House of Secrets #114: Night Game
The place: DC Comics’ House of Secrets #114.
The time: December of 1973.
The late 60’s and through the 70’s was a blossoming era for the genre of horror in print. While there certainly were terrifying classic movies out like Children of the Damned, Rosemary’s Baby, and 1973’s own The Exorcist drawing large audiences and featuring decent Hollywood budgets, the vast majority of these were the low-budget camp variety that, if they were lucky, would get recycled and ridiculed by Elvira in the 1980s and Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the 1990s.
But while visual effect on the large or small screens were expensive to produce and kids were more likely than adults to tune in to horror, suspense and general Sci-Fi, this was a perfect caldron for the medium of…COMIC BOOKS!
This periodical was found while digging in a local comic book shop because I really like throwing away my money on paper and ink. As is typical with issues of this era, the cover will have very little (if any) relevance to the stories inside but is just there to grab the reader’s attention like a bad lounge music of the same time.
So, whether I put your mind at ease or bust your bubble, no ice dancers were harmed in the making of this periodical. A scream queen on the cover of a magazine will always sell. But that’s ok, because the hockey-related story that follows is much better than some terrified tu-tu’d tart at her local rink.
As many of these comics roll, it’s starts with a narrator of sorts who starts out welcoming you to this ghoulish tale, entitled “Night Game.” For House of Secrets, our host is named Abel and his stuttering voice is because….he’s cold and unsteady on his skates? Abel is the only recurring character and he just leads the reader into the story, like The Crypt Keeper from Tales From The Crypt. It’s rare that any character from a horror comic sees any continuity (exceptions being Swamp Thing or Eclipso), so picking up a random issue isn’t likely to drop you into a continuing story arc. On this page with Abel, we also find that the fine art was provided by Frank Bolle, and written by Michael Fleisher – which is important because I’m about to tear into Mr. Fleisher very soon.
We open our story proper with excellent artwork of two teams battling it out on the ice, sans helmets but sporting quality sideburns, as was the style at the time. And announcer fills you, the reader, in on the situation:
“FOUTH QUARTER???” Fleisher, you lazy S.O.B! Do your homework on this sport! Anyway, the two Teams are the St. Louis Blues Royals and the Minneapolis Blu….yeah, Blues, yes we read that correctly. Ok fair, while fictional, these must be a couple minor league teams going at it. Fine. The action reaches a crescendo as the Blues snipe a shot past the star Royals’ goalie, Ron Kopachec who laments that he should go back to the “Banana League.”
This confused me, maybe that was some slang term for Beer League back then? I Googled it and found nothing of relevance.
Kopachec’s coach tries to console his star twine-minder after the tough loss, which is also another piece of fiction since most coach were more likely to brow-beat any player who lost them a game late in a season. BUT THIS IS A COMIC BOOK and I have to keep reminding myself of that.
But soon, after the rest of the team has headed out from the locker room, the coach makes one more attempt to rally the most self-abusing goalie until Marc-Andre Fleury, when he catches Kopachec on the phone with his bookie betting on the game like some sort of proto-Pete Rose, having thrown the game for the sake of cashing in on it! The nerve of that louse! Later, the coach barges in to confront Judas of the Crease in state of part-undress and…OH COOL, SCARY LIFE SIZE MONSTER GHOSTS! It obeys your commands and is over 7 feet tall! Only $1!!
Anyway, the coach levels with his goaltender that he needs to resign immediately sighting injuries, or he would come forward with the damming information that his masked man was throwing games for personal gain. Reluctantly, Kopachec takes the easy way out before the coach (why doesn’t he have a name?) leaves to join his team on the flight to Montreal.
The disgruntled cheat isn’t about to let this pass, and his answer to this problem is to pack up his steamer trunk (I know goalie gear takes up some space, but a steamer trunk?) to be loaded on the plane with the rest of the team’s equipment…
–AND BLOWS UP THE PLANE WITH HIS TEAM ON IT!!! Holy crap, this guy is a monster!
So, we’re near the end of the season, the now brutally murdered team that was at the top of the standings is gone and they have a memorial statue built within days of this.
Boy, the city of St. Louis was really ready to honor a team’s demise super-fast, like it had already drawn up the plans for the site, had the statue built and someone at city hall was just waiting on the call. Morbid! The owner of the Springfield Rams spots ex-Royals goalie at the wake – who claimed to have missed the flight due to illness – and offers him a spot on the Rams. And if this is how and when this owner conducts business, then this is the perfect team for this murderous netminder! After that, was he going to go hit on the widows at the funeral?
Fast forward, and Kopachec leads his new team through the playoffs and into the championships against the Chicago….Dolphins. >Face-palm<
However, the ruthless Ram is still up to his old tricks and plans on throwing the opener. But things take a turn for the strange later that night as Kopachec receives a call to come to the rink for a “special night practice.”
Hurrying to the rink and gearing up, he takes to the rink in dark where a blinding spotlight handicaps his vision and a team skates his way to take vicious shots at him. And when his vision clears, he finds…the skeletal remains of his previous team!
Later, at the opener of…the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
You mean these were supposed to be NHL teams???
ANYWAY, at the game, the announces are so “impressed” with Kopachec’s dedications that he’s been out on the ice all day and laser-focused on the game in net, standing *dead* still! The opening shot on ice heads his way from the Dolphins (LOL) skater and in blocking the shot, his mask and gear fall away revealing on his own skeletal remains!!!!!
I’m pretty sure the arena announcer threw up.
So, what did we think of this? Yeah, Michael Fleisher was not that well-versed in the sport of hockey. But he did could have done a lot worse if you take into account that a lot of folks at this time viewed the sport as mix between figure skating a bar fighting. The NHL had only expanded to new markets a few years earlier, whereas this comic was widely-sold at newsstands across North America. Frank Bolle, who was more known for drawing westerns and newspaper comics, did an admirable job of capturing the action of the sport and well as the dark emotions of the sinister Ron Kopachec. Really, the main character looked like a demented Wayne Gretzky in one frame.
Overall, I enjoyed “Night Game.” It’s not a candidate to become a beloved, made-for-TV movie on the Hallmark Channel. Obviously, it’s got its faults with a fairly-loose story and a skeleton somehow holding up all that heavy goalie gear at the end. But I have a soft spot for old kitschy horror stories from this era. Anytime I find a crossroads of subjects that I appreciate, it’s hard for me to not be a fan of it. I rate this comic three skeletons and a bat. ■
Jim Howard is a Carolina Hurricanes fan and reformed baseball card collector who is trying to keep the hockey collection from becoming overwhelming. And while he wishes he could give Crosby the business with his mitt, he is in fact NOT the goalie for the Red Wings.