Abel is the first entry in the well remembered Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe, a 26 issue run from DC Comics that acted as an encyclopedia of sorts for their iconic heroes and villains. While I was a rabid fan of comic books as I stated on the Starman episode of the Pop Culture Retrorama podcast – it was when Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, as well as Robert Greenberger put their heads together and released the first issue of Who’s Who in March of 1985 that my true education of the DC Universe began in earnest – although to be totally honest it’s first entry of Abel was already well known to me.
As I’ve pointed out in the past, when I was younger I was always drawn to things related to horror movies – which included the various horror titles being produced by DC Comics at the time. However my Father was dead set against me actually picking them up – thankfully by the 80’s that ban had been lifted and when a local five and dime store opened up literally down the street. I began to make up for lost time by grabbing up as many as I could as they were being sold – ten issues for one dollar!
I should point out that the Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe was in answer to Marvel Comics’ The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe which had been released in 1983. In my humble opinion the likes of Wein, Wolfman, and Greenberger did one better with their encyclopedic offering. The layouts for the individual characters or super teams were a little more flashy and offered the opportunity to have guest artists provide illustrations to boot. Such as Joe Orlando providing the artwork for the first entry in the Who’s Who which was Abel – the caretaker of the House of Secrets.
Orlando was an absolutely amazing illustrator to say nothing of the fact that he wore many hats over the years – before passing away in 1998. He worked at EC Comics and Mad magazine – was the editor and story idea contributor to the fantastic Creepy magazine from Warren Publishing before beginning work at DC Comics as a freelancer in 1966. He received an offer for the full-time position of editor in 1968 for the likes of All-Star Comics, Bat Lash, Swamp Thing, The House of Mystery, Weird Western Tales, and Weird War Tales to name a few.
Joe Orlando had a hand in the creation of Abel along with Bill Draut and Mark Hanerfield. It was Bob Haney that originally co-created the comic book series House of Secrets with Lee Elias in 1956 – a series that managed to run for 80 issues. It was in 1969 when the comic would make a return starting with issue #81 and getting the new title of The House of Secrets – not only was Abel the new caretaker of the mysterious lodging but in addition he appeared with his brother Cain as well as their cousin Eve in the humor mag entitled Plop! which frequently featured artwork by future Groo creator Sergio Aragones. In fact while the August/September The House of Secrets #81 issue was the first time Abel acted as host to the collection of horror and weird tales – he actually was first introduced in the July/August 1969 DC Special issue.
Abel’s personal data as described in the first entry of the first issue of Who’s Who: The Definitive Dictionary of the DC Universe is as follows:
Full Name: Unknown
Marital Status: Single
Known Relatives: Cain (brother), Eve (sister)
Group Affiliation: None
Base of Operations: The House of Secrets, somewhere in the Kentucky Hills
First Apperance: The House of Secrets #81
Height: 5’7″ Weight: 396 1/4 lbs.
Eyes: Blue Hair: Black
Since the Who’s Who deals with many of the costumed adventurers and would-be world conquerors – Abel’s entry makes sure to point that he has no fighting abilities whatsoever and that while he does indeed posses the ability to entertain with his dark stories – he will give up immediately when threatened. Which goes a very long way to explain why readers constantly saw him being abused – verbal and otherwise by his brother Cain, the caretaker of The House of Mystery.
Abel’s House of Secrets as explained in his Who’s Who entry is a pretty strange place – the sprawling edifice was built by one Senator Sandsfield, as a place of residence for himself and his Wife, using only materials that originated in Kentucky. His love of the residence was so strong that he made a vow only a pure-blooded Kentuckian could ever reside in the home. Tragedy stuck however as his Wife went insane in one of the upper rooms and the Senator sold it off… but the following four owners didn’t hail from Kentucky and it was said none of them could stay there for more than three months. The next owner attempted to have the house itself moved across state line but it appears that structure revolted at the idea – freeing itself from the truck cab hauling it, sliding free atop it’s trailer bed – chasing the would be owner – forcing the poor man to leap off a cliff face to his death in an attempt to avoid being crushed. The House of Secrets stopped 200 yards from the state line – adjacent to a cemetery… in fact on the far side of that place of eternal rest lies Cain’s House of Mystery. This dark history was presented to Abel as the very first story in The House of Secrets #81 – moments before he would become it’s caretaker.
The House of Secrets would run for 73 issues – ending in November of 1978. With a memorable storyteller like Abel and his brother, that hasn’t been the end of the duo. Beginning in 1985 they made reappearances in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing comics – fitting as the character made his own debut in The House of Secrets #92. Neil Gaiman would next include the brothers in his award-winning Sandman comic book series and recently back in 2008 – both made appearances in the then new House of Mystery series under the Vertigo imprint.
In closing for this entry on Abel, I want to share some absolutely fascinating history upon the visual look of the character as well as that of Cain. It turns out that as reported by Brian Cronin in an article for Comic Book Resources – that Len Wein – the very same co-creator of both Swamp Thing and the Who’s Who was the visual model for Cain. With Mark Hanerfield being chosen to influence the look of Abel – better yet – the two actually at one point posed in photographs as the characters!