Bizarro Back Issues: Josie And The Pussycats And The Cleansing Flame That Scoured The Souls Of The Damned (1973)
Last week, Archie Comics announced that a new Josie and the Pussycats comic was on the way, and there are a lot of different directions the creators could take it in. They could head back to the original premise of a scrappy, up-and-coming but relatively unknown high school band, they could pick up on the movie's premise of the Pussycats as world-famous celebrities, or they could even do what the cartoon did back in the day and send them off to space.
Or, I suppose, they could put the focus back where it was in the early '70s, when they were constantly battling against Lovecraftian horrors and trying to cleanse the Earth in purifying flame.
That's what happens in "The Falcon's Claw," a classic of supernatural suspense from an unknown writer and legendary artist Dan DeCarlo that originally ran back in 1973's Josie and the Pussycats #68. More recently, though, it was collected in the digital Josie and the Scaredy-Cats collection, and folks, if you ever want to read a book that has the most drastically whiplash-inducing tonal shifts you can even imagine, that is the one I would recommend.
Most of the collection is devoted to tales of the Pussycats trying to rehearse in spooky mansions and being vaguely menaced by people wearing Frankenstein costumes, but occasionally it'll take a sharp left turn into that weird serious corner of the Archie universe where people are just trying to murder each other constantly.
There's one in there about the band's van breaking down outside a mansion occupied by Roderick, a shifty jerk who constantly refers to the house's other occupant, Simon, a hulking, silent brute, as an "unhoy horror" and "spawn of satan." Needless to say, the brute is actually his brother, and the heir to the family fortune, and when Roderick tries to murder Melody, Simon ends up strangling him on-panel and then tearing the entire house down, dying in the process, leading the story to end with the caption, "We don't travel that route anymore -- Melody cries."
And then there's this one.
The story opens up with a truly amazing caption about how Josie is beset by nightmares, visions of "the face of evil, rising from the depths of ten thousand hells to answer the call." So right from page one, panel one, it's pretty clear that we're not dealing with a story about one of Alexander Cabot's failed get-rich-quick schemes.
It doesn't quite start there, though. Instead, we cut to earlier that day, when our unknown writer decided to take a weird shot at the very idea of garage sales.
Easy there, Tyler Durden. Sometimes people just have a couple of extra lamps.
Anyway, Josie, Valerie, and Melody have stopped by to do some shopping, and in among all the detritus of capitalism, Josie finds something that piques her interest: A necklace that features what our overwrought narrator describes as "a sliver of ivory? --- A tooth? --- An animal's claw?" So naturally, when confronted with secondhand jewelry made of unknown teeth, Josie decides to do what any fashion-forward young musician would do. She buys it and starts wearing it immediately.
And that, of course, is where all the trouble really starts. When she gets home that night, Josie also decides to just go ahead and sleep with her new necklace on, and the results are truly nightmarish. And not only that, but they also might be prophetic.
Thanks to Josie's frazzled description, Valerie is able to determine that she's not just seeing some weight nightmare house in her dreams, she's seeing a real building. It's called the Falcon's Nest, yet another mansion situated by the cemetery on the outskirts of town, which served as the headquarters of a secret society before they were driven out by "a vigilante committee." And that, as you probably already guessed from the title of the story, is the source of the necklace. It's not a tooth at all --- it's a falcon's claw.
Let's take a second to unpack this, shall we? Not only has this Archie comic just gone ahead and dropped the knowledge that Riverdale --- or at least Midvale --- was once plagued by some kind of bird cult that would give out magic talismans to its membership, but also that the only thing that could stop them was vigilante justice. Turns out that the Comics Code might not have been as strict as we thought.
Anyway, since they can't get a whole lot done when their lead singer is being plagued by hellish visions, the Pussycats decide to head out to the Falcon's Nest themselves. At first, it seems abandoned, but as soon as they start poking around, things go very wrong for them.
And seriously, It goes on like this for pages, all "formless terror" and "demons of death" and "it was as if the pit had opened to belch forth every indecency known to man!" If it wasn't for the fact that every indecency known to man just looks like dudes running around swaddled in bedsheets, it might come off as a little bit over the top.
But still, it is an endless string of horrors, and as such, it takes its toll, until finally, Josie throws off the necklace and collapses on the floor.
But that's not quite enough to finish things off. Rather than just hightailing it out of the mansion and leaving the necklace for someone else to deal with, Josie ends up dropping a lit candle, inadvertently starting a fire that burns the entire mansion (and, it seems, the adjoining cemetery) to the ground with the kind of purifying flames that can rid us of the souls of the damned once and for all.
And on the off chance that you think I'm exaggerating, I can assure you that I am not. That's the term they use: Purifying Flames.
Thus, the story has ended. Josie has managed to escape the evils of demonic possession for at least a little while (it's actually something that happened a lot back in the '70s), the threat of the Falcons has been scoured from the face of Midvale, and we've all learned a lesson about being careful what we buy.
Specifically, the lesson that I will never hate anything as much as the person who wrote this story hated garage sales.