This was the first comic book I ever bought for myself. I believe I had read a couple that belonged to my brother—an F-Troop issue, and a Gorgo. He did not read super-hero comics. In fact, he actively detested them. He read war comics, and the occasional movie or TV tie-in. In July, 1974, however, I was spending the night with my cousins in Hyattsville, and I learned that my Uncle Bob was a fan of super-hero comics, and had been since the 1940s. I’ve talked about that before, so, if you actually are interested in such trivia as how I became a comics fan, here ya go.
In that reminiscence, I mention at trip to the 7-11 for Slurpees. I neglected to mention that we also looked at comics, and I bought one. Since I hadn’t gotten into super-heroes yet, I selected something which I was into, a comic about ghosts. My grandmother was a huge fan of ghost stories, and told them often. So the beautiful Nick Cardy artwork above caught my eye, and I plopped down 20 cents for this issue.
The ghost train story depicted on the cover was my favorite. I’d loved trains since my first ride on the rails in 1968, an Easter trip to Johnson City, TN, to visit my grandparents in Pensacola, NC, about an hour from that station. I left my Easter bunny on the train, and my three-year-old self was probably traumatized. But I remember nothing about it, except perhaps a vague memory of what the bunny looked like. What I remembered was the train.
“The Dead of Night,” by Leo Dorfman and E.R. Cruz, was a chilling tale about a teenage runaway who jumps a train out of Danville, VA and realizes it’s actually not a real train. Indeed, it’s the ghost of a train, Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train, in fact. Is such a thing possible? Who cares? This story was imaginative and gripping to me at the age of eight. Dorfman wrote several episodes of Filmation’s Aquaman series, which I was also watching around this time, so I’m not surprised this was my favorite.
The other two left me a bit flat. “The Phantom in Our Family” tells the tale of a boy who dies in the Viet Nam war, but comes home to his mother as promised anyway. Only Mama can see him, but the clincher is that he leaves her the actual medal he received for his bravery. This one reminded me too much of the aforementioned war comics, I think, and of all the depressing news on TV about Viet Nam. I hated the news, because my father always turned off whatever I was watching on TV to turn it on, and then demanded silence while he got his daily dose of depression and anxiety. That the veteran’s family is Hispanic stuck with me. A good way to broaden my suburban, white-bread mind.
“Fangs of the Phantoms” is my least-favorite and least-remembered. It didn’t actually strike me as a ghost-story, but more of an animal-transformation story. I hadn’t yet developed my affection for Tarzan, so the jungle setting didn’t grab me either.
A well-remember, well-loved issue, though, which I read over and over. Especially the train story.