early 1950's, the comic book industry was relatively new. It
was an experimental time, when many different genres were being
explored. Romance, war, westerns, sci-fi and horror books were
all being put out by various companies. At the time DC was searching
for new directions, so they decided to try their hand at the
horror genre. It was doing very successful at EC comics, and
several other companies had horror titles out at the time as
was that the first issue of House of Mystery came out,
December 1951/January 1952. It had no host, and would feature
several short, spooky stories that usually ended with a logical
explanation for the supernatural. The title did relatively well,
and ran with this formula until the late 1950's. Somewhere,
a little bit before its hundredth issue, it went sci-fi. This
is around the same time everyone's favorite doctor, Fredric
Wertham, caused an uproar with his infamous book, Seduction
of the Innocent. Soon after its release, the Catholic Comics
Code appeared, causing hassles for the entire comics industry,
and pretty much putting EC comics out of business. This isn't
fact, but my opinion, that rather than deal with the negative
publicity of a horror title, DC decided it would simply be easier
to make the switch to sci-fi.
the success Marvel comics was having at the time with Spiderman
and other titles, superheroes were soon integrated into the
book, although it kept its sci-fi base. Martian Manhunter
and Dial 'H' For Hero became regular features and began
to dominate the title. Slowly but surely the heading for 'House
of Mystery began to shrink in size. In my opinion, this
was rather a stale period for HOM.
until the late sixties when DC picked up Joe Orlando, who soon
became an editor, that the House of Mystery was returned
to its former glory, and beyond. First he gave it back its heading
space, and dropped the sci-fi/superhero features. Having formerly
worked for the now defunked EC comics, whose weight was almost
entirely carried by their horror titles, he decided to bring
HOM back to its roots. He started reprinting tame DC
monster stories from the 1950s, and THEN, he decided to have
a host to tie them all together. That is when Cain, the Caretaker
stepped into the house in HOM #175, and started it all.
With the team of artists and writers (Wrightson, Wolfman, Wood,
Cardy, Aragones, Kane, Kanigher, Wein, Oleck, Kaluta, etc.)
Cain had chained in the basement, HOM became a big seller.
Its success made room for other "mystery" titles,
and hosts. DC advertised them as such, to avoid the bad connotations,
almost stigma attached to the "horror" comics of the
past. However, they seemed to have little trouble with the comics
code. Joe Orlando worked within the code for its openings, not
its restrictions, and managed to pull off an incredible book.
went very well for quite some time. By 1969 Abel moved in across
the street at the House of Secrets. There were the witches:
Cynthia, Mildred and Mathilde in the Witching Hour. Death
(No not THAT Death) in Ghosts, and Eve and Destiny sort
of hopped around a bit. Even Lucien (The librarian in the Dreaming)
had a title, Tales of Ghost Castle.... for three issues.
There was no scarcity of "mystery" titles. In 1972
Joe Orlando won an A.C.B.A. Award for his work as writer and
editor on a story in HOM #201, "The Demon Within".
It was definitely a renaissance for horror comics at DC. They
did well by them, and were known for having great mystery books.
"Make Mystery Your Thing!" they advertised, encouraging
readers to subscribe to the many mystery titles.
the coolest mystery title other than HOM in my opinion,
had to be PLOP! Which was a truly unique gallows humor
type book with framing sequences by Sergio Aragones. Cain, Abel,
and Eve would participate in 'storyteller showdowns' competing
in various situations for the prominence of being the best storyteller
(of course Cain always outdid all of them!) In the end it didn't
really matter who told the best story since they were just going
to get plopped. This formula was carried over to the early issues
of Secrets of the Haunted House, though with Destiny
thrown into the mix. Eventually, by issue #18, Destiny kicked
everyone else out, and became the sole host at the Haunted House
(though Cain's stories WERE always much better). Some of the
most delightfully insane moments can be found in these books.
early eighties the demand for mystery titles started fading.
Consequently, many hosts were finding themselves unemployed.
They were seen only on rare occasions. Of the twelve-plus titles
that had come and gone, all that remained were five. SOTHH,
the Unexpected and Ghosts hung on until 1982; Weird
War Tales until 1983. When it came down to it, House of Mystery
was the last remaining mystery title. After being passed down
by many editors, including Orlando, Levitz, Harris, and Wein,
Karen Berger was the last editor to work for the house. In issue
#290, Cain introduced a story called "I Vampire"
by Mishkin/Cohn and Sutton. It starred a vampire anti-hero named
Andrew Bennet. This became a regular feature and EVENTUALLY
took over the title. Then the fateful day came when Cain was
KICKED OUT of the House of Mystery! It happened in 1984, issue
#321, the story was "This Property is Condemned."
It mostly consisted of Berger and Orlando explaining to Cain
that he was old hat, and on top of that, not real, and
only a comic book
character. It was a terrible day,
but at least Cain
reassured us with his parting words that as long as we believed
in him, the supernatural, and the House of Mystery, it still
about a year later in 1985, who but ELVIRA comes stumbling into
the house! She was being chased after by an angry mob of religious
weirdoes who were, you guessed it, convinced that she was guilty
of witchcraft. Very much alone, and in need of a caretaker,
the house itself starts talking to her, in hopes that she'd
stay with it, and basically fill the space Cain did in its life.
The house takes her through various historical mystery stories
and eventually convinces her to stay. So Elvira's House of
Mystery lasts for twelve issues and ends in 1987. Cain makes
small appearances here and there, while Elvira searches for
him (as requested by the house). She teases and belittles him
throughout the series, something that I'm sure he would not
put up with these days. He didn't seem to care very much at
the time, but this all happened during Crisis on Infinite Earth,
and everything was all CRAZY! The house was having an identity
crisis, and had developed multiple personalities. Several facets
of the house were in existence that contradicted each other,
The Elvira/Kentucky house, a dark humor "House of Weirdness"
and a very serious HOM in nightmare.
nightmare house was the one that Alan Moore brought out in Swamp
Thing #33. This would be the monumental first time we witness
Cain killing Abel (on panel at least - and for the time, it
was certainly fabulously gruesome!) Abby, the Swamp Thing's
companion, has a dream. She travels to the cemetery between
the two houses, and encounters Cain and Abel. They give her
a choice between a mystery and a secret, and she CHOOSES a SECRET!
(WHY?!) She goes with Abel over to his house, and he tells her
an old story about another Swamp Thing (note: the origin of
the Swamp Thing was originally told in HOS #92), to help her
better understand her own. But regardless of Abby and her choices,
the important thing was that Cain was back in all his CLASSIC
horror host glory!
was only shortly after that Neil Gaiman did him a great service
and gave him a permanent address in the Dreaming. Things have
been pretty good for Cain since then. Cain was a regular, along
with his doofus brother throughout all 75 issues of The Sandman,
and even more paneltime in the following series, The Dreaming.
In fact Eve, Destiny and Lucien all found jobs there as well.
that's all there is to know for now.