"To Wed the Devil" - The Sinister House of Secret Love #2 (December 1971/January 1972)
It's almost that time of year -- Halloween! Not too many spooky romance comic tales out there... unless you count the brief foray into the Gothic Romance subgenre by DC and Charlton in the '70s. I have one such story to share today! For your visual and reading pleasure, please enjoy "To Wed the Devil" -- a "Graphic Novel of Gothic Terror" from DC's The Sinister House of Secret Love #2 (December 1971/January 1972). The dark and brooding cover features an inset painting by Jeffrey Catherine Jones (Jeff Jones),* with border art by interior story artist, Tony DeZuniga. The five chapter story was plotted by Joe Orlando and scripted by Len Wein.
We are introduced to Sarah, a beautiful (if not spoiled) young woman who resides with her wealthy father and their dutiful and witchy servant, Agatha.
One day while walking through their immense estate, Sarah and her beloved white cat -- Tabbeta, come across Agatha in the middle of a pentagram performing a spell. Sarah is furious at her blasphemy, but Agatha is quick to explain that she is casting a spell in hopes that it will improve Sarah's chances at love. Though Agatha says she views Sarah as the daughter she never had, Sarah does not share her feelings of kindred devotion.
When Sarah and Agatha return to the main level of the home, Sarah is pleased to see that her uncle -- Samuel, has come to visit. He, however, is not pleased with her treatment of Agatha. Uncle Samuel as well as her father, feel that Sarah is far too harsh and judgmental of the old woman. Sarah feels that firing Agatha is the only way to rid their house of evil, but Sarah's father is not having any of it. It was Sarah's mother and his late wife's dying wish to keep Agatha employed in their home.
"There is something wrong here, dear Tabbeta -- A feeling that chills the very air! Deep in the shadows that surround us, there is an evil afoot in this house!"
Fortunately for distraught Sarah, her beau Justin comes for a much-needed visit. In a scene straight out of a regular ol' romance comic, Justin proposes. Sarah gives resounding approval to his request.
Deeply in love and quite ecstatic, Sarah and Justin go to announce their future plans to her father -- but he has other plans for Sarah's future. He explains to her that his investments have gone sour and that their fortune is completely gone. The only way he can make things right is to give Sarah's hand in marriage to an admiring Baron -- Luther Dumont, who will loan him the money he needs to get back on his feet. After hearing her father's pleas, Sarah agrees to marry the Baron, albeit tearfully. Understandably, Justin is furious when he learns the news and attacks Sarah's father, knocking him to the ground.
Without haste, Sarah is sent by carriage off to Bohemia to meet her new husband. She is accompanied on her journey by dutiful Tabbeta and witchy Agatha. Throughout the drive, Agatha is sure to remind Sarah that she has chosen the right path and that Justin was not the right mate for her. A part of Sarah starts to believe her. Suddenly, the carriage comes to a halt. Having lost a wheel, the driver gets out to inspect the damage. Out of darkness appears a band of thieves. In the ensuing scuffle, both the driver and Agatha are shot and left in the dust. Sarah makes a run for it, only to be halted by one of the aggressive highwaymen. Before he can assault Sarah any further, a mysterious pistol bearing man appears from the shadows.
The mysterious man carries Sarah and Tabbeta towards the Baron's lofty castle. Realizing her state of disarray, Sarah is horrified that she will have to meet her future husband looking like a "beggar come calling." Upon her arrival to the estate, the man gruffly instructs her to clean herself up for presentation.
Once Sarah is refreshed, an elderly manservant leads her to the library to be introduced to the Baron. Sarah pulls aside an ornate curtain and is shocked to find her rescuer inside of a pentagram. But, as fate would have it -- he is not only her rescuer... He is... the Baron!
And with that revelation, the Baron Luther Dumont draws his bride-to-be in his arms and (in a most exquisitely rendered page I must point out) bewitches her with his kiss. Sarah's past begins to drift away.
In what is the last chapter of the story, Sarah is abruptly shaken out of her dark and romantic dream world when she finds her treasured companion, Tabbeta dead. She feels it must be the work of evil and those feelings are confirmed when she is locked in her chambers. From behind a pillar emerges the frail manservant. He tells Sarah that he is there to help her escape. He instructs her to don dark garments and a veil to hide in the shadows. Sarah notices there is something distinctly matrimonial about the getaway disguise, but continues to dress as instructed.
The manservant leads Sarah down a dark staircase and through a passageway. Expecting to meet her freedom, Sarah is disturbed to see not the night air, but a gathering of darkly dressed figures. Before Sarah can utter words of revolt, the manservant reveals the awful truth! He is not a "he" after all, but Agatha! And Agatha at that moment isn't just the old woman whom Sarah was raised around, but the Baron Dumont's mother!
Sarah is quickly ushered to the alter to be married off to the sickening force of evil who momentarily captured her basest of emotions.
As the chanting commences, a familiar voice bursts from the darkness. Justin! He managed to track Sarah to her whereabouts -- and just in the nick of time too!
Justin succeeds in sending the Baron plunging to his death. The rest of the satanic tribe lunges on the two young lovers, but they manage to escape their grasp. As they run to leave the enormous structure, they are met by Sarah's uncle and his friend. Both men of faith -- they stand strong, holding up symbols to ward off the worshipers of evil.
Their faith is so strong in fact, that the house filled with evil explodes -- taking the worshipers (including old Agatha) as hell-bound captors.
And so, the epilogue tells us that Justin and Sarah were married -- just as they should have been in the first place. Sarah's father apologizes for the errors of his ways and all is forgiven. He is even offered help from local investors who learn that his finances had been tampered with by Agatha and the Baron for their own evil gain.
Despite her impending future as a working man's wife, and after all the craziness brought forth by her father, Agatha, and the Baron, Sarah is able to feel these words of hope...
There you have it, folks! An epic story filled with fright and a dash of romance. What do you think? Do you prefer fanciful Gothic romances such as "To Wed the Devil" over the "everyday" high school and soda fountain variety? Or are both just as groovy in your eyes?! Feel free to share!
*Update: This cover is most often attributed to Jeffrey Catherine Jones (Jeff Jones), but recent evidence has come to light that it may be the work of painter Jerome Podwil. See comments on this post for more information.