L." It is definitely his work. The original painting is signed just below the castle. Check ou the last post on this page: http://boards.collectors-society.com/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=2134207&fpart=6

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  15. Interesting thread for sure! It is too bad that the owner of the original painting wont allow it to be shown in its entirety... I wonder how the cover became to be attributed to Jones in the first place?

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  16. Jeff Jones did the cover of Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love #3 and a couple of Wonder Woman
    covers around the same time. Someone probably extrapolated from that: it sorta, kinda looks like
    Jones. And Podwil was a paperback cover artist; he was not known for comic book work. Once a
    misattribution winds up on GCD it becomes almost impossible to get it removed. For years they
    had a Hawkman cover attributed to Dick Dillin and Chuck Cuidera when it was clearly signed by
    Joe Kubert.

    Jake Oster

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  17. Jake: FYI -- I updated and added a note at the end of the post on the argument for Podwil. :)

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  18. http://www.comics.org/issue/75432/ has been updated. Note this: "The devil-fighting team of Father John and Rabbi Samuel appeared previously in House of Secrets (DC, 1969 series) #89 (December 1970-January 1971) and appear next in House of Secrets (DC, 1969 series) #150 (February-March 1978)." How about that!

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