Thursday, June 22, 2023

The Mark of Satan's Claw

Fred Ottenheimer was a writer and artist employed by various humor cartoons and strips in the mid-20th century. Along with working for Charlton Comics and Magazine Enterprises, Ottenheimer's most notable work was in the pages of Warren Publishing in the 1970s. Often listed as Fred Ott, he wrote for Vampirella, Creepy, and Eerie. My first experience with the writer is his story “The Mark of Satan's Claw”, which was the lead in Creepy's January 1972 issue. The story is beautifully illustrated by Spanish artist Jaime Brocal Remohi. 

In the story's opener, a journalist named Jonathan Howard has just arrived to the foggy village of Llangwell, Scotland. After meeting with a local innkeeper, Howard accepts a room while explaining to readers the reason for his arrival in this sleepy town. Howard is a true-crime writer and wants to delve into the recent string of child murders in Llangwell. The innkeeper warns Howard to stray from the town's business and attempts to convince him that there are no murders.

Howard meets with Llangwell's Chief Constable and learns more about the murdered children. The lawman explains that the murders have been taking place for years under the direction of a local cult of Satan worshipers. He then shows Howard the cult's symbol, which has been burned into his own chest. He explains he escaped the cult and volunteers to take Howard out to the moors to show him where the dead children turn up.

In a memorable panel, the police find a dead boy on the swampy rocks. Howard becomes shocked by the reality of dead children. But, a whisper from the darkness invites Howard back to a rural cottage where a man explains more about the history of the Satanic cult and provides instructions on a secret book that may hold more answers.

The combination of Remohi's gloomy pencils and Ott's dour narrative was enthralling. This is a rare monster story that blends a child serial-killer element with a fantasy outline. I was surprised with the story's twist and found the ending suitable, but not altogether satisfying. “The Mark of Satan's Claw” was just scary enough to be recommended, but the time-frame and artistic style – both in the writing and presentation – is truly the main star. I enjoyed it, and you can read it for free below:

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