Writer/editor Gerry Conway did a resoundingly good job energizing DC’s then somewhat tired superhero line in 1975 and early 1976, and I was right there to thoroughly enjoy it–notably with Freedom Fighters, Metal Men, Secret Society of Super-Villains, and the Justice Society of America in All-Star Comics.
Unfortunately, whenever he strayed from superheroes, Conway’s efforts weren’t nearly as enjoyable. In one case, his attempt to bring back a character from a few years earlier led to catastrophic results (well, catastrophic for a single comic book title, anyway).
As a writer, he and editor Joe Orlando altered the mystery anthology House of Secrets to accommodate a full-issue feature in issue #140–cover dated February-March 1976 and published in November of 1975. That issue was a noble but instantaneously failed attempt by Conway and Orlando to give The Patchwork Man a chance at garnering a new audience. Or recapturing a portion of Swamp Thing‘s audience. Or attracting no audience except maybe me. After all, it had been three years since The Patchwork Man had appeared in a DC comic book.
As you may know, The Patchwork Man was the hideously disfigured European businessman Gregori Arcane–father of Abigail Arcane and brother of Anton Arcane. His first appearance was in Swamp Thing (volume one) #2 (Dec/Jan 1972) in which we learn that he became a “patchwork man” after he stepped on a World War II land mine and his body parts were patched back together by his brother Anton.
Before Conway’s revival, the character’s final appearance had been one issue after his initial appearance–in Swamp Thing #3 (Feb/March 1973) in which he had apparently plummeted to his death. However, as explained in House of Secrets #140, Arcane survived the his plummet, but he then wandered aimlessly through the European countryside until he eventually fell into the hands of a mysterious scientific organization intent on experimenting with the creature’s “biological oddities.”
Able to escape from his captors after being flown to New York, The Patchwork Man wound up inside Stacy’s–the DC Universe’s equivalent to Macy’s department store, where the story dramatically opened. Conway’s tale had potential as well as solid artwork by Nestor Redondo and his talented comrades from the Philippines. It also had an intriguing supporting cast that included a young woman who was considering having an abortion–which, at that time, was a pretty bold plot device for a comic book.
However, despite the potential, the great artwork, the intriguing cast, and the interesting plot points, House of Secrets was suddenly “canceled” after issue #140–The Patchwork Man’s first and only appearance in what was meant to be an ongoing run in the series.
The “Direct Currents” section of Amazing World of DC Comics #9 (November 1975) noted that House of Secrets had been canceled to help make room on editor Joe Orlando’s schedule for Tarzan and Tarzan Family, both of which had been relinquished by Joe Kubert. Of course, an argument can be made that since DC’s mystery line peaked in sales that then dropped during 1974, House of Secret‘s sudden cancellation was actually an extreme measure in the wake of the 1975 cancellations of the lesser known Secrets of Haunted House, Tales of Ghost Castle, and Weird Mystery Tales–and the demotion of The Witching Hour, Unexpected, Ghosts, and Weird War Tales from monthly to bimonthly status.
Even though there is no way that the sales figures on House of Secrets #140 could have played a role in the series being canceled, to a kid reading comics in the mid-1970s it sure looked like The Patchwork Man was the cause of the book’s sudden disappearance from the spinner racks.
All was not lost, however. Six months later (after skipping three release dates for the bi-monthly title, House of Secrets made a surprising return to its more successful mystery anthology format in May of 1976 with #141 (cover date Aug/Sept 1976). In fact, one month earlier the “Direct Currents” section of Amazing World of DC Comics #11 (April 1976) had stated that the “prematurely canceled” House of Secrets would be revived.
The series then continued as a bi-monthly for another two years before eventually being axed due to the sweeping, debilitating DC Implosion of 1978. However, The Patchwork Man would not appear again until over a decade later in Swamp Thing (second series) #59 in January 1987 (cover date April) in a story written as a fill-in by Steve Bissette near the end of Alan Moore’s run. In that final appearance, his tragic, final fate was to agonizingly fall apart before his daughter, Abby–a patchwork man in pieces.
Actually, I forgot to mention his brief appearance in Swamp Thing’s “dream” in Saga of the Swamp Thing #22 (near the beginning of Moore’s run)–but that didn’t count since it was all just a dream.