Monday, April 6, 2020

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 178: November 1976

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Our Army at War 298

"Return to Chartres"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Redondo

"Not Granted!"
Story & Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Easy Co. survives a beach landing on the French coast and an immediate climb up a sheer rock face, despite being under fire by Nazis. Resting at the top of the cliff, a new redheaded kid in Rock's company pulls out pictures of French landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower and Chartres Cathedral, and remarks that his father fought in WWI and now he wants to see the places he heard about from his Dad.

Easy Co. clears a Nazi ambush from some hedgerows and marches toward Paris, but when they are re-routed to the southwest, the new soldier is disappointed until they see the spires of Chartres Cathedral in the rainy mist. A Nazi tank appears out of nowhere and ambushes Easy Co.; the tank is defeated but the young soldier is killed saving Rock from a shell. Rock carries his dead body into the cathedral, where the newly-emerged sun shines through the stained-glass windows the soldier had so wanted to see.

"Return to Chartres"
I was surprisingly moved by "Return to Chartres," in which Kanigher uses his old standby trope of the new recruit who gets killed to create a story that, in the end, creates some real pathos. Frank Redondo's art has never been better on this strip, and the last page is especially good, with Rock carrying the young man through the rain and ending up inside the beautiful church.

Ships and planes battle fiercely at Okinawa during WWII. On board an American ship, a seaman wonders what tomorrow will bring. When his ship is sent to Okinawa, he learns only too well that the one thing for which he wishes most is tomorrow!

Sam Glanzman manages to wrest a poignant ending out of yet another dull, four-page story; it's not clear whether the ship involved is the U.S.S. Stevens, but the sentiment is universal. There are some particularly bad panels where the opposing forces are represented by giant snakes fighting each other in a confined space.

"Not Granted!"

Peter: Well, I knew the "green kid who wins Rock's heart and then gets killed" story was coming up sooner or later. Here it is, complete with maudlin finale. I had to wonder what made the kid sense there was going to be a shell dropped right where Rock was standing but then I remembered Rock had that eerie sixth sense earlier in the story when he fired into that hedge full of Nazis. Never mind, these G.I.s just know there's something up. Sam Glanzman reminds us once again, with "Not Granted!" that he couldn't draw worth a darn but, now and then, he could churn out a poignant thriller.

G.I. Combat 196

"Dead Man Patrol"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Operation Slaughterhouse"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Fred Carrillo

Peter: With no rest since their super-secret mission to Iwo Jima (via the island that time forgot--seen last issue), the crew of the Jeb Stuart are tasked with protecting the fuel dump that Patton's tank corps is racing to even as we speak. First off, they're involved in a horrendous battle wherein the entire Blue Patrol tank squad is destroyed. With no time to bury the dead, Jeb has the men lash the corpses to the tanks and they roll off. Of course, the Ratzis are running low on fuel, so they'd like to get their strudel-contaminated mitts on that fuel as well. Hoping the dead G.I.s will fool the enemy into thinking the good guys outnumber the bad, Jeb gets the Haunted Tank to the fuel site just as Panzer leader Ernst Baumer (he of the nasty eye patch) arrives. That means only the Haunted Tank Mach IV stands between Baumer and his complete domination over General Patton. Sensing that Patton won't make it up the hill in time, Jeb has the boys roll the fuel drums down the hill to the General. Refueled, Patton reigns fire down upon the enemy.

"Dead Men Patrol"
Another month, another exhilarating adventure starring the most overworked tank crew in the army. The plot device of using the dead as subterfuge is a grim but effective one and almost, just almost, saves "Dead Man Patrol" from being creaky and boring. The continuing Zelig-esque portrayal of the Haunted Tank and its crew is laughable. Somehow, at some point in this series, you just know it'll be revealed ("the true secret unleashed at last!") that Jeb and Rick and Gus and Slim were in that underground bunker with Adolf. Oh, and I've been meaning to ask: why does Big Bob all of a sudden, after all these years, decide 1976 was the time to have the Germans speak in their own dialect and run translation captions at the bottom of each panel? An example runs below.

A frogman must rely on a friendly dolphin to help him place a high explosive on a German battleship hiding in a Norway fjord. "Operation Slaughterhouse," this issue's "OSS" episode, seems to indicate a trend in Big Bob's writing formula, alternating between dark and fluffy. "Slaughterhouse" isn't bad, Flipper notwithstanding; it's reminiscent of the 1950s' DC war strips Bob Haney was pumping out for the likes of Mort Drucker and Russ Heath.

("Dead Man Patrol")

Jack: Seeing the Haunted Tank fly the Confederate Battle Flag certainly has different reverberations in 2020 than it did in 1976! I don't know why Jeb bothered to lash the dead bodies to the tanks to try to fool the Germans; the Nazi commander wasn't fooled for a second. At least Kanigher and Glanzman have some slight success this time around distinguishing one member of the Haunted Tank from another, though not for a moment did I think Rick was in danger of dying. The backup also reminded me of the backups from days of yore, and it's nice to see a frogman tale--we haven't had one of those in quite some time.

Sparling & Colletta
Star Spangled War Stories 202

"The Cure"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

Peter: The Unknown Soldier's latest mission is a doozy: Allied and Enemy alike are dying at the front from a vicious new strain of Typhus and the only serum to counteract the virus was in a plane that crashed behind enemy lines. The Soldier must impersonate a Nazi soldier to infiltrate the German hospital where the serum has likely landed. But do the Germans actually have the vial that holds "The Cure?"

Our last look at the Unknown Soldier on this long journey is in a well-told and (as usual) amazingly-penciled tale with several satisfying twists and turns. I like that the Soldier displays human qualities that remind us he's no superhero; he's a bit arrogant and egotistical when dealing with a doctor who questions why one lone soldier is heading into this important retrieval mission rather than a whole squadron.

That was the chief magic David Michelinie and Gerry Talaoc brought to the Unknown Soldier during their all-too-brief run on the title (the following issue would be the team's finale), taking a character that was going, literally, nowhere, and elevating the title into the "essential" ranks. For the most part, the plotting was tight, the dialogue crisp and real, and the revelations along the way seemed to mold the person behind the makeup.

As noted, this was the final Michelinie/Talaoc issue, with Joe Orlando handing over the duties to Bob Haney and Dick Ayers (with Talaoc inking) with #204. Star Spangled War Stories ended existence with #204 and was re-titled The Unknown Soldier. But for a handful of fill-in issues, the Haney/Ayers/Talaoc run lasted until the final issue, #268, in October 1982.

Jack: A fitting conclusion to our review of a great series, "The Cure" is a full-length story that has all of the strengths we've come to appreciate about these stories. The doctor is named "Keno Rosa," which is surely a nod to the then-popular fan artist (Keno) Don Rosa, who later became a pro artist on the Disney Duck series. There's a nice bit where the Unknown Soldier throws a scalpel at a skeleton and hits it in the eye socket; this is followed up later on when US throws a poker and appears to hit a Nazi soldier in the eye, though the result is hidden in shadow. US later breaks a Nazi soldier's neck with a crutch. This ended up being the best series of the '70s and I'll miss it.

Next Week...
Is The Dark Age over?

And in two weeks...
After seven years
the curtain closes!

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 57

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 42
May 1953 Part I
by Peter Enfantino

 Journey Into Mystery #8

"The Tough Guy" (a: Joe Maneely) ★1/2
(r: Journey Into Mystery #6)
"Indoor Sport!" (a: Sam Kweskin) 
(r: Journey Into Mystery #6)
"Willie Brown is Out to Get Me!" (a: Al Luster) 
(r: Fear #22)
"He Who Hesitates..." (a: Al Eadah) 
(r: Journey Into Mystery #6)
"The Strange Case of Mr. Whimple!" (a: Fred Kida) ★1/2
(r: Journey Into Mystery #6)

Hank Klopp loves to work out. He loves what the weights do to his muscles and he loves what his muscles do for young and pretty Dolly Simms! But muscles can bring arrogance as well and some find that arrogance a bit much to handle. Take old Baldy Jones for example. He's only doing his job when he tells Hank it's closing time but no one tells muscleman Hank what to do and he delivers a bad beating to the old man.

But, later that night, Baldy gets a gun and pistol whips Hank in an alley, sending Mr. Atlas to the hospital, where Dolly Simms tells him any dude who can be beaten up by a scrawny old man is not for her. Angered, Hank swears vengeance but his mind drifts when two doctors outside his door discuss a wonder drug they've got locked in a room upstairs. A serum that can make the body impervious to any object. Bullets. Knives. H-Bombs. Ostensibly anything. Hank heads upstairs, kills the room's guard and downs the formula, feeling unbeatable within seconds. But, suddenly, he swoons and passes out. He awakens back in his bed and the doctors tell him he's got an infection in his throat that will kill him within 48 hours. Not to worry though, they'll give him an injection and he'll be just fine. Oops!

If you want to single out the silliest Atlas pre-code horror story ever, you wouldn't be far off the mark with "The Tough Guy," another Stan Lee script that tests the muscles that make you smile rather than the one that makes you think. There are several spots to point at for laughter: Dolly dumping Hank with an "Ain't so bad!"; the doctor who has seemingly managed to whip up a revolutionary new drug, which makes skin as durable stainless steel, on his lunch breaks in the hospital cafeteria; Hank's first thought upon receiving his new lease on life is "I'm going to rob banks!"; but, perhaps, most amazing of all, that dreaded throat infection that kills within 48 hours. It's a wonder Stan didn't spin that disease off into a sequel where everyone in the Atlas universe dies from the malady except for a vampire and his werewolf wife. With all my sarcasm aside, "The Tough Guy" is a supremely dumb, but undeniably fun, romp.

Poor young Mona, seems to have no luck in the world. Her beaus keep dying on her. Luckily, there seems to be an unending line of replacements down at the country club. In the end, we discover that Mona is actually a ghost who died at a very young age of "a broken heart" and now murders every man who falls in love with her earthly facade. Despite a few drawbacks (Mona really doesn't look all that hot but she looks miles better than her ghost, who might just be the Crypt-Keeper), "Indoor Sport" exudes an atmosphere of uneasiness and sports a very creepy Kweskin art job.

"Willie Brown is Out to Get Me!" is one of those quickies I fondly remember from my childhood, first reading it when it was reprinted in Fear #22 (Backing headliner Morbius, the Living Vampire). It's a simple story about a hood getting word that Willie Brown is back in town and looking for him. The upshot, we learn from the final panel, is that the hood murdered Willie the week before. Even at the age of 12, I said to myself "How come the guy never says, 'Hey' how can Willie be looking for me? He's dead!'" but the obvious deception doesn't detract from the sheer fun of "Willie Brown."

"He Who Hesitates..." is a deadly dumb waste of paper about a college professor with a (too gorgeous) wife who's stepping out with one of his colleagues. The dope decides to off his competition on a rock climbing expedition but he waits too long and, in a twist of insanely surprising proportions, it turns out the lothario has the same idea! This is one awful story with an ugly ugly ugly realization by Al Eadah. I always leave an Eadah story thinking his characters really need to se a dentist. In the finale, small-time thief Henry Simpson becomes obsessed with fellow boarding house tenant, Mr. Whimple, who always carries a mysterious wooden box atop his shoulder. Henry fancies the box full of jewels or gold but when he finally corners Whimple at a remote railroad crossing and kills him, he destroys the box and discovers the it contained... another head! The startled Henry backs up right into an oncoming train and Mr. Whimple's other head remarks that he's going to have to get another box. Anyone with horror funny book IQ sees that reveal coming right from the start but file "The Strange Case of Mr. Whimple!" under "Fun But Obvious" if you must.

 Menace #3

"Men in Black" (a: John Romita) 
(r: Uncanny Tales #4)
"Werewolf!" (a: Bill Everett) 
(r: Chamber of Chills #11)
"Rodeo!" (a: Russ Heath) ★1/2
(r: Chamber of Chills #15)
"You're Gonna Live Forever" (a: Joe Maneely) 
(r: Weird Wonder Tales #8)

Jim Horton is a nasty, vicious bigot who gets fired for his racist rants and decides to get together a group of like-minded morons, don black hoods, and pay a visit to the Mexican-American who filled Jim's job down at the factory. The group pull the man out of his house and beat him to death but the police show up and Jim barely escapes. When he gets home, he doffs his black hood but finds another below it. When that one comes off, Jim's still staring at a black hood in the mirror. Later, when the police break his door down, they find Jim dead, the skin on his face torn off.

When Stan decided he wanted a "prestige" title amongst his Astoundings and Uncannys, he doubtless had EC in mind but, until now, "The Man" had steered away from the social commentary (other than his twice-monthly rants about the Commies, of course) found in Shock SuspenStories. Probably a good idea if "Men in Black" is an indicator of what Stan thought of as "deep thinking." Though Stan Lee should be applauded for wanting to make a statement with some of his scripts, "Men in Black" reads like a grade school interpretation of one of Al Feldstein's think pieces. The finale, with its observation that Jim Horton, and his ilk, are dark beneath their skin, is a nice touch, but the rest of the script is too obvious.

Waldo Forrest has always ben fascinated by the mythology of the "Werewolf!" But Waldo actually thinks the creatures exist and he's going to prove it to mankind some day. His thoughts are interrupted by his shrewish wife, Emily, who waddles her bulk down the stairs and screams with fury at her husband for wasting his time reading about fairy tales. Emily throws Waldo's rare book on lycanthopy straight into the furnace and the little man, in a huff, races out of the house and down to the local tavern to drown his sorrows.

After some spirited talk about his hobby with friends, Waldo heads into the woods, with a loaded revolver, in hopes of finding the werewolf who's been eating the local pigs. Be careful what you wish for as, very soon after he finds a slaughtered pig, Waldo is confronted by a wolfman. He shoots the thing in the chest but, as the body is falling, it's revealed to be one of Waldo's bar buddies, dressed up to give the poor guy a fright. As he's contemplating a life behind bars. Waldo is attacked and mauled by a real werewolf! After killing his second werewolf of the night, Waldo heads home and transforms into his new alter ego as Emily opens the door. She unloads both barrels into Waldo but, after he tears his wife's throat out, our hero muses that at least the authorities will know that werewolves exist when they break in and see the proof. Unfortunately, Waldo never got to Chapter 12 in These Here Are the Facts About Werewolves, which very clearly explains that, in death, the wolf reverts back to man.

Now we're talkin'! Stan ditches the societal critique and heads back into what makes the Atlas horror funny books work: cool monsters. But Stan also reminds us that he's got a funny bone to go with his eye for a good plot and also reminds us that good guys can finish last too. Waldo Forrest is a good guy, he's just got a Jones for an odd subject; the members of his supporting cast own the dark hearts. Bill Everett wisely avoids the "vicious monster" look for his loup garou, reminding us that a 1950s obese, shrewish wife was far scarier than a big dog with fangs.

Wes is a clown at the "Rodeo!" and he loves Sue Conway but Sue only has eyes for bronco-bucker, Tex Robbins. Wes decides murder is his only way to get Sue to come to her senses and fall in love with a clown so he concocts a devious strategy. Wes's job at the rodeo is to run out in the arena after a bull has thrown a rider and cause a distraction for the bull until the fallen man is helped out of the ring. Wes talks Tex into riding a bull to impress Sue buit when Tex is thrown, Wes feigns a sprained ankle and lies in the dust, awaiting his ascent to the rank of "Sue's Boyfriend." Unfortunately for Wes, the bull catches his scent, ignores, Tex, and heads for the kill. Another very EC-esque tale, very simply told, with some great art by Russ Heath, and a genuinely surprising twist.

Hood Harry Sykes is on the lam, running from the heat, when he stumbles upon an old, dilapidated house; the perfect hide-out! Entering the estate, Harry sees a light from an upstairs room and investigates, discovering an old man lying on the floor of a laboratory. The scientist explains he's had a stroke while inventing a formula for eternal life. Harry kills the man, downs the serum, and heads out into the night. It's not long before Harry's dodging bullets but, to his surprise, he discovers the bullets are actually finding their marks! The formula works!

Deciding the best plan would be to find a hideout and wait until the cops have forgotten about him (and, after all, he's got nothing but time), Sykes heads deep into the swamp to stake a claim but accidentally wades into a patch of quicksand and sinks from view. A perfectly average Atlas crime/horror story with SF elements thrown in, "You're Gonna Live Forever" benefits from Joe Maneely's artwork and a devil-may-care atmosphere with its scripting. Why in the world would you drink down an experimental formula that some goofy old guy tells you is the fountain of youth? Wouldn't a red flag come up? Also, as Harry is sinking below the sand, our narrator tells us that the poor guy will live forever below the surface. Well, if you've got "nothing but time" and you don't need air to exist (the matter of whether Harry needs to eat is never discussed), I'm sure you can figure a way to get yourself out of your predicament, no?

 Adventures Into Weird Worlds #18

"How Beautiful Can You Be?" (a: Sid Greene) 
"The Thing Behind the Door" (a: Ed Robbins) 
"Too Horrible to Live" (a: Chuck Winter) ★1/2
"Ivan and Petrov" ★1/2
"Don't Lose Your Head" (a: John Buscema) 

Handsome, brilliant scientist/gigolo Craig Whitney has been siphoning funds from his "unattractive" wife, Madge (body of Venus but face of Uranus), attempting to perfect a gizmo that takes really good photos of outer space. One night, while monkeying around with his super duper camera, a gorgeous face appears on the screen, belonging to Lolez of the planet Zorz.

Lolez tells Craig she's in love with him and really must move to her neck of the galaxy pronto. She promises to give him tips on building a teleporter. New gizmo complete, Craig buries a hatchet in Madge's face and hops aboard but, once he exits on the other side, he discovers that Lolez has the face of Venus but... "How Beautiful Can You Be?" A pretty obvious twist in this one's tail but the Sid Greene visuals are pleasant enough. How many of these studs, who look like they should be parking cars down at Guido's rather than concocting insanely complicated contraptions in their basement, were ever married to women for love? Madge's "shortcomings" are a hoot; she's got some kind of goop running from her top to bottom teeth and a gorilla's snout. It's too bad Craig wasn't working on a machine that could meld body parts together. He coulda taken Madge's body and Lolez's head and lived happily ever after.

Master thief John Mason worries he's getting long in the tooth in an industry that favors young men. When Mason gets wind of a temple in Shanghai that holds the secret of eternal youth, he hops a plane and enters the temple door in record time. Inside is an old man who explains to Mason that he is 200 years old and that a special wood in the walls keeps him from dying. The thief boasts that he'll tear the walls down and export them to his penthouse back in the Big Apple but, before he can finish the sentence, the old guy keels over. With his dying breath, the old timer explains that the air from outside has entered his lungs and now he's free, leaving John Mason trapped in the locked temple immortal, until the next searcher comes along, but with nothing to do on a Friday night. Great send-off to "The Thing Behind the Door" and Ed Robbins' art is scratchy but perfect. Like Sykes in "You're Gonna Live Forever," John Mason teaches us that essential Atlas rule: be careful what you wish for!

"Too Horrible to Live" is a truly awful two-line joke stretched out to four pages about an expectant father hoping for the best but delivered the worst. The payoff is that the pop is a robot and the kid is human. How that happened is anyone's guess (the uncredited writer obviously cashed Marty Goodman's check and vamoosed right quickly) but, never mind, it's too dumb to question. For what little he has to work with, Chuck Winters gets a thumbs-up.

"Ivan and Petrov" are bosom buddies and cossacks to the end. When a gorgeous redhead (actually a Bolshevik spy) comes between them, Ivan and Petrov settle their differences the only way they know how. There's not much to this one but its good-natured humor and sharp art, sadly unidentified. The style is similar (at least to me it is) to that of Bill Benulis but I'm no expert and the GCD (who are experts) don't even take a swing at this one. In the finale, "Don't Lose Your Head," mass murderer Jean Mazarin awaits the guillotine when his prayers are answered and a man comes to his cell begging Mazarin to change places with him. Seems the stranger wants to commit suicide but doesn't own the onions to go through with it. Mazarin jumps at the chance to save his neck and murder the girl who put the finger on him. Here's where things go awry (not with Mazarin's new plan but with the script): Mazarin confronts the girl at the same time his savior faces the blade but... was Mazarin hallucinating his second chance at life or am I just confused? Here's the final page, you be the judge.

 Journey Into Unknown Worlds #18

"The Broth Needs Some Body!" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
"It Can Happen Here" (a: Edward Goldfarb) 
"If I Breathe... I Die!" 
(a: Hy Fleischman & Sol Brodsky)
"The Terrible... Torture!" (a: Sheldon Moldoff) 
"Dugan and the Dummy" 
(a: Larry Woromay & Matt Fox) ★1/2

A man is kidnapped by a coven of witches because "The Broth Needs Some Body!" but our hapless hero convinces the old hags he's too skinny for their pot; he'll bring someone else who'll make for a more sumptuous meal. Of course, he's thinking of his overbearing, shrewish wife who's constantly out with her friends and leaves him with the chores. The guy goes home, slugs his old lady with a golf club, lugs her into his jalopy, and takes her down to the cemetery. But the joke's on this poor sap; the witches are his wife's friends!

I must be losing my touch as I never saw this hilarious twist coming. The whole thing is played for laughs (it's never mentioned why the protagonist was selected by the crones to be thrown in the stew but I would assume his wife had something to do with it) and suits Tony DiPreta's art, which is simple but effective. I love how, while she's dumping hubby in the stew, the world's worst wife is turning green and growing fangs like her chums.

An invader in a space suit walks down Main Street, terrorizing the world, before it dies in a hail of bullets. When the creature's helmet is removed, we see the occupant of the suit is human and his killers are Martians. From the very first panel of obscured faces and a multitude of cheats (the Martian militia looks exactly like one that would be found on Earth; the Martians' hands are pink; etc.), the reader knows exactly what the outcome of "It Can Happen Here" will be. "If I Breathe... I Die!" is a silly quickie about a dumb con who tries to escape prison through a water pipe out into the nearby lake, only to forget that it's winter and the lake has frozen over. Seriously? How would you forget something like that?

Ahmed the murderer is taken away to die in prison but his captors decide that he should be tortured first. After several days of torture, Ahmed begs for death and he is told his wish will be granted in just two hours. His jailers inadvertently leave Ahmed's cell door unlocked and he quietly heads through the corridors out to freedom. But freedom is a courtyard with an executioner at standby, awaiting his next victim. Ahmed's guards explain that this was the ultimate torture: to allow the man to think he was free! A very effective climax (one I know I've read in an Atlas story before but I'll be darned if I remember a title) but "The Terrible... Torture!" here is really Sheldon Moldoff's ugly art. I liked his visuals for "The Lost City" in the previous issue of JIUW but anything resembling subtlety or design is thrown by the wayside here and Shelly opts for the gross-out.

Dugan has worked in Trimble's Department Store for decades and he's a loyal worker but he's also a bit tetched in the head. His co-workers line up every day to watch him yell at the male mannequins to keep their filthy paws off his Isabella. Oh, Isabella is a dummy too! Every night, before he clocks out, Dugan lays a fat, wet kiss on Isabella's clay cold lips, much to the delight of the Trimble's staff. Then, one day, in full view of a crowd outside the store window, Dugan jaws at one of the manly dummies and ends up on the floor with a knife in his gut. The witnesses swear to police that Dugan was stabbed by a dummy but the police aren't buying it. When they examine the crime scene, they reveal that the dummy is... just a dummy but, upon closer inspection, they discover that so is Dugan!

Matt Fox's oeuvre of Atlas horror stories is entirely too small. He'll pop up only 13 times on our journey but I can guarantee he'll impress me every time, regardless of the quality of the script. "Dugan and the Dummy" happens to have a strong script; it's got some very dangerous sexual undertones rare in an Atlas and the unexplained phenomena (how could Dugan's boss and co-workers not know this guy was a mannequin after all the years he'd worked at Trimble's?) is best unexplained. Though it's only a kiss, Dugan's goodnight to Isabella is pretty darn risque for its time. My number one question though goes to the cop attending to Dugan's body in the final panel: what made you think to rip his arm and head off?

 Adventures Into Terror #19

"The Withered Hand" (a: Paul Reinman) 
(r: Vault of Evil #1)
"The Maggots" (a: Hy Rosen) 
(r: Monsters Unleashed #6)
"Meet the Bride!" (a: Bill Savage) 
"The Strange Children" (a: Sam Kweskin) ★1/2
(r: Monsters Unleashed #6)
"The Girl Who Couldn't Die" (a: Mort Lawrence) 
(r: Journey Into Mystery #2)

John Clay shoots an ancient lama in Tibet and steals his enormous ruby (nicknamed "The Soul of a Sinner") but, with his dying breath, the lama curses Clay to a horrible death. When the old man's hand turns to dust, so will John Clay. The thief laughs, chops the lama's hand off, and heads back to the States. But, just to be sure, Clay drops the hand in a sealed glass container and puts it in a safe place.

He eventually gets a cool million for the ruby (bought back by the monks of Tibet) and marries a gorgeous doll. But life becomes boring for John and he begins to look for new company; his wife doesn't take well to the treatment and, in a moment of rage, tosses Clay's prize possession in the fire. As the hand is reduced to dust, the monk makes a surprise visit and claims John's soul. Though the Reinman visuals are interesting, the story is not; "The Withered Hand" is a simple variation on a theme we've already seen a zillion times; the only difference (in my view) is that John Clay acts on his own and doesn't have the obligatory partner to dispose of later in the story. Odd that, even in the pre-code (read that as "violent") days, Atlas shied away from showing us the Lama losing his hand, instead keeping that scene offpanel.

"The Maggots" is a short-short about a scientist who proves that maggots exist upon living flesh and proves his theory by showing his fellow scientists his hands, writing with maggots. Even for a three-page short, this is a bit confusing; the scientist's theory is alternately boring and befuddling. That final panel, though, is a classic. "Meet the Bride" is a loathsome little bit of nonsense about a marriage broker who marries off "repulsive female clients" to the highest bidder. When the ugliest woman in America walks in with a boatload of cash, our obese protagonist decides it's time to retire and marry. He gets his comeuppance. The uncredited scripter manages to insult both unattractive women and overweight men in one five-page package but, more importantly, insults the reader's intelligence with this dopey yarn. GCA gives the nod to Bill Savage on art duties but notes that Matt Fox was initially credited -- me, as the novice, would have picked Fox.

After a small European village is overrun with cockroaches, the town's mayor calls on a local wizard for a solution. The master of black arts names his price and the mayor agrees. After the warlock rids the town of its infestation, the mayor reneges on his deal and the wizard transforms the town's children into cockroaches. "The Strange Children" is a grim fairy tale with no happy ending and a scratchy, threadbare visual realization by Sam Kweskin. I'm not that big a fan of Kweskin's work for just those reasons but, in this case, the starkness is perfect for the subject and the nasty outcome. The final panel, of a woman lovingly petting the roaches with madness in her eyes, is a jarring scene.

When his beloved dies suddenly, a scientist turns to Frankenstein-like experimentation to bring her back. He keeps her body in a suspended animation while he perfects his theory and, finally, he meets success. The girl rises from her slab but screams in horror and offs herself upon seeing her lover, now aged over fifty years since she last saw him. Beautifully detailed, the art of Mort Lawrence is the highlight here, but the script for "The Girl Who Couldn't Die" is also smart and the shock ending is a nice surprise. The uncredited scripter avoids the usual pratfalls of a Frankenstein-influenced horror story. The protagonist doesn't want to rule the world, or rob banks, he just wants his woman back.

Marvel Tales #114

"Dial 'Z' for Zombie!" (a: Jim Mooney) 
"Waitin' for Satan!" (a: George Tuska) 
(r: Dead of Night #3)
(r: Where Monsters Dwell #31)
"The Terrible Teeth!" (a: Chuck Winter) 
(r: Journey Into Mystery #13)
"The Little Monsters" (a: Tony DiPreta) ★1/2
(r: Uncanny Tales #3)

Professor Oscar Bellows has had enough derision from his fellow members of faculty at the Natural History Museum. So what if all his studies are done indoors? I mean, this is before the internet, right? Determined to show his comrades he can do expeditions with the best of them, Bellows settles on Haiti since that country is rich with history. Once there, Bellows hits the jungle but is beset by a terrible storm and must seek shelter. Fate takes him to a dilapidated shack in the middle of a plantation, where he hides out minutes before two men enter embroiled in a fierce argument.

Seems a local plantation owner has hired a voodoo houngan, the owner of the shack, to use black magic to rid him of his partner and, now that the deed is done, refuses to pay the witch doctor. After the man exits, the houngan dials Z on a special gold telephone. Minutes later, a zombie enters the shack and receives orders from his master: strangle the fool who welched on his agreement. The master dials his victim's phone number, which sends the zombie on his way to do his dirty work. Once the houngan leaves, Bellows realizes he's hit upon a "gold" mine and steals the phone. Back at the Museum, his co-workers laugh and make merriment at Bellows' expense but their laughs are cut off, one by one, by the gurgling in their throats when Bellows "Dials 'Z' for Zombie!" After Bellows is the last one standing, a cop comes to visit his office to warn him of a serious threat. Bellows isn't at his office but his secretary allows the detective to use the gold phone to dial the Professor at home.

Forget for a moment the rules that were set up in the first act (you have to dial 'Z' first before dialing the target's number, something the detective does not do), this is one deranged and original (yep, I said original) story, one that I would expect of a deranged comics company like Harvey or Avon, but not from Atlas. Yeah, it's got some classic Atlas elements (the shamed professor, the archaeological expedition that proves, once again, that Americans think they should own anything they covet) but we don't get steered down the same dusty paths as before. And how about a contemporary angle on the old zombie theme? I'd have liked for our uncredited writer to delve into unanswered questions such as: what if the electricity goes out... or what if the victim doesn't have a phone... or does the dialing show up on your monthly bill... what about long distance revenge? Alas, I'll have to settle for what I'm given: a perfect example of why we love these things.

"Waitin' for Satan!" is an overlong and needlessly complicated snoozefest about a sailor, tired of being poor, who makes a bargain with the devil: Sailor boy gets a thousand bucks (wow, that's one with three zeroes!), Satan gets the man's soul if he makes a mistake at any time in the future but if Satan comes too soon, then the deal becomes null and void. See what I mean about complicated? Usually if the story takes too much 'splainin', then there's a preponderance of text to cover up the artwork. Unfortunately, there's a whole lot of words but, also unfortunately, they don't cover up enough of George Tuska's run-of-the-mill doodlings. This is the Yin to  the Yang of "Dial 'Z'."

Poor workin' slob Steve Corby had to go and marry Verna, with her expensive tastes and leech of a son, Ricky. She spends the dough faster than Steve can earn it until, one day, she pushes him too far and he files for divorce. After his day in court, Steve heads back to what was once his house and begins dividing all the property, as per the court, "Fifty-Fifty!" He grabs an axe and takes it to the furniture, chopping it all in half. Stepson Ricky looks on in amusement until Steve tells the kid he intends to divide everything in half! A fabulously over-the-top horror story with a final panel straight out of an EC Comic. By the close of "Fifty-Fifty!," the reader is hoping Steve will do something about that smug little bastard Verna calls Ricky and, sure enough, he does.

When he gets a look at his mark's shiny white teeth, a thief figures the easiest way to steal a bankroll from the gambler is to put sleeping powder in the guy's toothpaste. Not a good plan when you're dealing with someone who wears dentures. "The Terrible Teeth!" is every bit as bad as it sounds. In the finale, failed gambler Harry Kendall arrives at his uncle's plantation, on the edge of the Amazon just ahead of a infestation of army ants. Uncle Andy shows Harry the new floodgates that will save him and the crops from the ants. Harry admits that he's there to ask his uncle for a contribution to pay his debts but his uncle believes in tough love and declares that his nephew won't receive a penny of his money until he's dead and gone.

Harry has no problem with that and, one day, while the two are out on ant-watch, Harry crushes his uncle's skull and dumps him in the river. One of Uncle Andy's men sees the murder and flees in the jungle but, as Andy is giving chase, the Red Ant Alert is sounded. Harry can't got aboard the boat out and must make his way to the floodgates to drown the army before they get to him but, unfortunately, Andy's body has jammed the contraption and the ants pick Harry to the bone. Taking the hook from Carl Stephenson's short story,"Leiningen Versus the Ants" (filmed as The Naked Jungle, starring Charlton Heston in 1954), and adding the obligatory greedy relative, "The Little Monsters" is an enjoyable if a bit simple jungle thriller with some good DiPreta graphics. Those tiny army ants seem to grow ten times their size by story's end!

In Two Weeks...
More Matt Fox Madness!

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Warren Report Issue 30: May-July 1971

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

Creepy #39 (May 1971)

"Where Satan Dwells ..." ★1/2
Story by Al Hewetson
Art by Sal Trapani

"COD--Collect on Death!" 
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Dave Cockrum

"The Water World!" ★1/2
Story by Buddy Saunders
Art by Pablo Marcos

"Death of the Wizard" 
Story and Art by Pat Boyette

"Harvest of Horror!" 
Story by Phil Seuling
Art by Frank Brunner

"The Dragon-Prow!" 
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Richard Bassford

"Mad Jack's Girl" ★1/2
Story & Art by Gary Kaufman

"Where Satan Dwells ..."
Uncle Creepy has become bored of the material found in the pages of his own magazine (and, I must say, I concur) and decides to take a short vacation, but what does a creepy guy like our Uncle do on his downtime? He meanders (like this story) through the streets until he comes across a small bookshop he's never seen before. Inside, the proprietor asks Creepy what he's interested in reading. "Something new!" muses our horrible host. The shop owner tells him that he's got just the ticket and produces a tome entitled (sort of) "Where Satan Dwells!"

Within minutes, the Creep finds he's literally into the book, being interviewed by the lead character, Eric Shores, who is about to thrust a dagger into the heart of a comely maid. Eric beseeches Creepy to find his father and lift a curse that has been placed on Eric by a being known as Groton. After a short adventure wherein Uncle Creepy finds the lad's Pop and saves the day, the host finds himself lifted out of the pages and back in the little shop. As Creepy exits the store, the bookseller tears off his mask and reveals his true identity, that of Cousin Eerie! I don't mind these goofy horror host adventures now and then but I'm not sure, outside of the Vampi stories, Warren ever came up with anything on a par with the EC host-starrers. This is certainly not very good; it suffers from bad art and an unfocused plot that elicits the wrong kind of groans.

"The Water World!"
Only slightly better is Dave Wood's "C.O.D.--Collect on Death," wherein Joey Crane, a failed thief (armed robbery at an opera!), is given a second chance in life as a hit man after Death rescues him from a fatal bullet. The hitch is that Joey must murder one person a day for the rest of his life or that bullet hole will re-open. The Grim Reaper can be a mean son-of-a-gun. "C.O.D." has an interesting hook but doesn't really do much with it. The bright side is that Dave Cockrum is veering away from Amateur Street and easing into that stylist we'll all be celebrating a decade hence.

Three astronauts crash-land on "The Water World," a world seemingly devoid of land, and attempt to survive on a small raft with very little food and water. There's not much else to this SF/fantasy tale other than the requisite shock ending (which is really not all that bad) and the nice Marcos art. The intro and character interaction are obviously "inspired" by Planet of the Apes. This was Pablo's first American work and, of course, he would go on to have a long, celebrated career working on, among other things, Marvel's mid-'70s black-and-white line (Planet of the Apes, Tales of the Zombie, etc.). Marcos would contribute several times to a Warren zine over the next decade.

Pat Boyette is kind enough to donate more of his twisted, malformed, and diseased characters to a fantasy tale surrounding Merlin and his love for a demon-wench. The woman steals The Book of Knowledge from Merlin, leaving the wizard at the mercy of his justifiably-perturbed mentor, Breys. Merlin attempts to retrieve the book but is, instead, transformed into a huge tree, where he waits for the day "he will again be needed to serve Briton." Like some of Boyette's previous work, "Death of the Wizard" features some stunningly macabre art but a feather-weight script. It's all a bit confusing to someone who doesn't follow King Arthur.

"Harvest of Horror!"
Murderer Frank West is running from a posse, right into a field populated by a really creepy scarecrow. Frank runs and runs but never seems to get away from the stick figure. The next morning, farmers harvesting the field run over what they think is a man but turns out to be the scarecrow. Frank is now hanging from the post. No, wait... Frank gets a second ending where he actually just keeps running back and forth in that field, never getting anywhere, until the sheriff and his men come across him in the morning; poor Frank has lost his marbles. No, wait... evidently Frank gets hung on the post after all. Ah, the hell with it (literally). Three strikes and Frank is out. Frank Brunner, in his Warren full-length debut, does not disappoint with his atmospheric penciling and shading; that's one of the creepiest scarecrows you're ever going to lay eyes on. But... then there's the script laid on Frank's drawing board, stitched together by cliches (borrowing heavily from EC's multiple-ending gimmick) and just plain laziness (ending three is pert near identical to the first climax) by comic book convention maven Phil Seuling. Brunner will get another chance to shine very soon and he'll be working with a great script. Can't wait!

"Mad Jack's Girl"
And then didst mine eyes suffer most through the worstest Steve Skeates script ever devised. And then that script was called "The Dragon-Prow!" And it was about this Geat named Weohlac and didst he ever have a biggeth sword? And yes, you betcha. And then Weohlac was sent out of his village for daring to think (or something like that). And then was he cursed to slave upon the really big ship called The Dragon-Prow and he didn't like it too much. And then did he get in a fight with a really big Viking and drown. And then did he surface to find himself on his way back to Geat. And then did Steve Skeates attempt a really bad, verily overused "twist" ending in which we find that Weohlac actually drowned! I think I've reached the end of my frayed rope with these bad Warren fantasy tales.

Mad Jack and his boys split heads and break kneecaps, all in the name of fun, but Alice, "Mad Jack's Girl," has had enough. She makes Jack promise her he won't kill anyone but Jack and his boys break that promise and Alice gathers up the corpses for a tea party. When Jack arrives for a little sweetness, his gal adds him to the party. Bizarre and strangely new-wave (long before it became the rage), "Mad Jack’s Girl" might be best typified as Mod or British. Spare art, at times no more than half-figures or shadows, only enhances the uneasiness of the storyline. I'm not big on vague outcomes, but something about Alice's cozy little party and her insane ranting about the dormouse gives me chills.-Peter

Jack-"Mad Jack's Girl" was a nice surprise at the end of a mediocre issue of Creepy. I really like the sparse art and motorcycle-gang setting, but the ending was a disappointment. Boyette's "Death of a Wizard" is also not bad, with impressive art and a fair story. It bugged me that the book in "Where Satan Dwells ..." was called Where Dwells Satan (proofreading again!) and I thought "C.O.D.--Collect on Death" suffered from poor writing and amateurish art, though one panel with faces in a dream was nice. I'm surprised at how weak Cockrum was; he was a long way off from the X-Men!  "The Water-World!" is a fairly good story with okay art and an ending that came out of nowhere, while 'The Dragon-Prow" has oddly formal writing and art that tries to imitate Wally Wood but falls short. Saving the worst for last, Phil Seuling's "Harvest of Horror!" is a complete mess, helped only slightly by rough, early Brunner art. It is interesting to see these artists who would excel at Marvel in their early, rough stage.

Eerie #34 (July 1971)

"Parting is Such Sweet Horror"
Story & Art by Tom Sutton

"Eye of Cyclops!"
Story by Buddy Saunders
Art by Jaime Brocal

"He Who Laughs Last... is Grotesque!"
Story by Al Hewetson
Art by Mike Royer

"Food for Thought"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Bill Fraccio & Tony Tallarico

"The Vow of the Wizard..."
Story by Ernie Colon
Art by Ernie Colon & Frank McLaughlin

"The Sound of Wings"★1/2
Story by F. Paul Wilson
Art by Carlos Garzon

"Lair of the Horned Man"★1/2
Story & Art by Alan Weiss

"Parting is Such Sweet Horror"
Martin Borvo is terrified to enter Briarcliff, the house where he grew up with his twin brother, Fletcher, but his girlfriend Goldie insists that he conquer his fear, so in they go. Immediately, the walls and ceilings close in on them, creating a tunnel of sorts, and Martin and Goldie have to crawl forward to seek safety. As they proceed, we read their thoughts: Goldie (as in gold digger) just wants the millions Martin will inherit, while Martin admits that he murdered his own brother in this house! After crawling through lots of disgusting slime, they find brother Martin still alive, but now having taken the form of a creature that subsumes things that come in contact with him/it. Goldie tries to kill Fletcher with a sharp piece of wood but is absorbed by his blob-like form; Martin attacks Fletcher with an ax but Fletcher throws him up against a wall, where Martin is impaled on a series of spikes, doomed to remain with his twin brother forever.

Now, if "Parting is Such Sweet Horror" isn't exactly what this magazine is supposed to be all about, I don't know what is! It doesn't make a whole lot of sense if you try to understand how or why these things are happening, but Tom Sutton's art is fabulous and the story goes from one goofy/gross event to the next, ending with the woman being sucked into the blob and the man being impaled on a wall of spikes. Where did the spikes come from? Who cares? I think that, with this story, I have officially joined the club that appreciates this stuff.

"Eye of Cyclops!"
Boris Vallejo's cover is really sharp, by the way, and the masthead for this issue heralds Billy Graham as the new managing editor, replacing Archie Goodwin, who was listed as associate editor through last issue.

The giant Cyclops is terrorizing merchant vessels in Ancient Greece, but Nicanor and Periander have a plan to end the menace. They push boulders down on him from above but he captures them and puts them in a cage in his cave with other Greek sailors. Next morning, he selects Periander for his breakfast and the frightened man reveals that his fellows are cutting their way out of the cage. Nicanor escapes and throws a sharp spear in the giant's huge, single eye, thinking that he is blinding the descendant of the Cyclops that Ulysses once blinded. Unfortunately, this is the same Cyclops that Ulysses blinded and now he has a glass eye and a handy monkey on his shoulder to guide him!

"Eye of Cyclops!" is the first Warren story drawn by Jaime Brocal, a Spanish artist who had been drawing comics in Europe for over a decade as of 1971. His work here is excellent and both serves to tell the story in a clean, crisp fashion and to provide appealing visuals. His work on characters' faces is especially good. I was surprised and pleased by the ending as well, though it's a bit of a cheat to see a big squish when the spear hits the supposedly glass eye.

"He Who Laughs Last... is Grotesque!"
Baron Morag spends his time locked in his Scottish castle, counting his money, but when villagers arrive and break in, they burn him at the stake to punish him for keeping them in poverty. Morag awakens in Hell, where he waits in a long line of people from all times and places until he is checked in. Insisting that he must keep his dying vow to wreak vengeance on those who put him to death, Morag demands to see Satan. The Devil tells him to get lost and then chuckles with Uncle Creepy as they watch Morag create his own personal Hell by agonizing over how to keep his dying vow.

"Food for Thought"
"He Who Laughs Last... is Grotesque!" gets points for being goofy and Mike Royer's art is probably as good as it's ever going to get, which is only fair. He excels (as do so many Warren artists) at drawing scantily-clad beauties, though why Hell looks like such a fun place is beyond me. It seems to be populated with handsome men and beautiful women hanging out together. Sounds like a day at the Jersey Shore.

A spaceship loses power and drifts through space, so one of the three people aboard kills and eats the other two to survive. He soon finds a planet with lush, green vegetation but, not long after he eats some berries, he is himself eaten by a giant plant.

Leave it to Fraccio and Tallarico to deliver the nadir of the issue, at least so far. "Food for Thought" is another terrible story by Steve Skeates, who is not impressing me of late.

Compare with Vallejo's cover!
("The Vow of the Wizard...")
When a warrior named Thargovius takes a beautiful woman named Arella from a wizard named Kanhya Toth, it is "The Vow of the Wizard..." that Toth will someday retrieve the woman at the warrior's cost. Months later, a bored Thargovius hears that a wizard named Akeb-Kur is passing by with a caravan of riches. Knowing that Akeb-Kur hates Toth, Thargovius rides out to see him and is promised gold to kill Toth. Thargovius rides toward Toth and kills one horrible creature on the way. He is then attacked by a harpy, which he also slays. Finally reaching the wizard Toth, Thargovius learns to his dismay that the vow came true: the harpy was none other than Arella, transformed by the wizard.

I don't enjoy sword and sorcery stories and I don't much like Ernie Colon's art, so this one did not impress me much. It's a darn site better than the one that preceded it, though, and at least the plot makes sense. I did not see then end coming but wow, the scene in the story doesn't come close to matching the cover!

"The Sound of Wings"
In the desert, two explorers find the journal of John Asquith, who used black magic to summon Rankhet Morh, the winged god of the Sahara, to do away with the man who had stolen his daughter's heart. Unfortunately, the price for the man's death was that Asquith was supposed to kill his own daughter. He fled to the desert, a place where he could do her no harm, but soon heard "The Sound of Wings" above him, as the enormous winged god descended. The desert explorers dismiss the journal as the diary of a madman, unaware that they are standing in the footprint of a giant bird.

Nothing special about the story, but I like Carlos Garzon's photo-realistic art very much. It's unclear exactly what happens to Asquith, but the giant bird's footprint is a cool image and I tend to enjoy stories set in the desert.

Future star Pat Broderick contributes another drawing to the Eerie Fan Fare page before the final story, "Lair of the Horned Man." Indian chief Ronanka is intrigued when medicine man Taktana tells him of a beautiful maiden who has been seem roaming the mountain forests. Ronanka heads out to find her and, when he does, she is being menaced by a man-beast! Ronanka battles the creature and kills it; the woman, Laneeah, is grateful and says she'll heal him. Out of nowhere, Taktana, the medicine man appears, telling Ronanka that the man-beast was guarding a magic totem that Taktana now may use to create other man-beasts.

"Lair of the Horned Man"
Taktana transforms his daughter into a rattlesnake and then transforms another man into a man-lion, which attacks Ronanka. The chief defeats it but is shot by an arrow; Laneeah the rattlesnake gives a fatal bite to her father's ankle, allowing Ronanka to grab the magic totem, which makes everything go back to normal.

Alan Weiss writes and draws an entertainingly old-fashioned adventure story, leavened with some magic and horror to make it suitable for the pages of Eerie. The art is above-average and I'll take a story of Native Americans over more sword and sorcery any day of the week.-Jack

What the hell is going on in this mess?
("Parting is Such Sweet Horror")
Peter-This is one easily forgettable issue of Eerie, hopefully one of the last before we head uphill into the second Golden Age of Warren. Everything that could go wrong seems to have gone wrong with Tom Sutton this issue. The script is dreadful, the art crowded out by tedious words and typos (what exactly is a spinless man?), and Sutton seems confused as to which path to take us down. More boring barbarian/folklore/fantasy with "Eye of Cyclops!" (which does have a deee-lightfully disgusting final panel), "Lair of the Horned Man," and "The Vow of the Wizard..." If you're going to subject us to guys in loincloth, please have something original to say. Steve Skeates hits a ground ball right to first base yet again with "Food for Thought," but the script is secondary (in a bad way) to the Fraccarico Brothers' latest laugh-riot. Jack and I were befuddled when we became enamored with Jerry Grandenetti's art after deriding the guy for years, but I've got a feeling no such reappraisal is in the works for Fraccio and Tallarico.

A young F. Paul Wilson (in the first of two Warren contributions) was still a decade away from bestseller status, but "The Sound of Wings" has the makings of a good horror story buried deep in its bowels. Unfortunately, it doesn't emerge for more than a couple of dazzling panels before settling back into its Lovecraftian trappings. Carlos Garzon's art is much better than Wilson's script. "He Who Laughs Last..." is the only story this issue I can recommend. It's a funny satire that completely fooled me. Al Hewetson, who has led me down a predictable path several times before, seems to have been writing that story before coming up with a clever hook and delivering a delightful fantasy. You see, there's hope for everyone? Except the Frallarico Bros.

Vampirella #12 (July 1971)

"Death's Dark Angel"★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Jose Gonzalez

"The Eye Of Ozirios"
Story by Gardner Fox
Art by Billy Graham

Story & Art by Jeff Jones

"To Kill a God"
Story and Art by Wally Wood

Vampirella spends the night sleeping in a graveyard, but her slumber is disturbed by a pair of grave robbers who break into the Wade family crypt. Inside lurks a winged demon named Skaar, who kills the grave robbers and overpowers Vampirella. Meanwhile, inside the Wade house, rich old Mr. Wade demonstrates what a creep he is by treating his doctor with contempt before he wanders out to the graveyard to chat with Skaar. Wade is terrified of dying and the arrival of the unusual woman from Drakulon gives him hope.

Adam and Conrad Van Helsing happen to be driving along a nearby highway and Wade orders the sheriff to pull them over and bring them in. Skaar has Vampirella chained up in the basement and Wade has smashed her vial of serum, so she is beginning to get very hungry for blood. Wade quizzes the Van Helsings about vampire lore and confirms that a bite from one of the fanged folk will make him immortal. Just what he wanted! Vampirella refuses to comply with Wade's wishes, so he locks the Van Helsings in with her, planning to wait till her hunger grows overpowering.

"Death's Dark Angel"
To pass the time, Vampirella has a chat with Adam and explains about Drakulon, the serum, and his brother, further ensuring his devotion to the scantily-clad hottie. She frees herself from her bonds and manages to resist the temptation to put the bite on her (sort of) beau, when blind Conrad tries to attack her with a stake. Just then, the sheriff opens the door and the old man accidentally stakes him rather than the vampiress. Adam and Conrad set off on foot, stalked by Skaar (at Wade's command), while Wade tries his best to get Vampi to put the bite on him. She gives in and kills him, which immediately causes Skaar to leave the Van Helsings alone and fly to the old man's side.

It turns out Skaar could only be released when he finds a soul blacker than his own to replace him. Now that Wade is dead, "Death's Dark Angel" will take his soul and be free. Oh, and by the way, before he was a demon, Skaar was Wade's father! Vampirella turns into a bat and flies off until her next thrilling adventure.

Amazonia's shirt just wasn't built for battle.
("The Eye of Ozirios")
What an enjoyable story! I love the continuing characters and the way they interact with new people each issue. Skaar is interesting--a demon who doesn't seem to be all bad, kind of like Vampirella. Wade is a one-note, evil old man of the sort we've seen many times before, but having the graveyard, house, and cellar (dungeon?) all conveniently located right next to each other allows for some entertaining drama and shifts of scene. I like Jose Gonzalez's art, just not as much as I liked Tom Sutton's. He does draw a great winged demon, though.

Throkklon the Terrible lives in Castle Grimkrag and is one bad dude, robbing travelers who pass by on the road, killing the men and enslaving the women. Amazonia, Queen of Karkassone, has had enough! Grabbing her magic sword, Excalifer, she rides to Grimkrag and starts swinging that sword so hard that her shirt falls off. She is overwhelmed by sheer numbers and Throkklon ties her to a burning stake. Fortunately, she wriggles free and thrusts her sword into "The Eye of Ozirios," causing Throkklon and his men to disintegrate.

Hoo boy, when I see names like "Throkklon" and "Grimkrag," I know it's going to be a chore to plod through another of Gardner Fox's sword and sorcery epics. Billy Graham's usual nice art makes it less difficult, though the hilarity of Amazonia fighting so hard that her shirt falls off makes it hard to take her bloody battle seriously.

A young Indian brave is on a "Quest" for a woman, the only other survivor after his village was destroyed. Meanwhile, a nubile woman's forest frolic is interrupted by an attack by a hairy man, whom she kills with his own knife. She escapes the man's companions by grabbing onto a woolly elephant, while the Indian continues to track her. Eventually, she is menaced by a saber-toothed tiger just as the Indian brave catches up with her. He throws his spear but--surprise!--kills her, not the tiger. It turns out she was a changeling that had killed everyone else in his village.

Jeff Jones's art is interesting mainly for his use of shadows and the way he suggests rather than shows, allowing the brain to fill in what the eye can't necessarily make out. His prose is nothing special and the time and place of the story are confusing--there is a Native American, a blonde woman, a woolly mammoth and a saber-toothed tiger. This is not what I'd call "sequential art," where words and pictures work together to tell a story and one cannot understand the tale without both items. These, instead, are pictures with captions; the only time the pictures add to the words is in the last panel, where we see the dead girl transformed into some sort of Pterodactyl. I think.

As soon as he arrives in Egypt, the new Roman military governor falls hard for a gorgeous Egyptian princess but finds that it is necessary "To Kill a God!" to win her for his own. She tries to give herself to a priest of Anubis, but the Roman kills the priest. The princess then gives herself to Anubis himself and they fly off on a Sphinx to the land of the dead. The Roman follows, armed with a magical bow and arrow, and succeeds in killing Anubis after a pitched battle. Sadly, Anubis bit both the Roman and the princess and they find themselves turning into werewolves. With nowhere else to go, Marc Antony and Cleopatra sail to the Balkans and settle in what would later be called Transylvania.

In an issue with no shortage of beautiful women, leave it to Wally Wood to draw the most stunning. The censorship we saw only a couple of issues ago that required breasts to be covered chastely by flowing hair has been thrown out the window, and Cleopatra prances around as topless as a Playboy Playmate. Wood has always been great at drawing Roman soldiers and gorgeous women, and he excels here. The story is only fair, and the end a bit of an afterthought, but oh, that art! The entire issue may well have the best art we've seen since the early days at Warren.-Jack

Peter-Before we continue, we should note the striking cover by Sanjulian, an artist who will define the next decade of Vampi. "Death's Dark Angel" is a mixed bag, with Vampirella yet again becoming a supporting character in her own strip. The one important piece of mythology we learn this issue is that Vampi's bite is not infectious. I thought the scene where Van Helsing Sr. thrusts a stake at our girl and hits the crooked sheriff instead must have been some kind of slapstick wink on Archie's part. I love Tom Sutton's work, but artist Jose Gonzalez definitely has what it takes to lift this strip to a higher plane. Is it just me or do his crooked cops look like they were drawn by Mort Drucker?

I'm grateful to Gardner Fox for writing lots of naked boobs into his script for "The Eye of Ozirios," but would it be asking too much for ol' Gar to make some sense out of said script? I sure can't. Barbarian queen sword John Carradine big eye pulpety pulpety pulpety. I'll give "Ozirios" two heaving, sweaty, luscious, globular stars for Billy's fine art. I think, for the most part, Jeff Jones succeeds in both art and script departments with "Quest," a very odd experiment that seems more suited for an underground comic than for a "mainstream" publisher. I like Jones's purposely vague narrative, with no explanation given for its final reveal. Call me a heretic but I think Wally's work on "To Kill a God" is his best since the EC days. The only problem is that half of the gorgeous graphics are hidden by lots of dull words. So, visually this issue gets an A, but the overall prose grade has to be a light C.

Next Week...
The War is Winding Down