Let’s Talk Comic – Weird Mystery

Rob Lamberti



I got a hefty jolt while participating in a pre-Christmas online auction for comic books. A lot of the eight books I was bidding on suddenly took off into the stratosphere.

The lot consisted of Weird Mystery Tales books 1 to 8, all in Near Mint grade. It was quite the site. Rare? No, but they can be a bit of work to find, and all eight in high grade suggest it came from a private collection.

The first Weird Mystery Tales series by DC Comics was published between 1972 and ’75, part of the early Bronze Age of comics. It was an anthology book of short spooky tales, as the Comics Code Authority (CCA) refused to approve any story or art considered horror.

A moral panic over comic books gripped America in the 1950s, particularly any that showed gore, vampires, monsters and crime. Psychiatrist Fredric Wertham published a pseudo-scientific study called The Seduction of the Innocent in 1954, which has been since found to have its findings torqued to reach specific conclusions, that comics are bad and fuel for juvenile delinquency, drug use and sexual deviancy.

Wertham’s work was the dynamite the U.S. Senate needed to look into comic books. The Judiciary Committee launched a subcommittee in 1954 to investigate juvenile delinquency, and in a two-day hearing chaired by Senator Estes Kefauver, Wertham argued his position.

Challenging the Wertham-friendly subcommittee were several publishing outfits, using businessmen and lawyers to show off their romance and non-horror books, but EC Comics publisher William Gaines took the chair to defend comics.


“I was the first publisher in these United States to publish horror comics,” Gaines told the hearing. “I am responsible, I started them. Some may not like them. That is a matter of personal taste. It would be just as difficult to explain the harmless thrill of a horror story to a Dr. Wertham as it would be to explain the sublimity of love to a frigid old maid.”

As can be imagined, Gaines’ testimony didn’t go over well.

In the end, despite the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, the comics industry decided to police itself with the CCA and particular words were banned, including horror and vampires, and that good guys never die.

Gaines eventually dropped all comic books except for the magazine-sized Mad, which was exempt from the CCA.

Wertham’s work is now discredited. Carol L. Tilley, who holds a doctorate in library sciences and teaches gender studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, found Wertham “manipulated, overstated, compromised, and fabricated evidence … for rhetorical gain” when his original research was released in 2010.


The bottom line is that Weird Mystery Tales and other “horror” comics of the Silver and Bronze Ages, although brimming with majestic art and grand storytelling, were a shadow of the horror books from two decades earlier.

The title Weird Mystery Tales was initially used for a 100-page reprint anthology in 1971, DC 100 Page Super Spectacular #4, reprinting stories from the Silver Age. DC reused the title the following year following the success of Weird War Tales, featuring the military and dinosaurs, and Weird Western Tales, which would introduce Jonah Hex.

The 24-issue WMT series was hosted by a character named Destiny, who eventually became a character in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, and later Eve, a character in the Lucifer storyline. It was a technique first used by EC, the three witches Old Witch, the Vault Keeper and the Crypt Keeper, suspiciously similar to the Weird Sisters of, ahem, The Scottish Play by Shakespeare.

But to say WMT didn’t push the limits of the CCA would be misleading. The mystery or quasi-horror books of the Bronze Age would stretch the limits that the CCA set. A key title in the push is The Witching Hour, which also uses the host arrangement of three witches named Mordred, Mildred and Cynthia. It went on an 85-issue run until 1978.


The CCA guidelines were edited in 1971, allowing drug use to be shown as an insidious vice and horror characters only if they were portrayed in the classic manner of Dracula and Frankenstein. It was the start of the CCA becoming a toothless tiger and comic companies moved forward.

Weird Mystery art included masters such as Michael W. Kaluta, Jack Kirby, Berni Wrightson, Alfredo Alcala, Alex Niño, Jack Abel and Nestor Redondo. Stories were penned by writers including Mark Evanier, Jack Oleck, Joe Orlando, David Michelinie and Michael Fleisher. These names are part of what makes DC Bronze Age horror books so appealing.

The first book of the Weird Mystery series is valued at about $80. The second is $42 and the third is $35, all in U.S. dollars. Issues four to eight guide at about $24, for a total of $227. So, $300 to $325 for the lot, because of their condition, wasn’t out of line.

The auction was trending in and around US $200 for the lot when suddenly a couple of big guns moved in. The price quickly moved beyond the limits of everyone bidding since the start at a paltry $15.

The dizzying array of numbers on the screen sapped whatever fun there was to have in an auction and finally settled at — drum roll please — US $960, plus shipping, which would put the outlay to more than $1,000.

The books are likely destined to be encapsulated by one of two third-party grading companies, CGC and CBCS, and then resold at multiple times the guide price.

Oh, my, what an expensive hobby.


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