As I’ve mentioned in the past, not only did the Modern Comics 3-Bagged reprints of past Charlton titles include a wide swath of their super hero and adventure material, but they also contained a number of titles in other genres; war, martial arts and mystery/suspense being chief among them. Most of those books were of no great interest to me at the time, but this one issue of THE MANY GHOSTS OF DOCTOR GRAVES proved to be an exception. Up until this point, the series had been a typical late 1960s mystery/suspense title, with the eponymous Doctor M. T. Graves acting as host for a bevy of short one-off stories. And indeed, this issue contains multiple tales. But it’s really the opening one that caught my attention (and is no doubt the reason why this particular issue was chosen for inclusion in the line.)
The story in question carries no credits, but it was illustrated by Steve Ditko, then relatively recently departed from Marvel. And it cast Doctor Graves in the mode of a sorcerer not very different from that of Ditko’s Marvel hero Doctor Strange. In fact, almost all of the spell-casting and mystic combat that Graves wages in this tale looks as though it came right out of the pages of STRANGE TALES. For years within the fan community, there were rumors that this story had started out as an unfinished Doctor Strange story that Ditko repurposed for Charlton after he had left Marvel. But this was eventually definitively disproven.
It eventually turned out that the story had been written by Steve Skeates, and that he had done so with no foreknowledge that Ditko would wind up being the one who would illustrate it. Regardless, it represents one last final hurrah for Ditko on a close analogue to one of his signature characters. In the tale, acting as the defender of this universe, Doctor Graves becomes aware of an extradimensional being coming this way who will destroy our reality. He attempts to battle this entity in his astral form, but fails, making a key mistake along the way. With his last erg of energy, graves dispatches his astral form backwards in time, discorporating as it goes, until it intercepts his earlier self prior to having made the fatal mistake. All that remains of the future Graves is a thought, but it is enough to cause the new Graves to change his strategy and to win out. It’s a great 11 page story in the Doctor Strange tradition. I wrote about it more at length here:
This is more than can really be said about the other tales in this issue, as they’re all completely forgettable–so much so that I still have no real memory of having read them, even though I did once again before embarking on this piece. The first is a little two-pager also written by Skeates and illustrated by Charles Nicholas. It’s about a woman who buys a cat, but the cat is a witch’s familiar, and so it transforms the woman into an evil witch herself.
The next two-pager is also the work of writer Skeates and artist Hector Castellion, whose work I’m not greatly familiar with. He brings a certain crude flair to the visuals, however, enough to stand out from the more staid Charlton output. It’s about a sinister image trapped in a mirror who possesses and corrupts those who look upon it. Long abandoned in a deserted ruin, the mirror-creature narrates its history and what it will do when somebody comes upon it and gases into its surface. And that’s it–that’s the whole story. Nobody ever comes, nothing ever changes. It’s just a weird, experimental mood piece, I guess.
In the next slot is a story that looks a little bit more polished and professional, and no wonder–it was penciled and inked by Don Perlin. Steve Skeates once again contributes the story and copy. It benefits from being 6 pages long, and so having a bit more room to play in. A crook trying to evade the law winds up encountering a scientist who promises to hide him if he will agree to be a part of his experiment. The Doc wants to wire the man up to a chicken, and the crook is convinced that he’s going to try to swap their minds, despite the scientist telling him that is not the case. The guy panics and tries to escape, aided by the scientists girl assistant who has suddenly fallen in love with him. Trapped, the crook opens the purse that he had stolen at the outset, which he finds to be empty. Then, suddenly, he disintegrates into dust, and is not seen by the pursuing scientist. The end. Yes, I know, this plot makes absolutely no sense and has an ending that’s entirely ridiculous and unearned. But Charlton was only paying two dollars a page for script, so what do you want for twelve bucks?
The last short 3-pager was illustrated by Ernie Bachs and written again by Steve Skeates. It’s about a woman who gets a premonition of disaster that causes her to flee her house with her children–just before a stricken plane falls out of the sky and destroys it. The story’s narrator, who claims to be the mentor of mankind, indicates that he put the warning into the woman’s mind, because her son will grow up to make major contributions to humanity in the future. The end. Like the other back-up pieces, there isn’t much to this story at all, nothing that was going to have an impact. At best, it was a few minutes’ pleasant diversion in some kid’s day.