Monday, December 9, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 170: March 1976

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

G.I. Combat 188

"The Devil's Pipers"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"The Redball Express"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Fred Carrillo

Peter: The men of the Jeb Stuart have been ordered to locate but not engage a huge gun that's taking out a boatload of Allied tanks. On the way to their mission, the boys run into a squadron of kilted Scots, the men who have been authorized to engage. The arrogant foreigners dismiss the Americans as "wee bonnie lads" but, after our heroes save the Scots' exposed rears, the bagpipers develop a begrudging respect.

"The Devil's Pipers"

Another month, another hum-drum adventure highlighted by flashes of interesting twists. The climactic battle, when the Jeb sends the big Nazi gun straight back to Hell, is exciting enough, but the obligatory "respect from the men who once mocked" is tired. At this point, I'm convinced Big Bob had thrown up his hands and resigned himself to the drudgery that is the Haunted Tank. How do you inject originality into a series that's limped along on a silly concept for 99 installments?

Under his Bart Regan pseudonym, Big Bob spins a tale of racism and exciting, cliffhanger action. Only, "The Redball Express" is not really that exciting (it's pretty fantastical, actually) and the "we're all the same beneath different-colored skin" message is handled as obviously and is as ham-fisted as Big Bob's other message stories.

Jack: The Haunted Tank story features plenty of unexpected carnage but Sam Glanzman remains curiously incapable of creating excitement with his sequential illustrations. Also, I didn't understand why the crew of the Haunted Tank had to put on kilts at the end of the story. I liked "The Redball Express" and thought it was a nicely-done story of black soldiers showing heroism that was unexpected by their white compadres. I'm a sucker for some 1970s' race-relations comic stories.

"The Redball Express"

Our Army at War 290

Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Redondo

"Magnificent Failure"
Story and Art by Norman Maurer

Jack: Sgt. Rock is sent on a solo mission for 48 hours and parachutes into Yugoslavia to help a band of resistance fighters blow up a bridge to prevent Nazi tanks from crossing it to quell the uprising. As soon as Rock lands in the mountains, he is set upon by Nazis and shot in the shoulder. His life is saved when the resistance fighters show up and pick off the Nazi soldiers, but to Rock's surprise, the Yugoslavian freedom fighters turn out to be just seven men, women, and children.

Overnight, Rock teaches the local folks how to use dynamite to blow up a bridge, which is an urgent need because Nazi tanks are fast approaching. The Yugoslavians climb under the bridge to set the explosives while Rock climbs up a cliff to watch out for tanks. He sees them approaching sooner than expected and manages to do some damage with grenades and small arms fire, but the plucky resistance fighters show themselves to be "Super Soldiers" when they sacrifice their lives by blowing up the bridge before they have a chance to get clear of it.

A very nice cover by Joe Kubert has little to do with the story inside the comic, though Frank Redondo's art is impressive. It's not clear why the Army needs to send Sgt. Rock on this solo mission, but it's fairly entertaining and he does get to meet a knockout blonde who is one of the doomed freedom fighters.

During the Spanish American War, the Spanish fleet refused to leave the safety of Santiago Harbor, so the American admiral is determined to sink a large ship called the Merrimac and block the exit to the harbor so the Spanish ships will be trapped. The Merrimac sails toward the harbor's mouth but is detected by a small Spanish boat, which alerts the gun batteries on land. The Spanish guns begin to fire on the Merrimac, which sinks in the wrong place, but Admiral Cervera of the Spanish fleet rescues the crew of the Merrimac and they are later released in a prisoner exchange and awarded the Medal of Honor. For some reason, the Spanish fleet later emerges from the harbor and is destroyed.

"Magnificent Failure"
Sometimes Norman Maurer's "Medal of Honor" stories are more interesting than others, and "Magnificent Failure" is one of those times. I know next to nothing about this war and found this an interesting historical tidbit, even if the conclusion--with the Spanish fleet being defeated--seemed to come out of nowhere.

Peter: How about that poor Sgt. Rock, always sidled with random bands of miscreants and 24 hours to mold them into perfect military weapons. One star deducted for Big Bob's dopey "You American comrades and your John Wayne!" dialogue, but one star added for the downbeat ending. But then a half-star off for the unbelievable panels where Rock somehow survives what looks to be a nuclear blast while clinging to a high precipice. I like Frank Redondo's art a whole heck of a lot better than Lehti's or Wildey's, so that's something I guess. The back-up is more Encyclopedia Britannica--stiff captions and dialogue, with generic doodles by Norman Maurer. Two ingredients guaranteed to put the kiddies to sleep before lights out.

Our Fighting Forces 165

"The Rowboat Fleet"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada & George Evans

"Don't Cry for a Sergeant"
Story by Murray Boltinoff
Art by E.R. Cruz

Jack: As the Losers drink at a London pub, pretty bartender Nell announces that she is heading for Dunkirk in her father's boat to help rescue trapped soldiers. The Losers ride along with her and soon find themselves shooting at German planes that are targeting the small boats of the volunteer fleet. They make it to Dunkirk, where they find British soldiers under heavy attack from the air.

Nell's boat is loaded with soldiers and she heads back across the Channel as the Losers use their wits and form "The Rowboat Fleet" by lashing together several rafts and rowing as many soldiers they can out into the dangerous waters. They manage to hold off the German air attack long enough to enter a fog bank, but when the Losers emerge on the other side, having reached the English coast, they discover that all the rafts behind them are gone and they only managed to save one soldier and a stray dog.

"The Rowboat Fleet"
After my initial surprise at seeing the Losers getting involved in a battle that was fought in France in 1940, before America entered the war and long before the Losers met, I settled down and enjoyed this exciting, well-illustrated tale. It's such a relief to have Estrada and Evans drawing this series after the Kirby Katastrophe though, once again, this looks like 100% Evans to me. Whenever I see George Evans return to a DC series I know there will be plenty of planes, and "The Rowboat Fleet" does not disappoint from that angle. It's also well-told, with great pacing and genuine emotion. The end, where most of the soldiers fail to make it, is surprising, as is the cheery final panel where the Losers return to Nell's bar. This is probably going to make my top five for 1976.

Gunner and Sarge are in Holland, assigned to sneak out among the tulips and windmills to get a count of how many German troops are heading toward an Allied base. They are spotted and Sarge is shot; despite telling his subordinate, "Don't Cry for a Sergeant," Sarge finds himself rescued by Gunner, who grabs Sarge and climbs on a windmill blade that rotates into the air and allows them to remain hidden just long enough for the German troops to move on.

I can't tell you how pleased I am to see a solid issue of Our Fighting Forces! This is the strongest issue we've read since John Severin was replaced by Jack Kirby. The Gunner and Sarge solo backup story, like last issue's solo Captain Storm story, is a breath of fresh air, and the art is excellent, making me wish E.R. Cruz had been illustrating more of the DC War Comics of the '70s. His art is both gritty and lyrical, and Sarge is tough and blue-collar without being a carbon copy of Sgt. Rock. Very good work this month all around!

"Don't Cry for a Sergeant"
Peter: Though I knew nothing of Dunkirk until Christopher Nolan turned his attention to the battle/evacuation a couple of summers ago, I found myself fascinated by the subject and read a couple of (differing) views on the event. While Big Bob obviously downplays the extreme viciousness of the Nazis in favor of a cutesy Losers narrative, enough of the sheer hopelessness manages to peek through here and there. The Estrada/Evans art is very good. We spent a long time complaining about Kirby's "everything looks like a rock or Sue Storm" visuals on the Losers so it's nice to actually have something somewhat complimentary to say about the Estrada/Evans team. I can actually tell which Loser is which and that may be the highest compliment I can tender.

I like the idea of having solo Losers adventures as a back-up even if, like "Don't Cry for a Sergeant," they're weak, but it must have been a challenge for the writers to knock out suspenseful scripts when we know these guys will survive. It's got some fabulous art by E.R. Cruz, but where's Pooch?

Star Spangled War Stories 197

"The Henschel Gambit"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Big War, Little War!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Steve Harper & Mike Kaluta

Peter: The Unknown Soldier is sent on a double-pronged mission: first and foremost, our hero must take out three experimental Nazi planes, the Henschels, just outside Toran. This will enable the Allies to succeed in a major offensive against the final Nazi stronghold in the desert. As is the norm with the US's missions, there is a catch. A U.S. Senator wants the Soldier to locate and "rescue" his daughter, Jean, a "headstrong little gal" who's taken up arms and become the feistiest little freedom fighter since Mlle. Marie.

"The Henschel Gambit"

The Soldier impersonates a well-known Arab and makes his way into Toran with no trouble but then, in a crazy twist of fate, he is captured by Mlle. Jean, hungry for vengeance against the Arab who betrayed her. Unable to explain the situation to Jean, the Soldier cold-cocks her, throws her into a convenient Messer, and destroys the three Henschels. The Soldier's Messer is crippled and he must make an emergency landing. Freedom fighter Jean does not survive the crash and the Soldier once more ponders the senselessness of war.

"The Henschel Gambit"
Leave it to the best DC war scribe of the 1970s to bail out a plot that's heading straight for predictability with a shocker of a climax and some fine action to boot. When we get to the scene in "The Henschel Gambit" that reveals that the freedom fighter who's captured the Soldier just happens to be the girl he's been sent to bring back, my eyes did an eye roll (a gesture not usually ascribed to a David Michelinie script), but the story-teller recovers nicely. The scene with the arrogant Senator Evans is a good one as well. The Soldier knows he must accept both assignments, despite the fact that babysitting Jean could cost numerous lives. I rave about Gerry Talaoc's graphics every time out but this may be his best work yet on the Unknown Soldier. The splash is a keeper.

Archie Goodwin returns and injects "Big War, Little War!," an otherwise simple tale of battle on a small Pacific atoll, with his patented crisp dialogue. Art by newcomers Kaluta and Harper is just as sharp. There's nothing deep here aside from "War is Hell" but it's a good read regardless.

Jack: I completely agree, Peter. From the Losers in 1940 we now leap three years forward to 1943 and the war in Africa, where the Unknown Soldier does it all: masquerading as an Arab, he infiltrates a Nazi camp, tries to save a senator's daughter, flies a Nazi plane, and crashes it in the desert! The downer ending is another in what's seeming to be a trend at DC. The finale of "Big War, Little War!" is even darker, and does this mean Archie Goodwin has returned to DC in some limited capacity? This is not a file story--at least, the art isn't. Other than the usual blah Haunted Tank story, this is a good month for the troops at DC!

"Big War, Little War!"

Next Week...
Does pairing Neal Adams and
Harlan Ellison automatically
equal quality?

Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-Stirling Silliphant Part One: Never Again [1.30]

by Jack Seabrook

Stirling Silliphant wrote the teleplays for eleven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, two of which have been examined already in this series: "Jonathan" and "The Glass Eye." Born in Detroit, Silliphant served in WWII and began his career as a TV writer on The Mickey Mouse Club. He wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of Jack Finney's 5 Against the House (1955) and continued writing extensively for film and TV until his death in 1996 in Bangkok.

He created the TV series Naked City and wrote 37 episodes, he co-created the TV series Route 66 and wrote many of its episodes, and he created the TV series Longstreet and wrote five of its episodes. Among his screenplays were Village of the Damned (1960), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), and The Towering Inferno (1974). He won an Academy Award for his screenplay for In the Heat of the Night (1967).

*   *   *   *   *

"Never Again" was first published here
Silliphant's first teleplay for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was "Never Again," based on a short story of the same title by Adela Rogers St. Johns that had been published first in the April 1934 issue of Cosmopolitan. It was reprinted in that magazine's February 1947 issue, then as the title story of the author's 1949 collection, Never Again and Other Stories.

Adela Rogers St. Johns (1894-1988) was born in Los Angeles and became a reporter in 1912, later writing for Photoplay and becoming well-known as a female journalist who covered major stories. She wrote screenplays for silent films, as well as short stories, novels, and non-fiction. Films and television shows were based on her work, and she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1970.

In the introduction to "Never Again" in her 1949 collection, St. Johns writes that it was "by far my best-known short story and ... one of the best known of our time." She remarks that she wrote it "in about four hours" in what must have been a burst of creativity.

The story begins as a woman named Karen awakens in bed with "the worst hang-over she'd ever had" and vows, "'never again.'" The story takes place in New York City and Karen recalls leaving a cocktail party and taking a taxi to a speakeasy on 53rd Street. Her boyfriend Micky had warned her that "'You'll do something someday you'll be sorry for,'" and she had not intended to drink at the party.

Phyllis Thaxter as Karen
Karen remembers the afternoon before, thinking that "It had been four weeks since she'd had a drink...she could take it or leave it alone." Her problems were compounded by insecurity, since "she was always jealous of Micky" and hated to see him dance with another girl. One night she had slapped him for pinching another girl's ear, and she has a "vague, dreadful memory" of seeing Micky with a blond and of screaming. Karen sits up in bed and realizes that she is not at home but in a hospital, though she cannot remember how she got there.

Struggling to remember, Karen recalls going with Micky to a cocktail party even though she promised not to drink; Micky said that "'As soon as you get two cocktails in you, I'm Public Enemy Number One.'" At the party, she told people she was on the wagon but the host insisted on bringing her a cocktail. She saw Micky talking with Renee Marlowe, whose "pictures were always in the papers." Other party guests were "amused because she was on the wagon" and one suggested that she "should wait until after repeal." Micky was having fun with Renee and a group of men and Karen "felt lower than she'd ever felt in her life."

She broke down and had one drink, then another; Micky grew angry with her and insisted that they leave. Karen remembers taking a taxi to a speakeasy on 53rd Street and she begins to remember what happened there: she told the bartender, "'None of this bootleg stuff for me'" and saw Micky talking to another girl. She thought the girl was his former girlfriend, though another man told her that the girl was a stranger; Karen remembers "saying an ugly word" and someone screaming at her. She wishes that Micky would come to her room so that she could apologize to him.

Warren Stevens as Jeff
At this point, a nurse enters the room and Karen asks if Micky has visited. She says that she wants to go home but the nurse tells her that she cannot; it's not a hospital, it's a jail, and "'You killed your boy friend in a  speakeasy last night.'"

Internal clues in "Never Again" make it clear that the story takes place during Prohibition, which ended in December 1933; the story was published in the April 1934 Cosmopolitan and presumably was written before Prohibition was repealed. There is little dialogue, other than bits of conversation in Karen's memories and at the end, when the nurse reveals the truth. Karen is an alcoholic whose jealousy and social anxiety drive her to break a promise, ending four weeks of sobriety with tragic results.

Micky's behavior seems to have been unsupportive of a woman struggling with alcoholism and jealousy, since he takes her to a cocktail party and then a speakeasy and spends his time in both locations talking to other women. His alleged efforts to preserve her sobriety were doomed to failure; despite telling her what to do, he failed to support her or to help her to stay out of dangerous situations. In the end, "Never Again" paints a vivid portrait of an alcoholic and of the dangers of losing control.

Louise Albritton as Renee
The first attempt to adapt "Never Again" for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was a screenplay by the husband and wife team of Irwin Gielgud and Gwen Bagni, but their efforts were deemed unsatisfactory and Stirling Silliphant was paid $500 to apply "the final polish." The TV show aired on CBS toward the end of the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, on Sunday, April 22, 1956.

"Never Again" is an outstanding half hour of TV, with a terrific performance by Phyllis Thaxter as Karen and with superb direction by Robert Stevens, who was nominated for a Directors Guild Award for his work on this episode. The show begins with a tight close up of Karen's face, her skin bathed in sweat, her lips cracked and parched. To convey the sense that the bed is in motion, she remarks in voice over that she is on the Staten Island Ferry; this delusion ends as soon as she realizes that she is suffering from a terrible hangover. Her boyfriend's name has been changed from Micky to Jeff, and she opens her eyes to see that her right hand is bandaged. The addition of the bandaged hand adds mystery and suspense, making the viewer wonder how the hand was injured.

Looking around the room, Karen immediately believes that she is in a hospital; in the short story, she does not even open her eyes for a few pages and initially thinks she is in her own bed at home. She continues to express her thoughts in voice over and, as she tries to remember how she got there, she looks at the foot of the bed and sees a giant wine glass superimposed on the screen. There is a dissolve to a new scene, where we see Karen in her apartment getting ready for the evening with a friend named Margaret. This scene helps establish her background as an alcoholic. She holds the same glass that had been superimposed in the prior scene and remarks on her four weeks of sobriety, pointedly using the glass as an ashtray. In Karen's closet, Margaret finds a dress, filthy and torn; this suggests that Karen keeps it in that condition to remind herself of what happened the last time she wore it.

Joan Banks as Margaret
Another dissolve leads to a scene some time later but still in Karen's apartment; she is anxious because Jeff is late in coming to pick her up. When he arrives, she kisses him passionately, suggesting desperation in her affection for him. He sees the wine glass and the camera cuts to a close up of it before pulling back; Karen insists on giving Jeff a drink to prove that she will not be moved by the sight of him imbibing alcohol. She tells him that she needs to find something to occupy her time after work and mentions one of his clients named Renee Marlowe. Jeff, who works at an advertising agency, calls Renee "'the brightest woman in advertising we have around'" as well as an old friend. He adds that Renee likes Karen, but Karen does not believe it and says "'I'm nothing anymore.'" He tells her that she needs to get out more and offers to take her to one of his agency parties that night, though she worries that she won't understand all that "'smart talk.'"

The scene then dissolves to the party, and Jeff quickly disappears into the study with Renee to review proofs, leaving Karen alone. Another guest forces a drink into her hand and, when she says she does not drink, the man responds, "'Sweetie, don't be disagreeable.'" There is a brief return to the present, with Karen in her bed remembering the party, and then a dissolve back to the party, as we see closeups of drinks being mixed and consumed, Karen utterly unable to enjoy the party with Jeff out of sight. A young man approaches her and strikes up a conversation, forcing another drink on her.

Jeff and Renee finally emerge and he immediately confronts Karen about the drink in her hand. She throws the drink in Renee's face and runs out the door. The scene dissolves back to Karen in bed, as she recalls her actions with shame and continues to wonder why she is in a hospital with a bandaged hand. Another dissolve finds her back at home, having fled the party. Jeff comes after her and finds her martini pitcher empty; once again, he suspects her of drinking. She confesses her fear of losing him, explaining that she suffers from extreme jealousy. Jeff tries to reassure her by telling her that "'All a man wants is someone who's simple and honest and who loves him.'"

Jack Mullaney as Renee's brother
He mentions marriage and she clings to it, since he has never formally proposed. "'I happen to love you,'" he tells her matter-of-factly. Invigorated by his backhanded declaration, Karen announces that she wants to return to the party to show everyone that she is immune to their criticism. There is a dissolve and we are back at the party, where a very understanding Renee tells Karen that all is forgiven. Unfortunately, one of Jeff's colleagues spirits him away almost immediately and Karen is left alone again.

Once more, she is approached by the young man with a drink, but this time he reveals that he is Renee's younger brother and admits that he drinks to excess. Karen continues to resist the temptation to drink until the young man tells her that Renee is crazy about Jeff and that Renee told him that Jeff's girlfriend is a hopeless drunk. This pushes Karen over the edge. She grabs the man's martini and downs it in a single gulp. She orders a double to follow it and invites him to go bar-hopping in Manhattan. They leave the party together and there is a dissolve to a bar, where we see Karen and the young man dancing wildly to tunes being played on a jukebox. Karen's hair and dress are a wreck and it is obvious that she is very drunk.

Karen violently grabs a bottle from the bartender and is drinking from a large glass when Jeff enters with Renee. Karen sees three images of each of them, two of Renee's merging with two of Jeff's. She falls, breaks the glass, and cuts her hand. Jeff helps her up with the broken glass in her hand and the camera dissolves back to the present, where a nurse enters and tells Karen the horrible truth of where she is and what she has done. Karen looks up, sees bars on the window, and screams when the nurse tells her that she killed Jeff by cutting his throat with a brandy glass.

In adapting "Never Again" from page to small screen, the teleplay writers added scenes and characters and made the flashbacks more straightforward and chronological. The time period of the story has been moved forward from Prohibition to the 1950s, and the speakeasy culture has been replaced by that of the Organization Man. Jeff's casual sexism is somewhat awkward when viewed from today's standpoint, though the contrast between Renee and Karen is interesting: Renee is the successful career woman while Karen is the traditional, subservient woman who spends all day taking dictation and then depends on her boyfriend to validate her identity. Jeff is a typical man of the era, but instead of having him take Karen to a speakeasy, as his counterpart Micky does in the short story, the TV show has another man take on that role, which seems more consistent with Jeff's criticism of what he thinks are Karen's intentions to resume drinking.

Gwen Bagni (1913-2001), who co-wrote the first draft of the teleplay, wrote for radio in the 1940s and 1950s, then wrote a handful of films and many TV episodes between 1950 and 1987. She wrote with three husbands in sequence: first, John Bagni, who died in 1954; then, Irwin Gielgud, whom she married in 1955 and who died in 1961; and finally, Paul Dubov, whom she married in 1963 and who died in 1979. She did not remarry after Dubov's death but she kept writing for TV. She and Gielgud contributed two teleplays to Alfred Hitchcock Presents and her papers are housed at the University of California, as are Stirling Silliphant's.

Carol Veazie
Her co-writer and husband at the time, Irwin Gielgud (1918-1961), does not have as long a list of credits as Gwen Bagni, having written four screenplays between 1949 and 1956 and having co-written teleplays with his wife from 1956 to 1961.

"Never Again" was directed by Robert Stevens (1920-1989), who directed TV shows from 1948 to 1987, including 105 episodes of Suspense and 49 episodes of the Hitchcock show. He directed a handful of films and two episodes of The Twilight Zone, and he won an Emmy for directing the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "The Glass Eye."

Phyllis Thaxter (1919-2012), who stars as Karen, was born in Maine and acted on Broadway before making her debut on film in 1944. She began acting on TV in 1953, appearing in six episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; "Never Again" was the first. She also appeared on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, and three episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "The Long Silence," where her character is also bedridden. Later in her career, she played Ma Kent in Superman (1978), and she continued to appear on TV until 1992.

Second billing in the cast goes to Louise Albritton (1920-1979) as Renee. Born in Oklahoma City, she entertained the troops overseas during WWII in the USO and appeared on screen from 1942 to 1964, including roles in Abbott and Costello's Who Done It? (1942) and Son of Dracula (1943), with Lon Chaney, Jr. "Never Again" marked her only role on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Warren Stevens (1919-2012) plays Jeff. Born in Pennsylvania, he was a pilot in WWII and later a founding member of the Actors Studio. In addition to roles on Broadway, Stevens appeared on TV from 1948 to 2006 and in films from 1951 to 2007, including Forbidden Planet (1956). He was in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and he was seen on The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Star Trek.

In smaller roles:
  • Jack Mullaney (1929-1982) as Renee's kid brother; he was on screen from 1954 to 1980 and appeared in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Belfry." He was also on Thriller and in the film of South Pacific (1954).
  • Joan Banks (1918-1998) as Margaret, who helps Karen get ready in the early scene; she was on radio and then on screen from 1950 to 1967, appearing in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "The Cream of the Jest."
  • Carol Veazie (1895-1984) as the nurse who breaks the bad news to Karen; she was on screen from 1954 to 1974 and her last credit was for a role on Kolchak: The Night Stalker. "Never Again" was one of her two appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
"Never Again" is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here.

The FictionMags Index,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
“Never Again.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 1, episode 30, CBS, 22 Apr. 1956.
Segaloff, Nat. Stirling Silliphant: the Fingers of God. Bearmanor Media, 2013.
St. Johns, Adela Rogers. “Never Again.” Never Again and Other Stories, Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1949, pp. 295–304.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: "The Manacled," starring Gary Merrill and William Redfield!

Listen to the podcast, Presenting Alfred Hitchcock Presents, here.

Listen to Annie and Katherine discuss "Never Again" on the Good Evening podcast here.

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Warren Report Issue 22: February-April 1970

The Critical Guide to 
the Warren Illustrated Magazines
by Uncle Jack
& Cousin Peter

Creepy #31 (February 1970)

"In the Face of Death" 
Story by Al Hewetson
Art by Bill Fraccio and Tony Tallarico

"Telephoto Troll!" 
Story by R. Michael Rosen
Art by Roger Brand

"A Night's Lodging!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #17)

"Snowmen!"  ★1/2
Story and Art by Tom Sutton

"A Wooden Stake for Your Heart!" 
Story by Don Glut
Art by Bill Black

"Death of a Stranger!" 
Story by T. Casey Brennan
Art by Ernie Colon

"Laughing Liquid" 
Story by Kevin Pagan
Art by William Barry

"In the Face of Death"
Right off the bat we know we're in trouble with the quote "...all new stories" blazing across the cover and the infamous "A Night's Lod[g]ing" reprinted within. The mercifully short "In the Face of Death" (at a mere four pages) makes no sense whatsoever and fails to elicit more than a groan from this impatient reader. Our protagonist creeps along the back alleys of London searching for the man who "caused me to live this miserable life," and finds him, at last, after years of searching. Turns out the man he's looking for is Merlin the magician, who stole our narrator's identity... and face. Truly awful, with a"so what?" twist and lazy writing (Uncle Creepy's opening monologue ends with the awkwardly-phrased, "He's been plagued for years with a little problem I call... In the Face of Death" Huh?

Don the astronomer has made a fascinating discovery: he focuses his new telescope on a distant planet, takes a picture and, once developed, the picture comes to life. He photographs gases and the noxious fumes almost overtake him and his gorgeous servant/wife, Julia. He snaps a shot of weird seeds on the planet's surface and, once the photo is developed... voila, seeds in his lab. Julia makes Don promise not to take any more photos, since the practice might prove dangerous, and then heads to bed. Don wakes her shortly thereafter with a fantastic surprise.

"Telephoto Troll!"

"Telephoto Troll!"
He's just snapped a shot of one of the planet's inhabitants, an ugly troll; could Julia please develop the pic for him so he can have photographic evidence to show his colleagues? Without a second thought, Julia does what she's told and, soon after,  Don is attacked in his lab by a "giant troll!" Thinking fast, Don burns the troll Polaroid and... Poof!... up in smoke goes the monster. Phew! That was close! Just then, Don is attacked by a horde of trolls while, in her darkroom, Julia muses how happy Don will be when he learns she's made six extra copies of the photo!

So... Julia tells Don this little experiment of his could be deadly and then makes six copies of the photo to surprise him? Never mind that, what's a gorgeous (if anatomically odd) babe like Julia doing with Dr. Strange wanna-be Don? I kept waiting for her younger boyfriend to come out of the woodwork with a plan to off the old codger. I really dug Roger Brand's past work, but in "Telephoto Troll!" it's awkward and just... goofy. Julia's body changes shapes and bra-sizes from panel to panel and, at times, the poor girl looks like she's just come off a stretching-session on a rack. But the real trouble is the awful script and the sense that writer Rosen doubts he's writing for anyone older than eight.

Timmy Cabot's rich father keeps the boy isolated from the other children in the village, but when a series of child murders rocks the small town, Cabot Sr. must grab the reins and command the investigation. Suspicion falls on slow-witted LeRoy and Cabot takes the law into his own hands, stringing the man up from a tree outside town. Cabot will have quite the surprise, though, when the thaw reveals the missing kids in the "Snowmen!" Timmy built in the yard. Even though we know the "twist" right from the opening panels, "Snowmen!" is still creepy fun. Maybe it's the winter setting, maybe the fact that children are involved, but more than likely it's thanks to Tom Sutton's unflinching art. LeRoy's hanging body is a jarring image, as is that of the melting snowmen.

"Death of a Stranger!"
The angry villagers are intent on beating down the wooden door of Castle Rogo, dragging the Count out and driving that wooden stake right into his heart. Though Count Rogo pleads his innocence, the townsfolk overpower him and drive that stake home, killing him instantly. One of the villagers cries out in excitement that there's a locked door in the room and, unable to hold back their curiosity, they unwittingly unleash the monsters Rogo had kept in check behind the door. With a cliched script and awful, movie-still "inspired" art by Bill Black, "A Wooden Stake For Your Heart!" is really juvenile stuff.

Dying of a brain tumor, our unnamed narrator fears entering the "after-life" alone, so he wanders through life fantasizing a quick exit and a supporting cast who will help him face his final days. In the end, the man gets a helping hand from the Grim Reaper himself. Though not entirely successful,  the powerful message and delivery of "Death of a Stranger!"can't be ignored. Writer T. Casey Brennan, who will contribute even more powerful scripts in the years to come, virtually invents the "adult Warren horror story" on the spot here; nothing that came before this story touched on such a deep subject without a silly twist or random ghoul. The protagonist hallucinates a psychedelic episode with a waitress that might have left Creepy's target audience (which must have been about eight years of age, based on the other scripts being greenlit at the time) scratching their heads and skipping pages. The art's also a little rough in spots, but appropriate for the subject matter. When all is said and done, we may have T. Casey Brennan to thank for showing Warren Publishing the light at the end of the tunnel.

"Laughing Liquid"
Last up is the truly wretched "Laughing Liquid," wherein a man uncovers a nefarious plot from outer space. Aliens have infested our water (and the water within our bodies) and slowly drive their hosts insane. Suicide is the only solution. Writer Kevin Pagan wisely uses an old ploy similar to the plan put into effect by his aliens: stuff your prose full of misspellings and the reader will forget that the plot is as easy to swallow as a Kevin Spacey film festival. Some examples:

I didn't know what to expect when I received that phone call from my friend Proffi (sic) Hirschfield

"Supposedly, he's one of the best Psycoanalyist (sic) in the field. Recently working and researching extra senory (sic)"

I woke up in icey (sic) cold sweat

That unhuman laughing was tearing away at my sanaity (sic)!

I've had enough of these (sic) crap! -Peter

Jack-You said it! How in the world did they misspell the title of "A Night's Lodging!" as "A Night's Loding!"? I wondered for a moment if it was spelled wrong back when it first appeared in Creepy 17, so I looked back and, lo and behold, it was misspelled then, too! So the letterer not only got it wrong the first time and the editor did not catch it, but then they pulled it out to reprint it and still did not notice the error! Incredible.

Not so incredible is the continued poor quality of the stories in Creepy. After a pretty wild cover by Vaughn Bode and Larry Todd, which probably sold most of the copies of this rag, we get "In the Face of Death," which is so poorly told that I thought a page was missing. The end of "Telephoto Troll" made me chuckle, even though art and story were both terrible. The storytelling in "Snowmen!" was a bit hazy but it's still better than anything else in this issue. I didn't think "A Wooden Stake for Your Heart" was as bad as you did, though the ending has been done before and Bill Black didn't do a great job of tracing Christopher Lee movie stills. "Death of a Stranger!" was not bad; I like Ernie Colon's art but thought the ending was disappointing. As for "Laughing Liquid," the story was mixed up and ended abruptly.

Vaughn Bode & Basil Gogos
Eerie #26 (March 1970)

"I Wouldn't Want to Live There!"
Story by Bill Parente
Art by Jack Sparling

"Southern Exposure"★1/2
(Part II)
Story by Bill Parente
Art by Tom Sutton

"In the Neck of Time"
Story by Al Hewetson
Art by Tony Tallarico

"Spiders are Revolting!"★1/2
Story by Bill Warren
Art by Tom Sutton

"The Scarecrow"
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by Frank Bolle

"Tuned In!"★1/2
Story by Ken Dixon
Art by Dick Piscopo

Story by Ken Dixon
Art by Jack Sparling

"I Wouldn't Want
to Live There!"
Three creatures from outer space land on a remote planet, intending to use it as a checkpoint to help them determine where they are. Landing first on a hot desert, Timuk is smothered to death in a sandstorm. Moving on to the undersea depths, Ven is killed by a sea monster. Finally, atop a rocky mountain, Gork is vaporized by a bolt of lightning. Soon, the prehistoric inhabitants of the planet discover the abandoned spaceship, notice its unusual shape, and cavemen invent the wheel.

Jack Sparling actually does a nice job with the art on "I Wouldn't Want to Live There!" and, for a change, Bill Parente's script makes sense. The end is no big surprise--of course they were on Earth!--but the whole thing is reasonably entertaining.

"Southern Exposure" (Part II)
In "Southern Exposure" (Part II), Grandma issues a warning that tonight, when Melinda turns 21, she will be revealed to be a vampire, just like her mother! Melinda tells her boyfriend, Elliott, that her father had fallen for her mother, even though he knew she was a bloodsucking fiend. Dad pretended to be a maniac, covering up for Mom's murders until villagers killed both of her parents. Midnight arrives and Melinda shows that she casts a reflection in a mirror, so she can't be a vampire. Unfortunately for Elliott, Melinda reveals that her Pop was a werewolf and so is she!

Arrgh! I knew that one half-decent Bill Parente script was all we could hope for. This one is a disaster--it's dreadfully overwritten, with characters coming and going with no explanation and others being mentioned without any sense of clarity. My summary is the best I could do after two careful readings; all I know for sure is that the ending was yet another version of "I'm not Monster A, I'm Monster B!"

Peter sold some more digests!
("In the Neck of Time")
A scientist invents a method to travel through time and takes a "stun-paralizer [sic] ray" gun to commit a series of robberies in the Old West, intending to return to the present with his ill-gotten gains. Sadly, the ray gun malfunctions and he is arrested, tried, and sentenced to 20 years in the state pen. A lynch mob grabs him and hangs him from a tree; when he is pulled back to the present, his house has burned down because he forgot to shut off the power in his lab.

Forget the usual, terrible art by Fraccio and Tallarico; Hewetson's script for "In the Neck of Time" is even worse! Cousin Eerie has to jump in halfway through to help explain what's going on and provide missing details, and the last page makes absolutely no sense, even though it is also explained by Cousin Eerie! Early on, the scientist grabs a ray gun that his brother invented, but we never meet his brother or learn why he came up with this futuristic weapon. At the end of the story, the scientist is dead by hanging and for some reason he is said to return automatically to the present, where his house has burned down. Don't ask me. I have no idea.

A particularly nasty panel from
"Spiders Are Revolting!"
Bill Elliot is in a straitjacket, locked in a padded call, terrified of spiders. Why? It all started when he and his wife Jeanne moved into the old house they bought at an auction and discovered that the attic was filled with spiders. "Spiders Are Revolting!" thought Bill. When the exterminator came, the critters had disappeared, but soon Bill saw them in the cellar, covering a man's dead body. The corpse was gone by the time the police arrived. Soon, a knock at the door revealed a spectral creature that seemed to be made of many spiders; Bill conked it over the head and then burned down the house to try to eradicate the little monsters.

Bill and Jeanne flee to a mountain cabin, but before you know it, another spider-human arrives at the door. Bill sets it ablaze and goes back inside, only to find that Jeanne has become a spider-creature. Bill heads for town and is soon locked away because he thinks he's seeing more creatures. To his horror, the doctor and an orderly reveal themselves to be more of the same creatures!

The script by Bill Warren is nothing special, but Tom Sutton goes for the gross-out and it works, if you like that sort of thing. I suspect the kids reading Warren mags in 1970 would've had a ball with this story. There are some pretty sick panels.

"The Scarecrow"
Farmer Zeb Witney erects "The Scarecrow" in his cornfield, which happens to sit on ancient Indian burial grounds. His daughter, Baby-Lou, names the scarecrow Mr. Willoughby and stays in the field to talk with the man of straw. This brings her wicked stepmother, Linda, out to beat her for being late to dinner; Zeb hears Linda scream.

Six years later, Baby-Lou is all grown up and returns from the sanitarium by train. She is met by her father, who remarks on her beauty. On returning to the farm, Baby-Lou is anxious to chat with Mr. Willoughby and her father distracts her by taking her to the local carnival. Her prowess at the shooting game attracts the attention of Brian, who squires her around and ends up putting the moves on her. She takes him back to the cornfield for some smooching and introduces him to Mr. Willoughby, at which point he smacks her across the chops and says she's a nut. She warns him about leaving the cornfield, but he ignores her and is torn to shreds. Zeb returns and tears down Mr. Willoughby, thinking the scarecrow is to blame, but Baby-Lou informs him that the scarecrow was actually protecting them from the crows, who are really the spirits of Indians. Next day, Baby-Lou wanders in a daze past Zeb's corpse, which has been picked clean and which now hangs in Mr. Willoughby's place.

That story doesn't sound bad in the retelling, and I really think there's something half-decent underneath, but Nicola Cuti doesn't seem quite ready to tell a very good or coherent tale just yet and Frank Bolle's art, while not bad, isn't particularly impressive, either. Cuti is still a few years away from writing the great E-Man series, so I'll put this down to youth.

At least we have this panel...
"Tuned In!"
Fading movie star Russ Andrews is playing a serial killer in a new movie called Blood and Black Stockings and he's miserable, partly due to his knockout wife's shrewish behavior. One day, he picks up a real broad axe instead of a fake one and accidentally murders one of his female costars during filming. Or was it an accident? Russ is depressed and having trouble separating reality from fiction, especially when he hears the movie's theme song. It plays on the radio at home and he kills his wife. It plays in the car and he kills the driver and the film's director. After the movie's premiere, the song plays on the speaker in an elevator, and Russ kills three more people. Too bad the doors open on a surprise birthday party for the movie star.

Dick Piscopo's art makes Frank Bolle's look like the work of Neal Adams, and Ken Dixon's script for "Tuned In!" suffers from the same fragmentary and elliptical storytelling that seems to infect so many of the Warren stable of writers. The end recalls Fredric Brown's story, "Nightmare in Yellow."

The members of The Animals, a motorcycle gang, descend on Roy's Bar, where one of the bikers, a gent named Leather, seduces a lovely gal named Heather. The Animals find one of their members, Crazy Eddie, dead in the street outside with marks on his neck that can only mean one thing--he was killed by members of a rival gang, The Demons, who only ride at night! The Animals track down The Demons and Leather kills one of them. The next night, another member of The Animals, a biker named Exhaust, is killed. The Animals chase The Demons and discover that they're vampires, but that's okay, because The Animals are werewolves.

Good Lord, that was awful. Peter, what did I do to deserve this? It takes a lot of skill and effort to try to make sense of this garbage and summarize it concisely. Jack Sparling's art is particularly bad here; like other comic artists we see all too often (Sam Glanzman, for example), he does not excel at drawing human faces. And there are a LOT of faces in "Cyked-Out!" I can only hope that next issue will be better.-Jack

Peter-Another humdrum issue with very few highlights. I think the script for "I Wouldn't Want to Live There!" might be the best of Parente's career at Warren so far; it's got some nice twists and a climax that actually surprises (the same can not be said for the moronic final panel of "Southern Exposure") for a change. Tom Sutton's art for "Spiders are Revolting!" looks rushed and crowded; there are spots here and there that are not easy to comprehend. The script provides proof that future movie critic Bill Warren was on a steady diet of H.P. Lovecraft in college. Al Hewetson turns in another stinker with "In the Neck of Time," perfectly embellished by Tallarico. Rather than do something new, Hewetson provides yet another example of a scientist who spends a whole hell of a lot of time devising an invention that will help mankind (and I'm a little vague on how this would help rather than hinder, but...) only to decide, just before launch, that he's been treated wrongly and so he'll rob banks instead. Brilliant. "The Scarecrow" has potential that is thrown away fairly quickly and climaxes with "the big shock" that makes no sense. And "the big shock" of "Tuned In!" is a tad muted since Russ spends the entire length of the story killing people! Could the previous six stories only be a warm-up for something vastly worse? You betcha! "Cyked-Out" wins the "You're Vampires? Well, We're Werewolves!" Award this month for both its inane plot and stupid reveal. It doesn't help when Jack Sparling is the artist. Warren paid money for this tripe? Worse, I paid money for this tripe!

Jeff Jones & Vaughn Bode
Vampirella #4 (April 1970)

"Forgotten Kingdom"
Story by Bill Parente
Art by David StClair (Ernie Colon)

"Closer Than Sisters"
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by Mike Royer

Story by Don Glut
Art by William Barry

"For the Love of Frankenstein"★1/2
Story by Bill Warren
Art by Jack Sparling

"Come Into My Parlor!"★1/2
Story by R. Michael Rosen
Art by Dick Piscopo

"Run For Your Wife!"
Story by Richard Carnell & Jack Erman
Art by Jack Sparling

Note the pretty Spirograph design on the right.
("Forgotten Kingdom")
On the distant planet Uluphon, a beautiful woman named Zodi is riding around on her mount, called a Kog, when she finds that a man in a spacesuit has landed on her planet. He saves her life and introduces himself as Keifer; she takes him back to her temple, where the leader, Temple of One, explains that a plague 200 years before wiped out all the men on the planet. Temple of One wants Keifer to help repopulate.

Oddly enough, he resists and is locked up. Zodi helps him escape and they return to his ship, where he destroys Temple of One's avatar, and thus the entire planet, before they take off. On the spaceship, he reveals to Zodi that, on his planet, there are no women!

At least he did not turn out to be a werewolf. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this story is that the artist, Ernie Colon (under the pen name, David StClair), has discovered the toy called Spirograph, which was invented in 1965. Panel after panel of "Forgotten Kingdom" features those drawings that I used to make when I was a kid by running a pen around and around those plastic discs.

Took the words right out of our mouths
("Closer Than Sisters")
Olivegard is a lonely little girl who lives by the seashore with her aunt and uncle. Her parents were killed in a car crash but she was spared. When her new governess, June Hyland, arrives, she and the girl quickly become "Closer Than Sisters," and it's a good thing, too, since the aunt and uncle want to murder little Olivegard for her inheritance. Olivegard turns the tables and kills her aunt and uncle before June tells her that she is Olivegard too, having come back from ten years in the future to protect her younger self. But wait! It's all in her head. Olivegard actually has been locked up in the loony bin for eight years since she murdered her aunt and uncle.

Some of these seven-page stories feel like they're about 20 pages long and I'm surprised when I go back through them that so much verbiage was packed into such a short space. This is another Nicola Cuti tale of confusion, with awkward art by Mike Royer, who can't decide if Olivegard is a little girl or a pinup. And haven't we had enough of the surprise ending where the main character is crazy? At least she's not a werewolf.

We think he's a werewolf...
When city slicker Paul Klug's fancy car gets a flat tire way out in the country, he is menaced by a couple of gun-toting hillbillies but attracted to their sexy sister. Flat fixed, he drives off and nearly runs over a cat, whose eyes resemble those of the pretty girl. Paul follows the cat into the woods and finds the girl, who seduces him and makes him agree to come live with her and her brothers, as long as he becomes one of them. He follows her back to the family shack and drinks some of her special "Moonshine!," which turns him into a werewolf. Of course, she's a witch, her brothers are warlocks, and Uncle Irv is a vampire.

Now that's more like it! There's nothing terribly original about this story, but at least it's fun and the plot makes sense from start to finish. I kind of like William Barry's art; he's no Reed Crandall, but at least it's better than much of what we've been getting for months and months.

An especially bad panel from
"For the Love of Frankenstein"
Dr. Frankenstein's grand-niece, Dr. Hedvig Krollek, has kept up the family business, trying but failing repeatedly to create life out of dead bodies and electricity. Her assistant, the deformed hunchback Dr. Hoffstein, is in love with her, and she uses this devotion to get him to procure bodies and brains for her experiments. Finally she gets a body to live, but the brain is fried, so she sends Hoffstein out for a new one. He buys a used brain but throws it out of his truck's window on the way back to the lab, sick of Hedvig's experiments. Predictably, she kills him and uses his brain instead; even more predictably, he kills her and blows up the lab.

The good news is that this utterly derivative story has a comprehensible plot. The bad news is that Jack Sparling's art is worse than usual, with some panels requiring one to squint and turn one's head sideways to try to guess what's being depicted. He can draw a pretty sexy Hedvig (and Vampirella) when he tries, but I wonder if the Warren artists inked their own work and that's why Sparling's Warren stories look so much worse than what he was doing for DC around the same time. No DC editor would ever let art this sloppy make it into print.

"Come Into My Parlor!"
Jim Hartman falls hard for Miss Arachna, a circus high wire walker and a scantily-clad beauty. He visits her in her trailer, professes his love, and gets her to show him her secret laboratory, where she experiments with spiders. She takes off her gloves and shows him her hairy, spider-like hands, then explains that she experimented on herself years before and gained the ability to walk on thin wires. Jim doesn't care and talks her into marrying him, but when he brings her home she reveals that, like the black widow spiders on which she conducted her experiments, she must devour her mate!

From his bio, reproduced below, Dick Piscopo sounds like a nice guy and an accomplished comic artist, but "Come Into My Parlor!" is another wretched job. Mercifully only six pages long, it features stilted dialogue by R. Michael Rosen and yet another ending that fails to surprise. At least, unlike most of the efforts of Bill Parente, the plot makes sense.

Several women are thrilled to receive an invitation to visit Count Tsarov in Slovania, all expenses paid. They and their husbands fly to the distant country and are welcomed but, unbeknownst to the guests, the count is actually a woman masquerading as a man. The next day, a tennis match pitting men versus women is interrupted when a high fence emerges to separate the sexes and Tsarov orders the men to start running for their lives. Some of the men fall into trenches, where they are devoured by snakes, alligators, and red ants. One of the wives releases Tsarov's dogs, and the beasts destroy the evil count. The wife takes off her wig to reveal that she is a male investigator!

Words fail us.
("Run for Your Wife")
After reading "Run for Your Wife!," all I can say is "What the heck?" A quick search online reveals no other credits for Richard Carnell, who supposedly wrote the story that was adapted by Jack Erman. I would love to see a copy of the story that served as the basis for this mess, which is "illustrated" poorly by Jack Sparling. It really makes no sense at all, especially the two characters who turn out to be cross-dressing. Peter? Help?-Jack

Peter- Of all the drek we've read that was published during the "Dark Age," I think I can safely say (or, at least, hope to God I can say) that this is the single worst issue I've read of a Warren magazine. The scripts don't just range from inane ("Forgotten Kingdom") to contrived ("Closer Than Sisters") to laugh-out-loud stupid ("Moonshine!" and "Come Into My Parlor!") to indecipherable ("Frankenstein" and "Run For Your Wife"), they almost have a contemptuous air to them as if all seven writers were reveling in the fact that Vampirella readers would swallow anything... even this. Imagine picking up a Warren mag in 1970 and not knowing that things were going to turn around in a couple years and quality would rain down upon you like Chicken McNuggets from the sky. You just had to accept that this was as good as it got. Believe me, if I didn't know it gets better soon, I'd have never talked poor Jack into climbing onto this raft with me.

Next Week...
Michelinie and Talaoc continue to burn
the quality candle at both ends!

From Eerie 26

From Vampirella 4