Behind a very spooky cover by Neal Adams, comes what many of us have been waiting for: the late, great Jim Aparo on The Phantom Stranger!
The kids unwisely head inside, where all the objects in the house--the rugs, the lamps, the furniture--begin to fly around the room!
They are told that the castle resides on a small island off the coast, so they (unwisely) climb aboard a boat and head there.
While on their way there, that mischievous succubus, Tala, shows up and tries once again to send them to their deaths!
Before we get further into the story, I just want to point something out that I haven't seen mentioned too much: Jim Aparo drew some of the most sultry, sexy women in comics.
Maybe it's me, but I find something creepily...alluring about how he draws Tala, especially in this panel (even with her crazy right leg). Again, maybe its me.
Anyway, the Stranger shows up, and helps rescue the kids, and gets their boat out of the water.
Right after disappearing, another stranger shows up, Professional Wet Blanket Dr. Thirteen!
After dismissing the Stranger's efforts (once again), he arrives at Vulcan's Castle with the kids, where they are met by its owner, a man who tells Thirteen that his daughter Vanessa is...cursed!
At that very moment, high atop the castle, Vanessa is standing on the ledge, and is seduced by Tala to jump!
The Stranger reappears to save her--still not earning any respect from Thirteen. Turns out "the Curse" was when Mr. Vulcan bought the castle from angry old Count Druga, who was forced to sell it because of bankruptcy. He was so angry over this turn of events that he cursed anyone who lived in the castle!
It's here that Dr. Thirteen takes it upon himself to tell a story about another "curse", a case he calls:
It involves a cursed mine, but Thirteen learns that its all a scam designed to drive the mine into disuse.
The Phantom Stranger has a story of his own, called "Curse of the Sea Siren!", about two brothers. One of them, Frank, is left their father's fishing boat whe he dies. The younger, hothead brother, Bill, doesn't take the news well.
This leads to a fight, with Bill stealing the boat after knocking his brother into the water. As he is eaten by sharks(!) he curses the boat, the Sea Siren, and everyone who sails on it. After nearly crashing the boat, the ship's bow--which looks an awful lot like Tala--breaks off, and the curse is ended.
The dazed Vanessa then tells the story of her curse: growing up, she was friends with a boy named Nicholas, who harbored a deep crush on her.
When they grew into adulthood, she fell in love with another man, which Nicholas reacted to, angrily. Soon, he died of a broken heart, and his dying words are a curse on Vanessa--any man who kisses her will die!
Indeed, this seems to come true, as man after man in Vanessa's life dies mysteriously and suddenly.
This whole sequence doesn't feature either the Stranger or Thirteen, and with Aparo's superb art, it works as a really well-told "gothic romance" type story:
He takes them all to Nicholas' grave, where they dig him up(!). They look inside, and see...a corpse, as Thirteen snidely remarks.
But what kind of corpse sweats?, The Stranger points out. Turns out Nicholas has been under a hypnotic spell, brought on by Nicholas' father, who wanted to get revenge on Vulcan. Turns out the three deaths were caused by Nicholas, under the trance. But where did father get the power to create such a powerful spell?
You guessed it...Tara, who reveals as much to the Stranger, but in ghostly form so only he can hear it!
Meanwhile, Nicholas tries to shoot the Phantom Stranger, but steps too far towards the edge of a cliff, and he falls to his death.
Tala is delighted by all the misery she has caused, and flies off into the mist. The Phantom Stranger takes off after her, leaving Thirteen to wonder what just happened...
A fairly convoluted story, but Aparo brings it off beautifully. The pages drip with mood, and his rendering of the Phantom Stranger is a thing of beauty. Also, nice that writer Bob Kanigher pushes the "Scooby Gang" off the side, using them pretty much only at the beginning.
This issue was the first step towards a really great era of The Phantom Stranger.