Monday, July 15, 2019

The Warren Report Issue 12: May/June 1967

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

Eerie 9 (May 1967)

"Fair Exchange"★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Neal Adams

"Rub the Lamp!"
Story by Allan Jadro
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Terror in the Tomb!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Rocco Mastroserio

"The Wanderer!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Dan Adkins

"Isle of the Beast!"★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Steve Ditko

"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge!"★1/2
Story by Ambrose Bierce
Adapted by Archie Goodwin
Art by Bob Jenney

"Experiment in Fear!"★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Gene Colan

An awesome splash page
from the great Neal Adams
Rich old Mr. Mannix pays disgraced Dr. Courtney to transplant his brain from his sick, dying body into the healthy body of a handsome young man whom Mannix has drugged and had kidnapped. The operation is a success and Mannix murders Courtney in order to keep him quiet and avoid paying him a king's ransom. He torches Courtney's office just to cover his bases. Mannix returns home but when the sun streams through his window the next morning and he disintegrates, he learns that it wasn't such a "Fair Exchange" after all, since the young man whose body now houses his brain is a vampire!

More gorgeous Neal Adams art can only go so far when it is applied in service of a cliched script. Adams does some experimenting with layout, including one entire page tipped on a slight angle (unless this was a printing error), and it reminds me of some of Gene Colan's layouts, but his art is so crisp and beautiful I really can't complain. "Fear Exchange" might have been a better title.

A pretty neat large panel from
Jerry Grandenetti ("Rub the Lamp!")

Rabid antique collector John Coates finally finds what he's been looking for--Aladdin's Lamp! He finds a secluded spot where he can "Rub the Lamp!" and wishes for $50,000, but is distressed when his wife dies in a fire and he gets a check for $50,000 from the life insurance company. Next, he wishes to be immortal. Soon he's bitten by a vampire and his wish is again granted, just not in the way he expected. Finally, he uses his third and final wish to request that he be reunited with his wife. He trips and falls, impaling himself on a jagged piece of wood and joining his spouse in death.

Another vampire story? All stories involving three wishes follow the same path, and this one is no exception; the fun comes in the unusual or unexpected ways the wishes are granted. Coates is not sophisticated enough to avoid what seem like obvious traps, and--help me!--I kind of liked Grandenetti's wacky, highly-stylized artwork. It seems better suited to stories of the supernatural than to realistic war tales.

Now that's scary!
("Terror in the Tomb!")
Archaeologists Carstairs and Bristol find "Terror in the Tomb!" when they discover an Egyptian mummy next to a sealed door covered with hieroglyphics. They blast open the tomb and the mummy comes to life, but a thrown torch succeeds in dispatching it. Too bad the mummy was the only thing guarding the real horror that they have set free--a killer-ghoul Pharaoh!

I must be in a good mood, since I thought this story was pretty cool and even enjoyed the artwork. I was worried that we'd discover the pharaoh was a vampire, but all he has are a couple of rows of sharp teeth, the better to eat you with, my dear.

A surgeon's patient dies on the operating table and is taken to the hospital's morgue, where he soon awakens and causes a ruckus. The doctor rushes to see him and the patient tells a strange story of dying in a car crash and finding himself in Hell, where monsters with long fangs pulled him ever downward. Suddenly, after a long time of suffering, he found himself pulled upward and awoke back in his body! The doctor insists on keeping him in the hospital for observation, realizing that the patient who just died had a heart attack and the car accident victim was from two years before. The doctor encounters a Hell-beast in the hallway dressed as an orderly and then finds the patient, reduced to skeletal remains.

The incomprehensible last
page of "The Wanderer!"
Dan Adkins is in full Wally Wood mode here and Goodwin's story proceeds along with some semblance of clarity until the final page, which is nearly incomprehensible. My short summary was an attempt to make sense of what happened but I'm open to other interpretations of "The Wanderer!"

Amberson is shipwrecked and washes up on the "Isle of the Beast!," where Rochefort tells him he grew tired of hunting shipwrecked men with weapons and so invented a formula to turn himself into a beast who could hunt his prey without weaponry. He sets Amberson loose in the island's jungle and chases him down. To his dismay, the full moon reveals that Amberson is a werewolf, and that werewolves are better fighters than beasts.

Yawn. Referring to "The Most Dangerous Game" in a story that rips it off doesn't excuse the ripoff. The twist ending of "Surprise! I'm a werewolf/vampire/giant bug" is really wearing thin and we're only on the ninth issue of Eerie. Ditko used some kind of wash technique here that blunts his usual effectiveness.

Not what you want to see upon entering a house
for the first time... ("Isle of the Beast!")
Peyton Farquhar is hanged during the Civil War for trying to burn a bridge, but the rope breaks and he escapes under water and makes his way home to his wife. Just as they are about to embrace, he snaps out of his reverie and his neck snaps--the whole thing was a dream in the split second before he died.

It's hard to go wrong with Ambrose Bierce's classic story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." It was done on both Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone and I had a super 8 sound film of the Twilight Zone version back in the '70s when it was not in the TV syndication package, even though I did not have a super 8 sound projector. Those were the days. In any case, Goodwin's adaptation is faithful to the original and Bob Jenney manages to do a half-decent job of drawing the events as they unfold. At least the lead character, Peyton Farquhar, doesn't turn out to be a vampire in the last panel.

"An Occurrence at You Know Where!"
Those nasty Nazis are at it again! In a concentration camp, a new "Experiment in Fear!" is being run by Dr. Strasser, who hooks Jewish prisoners up to a gizmo that measures their terror as he tortures them with real and fake poison gas until he finally kills them. The result is a record of terror that the Nazis can use as propaganda to show the weakness of the Jewish race. One night, Strasser gets drunk at a party and decides to check on his experiment. He finds the officer on duty has left his post and, though the prisoner seems to be dead, when Strasser looks more closely he is overtaken by the prisoner and put in his place. Now Strasser is the subject of the onslaught of terror and he reacts as did his prior subjects. When he is released, Nazi Colonel Kolb reasons that Strasser must be a Jew himself, since no pure-blooded German would ever show such fear, and tosses him into the prison camp with the rest of the Jews, who are only too happy to get a chance at revenge on the man who tortured their fellows.

Whew! Archie saved the best for last. This is a powerful story with nary a vampire nor a werewolf in sight, just human monsters who are worse than them all. Colan's art is impressive, as always, and perfectly captures the mood of the concentration camp and the horror of the situation. A strong finish to a strong issue!-Jack

"Experiment in Fear!"
Peter: I liked "Fair Exchange" well enough but it stretches credibility quite a bit to suggest that the drugging, kidnapping, operation, and recovery could be held within a twelve-hour period! I'm no surgeon, but... Allan Jadro (a pseudonym perhaps?) uses his fifteen minutes of fame (and sole Warren credit) to produce "Rub the Lamp!," a bald-faced rip-off of "The Monkey's Paw." Jadro probably had never even heard of the W.W. Jacobs classic and used the EC version for "inspiration." Below I allow for the occasional Grandenetti gem; this ain't it. "Terror in the Tomb!" is a padded mess that feels like so many bits of Archie scripts sewn together for a deadline. "The Wanderer!" is a boring hunk of mumbo-jumbo (perfectly summed up by what must be Warren's worst cover yet) with barely professional doodles by Dan Adkins. A giant letdown. "Isle of the Beast!" is yet another tired variation of "You're a vampire but I'm a (fill in the blank)," and it's obvious Archie is growing weary of pumping out seven or eight scripts a month. If you were anywhere near Ambrose Bierce's grave in early 1967 (well, that is if he had a grave), you may have seen some of the dirt disturbed; that would have been poor old Ambrose rolling in circles after seeing Bob Jenney's art for "Owl Creek Bridge!" The Goodwin/Colan team-up, "Experiment in Fear!" is the best of a very weak bunch this time out, even with its heavy-handed message.

Creepy 15 (June 1967)

"City of Doom!" ★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Steve Ditko

"Adam Link, Champion Athlete!" 
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Joe Orlando

"The Adventure of the German Student!" ★★
Story by Washington Irving
Adapted by Archie Goodwin
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"The River!" ★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"The Terror Beyond Time!" 
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Neal Adams

"City of Doom!"
After Ultor and his scurvy Scythians have staked and left him to die in the desert, Thane the Barbarian escapes and seeks vengeance. Tracking the Scythians, he stumbles into Livia, a gorgeous half-naked woman who begs the barbarian to follow her to her nearby city of Kadith, where even now Ultor and his murderers are raping and pillaging. Seeing this as a way to kill two birds with one stone (murdering the Scythians and then pillaging the village himself), Thane quickly agrees and follows the girl to Kadith, where she leads him into a great palace filled with mazes. Thane turns his back for only a second and the girl has gone, leaving him suspicious and a tad nervous as well. Turning a corner, he encounters a mob of slobbering ghouls, who attack him. With his great sword he makes quick work of the monsters and moves on through the darkness.

A familiar voice cries out in the blackness, begging for death, and Thane turns to see his nemesis, Ultor, lying helpless on a slab. When Livia returns, bearing a torch, Thane sees why his fellow barbarian is craving a fast exit; Ultor is being fed upon by a huge, writhing, tentacled creature. Livia spills the beans: the monster is the living altar, the very heart of Kadith, and it must be nourished with a never-ending supply of blood. Thane puts Ultor out of his misery and then turns his attention to the giant blob-thing, piercing it with his magnificent blade. Livia rushes at Thane with a dagger, slips and falls into the monster, who slaps a tentacle on the girl's head and begins feeding. Thane sees this as his time to exit stage left. A fabulous sword-and-sorcery thriller, with Archie doing his very best Robert E. Howard imitation. If I have one very minor quibble, it's with Ditko's art. No, no, no, Steve's as great as always but he's just not right for this strip. It needed a Jeff Jones or John Buscema. Ditko doesn't do muscle-bound oafs very well. Magically, my prayers will be answered next issue. Still, it's a great read!

"City of Doom!"

I won't waste precious space on the (thank God!) final chapter of the inane "Adam Link" saga, save to say this was the worst installment of the bunch. That's not an easy statement considering how awful the previous seven were. "Adam Link, Champion Athlete!" finds the robot and his girlfriend, Eve, acquitted of all charges and craving citizenship. The only way that will happen is to get public opinion behind the couple so Adam (naturally) becomes an athlete. I suspect an eight-year-old might have written and illustrated this better. Good riddance, Adam Link!

"The Adventure of the German Student!"

"The Adventure of the German Student!"
A doctor stops in at a Parisian pub and when the caretaker inquires as to where he's come from, the physician explains he's just been up at the asylum and relates a strange tale. Gottfried Wolfgang, a tender soul, comes to Paris during the revolution to study but is horrified by the acts of violence all around. Daily beheadings in the town square and cheering mobs send him quivering to the safety of his flat. Then one night while strolling the square, he happens upon a beautiful woman sitting on the steps of the guillotine. When he asks if there's anything he can do for her, any friends he can take her to, the woman tells him the blade has taken all her friends. Affected by her sadness and perhaps more than a bit smitten, Wolfgang convinces the girl to stay at his pad, purely platonically of course, and she agrees.

At the flat, the two fall madly in love and all seems to be bliss until the following morning when Wolfgang finds the girl lying across the bed, quite deceased. When the police arrive, they inquire as to how this girl came to be in Wolfgang's flat when she was guillotined the day before. As evidence, one of the officers removes the collar around her neck and her head falls to the ground. Wolfgang screams out loud, never stops screaming actually, and is committed to the asylum, where he dies shortly thereafter. The innkeeper scoffs and asks the doctor if he believes any of that nonsense; the doc's reply is to hold up the girl's collar and note that it was found next to Wolfgang's body.

"The Adventure of the German Student!"

Aside from possibly "The Body Snatcher," "The Adventure of the German Student!" is the most effective adaptation Archie has yet attempted. Yes, we've seen plenty of these obvious ghost stories before but this one has a nasty edge to it. Why is this girl haunting Wolfgang? Was he merely an innocent bystander; would anyone have sufficed? Seems a very cruel trick of fate that a genuinely good guy should come to such a nasty end. I am by no means the world's biggest Jerry Grandenetti fan, but I do have to admit he's having his moments during his tenure at Warren. Nice flourishes here and there, including using the girl's hair as panel dividers, and his exaggerated Frank Robbins-esque herky-jerkyness seems to be kept in tow. A very good chiller.

"Come sail away with me, lad!"
Johnny Craig proves yet again that he's a great penciller but only a mediocre scripter with "The River!," an utterly predictable crime-horror drama about a pair of Greek thugs, Stefan and Paul, who steal a very large amount of gold and then run for the river (with the police at their heels) where their getaway boat lies in waiting. Along the way, Paul poops out and Stefan kills him. As he arrives at the boat, a hail of bullets forces Stefan to jump into the river without his gold. When he surfaces, he sees the police carting off Paul's body and the gold. Once the cops have left, Stefan makes it back to shore but the boat is sunken and he needs to get to the other side of the river. Luckily, an old man arrives and informs Stefan he will take him to the other side and yada yada yada.... you get the picture. Even as a lad of six, I might have caught on very early that Stefan had died in the barrage; he didn't actually see the cops carting off Paul's body; and the old guy has something to do with the afterlife. But at least this cliched mess is accompanied by Johnny's signature penciling (though I do miss the cigarette in every character's mouth -- did Johnny start reading the Cancer Society memos?), and that's something that might keep you turning the pages.

"The Terror Beyond Time!"
While searching for a missing professor in a deep mine, a deputy sheriff accidentally discovers a subterranean world (or possibly another dimension?) ruled by a Lovecraftian blob that reaches out across the ages and pulls in what it wants to craft its world. That includes dinosaurs, gladiators, cavemen, nubile femmes, and our hapless deputy sheriff. Not one to be ruled, our hero confronts the glob and destroys it, sending himself and his lady love back to the surface world. Sure, this has got some nifty Neal Adams work (though some of it looks like nothing more than glamor shots and excuses for Neal to pump out dinosaurs), but the script is horrible and makes no sense. What exactly is this thing's plan? To brainwash its immigrants and then send them back to our world to do his bidding? Why? The whole thing smacks of a bloated young adult novel or a really bad issue of Astonishing Tales. This was, by far, the longest story to appear in a Warren mag yet (16 pages!) and, sadly, the extra space afforded was wasted. -Peter

Jack: I don't know if it's because I'm summarizing the stories in Eerie and just commenting on Creepy, but I'm finding Eerie more enjoyable, issue by issue. "City of Doom!" is mediocre Ditko, but even that is worth a look, despite the tired sword and sorcery setting. For once, Steve does a decent job of rendering a nubile lass, though he can't help drawing those patented Ditko expressions on her face. The Adam Link story is based on the bizarre idea that becoming sports heroes will garner public support for making the robots citizens. I'm glad this is the end of what was essentially a soap opera with machines. "The Adventure of the German Student!" is an old, old tale and I thought Grandenetti's expressionistic art got in the way of telling the story clearly. I love the Eisnerian second page of Craig's "The River!," where two characters converse as they descend a staircase and several views of them are presented in a large, single panel without any confusion at all. The story holds no surprises but is some of the best Craig art we've seen at Warren. Last of all is the double-length Adams story, in which a fairly dull tale is made better by stellar art and visual storytelling techniques. At this point in his career, Adams was not as good as Craig at telling a story lucidly from beginning to end, but there's no way to criticize his drawing.

I really enjoyed the lesson on how comics are put together in this month's fan club page, reproduced below.

Next Week...
Let's join Big Bob in celebrating
Rock's bicentennial...
Even though it ain't!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 38

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 23
July 1952 Part I

 Amazing Detective #13

"Honeymoon of Horror!" (a: Hy Rosen) ★1/2
"Close Shave" (a: Werner Roth) 
"The Clinging Vine" (a: Fred Kida) 
"Cave-In" (a: Joe Sinnott) 
"Ghost Story" (a: Bill Everett) 

Gordon is another in the vast sea of Atlas gigolos, with an eye on wealthy dame, Clara Vaughn, and her untold millions. Gordon weasels his way into Clara's heart and then marries her, assuring himself of an inheritance when he offs her. The big night comes and Gordon ties Clara up and explains his sadistic and elaborate plan, involving celluloid and a slow-burning candle, but a shocking turn of events interrupts Gordon's plot. Clara's ghost arrives and informs Gordon that her hostess has been dead for six months (by suicide), but so lonely her spirit was out looking for love in all the wrong places. Further, Clara has decided to get even with all the conniving men in the world by "framing" Gordon for her "murder." Gordon explains the situation to the police and he's committed to a mental institution, which is fine with Clara, who becomes his cellmate 'til death do them part.

Though the murderous cad angle has been played to death, "Honeymoon of Horror" has enough bright spots to entertain. There's a real nasty, almost S&M atmosphere to the scene in which Gordon explains his plan to the bound-and-gagged Clara and Hy Rosen's jittery art is perfect for the sleazy vibe. The twist, delivered by Clara's ghost, is right out of left field so, yep, it's a surprise. "Close Shave," however, is anything but a surprise. A sailor muscles his way into a barber chair and proceeds to tell a story of murder on the high seas. You'll never guess... the bartender is the victim's father! What are the odds this tar would find his way into just the right chair? Don't ask. Judging by Werner Roth's art on "Close Shave," I'd say that, right about this time, Stan told his bullpen he needed more Heaths and Everetts.

"The Clinging Vine" is a very silly tale of a woman who plots her husband's death by poisoning his treasured vines. By killing the foliage, she reasons to her beau on the side, you kill the gardener. We al know better though. Fred Kida, at times, can conjure up a perfectly adequate Will Eisner swipe. "Cave-In" has some swell art from Joe Sinnott but the story, of a miner who robs his office and then hides out below in the mine, seemed overly familiar and then when I got to the punchline (he's trapped in a cave-in and faces two weeks with nothing but a lunch pail filled with cash), I knew I'd read this before but my old brain can't make the connection. Was it an EC story? I distinctly remember seeing a final panel of the dope with greenbacks in his mouth. Help an old man out.

The best story this issue is Bill Everett's "Ghost Story." Rocky Nixon, a death-row inmate goes to the chair, tossing curses at the judge and cop who brought him to justice. The next night, Judge Brown is found murdered in his locked-and-barred apartment. The Chief of Police is leaning towards the "avenging ghost" theory until his ace detective (and next on the murder list), Red Collins, reminds his boss that Nixon used to run the streets with famous magician, "Grey the Great!" Surely, the locked-room murder was the work of a famous prestidigitator. The APB goes out on "Grey" and Red holes up in the Chief's office but, minutes later, the jig is up and Rocky Nixon's gruesome ghost arrives to claim the life of Red Collins. A fabulous and fun throwback to the 1940s funny book stories, "Ghost Story" is a simple, straightforward revenge from the grave tale highlighted by little flourishes like Bill Everett's diagram of the apartment where Judge Brown was murdered (almost like an old Dell Map Back) and Red Collins' macho cockiness as well as a great pay-off. Bill Everett could do no wrong.

 Adventures Into Weird Worlds #8

"Somewhere Death Awaits" 
(a: Ben Brown & David Gantz) 
"30 Seconds" (a: Dick Ayers) 
"Lost!" (a: Vic Carrabotta) 
"Death in the Shadows" (a: Tony DiPreta) ★1/2
"Sticks and Stones" (a: Hy Rosen) 

"Somewhere Death Awaits" is the maddeningly disjointed "tale" of a curious red stone that brings bad luck every ten years to whosoever holds it. If the Ripley's Believe It Or Not!-esque narrative doesn't turn you off, then surely the scratchy doodling of Brown and Gantz will do the trick.

"30 Seconds" isn't much better, but at least it's readable and the art is definitely a step up. Miles Drummond is a weapons manufacturer who will stop at nothing to load his coffers with dough and that includes selling out his own country to the stinkin' commie bastards who come a'callin', hoping to purchase tons of Drummond's special ammo. For the promise of five million bucks on delivery, Drummond agrees to churn out an endless supply of his secret weapon, a shell that looks like a dud for "30 Seconds" and then blows everything around it to kingdom come. Drummond keeps his end of the bargain but (wouldn't you know it?) the commie bastards renege and tell the backstabbing turncoat he'll have to journey behind enemy lines to North Korea if he wants to collect his ill-gotten gains. Drummond manages to impersonate a soldier and make it to the front but then is blown to atoms by... you guessed it!... one of his own baby bombs. GCD identifies Carl Wessler as the story-teller but this is the kind of red-baiting thriller Stan would pump out on lunch breaks.

"30 Seconds"
"Lost!" is a three-pager, about a wandering little boy whose touch means death, with gawd-awful visuals by Vic Carrabotta. These mini-stories usually don't amount up to much anyway but some them (count "Lost!" in that pile) are sheer torture. Ben Chambers, the protagonist of "Death in the Shadows" is beside himself when he discovers his wife is having an affair, but he lacks the courage to kill them so he hires out. The deed is to be done at the Black Cat night club so, to make sure his wife and her lover will be there, he accompanies his cheating mate to the club but then gets a chest full of bullet courtesy of his wife's lover, the hired gun! This one ends on just one coincidence too many, and why would Ben sit at the table he's been told the hit will take place?  All the women in the world love lothario and Broadway heartthrob Paul Medford, a man who uses and then disposes of his women as soon as he tires of them. Paul's motto is "Sticks and Stones" can break my bones... and all that, but his bones are put to the test when an angry mob turns on him after one of Paul's conquests jumps from a high-rise ledge. His comeuppance is both ironic and lame.

 Astonishing #15

"The Hole in the Wall" (a: Manny Stallman) ★1/2
"The Skeleton" (a: Sy Grudko) 
"Grounds for Death!" (a: Jim Mooney) ★1/2
"The Face in the Glass" (a: Jack Abel & Bill Benulis) 
"The Man Who Died Twice" (a: Tony DiPreta) ★1/2

Eric has had enough of his wife cheating on him while he's out on the road selling refrigerators, so he digs a hole in the cellar, stocks the shelter with enough food to last two years, and locks her in. Then comes an important trip to South America (ostensibly to sell some more refrigerators?) and, wouldn't ya know it, the plane goes down in the Amazon. Eric  attempts to hack his way through the dense jungle but it takes him two years (!) to make it out and get a flight back home. Nervously, he opens the cellar, hoping his gorgeous wife is still alive, and gets a big surprise!

Well, I've said it before and I'll doubtless continue to say it throughout this long journey: sometimes the most enjoyable Atlas tales are the ones that make no sense whatsoever. Certainly, "The Hole in the Wall" falls into that category, with its loony plot line of hubby keeping cheating wifey captive in a cellar. I'm not sure what's funnier, the fact that Eric stocks his prison with enough food for two years or the fact that he hasn't been declared dead and can book passage on a plane back home. No, it's probably the final panel, which shows wife Polly transformed (physically) into a mole as a result of her hibernation. Whatever the case, all the little inanities add up to an enjoyable read.

Professor Timmins is looking for a good skeleton for his work at the University and the one in Tomas' window is perfect. But Tomas explains that this particular set of bones belongs to a (or the) devil and exposure to rain water will bring about flesh growth. Timmins is persuasive and he gets "The Skeleton," bringing it back to his lab to experiment on. Very quickly, he comes to realize that Tomas was not a foolhardy old peddler of wives' tales when he pours a little rain water on a finger of the skeleton. He very quickly isolates the finger (which has somehow become separated from the hand without an explanatory panel) from the rest of the skeleton and then heads out for a smoke and some deep thinking. While the egghead is pondering, his lab is ransacked and a group of young hoods steal the skeleton and head out to make mischief. A thunderstorm spells trouble and the youths hightail it, leaving the fast-forming demon to fend for himself. Prof. Timmins takes a taxi back to his lab and discovers, too late, that the hack is the devil, back for his finger.

A very imaginative piece of horror fiction if you don't stop to ask questions. I'll ask them for you. If Tomas didn't want this accursed demon to be free upon the world, why would he display its skeleton in his showroom? What exactly is the experiment that Timmins is conducting on a bare set of bones? Why would a group of JDs destroy a lab and steal only a skeleton? If this skeleton belongs to the one and only devil, does that mean evil has taken a vacation since his flesh rotted away? Is there any doubt that screenwriters Peter Spencely and Jonathon Rumbold read "The Skeleton" when they wee toddlers and wrote the Cushing/Lee vehicle The Creeping Flesh as an homage (right down to the scene where the demon comes back to claim his missing digit)? This is one fun, energetic read.

The boys down at the Cowley Meat Packing Plant are pretty darn happy with their jobs; they're paid fairly, they're treated with respect and, in return, they pack more meat than any of the other work shifts. That all changes when Old Man Cowley hires an "efficiency expert," who comes in and changes everything, treating the boys like dogs. When one of the men is caught with dirty hands, the new boss fires him as an example, but a fight breaks out and the supervisor topples into the meat grinder. "Grounds for Death!" is a fun read but it's got one of those characters who's so villainous it's hard to believe. Both title and story are very EC-inspired but for one difference -- "Grounds" ends with the three friends agreeing they better go tell the boss to throw out the latest batch of meat, whereas the same characters written by Al Feldstein would hide the accident and shrug. Jim Mooney has a lot to do with the success of "Grounds"; when the "expert" lectures the men, each succeeding panel shows his face growing more devilish!

The editors promise that "The Face in the Glass," a short-short about a tough guy who murders a fortune teller and then becomes trapped in a hall of mirrors, is "one of the most Astonishing stories you've ever read" but they lie. Jack Seabrook and I have spent a whole lot of time dealing with the art of Jack Abel while sifting through the DC war titles and his art is no worse nor better at Atlas than it was at the rival company. The finale this issue, "The Man Who Died Twice" suffers from a time-paradox twist that doesn't make much sense and a rushed art job that only adds to the head-scratching.

Mystery Tales #3

"The Vampire Strikes" (a: Russ Heath) 
"...And Puppy Dogs' Tails!" (a: Gene Colan) 
"When Murderers Meet!" 
"Alone With Death" (a: Jim Mooney) ★1/2

Because his father grew up in Austria and told him of the legends, Herman is the only one in the neighborhood not to scoff at the rumors that a vampire is responsible for a strange series of murders. Herman only wants to be left alone but the gorgeous Wilma has designs on the young butcher and makes no bones about it. When the police begin narrowing their search for the killer, Herman finds his butcher shop within the cordoned-off zone and Wilma at his door, pleading for a safe place to stay. He lets her in and promises they'll be safe in his freezer but, at the last second, Herman turns cad and locks the girl out and laughs at his deception. A rustling behind him in the hanging meat makes him turn to see the approaching vampires, who find Herman's freezer to the perfect place to call home.

Yep, there's a few logic problems here (how could Herman have missed the snoozing blood-suckers on previous visits to his meat locker?) but, overall, I liked "The Vampire Strikes" a whole lot, especially since it avoids the cliched climax where we discover the main protagonist (or his would-be girlfriend) is actually the killer and ends, instead, with an effective Heath vampire attack. One aspect of the story not explored that would have been intriguing is how the vampires came to America in the first place. Was it somehow through Herman's father (who was bitten as a young man)? Russ Heath gives the whole affair a cinematic, very noir-ish look that keeps you turning those pages.

Wendell Brazer speeds to his Uncle Martin's funeral, hoping his name is in the will, only to find the announcement was a trick at the behest, according to his Uncle, of Martin's dog, Fate. Martin insists that Fate has more cunning and intelligence in his tail than his nephew has in his "empty skull," but Wendell is out to prove his loving uncle wrong. Even though a series of murder attempts comes up fruitless, Wendell finally gets his way when Martin dies of a stroke. But the dreams of untold wealth go down the drain when Wendell hears the will calls for him to be taken care of financially only if he cares for Fate until his dying day. Mocked by the townsfolk for this turn of events, Brazer rigs an elaborate scheme to rid himself of the scurvy dog and, at the same time, get what's rightfully coming to him.

"...And Puppy Dogs' Tails" is a very humorous black comedy, highlighted by a howlingly funny climax and the typically atmospheric work of Gene Colan. It's obvious from the get-go that the (unattributed) writer is going for exaggeration when Uncle Martin dishes the 411 on his soul-mate, Fate, and Wendell is more irritated than shocked. Another giggle comes when the local papers and TV news get in on the act of deriding Wendell for his new duties as Fate's butler.

In "When Murderers Meet!," Leon talks his simple-minded roommate into planting a bomb and stealing his boss's money but, unfortunately for Leon, the roommate gets things a bit mixed up. Our final tale this issue, "Alone With Death!," concerns housewife Mary and daughter Anne stuck in their countryside home as a nasty storm rages outside. Husband Frank calls to inform his wife that the roads are out and it'll be a while before he can get home, but Mary flies into a panic when she hears a radio broadcast informing the public that a homicidal maniac has escaped a local asylum. Frank promises he'll get home to protect his wife and daughter but, just then, a crazed lunatic breaks through the living room window and terrorizes Mary and Anne. The frightened pair make their way upstairs and out onto the roof where the loony corners them. Just as he's about to do some damage, the madman is tossed off the roof by the virile Frank, who's just arrived to save the day. Mary faints and when she awakens, she's told by the police that she's a very brave woman, having survived the attack. When she tells them it was Frank that saved the day, they lower their heads and inform Mary that her husband was killed shortly after leaving work! Despite the hokey twist in the climax, "Alone With Death!" is an entertaining change of pace, a thriller rather than a chiller, which reminded me (obviously) of EC's "...And All Through the House!" Jim Mooney's work here is very simple (it's not much more than a few characters in different poses) but it works well enough.

In Two Weeks...
Let's visit The Old Mill!

Monday, July 8, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 159: April 1975

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 36

Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Mike Sekowsky & Bill Draut

"The Moon is the Murderer"
(Reprinted from Weird War Tales #2, December 1971)

"The 13th Man"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"The Pool..."
(Reprinted from Weird War Tales #3, February 1972)

"Monsieur Gravedigger"
(Reprinted from Weird War Tales #2, December 1971)

"Bloody Halloween"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by E.R. Cruz

"The Day After Doomsday..."
(Reprinted from House of Secrets #86, July 1970)

"Colonel Clown Isn't Laughing Anymore!"
Story by Arnold Drake
Art by Frank Robbins

(Reprinted from Weird War Tales #2, December 1971)

"The Deadly Seeds"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alex Niño

Mike Sekowsky has Peter turning tail and running
Peter: G.I. Steve Talbot is about to get run through by the bayonet of a Nazi soldier when he discovers a way to "Escape" from his body: soul transference! For some strange reason, Steve is able to lift his essence up and out and take over the body of someone standing near him. It saves his life and later, when a German tank is about to demolish his comrades, it makes him a hero. What bad thing did we do to be subjected to a double issue of Weird War Tales at the peak of its mediocrity? A lazy script and ugly art make this one a candidate for inclusion in a Gold Key volume called Ripley's Believe It Or Not: The Stories That Got Away! No explanation for Talbot's sudden supernatural abilities; they're just there.

"The 13th Man"
Seaman John Chandler has horrible nightmares about his last day on the submarine, the Porpoise, which was destroyed by the Nazis, leaving Chandler the only survivor. When Chandler is reassigned to the destroyer, the Monahan, he keeps his mates awake at night with his moaning and screams. The ship takes some hits and must steer into a local cove, the area where the Porpoise was sunk, and Chandler elevates from nerves to terror. Revealing that he actually abandoned the sub and watched as his comrades were killed, Chandler insists that the men are waiting for him at the bottom of the ocean. When a Stuka flies in and attacks the Monahan, Chandler once again jumps ship but, this time, he doesn't escape. Though it's no classic, at least "The 13th Man" is readable, something we haven't been able to say about a story in this title for some time. The climax is predictable, but it's still a decent ghost story and Yandoc's art is pretty creepy when it needs to be.

choke... groan ("Bloody Halloween")
"Bloody Halloween" is a three-page waste of space, with G.I.s held up in a castle that has a reputation for evil. Hoping to give their skeptical C.O. a scare, a pair of lieutenants cook up an ingenious scheme: one of them will dress as a vampire and throw a scare into their colonel! George Kashdan was obviously poring over old DC horror comics at about this time since he uses one of the most cliched reveals of all time, and with a straight face yet. Bloody awful.

Yussel Arenski, entertainer in the "Underground Night Club," found in the Warsaw ghetto, keeps his friends laughing and cheerful despite the real world that awaits them outside. The Nazis get wind of the Club Yussel and storm the place, arresting the patrons and shooting Yussel in cold blood. Yussel's effects are sent to Colonel Schroeder, who will ready them to be shipped to Der Fuhrer as evidence that the Warsaw Clown has been executed. But something funny is going on with Col. Schroeder; he's suddenly donning red noses and funny wigs without a clue as to how they got there. When Hitler himself comes to call on Schroeder to congratulate him on his feat, the colonel launches into a comedy sketch belittling the chief Nazi. Schroeder is cut down as an example to his men.

"Colonel Clown Isn't Laughing Anymore!"
"Colonel Clown Isn't Laughing Anymore!" isn't the burning bag of excrement I expected it to be when I saw who was credited, but it's a bit confusing in spots. That could be chalked up to Frank Robbins's indecipherable visuals, which bleed from one panel into the next like a pesky neighbor who builds his shed on your property. Got to give Drake (and editor Orlando) credit for such a dark, nasty script. Obviously, by this time, the CCA wasn't even paying attention; it's not that the story is overly graphic, but it's got a dismal atmosphere compared to the rest of the pablum WWT has been serving up.

"The Deadly Seeds" is a short-short about a group of G.I.s sent to kidnap a German scientist who's working on a top-secret weapon for the Nazis. When the mission goes south, the soldiers discover just what the egghead's been up to. For a three-pager, "The Deadly Seeds" is not bad, thanks mostly to A+ art by favorite Alex Niño.

On the letters page, which is usually a must-skip, Joe (or whoever manned the letters page) takes us behind the scenes on the formation of Weird War Tales. Short but most interesting (and reprinted far below).

Jack: I was excited to see a DC giant-sized comic from 1975 with a cool cover by Kubert, but the insides are not that hot. The art team of Sekowsky and Draut on "Escape" did not bode well and Kanigher's story is a dud. "The 13th Man" is a run-of-the-mill story with the cool final panel that is reproduced above. "Bloody Halloween" recalls "Banquo's Chair" with fairly good art by Cruz, and "Colonel Clown Isn't Laughing Anymore!" was better than I expected, though the Robbins art is dreadful as ever. Even Niño can't save "The Deadly Seeds," which doesn't work up much momentum in three short pages.

Star Spangled War Stories 186

"Man of God--Man of War"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"The Last Kill"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Franc Reyes

Peter: Father Memmoli insists to the Nazis that occupy his small Italian village that his people will not wage war against either side. Things change when a couple of American G.I.s storm into Monte Grande to rescue one of their captured comrades, steal a jeep, and run down a group of toddlers on the way out of town. Embittered by what he sees as American brutality, the father urges his people to side with the Nazis. Enter the Unknown Soldier, whose mission is to exterminate the "Man of God--Man of War" and return Monte Grande to a state of pacification. US takes on the guise of wounded Nazi Lt. Aschermann and wins the trust of the confused padre. While roaming Monte Grande, our hero discovers that the two soldiers who killed the children were actually disguised Nazis. He guns down the scum and readies the bodies for hiding, unaware that he's being watched by...

"Man of God--Man of War"
A good cliffhanger and a decent story, but I'll deduct a half-point for the predictability of the "reveal." I think it would have been much more effective had the child-killers been simply gung-ho G.I.s trying to make their escape: the act leaving a conflict in the reader and raising sympathy in the padre's turn-around. It's still the best DC War comic being published at the time (if only by default), but Michelinie has proven in just a short time that he's a master of pessimism rather than a facilitator of the cliche.

Unfortunately, the subtle nuances found in Michelinie's Unknown Soldier scripts are nowhere to be found in the heavy-handed and preachy "The Last Kill," wherein we get a peek at future sports. Or is it the future? Borrowing pages from The Mechanic and William Harrison's "The Rollerball Murder," "The Last Kill" is the story of Dak Broadhurst, number one "professional warrior" in a world that has outlawed war, who is ordered to train an up-and-comer named Logan. You know where it's going from there. Michelinie lays out a world where the public demands lots of blood and guts and no mercy from their arena idols, and heaven help the gladiator who doesn't provide the spectacle. Yep, I get it, David. 2089 isn't so different than 1975 when it comes to the masochistic hunger of sports fans.

DC pushing boundaries? ("The Last Kill")
Jack: I liked this issue much more than you did, Peter. The Unknown Soldier story has a great opening that sets up a moral question. As the story progressed, it became clear to me that US is basically a superhero at this point, but I don't mind. The ending is excellent and the cliffhanger reminds me of the sort of situation often pictured on the covers of DC War and Horror comics, where a character thinks he's in the clear but we see menace he doesn't. "The Last Kill" was almost as good, which was a big surprise to me, since I don't usually enjoy these sci fi/war mashups. The "future" of 2039 isn't looking so likely from the vantage point of 2019, is it! I think Michelinie is easily the best writer in the DC War comics at this point and I look forward to each issue of SSWS.

G.I. Combat 177

"The Tank That Missed D-Day"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Sam Glanzman

"The Avenging Wind"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Redondo

Peter: The Jeb Stuart is airlifted to England to take part in the great invasion scheduled for June 6, 1944, but the men take a wrong turn and end up late for the party. The ghostly Colonel makes an appearance just long enough to let his descendant know that not all heroes will end up in Normandy. That's all well and good for a specter but our heroes find themselves heading for a court-martial for dereliction of duty. Jeb manages to find a salty sea dog to ferry them to the other side of the Channel and the small tug finds itself in the midst of many harrowing incidents but, helped along by the giant fists of Colonel Jeb Stuart, the tank makes it to the other side. The boys end up quite a ways away from the action but they manage to while their time away by saving a small coastal village from Nazi scum.

Ghostly intervention
"The Tank That Missed D-Day" is a very confusing chapter in the Haunted Tank saga which seems, more and more, to veer away from any sort of familiar geography or timeline. Why would the army fly the Jeb in from Africa "specially" for D-Day (and, forgive my ignorance, but wasn't D-Day pretty much a secret?--how would Commander Jeb know it was called D-Day?) and why, all of a sudden after 88 adventures, does the Colonel physically affect the action? The entire strip pushed my patience to the brink and, lord knows, I don't have much patience left for Sam Glanzman's Haunted Tank. More and more, the Jeb takes outlandish chances (how many times, ferinstance, has the damn thing turned upside down in the last twelve months?), only to emerge the next issue just fine. Speaking of which, I have a feeling the court-martial won't even be mentioned again.

Two boys, one Japanese, one American, grow up thousands of miles apart but with the same dream: to soar in a great bird and shoot down the enemy. Long story short: they get their wish. Well, "The Avenging Wind" is not as bad as my synopsis might infer, but it's built upon one of Big Bob's favorite cliches and climaxes with a preach (just as the two pilots are killed in battle, two more children, growing up thousands of miles apart, head for an inevitable showdown).Very nice art by Frank Redondo.

"The Avenging Wind"
Jack: I was interested to see how Bob Haney would handle the Haunted Tank, but he blew it! It seems the ghostly general can now make road signs spin around, conjure up storms at sea, and turn into a giant to lift a boat in his massive hand. That boat's skipper is a Dutchman named Jaans, whose fractured English is cringeworthy. The General should have just taken his namesake aside and said, "Hey, Jeb, I need you to head over to this little village to help out." Much simpler than moving Heaven and Earth to trick the tank crew to get them there! I agree about Frank Redondo's art on "The Avenging Wind"--it's sharp! Not so sharp is another example of Kanigher's parallel story structure, where the circular ending is more interesting than the main story. I can't believe this title is going monthly. God help us.

 Our Army at War 279

"Mined City!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. are just a few of the Allied soldiers in a long line approaching a French town formerly held by Nazis, but as they get close they discover that it's a "Mined City!" It seems the Nazis set land mines all around and left a master switch in a blockhouse in the city center. If the Nazis who are left sense an Allied attack coming, they will blow up the city.

Easy Co. is given the task of attacking the blockhouse at night, under cover of darkness, but as they move towards it they run into a couple of Nazi traps. For some reason, loudly killing Nazis along the way does not alert those holed up in the blockhouse and Easy Co. manages to reach it, but their attack is a complete flop. They kill all of the Nazis inside but one of them throws the switch as he dies and the entire town blows up.

"Mined City!"
It never ceases to amaze me how Rock and his men escape death at every turn, while others drop like flies around them! They fail utterly in their mission this time out, but in the end Rock tells Ice Cream Soldier that the Nazis didn't win this round--the war did. I have news for Rock--he and his team blew it! One person who didn't blow it is Russ Heath, who comes through with an excellent job of visual storytelling, using many wordless panels to advance the story without needless chatter. I wonder if he removed dialogue from Kanigher's scripts or if Kanigher just sent him scripts that were less verbose.

In WWII, an American pilot and a Japanese pilot take off and do battle in the air. The Japanese plane crashes into the American plane and both men are ejected. The American has a parachute but the Japanese doesn't. Fortunately, the Japanese pilot ends up in the arms of the American pilot as they descend, though he fights against being saved. Unfortunately, their "Rendezvous" is short-lived as a Japanese plane shoots both men dead and they continue their descent lifelessly.

Ric Estrada gives us a good example of why Russ Heath's ability to advance a story wordlessly is so notable. In this Gallery of War entry, there is not a single word--no captions or dialogue at all. Estrada tells the story reasonably well, but it's not crystal clear, and I suspect it's just beyond his abilities. The story itself is a trifle and ends, as expected, with a panel showing the futility of war. The "Make War No More" circle ends both this and the Sgt. Rock story this issue, showing that it was still in use as of the comics cover-dated April 1975.

Peter: "Mined City!" is the best Rock of the year. This is the kind of dark, gloomy script Big Bob usually reserves for his "Gallery of War" stories. It's refreshing that we're not handed yet another "green recruit" dirge and even more refreshing that Heath is back to deliver the eye candy. Good, solid climax as well. Speaking of Gallery of War, I wasn't much impressed with "Rendezvous," outside of the ironic finale. It's an interesting experiment (one that has been attempted before) but the "plot" is threadbare. I will say that Ric's Estrada's art might be getting a bit better.

Kirby & Berry
Our Fighting Forces 154

Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby & D. Bruce Berry

Jack: On a Pacific island, Johnny Cloud sneaks up on a Japanese general named Yamashita and shoots the cigarette in his mouth in half. Cloud then ties up Yamashita and carries him off, joining the Losers as they escape down a river in a Frenchman's boat.

Yamashita's men are looking for their leader, who manages to overpower the Losers and escape. Fierce fighting breaks out, but Yamashita lives by the code of "Bushido!" and captures Gunner, offering to trade him and Frenchy for the chance at hand to hand combat with Johnny Cloud, who has dishonored him.

Cloud agrees and the two men fight. Unbeknownst to Yamashita, all of this has been a distraction to give American planes time to approach the island and drop paratroopers to attack Yamashita's installation. The fight with Cloud ended, Yamashita returns to his men and leads a final, doomed Banzai charge, only to see himself and his soldiers cut down by machine-gun fire.

Not bad at all, though evaluating Kirby's work at this point in his career requires a low bar indeed. I did not expect the entire story to be a diversion and was pleasantly surprised at how the Losers tricked Yamashita to buy time for the attack force to arrive. Still, the art is mid-'70s' Kirby, which means very blocky, heavy on black inks, and an emphasis on details of equipment rather than people. If Johnny Cloud were not colored red, we wouldn't know which one he was. They have to refer to Gunner by name when he is caught, because otherwise we'd have no way of identifying him. Still, for Kirby, it's better than usual.

Peter: I've nothing new to add to my complaints about this title. It's still unreadable and unlookatable; Jack's way of saying "I'm the Boss," no doubt. "The King" has taken what was a fun adventure series about a bunch of schmucks who somehow get the right thing done and turned it into just another Kirby (circa 1975) superhero book. I was going to make a clever comment like "take the 'o' off the title of this installment and that's what I cry loudly while reading this tripe" but I've got more class. Alan Spinney of Alberta contributes the best writing of the entire issue on the "Mail Call" page when he calls out Jack for ruining the Losers and ignoring the fact that Ona has just up and disappeared. Read Alan's intelligent missive and the bogus reply below.

From OFF

From WWT

Next Issue...
A double-dose of Neal Adams
goodness arrives... just in time!