Friday, July 1, 2011
The Ubiquitous Dr. Graves
by J.S. Holland
Hi there ho there, fellow travelers. You've dropped into the old Crap-Keeper's Vault of Unintended Horror at an opportune time; another specimen from the Inner Inner Inner Sanctum of my comic book collection has just been dug up for you to dig.
For you Ditkological devotees, I bring you The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves #22, October 1970, brought to you by those wonderful hacks at Charlatan - er, I mean Charlton - comics.
Dr. Graves, like Benway, Caligari, and Acula before him, may be a self-styled Doctor who got his degree conferred on him by unconvential means (perhaps from Johnson-Smith) but he's my kinda Doc. Unlike some horror hosts who are content to bookend a story with brief comments at its outset and finish, Graves just can't stay out of his own stories.
Almost every page has multiple panels in which Graves appears right in the midst of the story - sometimes hiding subtly like a "Where's Waldo?", sometimes lurking in the background or even the foreground, and sometimes just plain tromping around on the set in the middle of the action, making a total goddamn mess of everything. "CUT! Graves, get OFF THE SET!"
It's like someone pointed out to him that Hitchcock made a secret appearance in every one of his films, and Dr. Graves felt the need to keep up with the Joneses. And the really mentally ill thing (mental illness? Ditko? Naw!) about it all is the frequent insertion of panels that have NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH THE STORY and are usually just depictions of floating heads. (Ohhhh, okay, now the disembodied head panel in Hunk #5 starts to make sense - could it really be a Ditkonian homage?)
But is the comic any good? Frankly, I can't tell; it's too damn distracting trying to follow the plot when you've got this mustachioed bargain-basement Vincent Price hamming it up and mugging every other panel. The most normal and conventional horror story in this issue is the one that Ditko didn't do (and of course it has the fewest appearances of the floating head of Doctor Graves.) The others are, well, kinda wacky and convoluted, and in typical Ditkoic style one of them is heavy on rants about medical ethics and suggests that ghosts can be put to sleep by spraying them with knockout gas. The man had a certain reality principle.
However, if we take a look at the comic's debut issue, which some enterprising upstart has posted online in its entirety, we see that Dr. Graves was not only a Rod Serling-esque narrator, he also was originally an actual character in some of the stories, brought in as an expert in the paranormal to solve some of the mysteries. By the time we got to #22 it would seem that Graves' direct involvement in the plots was no more, and he was relegated to haunting his own comic like a ghost himself.