The Secret Files of Dr. Drew
If you’re interested in retro horror comics, The Secret Files of Dr. Drew is the book for you. The fourteen stories here were originally published by Fiction House from 1949 to 1951 in Rangers Comics #47-60. I’d never heard of the series before, so I appreciated the included background material explaining its history. Michael T. Gilbert’s introduction covers what is known about the series’ origin, rooted in Will Eisner’s Spirit studio, as well as elaborating on the strengths of the creators involved. Gilbert also draws a two-page comic leading into the first reprint.
Typical of a certain style of “mystery” comic, Dr. Drew’s stories are narrated by him to the reader in a guise of a guest visiting his creepy old house hearing about his previous experiences. The tales he tells aren’t quite so typical, though. We start with a building containing a mysterious 13th floor. A visit there reveals a portal to the past that shows the murder and betrayal surrounding the founders of the building. Most ghost stories of the type that I’ve read feature a family home, not a commercial operation. Plus, the story would never work today — it requires an elevator operator to stop the cab between existing floors, and automatic elevators aren’t quite so spooky. Other cases include:
- A philosopher’s stone that ages its victims, defeated by science (a clever touch)
- A voodoo doll, used to get revenge on an actress
- A showdown with the Devil for the soul of a violinist
- A gypsy ghost poisoning the descendants of those who burned her as a witch (in a story with too much coincidence)
- A film studio head wanting Dr. Drew to investigate a vampire murder on the set of his new movie
- A secret undersea kingdom
- Ghost pirates blocking a construction project
- A double-dealing psychic hunted by a ghost murderer
- Dresses that make women killers
- Various vengeful family members with curses and hauntings
This is definitely a series that believes in the unseen and mystical. The art is nicely moody, with distinctly Eisneresque touches around the faces and settings. The text is prominent, as is usual in the era, with plenty of narration to set the scene and create the proper mindset. The layouts are varied, opening up borderless panels as needed, and filled with gorgeous, expressive lettering. Unfortunately, the last few stories take a different artistic tack, and they’re not nearly as much worth reading.
The book also contains a 1990 interview with artist Jerry Grandenetti and biographical profiles of him, writer Marilyn Mercer, and letterer Abe Kanegson. The publisher has posted preview pages. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)