Title: The Witching Hour #1, a.k.a. “Anne, this isn’t about you”
Creators: Neal Adams, Pat Boyette, Dick Giordano, Dennis O’Neill, Alex Toth
Cover Artist: Nick Cardy
Summary: During DC’s latest foray into the horror / mystery arena, editor Dick Giordano conjured up a triumverate of witches to host an anthology series produced by some of comics’ biggest names. In this first issue, writer / artist Alex Toth provided a framing sequence (with an epilogue drawn by Neal Adams) that introduced readers to the cronish Mordred, motherly Mildred and beautiful Maiden Cynthia – as well as their bumbling pet zombie, Egor. Each witch then brewed a potent blend of horror and dark humor crafted by Toth, writer Denny O’Neil and artists Pat Boyette and Jack Sparling. It was an effective spell that would entrance a loyal audience long into the next decade.
Wow Jude’s actually writing about DC Comics and it’s NOT incoherent ranting, who’d have guessed?
As part of my attempt to start Year Three off strongly, I’m including a review of my favorite of DC’s old horror anthology comics from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Well, it’s up there alongside “Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love.”
DC had a whole slew of horror comics, “House of Mystery,” “House of Secrets,” “Tales of the Unexpected,” “Ghost Castle,” “Doorway Into Nightmare,” “Sinister House of Secret Love,” etc. “The Witching Hour” was first published way back in 1969 and ran for 85 issues before the main characters were transplanted to “The Unexpected” upon the book’s cancellation.
“The Witching Hour” stands among one of my favorites due solely to the hosts that narrated its stories. Every, well, most of the issues, had a framing device focusing on three witch sisters, Cynthia, Mildred, and Mordred. The issues would take place at midnight, where the sisters would welcome the reader and try to see which of the three had the most gruesome tale to tell.
I only own about a couple dozen or so issues ranging from most of the first ten to a few sporadic numbers throughout the run. From the handful I own I can clearly see the formulaic rot that set in, when the humorous framing stories were reduced to a one page joke opener that lacked the style and panache of the earliest comics.
The three witches were later incorporated as part of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman,” alongside many of the other horror host characters like Lucien from “Ghost Castle” and the brothers Cain and Abel. Cynthia, Mildred and Mordred were introduced as aspects of the Fates/Furies dubbed “The Three-In-One.” Cynthia was established to be the Maiden of the trinity, while Mildred was the Mother and Mordred (who acknowledges her name’s wrong) is the Crone.
They repeatedly appeared at least once per story arc but in different forms before becoming the antagonistic Kindly Ones in the comic’s penultimate tale.
As of recently, they’ve been popping up in some newer DC works. Cynthia appeared in 2018’s Valentine’s Day anthology as a love interest for DC’s version of the Bride of Frankenstein. The three were later antagonists in a Catwoman/Sylvester and Tweety crossover by Gail Simone and have been bedeviling Harley Quinn in her solo series.
The witches are truly the only reason why “The Witching Hour” remains my top fave of the horror anthologies, and they’ve been especially prominent in some of my DC story ideas. Onto the recap!
We open on a swampy landscape, late at night, as a shadowy, hulking figure lurches through the mud and muck. The creature is making its way to a decrepit castle at the far end of the swamp. Once inside, once you’ve seen the dark secrets and forbidden delights, you won’t be able to stop coming back again and again and again…
The creature pushes open the massive castle doors and lumbers up the stairs to its masters. Standing before a bubbling cauldron, two hideous witches begin to browbeat their monstrous servant for taking so long.
The scrawny crone Mordred complains their witches’ brew won’t be complete without the final ingredients. Why oh WHY did they send YOU, Egor?
The plump, hairy-chinned Mildred threatens if Egor so much as left a single hole in their lovely swamp she’ll turn him back into a human!
From an adjacent room, Mordred and Mildred’s vile stepsister Cynthia tells the two to stop harassing poor Egor. Mordred and Mildred refuse to listen to Cynthia’s complaints. It’s bad enough she’s polluting their castle with her horrid “New-fashioned” ideas, so they tell her to fuck off while they do REAL witch work.
Cynthia can’t believe how out-of-date the two square sisters can be with their talk of “Bats” and “Cauldrons.” A hip witch like her’s got better things to worry about. Mordred’s had enough of Cynthia and her “Hip” talk, demanding Egor hand over the goodies they-WHAT THE FUCK, EGOR?! They sent you out for cloven hooves, and you came back with FROZEN PIGS FEET?! (Complete with cooking instructions on back of the box). [Wing: I mean, pigs do have cloven hooves.]
In her modern kitchen, the blonde, animal-eyed Cynthia asks why on Earth should Egor go looking for cloven hooves when frozen pigs feet will work just as well? Standing by her bubbling pot atop her state-of-the-art stove, Cynthia’s prepared to let the pigs feet simmer while her sisters rage a REAL cauldron has to bubble and boil. Cynthia tells the two to can their Shakespeare bit, citing it as tired and old like their stories. And to think she works very hard to teach them to swing like her!
Mildred and Mordred have reached their limit, saying Cynthia’s crossed a line by insulting their stories. Ordering Egor to ring the bell to signal the start of [INSERT TITLE HERE], the sisters argue once more about who can spin a proper tale.
Cynthia calls out both of her sisters for being entirely predictable. Mordred’s stories are always thunder and lightning, ghosts and monsters. Mildred’s all about possessed objects and houses and ships with minds of their own. The two older sisters say at least those are REAL witches’ tales, not like Cynthia’s modern yarns about psychic phenomena and, ugh, SCIENCE. [Wing: Awww, Cynthia, you delight me already.]
But wait! Egor has rung the bell! [INSERT TITLE HERE] has begun! But who can judge which witch is the best storyteller?
“Save The Last Dance For Me!”
Mildred starts us off with an object lesson about a man who stepped on far too many toes in his lifetime.
A few years in the future we meet Thurgood “Tin Toes” Trapley, a former Broadway dancer who made millions through less than ethical means once he could no longer shake it like he used to. Trapley’s using his fortune to fund the creation of a device that can look into the future, thanks to scientist “Clot” O’Neil and his assistant “Dickie” Giordano.
The video device appears to work, but they’re not sure how far into the future it’s viewing. Trapley’s overjoyed when the monitor brings up an image of an 80-something year old man, dancing like a 20 year old. It seems the man’s dancing with the aid of a machine firing energy rays at his joints to make him move.
That’s all Trapley needs to see and wants to announce to the public his future scope works, but Clot is apprehensive. He knows Trapley wants to use the device to pull what they see into the present, but they don’t really know what, exactly, they’d be getting. Plus, the machine can only work once since the necessary cosmic forces won’t be aligned again for centuries, so why waste it? Trapley doesn’t give a shit, smacking Clot and telling him to follow his orders.
In his mansion, Trapley obsesses over his desire to dance like he did when he was younger. It’s all he cares about, and if the energy machine will let him do so he’ll try anything to get it. Not even a delegation of United Nations representatives can convince Trapley to use the future scope for more altruistic purposes, like learning about new medicines or ways to erase poverty and hunger. Given the chance to be a humanitarian, Trapley kicks the “Filthy foreigners” out of his house.
Finally, the day arrives when Trapley orders Clot to throw the switch that’ll transport the entire room into their time. Trapley’s ecstatic as the chamber with the dancing machine materializes before him, ignoring Clot’s warnings as he rushes inside. The dance machine’s already on, and Trapley begins to move like a man in his prime. He’s in heaven as he gets to bust out all his old moves, feeling more alive than he’s felt in ages.
But after an hour passes and Trapley’s ready to rest, he can’t stop dancing! And the machine won’t turn off!
He dances for five more hours…
Then for five more days…
Trapley’s still dancing months later, if you can call a corpse twitching around “Dancing.”
Mildred ends her tale mentioning the room Trapley wanted so badly came from the year 2068. Mainly, it was part of a prison. Those future people sure thought of some strange new ideas to improve the death chamber! [Wing: Huh, still no end to the death penalty in 2068. That’s a shame.]
(As a side note, Clot and Dickie are apparently caricatures of Dennis O’Neill and Dick Giordano, two of DC’s veteran pros who worked on this issue)
Mordred applauds Mildred’s tale, now it’s her turn to outdo their hated sister Cynthia. For her story, Mordred tells us of poor Terwit, a dwarf that’s been hounded and persecuted all of his miserable life.
Terwit has run up the village clock tower trying to escape the incessant taunts, rhymes, and jeers of a group of local boys. He screams at the children to leave him alone saying he’s never done anything to anyone, but they don’t care. A nearby group of men see the harassment, and only one (a man with a white beard and mustache) feels pity for Terwit. “Whitey” thinks they should stop the boys but his friends disagree. Picking on Terwit means the kids won’t bother anyone else. Besides, it’s all in good fun. Boys will be boys… [Wing: Gross.]
Terwit’s climbed to the cupola for the clock tower bell and shouts he’s had enough. He’s always been isolated, always been mocked because of his height. Well now he’s never coming down from the tower. Now HE stands high above everyone else as Terwit the Tall!
The boys think Terwit’s finally gone mad when one briefly asks if they were too cruel to him.
Night arrives and Terwit still hasn’t come down from the tower. Whitey feels awful and leaves a bowl of food at the base of the tower entrance. After all, Terwit IS still a man. It’s not his fault he was born so small. But later that evening, as the clock chimes midnight, a horrible scream’s heard coming from the tower! Not only that, the clock’s stopped moving!
Three days pass and Terwit hasn’t been seen. A friend of Whitey’s thinks something happened to Terwit, but every morning Whitey finds the food he’s left for Terwit has been eaten so he must be okay. That scream they heard was probably one of anguish from someone who’s suffered for so long when-OH SHIT GET OUT OF THE WAY!
Terwit appears at last and he’s throwing stones off the tower! He screams he’s Terwit the Terrible, he’ll rule the tower forever and make everyone pay for what he’s been through!
Years pass and Terwit’s kept true to his word. No one’s gone near the tower except Whitey, who keeps leaving food for Terwit. He thinks they deserve Terwit’s wrath for all the humiliation he’s suffered. One day Gustav, one of the men who tormented Terwit as a child, decides enough’s enough. He’s gonna fix the clock tower and show everyone there was nothing to be scared of from stupid ol’ Terwit. Gustav enters the tower announcing his arrival, but his train of thought derails into a scream of horror when he sees something inside the building. Everyone hears Gustav’s wails when Terwit appears in the cupola, laughing like a fiend.
That night, Gustav’s friends rally together and decide they’re going to storm the tower and make Terwit come down.
None of them return.
It comes down to Whitey and one of his friends, Whitey who fears he enabled Terwit’s evil all this time and must now make it right after so many have been lost. Whitey and his friend are shocked by how quiet the clock tower is and wonder where in God’s name could Terwit be keeping everyone. When they DO find Terwit, he’s in no position to answer questions.
For Terwit, or rather, Terwit’s remains, are still jammed within the clock tower gears after he fell into them all those years ago.
Oh that food Terwit was eating? Whitey had actually been feeding the tower rats all this time. Even though they’ve repeatedly seen Terwit.
So what HAS happened to Gustav and the others?
Up in the cupola around the bell, Whitey and his friend discover brass statues done in the likeness of Gustav and the other men looking exactly as they did when they were boys. And seated above them, leering down, was a statue of Terwit the Terrible. [Wing: Weird, but fun, too. I did expect the rats to have eaten Gustav et al, though.]
“The Perfect Surf” or “How To Make Waves Without Really Trying!”
Cynthia has no praise to share for her sisters’ romps through Dullsville, so they tell her to put her broomstick where her mouth is if she wants to show them up.
For our final tale, Cynthia paints a portrait of love and obsession on the roaring waves. She tells us of Carol and Stanley. Carol’s hung up on Stanley, but Stanley’s hung up on surfing. Specifically, Stanley’s determined to one day find THE perfect wave. He’s out there every weekend, surfing morning, noon and night, because nothing is good enough for him. Carol’s always following Stanley trying to get his attention on things besides salt water.
One night, a couple of other surfers have finally had enough of Stanley’s moaning about the lack of tidal perfection and decide to mess with him. They know of some creepy old lady who owns a cottage down further the cove, and she can’t stand kids. Stanley’s told of a private beach where the waves are supremo this time of night, and he’s run off with his board in mere seconds. One of the teens tries to stop Carol, asking why in God’s name is she following after this moron? Well, the heart wants what it wants, apparently.
Surprisingly, the old lady at the cabin is more than willing to let Stanley and Carol surf on her beach. Heck, she loves it when visitors come surf near her house. She even offers to let Stanley use a very special surfboard.
Carol begs Stanley not to go out there because it’s midnight black, but Stanley’s finally found it! The perfect wave! HIS perfect wave!
He doesn’t even care that the wave is GOING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION!
Carol screams at Stanley to come back as the wave takes him out to sea. She just screams and screams and screams right behind him while he surfs and surfs and surfs…
Cynthia tells her sisters there’s no reason why a witch’s story can’t have a happy ending, because Stanley gets to ride his perfect wave and Carol’s right beside him… FOREVER! [Wing: This is pretty good, actually. I love the idea of Stanley chasing that perfect wave all the way to death, and the old woman letting these surfers disappear into the waves and the darkness.]
Now that all three are finished, the witches bicker over who told the best story. They demand of us who had the most frightening tale to tell when Cynthia points out the dawn is approaching. With morning on the way, the witches send Egor out to take care of more errands for the next Witching Hour, and remind him if he’s gonna go through the doors, open them first!
Egor shambles back into the swamp with the sound of commands being bellowed for next time.
Until the next Witching Hour…
So who had the best story?
Personally I vote for Mordred’s due to the fact it was the most substantial and had the best art of the three. I felt Cynthia’s story was too short, and thought it odd Mildred’s tale would involve machinery and time travel when she criticized Cynthia for telling tales about science.
[Wing: I liked Cynthia’s best, but they were all kind of fun. That’s a good point about Mildred’s story, though.]