Monday, February 18, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 149: June 1974


The DC War Comics
1959-1976
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook



Dominguez
Weird War Tales 26

"The Survivor"
Story by John Albano
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"Jump Into Hell"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"A Time to Die"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ernie Chan (Chua)

Peter: During the first World War, French Corporal Deauville racks up some pretty astounding numbers as far as German kills go. He's a one-man wrecking machine (and he prefers hand-to-hand combat rather than from afar), but his comrades are deservedly spooked by the man's elan (and queer cackling) during battle. Then, one day during battle, Corporal Dupree has a deserting German in his sights but Deauville prevents the man from firing. It's as if Deauville wanted this particular German to survive. Later that day, that particular German, Corporal Adolf Hitler, muses with a medic on how lucky he is that the French are such poor marksmen.

"The Survivor"
The Hitler twist has been used a few too many times, but "The Survivor" is not that bad despite the obvious silliness (Deauville - oh how subtle you are, John Albano!) and the shorthand needed to fit all this information into six pages. Alfredo Alcala does his job even if there's nothing special to illustrate (give me Alcala werewolf over Alcala Satan any day). Alfredo does double duty this issue and jumps wars to WWII for "Jump Into Hell," a contrived and cliched mess about a band of paratroopers who literally jump into hell when they stumble on a centuries-old Satanic cult that performs human sacrifices for eternal life (I think). Every century (or so the legends say), the town of Germelshausen rises from hell, takes a few pounds of flesh, and then sinks back into hell. So, why bother performing the act if you have to be swallowed back into the pit again? Who knows. At least it looks nice.

"Jump Into Hell"
A year after abandoning his crew to escape his burning plane, Captain James Davis lies in a hospital bed, drifting in and out of a coma. The doctors can hear Davis's mad ramblings about saving his men, but what the docs don't know is that the captain is in a dream-world, trying to go back and correct his fatal mistake. He connects with his men on the "other side" and discovers the men were fated to die the next day in the desert. Now that he's found peace, the captain dies in his hospital bed. "A Time to Die" is yet another cliched Oleck script; it's also maudlin and forgettable. The finale, when one doctor questions whether a man can live in two places at once and another doctor shrugs and empties desert sand from the dead captain's shoe, is about as predictable as they come.

"A Time to Die"
Jack: I knew you would be happy to see two stories by Alcala! In "The Survivor!," Deauville reminded me of a baseball player who takes steroids. You don't really want him on your team until he hits a home run. The Hitler ending was just dumb. "Jump Into Hell" features some nice work by Alcala, especially in a large panel where blank-eyed peasants attack soldiers. The town that reappears every hundred years reminded me of a Satanic Brigadoon. I liked "A Time to Die" the best, even if Chan drew it and not Alcala. The story kept my interest even though the ending with sand in the shoe was strictly from hunger.


Kubert
Star Spangled War Stories 180

"The Doomsday Heroes!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Jack Sparling

"Return"
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Walt Simonson

Peter: Over the Pacific, the Unknown Soldier poses as a pilot and must put his all-around military skills to the test when he's suddenly surrounded by kamikazes aiming for a US battleship. At the moment of truth, the jet's guns jam and US is forced to ram a diving plane, sending both pilots into the drink. US prevents the Japanese pilot from committing harakiri and the two head off in a skimpy life raft to find safer waters. Mines and Great Whites keep the pair busy until they wash up onshore. The two have formed a cautious alliance but, once the duo has landed on a small island, the enemy pilot clobbers our hero and swims out to sea to destroy a crippled aircraft carrier just off-shore. Grabbing hold of a mine, the pilot gets within range of destroying the ship but is eaten by a shark just before completing his mission. The Unknown Soldier swims back to the island to ponder life and wonder why there is war.



"Return"
The Sparling art that had kinda grown on me by our last installment is grating on me with this one. It's really awful. "The Doomsday Heroes!" is the 28th US adventure and, I believe, the first to omit one of those scenes where our hero takes his face off (I'm assuming he's using a new form of latex since he doesn't seem to have the itching problem that gave him away to the Nazis a few issues ago) and shows those obligatory bandages. That gauze must have gotten a bit wet, no? The plot is one that's been used a million times in war comics and movies and this variation adds nothing new. This strip is heading for a slump unless Frank Robbins can find fresh ideas for "the man that no one knows but who is known to everybody."

Gerry Boudreau's "Return" is a sequel to "U.F.M." (from SSWS #170), and it's more of the same ponderous and cliched science fiction but, like its predecessor, it's nicely illustrated by Walt Simonson, and sometimes that's all that matters.

Jack:  As I began to read "The Doomsday Heroes!" I thought it was just a retread of a similar story we saw awhile back in the Sgt. Rock series, but as it went along I got wrapped up in it and found it exciting. My only complaint is that the hero could be anyone and the fact that he's the Unknown Soldier seems meaningless. This is a rare tale where the writing is better than the art. The opposite is true of "Return." The story isn't much but, once again, I'm thrilled to see Walt Simonson's dynamic pages. Too bad all of the men in this future world wear their hair and beards like it's 1974!


Kubert
Our Army at War 269

"A Man Called Rock!
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by George Evans

"The Mighty Mosquito"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #49, September 1957)

"The Sergeant and the Gun!"
Story by Robert Bernstein
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #63, November 1958)

"Stop the War--I Want to Get Off!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #196, August 1968)

"Death Ship of Three Wars!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #101, February 1964)

"Foxhole Fever!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by John Severin
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #65, January 1958)

"No Loot for the Hellcats!"
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #114, August 1968)

"Horseless!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

"A Man Called Rock!"
Jack: "A Man Called Rock!" leads three replacement soldiers across the edge of a cliff in North Africa when one of the green apples falls onto a ledge below. The other two new men lower Rock down by a rope to rescue the new recruit, but a German plane happens to fly by and its bullets cause a break in the rope, allowing Rock to slide to the foot of the cliff. When he is unable to climb back up, he wanders off and is taken captive by natives, whose chief leads Rock around by means of a rope around his neck. When a Nazi tank approaches the natives' village and starts blasting away, Rock blows up the tank and saves the chief. Fortunately, Easy Co. locates Rock at this point and the dreadful tale comes to an end.

"The Mighty Mosquito"
When I saw the Kubert cover to this issue, I got excited and thought it looked so appealing that I would buy it today! I love the DC 100-page format. However, the first story is not a good one. I can set aside allowances for changing times, but the idea of a tribe of black villagers in North Africa is hard to accept. Even more surprising, for a 1974 comic story, is the caption where Rock thinks of the villagers as "hairy-lookin' monkeys." This is the same company that published so many stories on race relations in the late '60s and early '70s! Kanigher's script must have been bare bones, because many panels are free of captions or dialogue. The story is uninvolving and borders on offensive.

Not much better is "The Mighty Mosquito," a reprint from 1957 with typically strong Kubert art but also typically cornball writing by Ed Herron. The title craft is a small PT boat that finds itself in the middle of a battle with much larger planes and ships. Of course, in the end, it's the little boat that saves the day and earns the title moniker.

"The Sergeant and the Gun!"
When a Soviet MiG destroys the tractor that pulls a big gun, a lone sergeant must enlist the aid of locals on the move to transport the gun to its destination. Along the way, he has to use his wits and some armaments to destroy any enemy that stands in the way. Leave it to Mort Drucker to deliver the best story so far in this big, fat issue, and it's a reprint from 1958! Drucker's realistic art is so detailed and impressive that I found myself turning the pages in this six-pager to see what happens next. The yellow-skinned locals and the Soviet MiG make me peg this story as happening in the Korean War, though time and place are never mentioned.

We then get a reprint of the classic Rock story, "Stop the War--I Want to Get Off!" from 1968, followed by "Death Ship of Three Wars!," a Johnny Cloud reprint from 1964 that Peter and I had very different reactions to when we wrote about it in 2015. Another former EC artist, John Severin, contributes "Foxhole Fever!," a story new to us because it was first published in 1958, before the 1959 start date for issues covered in our War Comics blog. A soldier named Al is an expert at digging foxholes, but when he finds himself in combat he has to resort to a series of makeshift shelters instead of digging the real thing.

"Horseless!"
"No Loot for the Hellcats!" follows, a '68 story about Hunter's Hellcats featuring some nice work by Russ Health, before the issue wraps up with another new story, "Horseless!," by the team of Bob Kanigher and Ric Estrada. After the cavalry wipes out an Indian village, a lone brave follows them and steals their horses. They track him and find that he has ridden into a dead end canyon. The cavalrymen can't climb the slope after him at night in the snow, so they decide to wait till morning. In the morning, the brave is still alive, having skinned a horse and worn its skin to keep warm, while the cavalrymen are dead from the freezing temperatures overnight. The title has a double meaning, since the cavalrymen are both "horseless" in the sense of having no horses to ride, and "horseless" in the sense of not having a warm horse hide to wrap around themselves to avoid a frozen death. The story is effective but Estrada's childish art pales next to the likes of Drucker, Kubert, and Heath.

Peter: I disliked Robert Kanigher's script and George Evans's art for "A Man Called Rock!" immensely. Where does Rock find the time to be in all these different places and training so many green recruits and why would he be separated from the rest of Easy? Big Bob's monstrous monthly workload obviously contributed to the cut-and-pasting from past scripts and the silliness thrown in to ramp up the drama (doubtful the Nazis would waste firepower on a bunch of harmless natives and then sit tight inside their tin can while Rock set them ablaze). Best just to forget this sub-par Sgt. Rock and hope for better out of both Kanigher and Evans next issue. Much better is "Horseless!," another grim "Big Bob's Gallery of War" entry, with passable art by Estrada. Yes, I'd rather this was illustrated by John Severin, but there aren't a lot of close-ups of human faces so Ric's art doesn't grate.

The three reprints offer up a lot of nice artwork from Kubert, Drucker, and Severin, along with the patented catch phrases and impossible GI odds and situations that 1950s' DC War titles excelled in. Any of the three are certainly preferable to the main event this issue.


Kubert
G.I. Combat 171

"The Man Who Killed Jeb Stuart"
Story by John David Warner
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Sword of Blood!"
Story by John David Warner
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: While rumbling through Italy, the boys of the Jeb Stuart come across a kid named Rod Carson, who's escaped from the decimated town of Carola. He begs the crew to take him to the village so that they can save the men who are trapped by the Germans. After getting the GI aboard, the Haunted Tank heads for Carola, but something about Carson is nagging at Jeb Stuart (the tank commander) and that same nagging extends to the ghost who "protects" the Haunted Tank. The General materializes to his descendant and insists the Jeb should stay clear of Carola and, further, should drop Carson off on the side of the road and leave him be. Jeb (the younger) explains that they can't shirk their duty and the General disappears in a funky vapor. Later, the General appears before Carson and tries to talk sense into him as well, but to no avail. Just then, a sniper cuts down Carson and the crew assumes he's dead, so they roll into Carola to blow the hell out of some Nazi bastards. Carson shows up in the nick of time to save Jeb from eating German shrapnel and Carson's comrades are saved. The General makes another appearance to confirm to the younger Stuart that Carson is the descendant of "The Man Who Killed Jeb Stuart."

"The Man Who Killed Jeb Stuart"
There's a jumble of confusing war action to start off this very-average war tale and Glanzman's art is... well, Glanzman's art, but one aspect of the script interested me and that's the increased "screen time" of our favorite Civil War General. There's quite a bit of interaction with Dead Jeb, but writer John David Warner never explains why Carson is not startled by the appearance of a ghost on a horse. It's almost as though Carson's been waiting for this day. Does his descendant appear to him as well? Unfortunately, Warner doesn't explore these avenues and the whole mess ends up very puzzling. Warner is also responsible for the back-up, "Sword of Blood!," a sequel to "Swords at Dawn" (from GIC #159). I really liked the earlier chapter and this one, about Samurai Zenkiyata (the quickest blade in the East), and his campaign to avenge the murder of his master, Mukaido, is equally involving. Warner keeps the action moving and throws in a couple of interesting twists but I just cannot get on the Ric Estrada train. His art is very cartoony and the subject matter requires something a little more... maybe, Severin-ish.

"Sword of Blood!"

Jack: Another example of an issue where the writing is better than the art, G.I. Combat 171 is hobbled by more sub-par work by Sam Glanzman and Ric Estrada. Twenty-one year old John David Warner brings some fresh ideas to what has become a stale comic book. The increased involvement of the ghost in the first story is welcome, as is the small history lesson. The second story reflects the kung fu craze that was in full swing at the time.

**************************************************************************

CIRCULATION, WE GOT CIRCULATION!

Here's how our favorite war titles did in 1973 (Weird War Tales was still too young to qualify and we won't see sales figures for that title until 1975). We're suckers for lots of trivial data, so we've included the sales reports for the three previous years as well. After a growth spurt in 1972, sales of DC war titles are down across the board (in the case of G.I. Combat, drastically so), but then so were sales of just about all comics titles.

                                                        1973         1972         1971              1970         
G.I. Combat                                    161,702    170,557    167,841         178,363     
Our Army at War                            163,221    165,021    161,881         171,510     
Our Fighting Forces                       147,968    156,524    164,142         139,770     
Star Spangled War Stories              144,292    154,716    145,869         136,204

Amazing Spider-Man                     273,204     288,379    307,550        322,195
Batman                                           200,574     185,283    244,488        293,897
Superman                                       240,558     252,317    325,618        329,925

Next Week...
This is what happens when you
read too many comic books every week!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-James P. Cavanagh Part Three: Fog Closing In [2.2]

by Jack Seabrook

In the ten years that Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour were on the air, they won only three Emmy Awards. Edward W. Williams won in 1956 for editing "Breakdown," Robert Stevens won in 1958 for directing "The Glass Eye," and James P. Cavanagh won in 1957 for writing "Fog Closing In." That same year, Rod Serling won the Emmy for writing "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (Serling's teleplay won in the category of shows that ran one hour or more, while Cavanagh's won in the half-hour category). What was it about this episode that led industry professionals to give it an award that otherwise eluded this well-written series?

"Fog Closing In" is based on a short story titled "The Fog Closing In" by Martin Brooke that was published in the April 1956 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The story begins as Mary Turner and her husband argue over breakfast about an ongoing dispute. The summer before, they moved to Kansas City because he got a better territory for his job as a salesman. They bought a large house so Mary's parents could visit and they purchased a dog named Clancy to protect her while she is at home by herself. They even hired a woman named Mrs. Powell to stay with Mary at night when her husband is away. Why, then, is she fearful?

Phyllis Thaxter as Mary
Mary's husband leaves to go on a sales trip and she is alone in the house, with every sound she hears causing her to grow increasingly apprehensive. She waits until six o'clock, when the long-distance telephone rates go down, then tries to call her parents, but all of the circuits are busy. Mrs. Powell fails to appear at 6:30 and the sounds in the empty house cause Mary's fear to increase, until she hears someone enter through the cellar door and ascend the stairs. She takes a revolver from the desk drawer and remains quiet when her husband calls to her through the locked door of her bedroom. "Now, now at last she knew the name for all her fears." Her husband breaks down the door and Mary shoots and kills him. The telephone rings and her mother is on the line; Mary tells her: "'Everything is fine now. I'm coming home.'"

"The Fog Closing In" is a gripping portrait of a neurotic woman, unhappy in her marriage, who allows her fears and imagination to run wild when she is left alone. In the end, she settles on her husband as the cause of her problems and kills him, thinking she can return to the safety of her pre-adult life with her parents.

The introduction to the story provides some information about Martin Brooke, which is a pseudonym for a female author born in Virginia and approximately 40 years old. She had worked as an advertising copywriter and this was her first short story. The FictionMags Index lists one other story by Martin Brooke ("Flowers for the Living," Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, June 1957), but I have not been able to find anything else by or about this obscure writer.

Paul Langton as Arthur
Her story was purchased and James P. Cavanagh adapted it for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The episode aired on CBS on Sunday, October 7, 1956, and stars Phyllis Thaxter as Mary, who is given the last name of Summers. Following Chekhov's principle about the gun, Cavanagh shows the gun in the very first shot as Mary's husband Arthur removes the firearm from the drawer and shows it to his wife, reassuring her, "'Don't worry--it won't go off.'" Students of Anton Chekhov know full well that if you show the audience a gun in the first act, it had better go off in the second.

The first scene between Mary and Arthur dramatizes the narrative in the story and provides exposition through dialogue; here, we learn that Mary's parents lived with her and Arthur for five years. Mary and Arthur moved to a new house to get away from them and, while Mary wants them to move back in, Arthur does not. Mary is inexplicably afraid, whether she is alone or not, and seems to fear adulthood, even at age 35, since she has been unable to separate from her parents successfully. Arthur suggests that she see a psychiatrist but Mary at first refuses and then reluctantly agrees to consider his recommendation.

After Arthur leaves, Mary closes the blinds and we see that there are two framed photos on the fireplace mantle, one on either end, with photos of her husband and her father, representing the two male forces competing for her love. Time passes slowly as she waits until six p.m. to call her parents; unlike the story, where she has a dog, in the TV show she is completely alone in the house. She hears a crash and ventures into the dark hall downstairs, where she sees an open door, a broken vase on the floor, and a cat, its eyes shining in the blackness. What she does not see at first is a man hiding against the wall in the hallway. She closes the open door, turns, sees the man, and is frightened.

George Grizzard as Ted
The stranger speaks kindly to her and tells her, "'Don't be afraid, I'm not gonna hurt you.'" He appears to be as scared of her as she is of him and she quickly realizes that he has escaped from the state hospital. Mary is kind to the man, whose name is Ted, and invites him into the living room, confessing that "'I know what it's like to be afraid of a place.'" She identifies with Ted and sees herself in him, telling him that she thinks she is worse off because she cannot identify the source of her fear. She talks about recalling a time when she was safe and she walks to stand by the photo of her father on the mantle; the memory she shares is of her father protecting her.

Mary realizes that she is afraid without her parents and that her husband does not understand. She confides in Ted that she never wanted to get married and only did so because her parents lost their money and she thought her husband could take care of them. She then relates a recurring dream of being in her bedroom ("'I'm afraid of my bedroom'") alone when she hears footsteps approaching the door. She always wakes up screaming as the door opens. The dream seems to be a clear reference to a fear of sex and this extended scene, which Cavanagh added to the story, suggests that her interaction with Ted allows Mary to express, in a subtle way, that her real fear is of sex with her husband. One wonders whether she is frigid and whether she and Arthur have consummated the marriage; in the story, he makes reference to an unfulfilled desire to have a family.

Billy Nelson
as the cab driver
At this point, once Mary has had her breakthrough, the character of Ted is no longer necessary to the drama and can be disposed of. Two men arrive from the state hospital and ask to search the house, looking for Ted; Mary allows them to do so as Ted escapes out the back door. She never tells them that Ted had been there and, their search concluded, they leave.

Mary then goes upstairs and the teleplay picks up where the short story left off. She tries to telephone her parents but the circuits are busy. Mary is alone in her bedroom and it seems as if her dream is being reenacted: she hears someone enter the house and she hears footsteps approaching the bedroom. Mary takes the gun from the desk drawer and, when Arthur enters, he tells her that he came back because he heard about the man who escaped from the hospital and he was worried about her. Mary seems to be in a trance and shoots Arthur. He falls to the floor and the telephone rings. Mary answers it and tells her father: "'I'm alright now. Now I can come home.'"

"Fog Closing In" is a psychological study of a woman who never wanted to get married and who fears sex and adulthood, finally killing her husband so she can return to her father and her place in his family as a child. Cavanagh adds the character of Ted, who serves as her counterpart and who allows her to see what she is afraid of and act on it, even though the act is not rational and will have consequences.

Norman Willis as the orderly
Is the teleplay worth an Emmy? Watching the episode is a tedious experience with too much dialogue and not enough action. Studying it for subtext is more interesting than sitting though it. This is not the fault of Phyllis Thaxter (1919-2012), who plays Mary; she was a fine actress who deserves more attention than she has received. Born in Maine, Thaxter started out on Broadway in 1939 and made her first film in 1944, with her first TV appearance coming in 1953. Among her nine appearances on the Hitchcock show are "The Five-Forty Eight," in which she also plays a mentally unstable woman, and "The Long Silence," where she lies in bed, unable to speak and in great danger. She also appeared on The Twilight Zone and Thriller and she played Ma Kent in Superman (1978).

Arthur is played by Paul Langton (1913-1980), who played many character roles in a screen career that lasted from 1943 to 1972. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show, but he was on The Twilight Zone twice and he was a regular on Peyton Place from 1964 to 1968.

George Grizzard (1928-2007) adds another disturbed character to his repertoire with that of Ted. Grizzard was on screen from 1955 to 2006, working more on television than on film. He had a Broadway career that spanned the same years and he was in the original cast of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Grizzard was seen in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as well as episodes of The Twilight Zone and Thriller and the famous Bus Stop episode, "I Kiss Your Shadow."

In smaller roles:
  • Billy Nelson (1903-1973) plays the cab driver who comes to the front door to pick up Arthur; he started out in vaudeville and was on screen from 1935 to 1961. He played mostly bit parts and this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock series. There is a tribute to him here.
  • Norman Willis (1903-1988) plays the lead orderly from the state hospital who asks to search the house; he was on screen from 1934 to 1965, usually in small parts. He was in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Revenge."
  • Paul Frees (1920-1986) is uncredited on screen but provides the voice of Mary's father on the telephone at the end of the show; he had a long career as a voice actor and was the voice of Boris Badenov in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, among countless others. He had five voice-only roles on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, all uncredited.
The cat's eyes shine in the darkness of the hallway.
Carol Veazie (1895-1984) also receives a screen credit, and print sources report that she plays Mrs. Connolly, but she is nowhere to be seen in the show.

Herschel Daugherty (1910-1993) directs the show with little verve; his prior directorial effort on the series was the much-better episode, "The Creeper," also written by Cavanagh. Daugherty directed 27 episodes in the Hitchcock series.

Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the short story.

Watch "Fog Closing In" for free online here or buy the DVD here. The next episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be written by James P. Cavanagh was "None Are So Blind," which is reviewed here, in the series on John Collier.

Sources:
Brooke, Martin. “The Fog Closing In.” Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Apr. 1956, pp. 106–111.
The FictionMags Index, www.philsp.com/homeville/FMI/0start.htm.
“Fog Closing In.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 2, episode 2, CBS, 7 Oct. 1956.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com/.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Nov. 2018, www.wikipedia.org/.

In two weeks: The End of Indian Summer with Steve Forrest and Gladys Cooper.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Warren Report Issue 1: Creepy!


The Critical Guide to 
the Warren Illustrated Magazines
1964-1983
by Uncle Jack
& Cousin Peter


Jack Davis
Creepy #1 (Late 1964)
editor Russ Jones

"Voodoo!" 
Story by Russ Jones and Bill Pearson
Art by Joe Orlando

"H2O World!" ★★
Story by Larry Ivie
Art by Al Williamson and Roy G. Krenkel

"Vampires Fly at Dusk!" ★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Reed Crandall

"Werewolf!" ★★★1/2
Story by Larry Ivie
Art by Frank Frazetta

"Bewitched!" 1/2
Story by Larry Ivie
Art by Gray Morrow

"The Success Story" ★★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Al Williamson

"Pursuit of the Vampire!" 1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Angelo Torres

Eerie #1, published in 1959 by Hastings.
Cover by George Tuska
There had been horror comics since EC closed its Vault, but most of the chills and thrills presented in illustrated form had been CCA-approved pablum like DC's House of Mystery and Atlas's gelded horror line (Uncanny Tales, Spellbound, etc.). Few instances of real horror managed to sneak under the radar of the all-seeing eye (though the first issue of John Stanley's Ghost Stories, published in 1963 by Dell, came very close to rekindling that EC fire, and a single issue of a magazine-sized illustrated horror comic, Eerie #1, was published by Hastings five years prior to Warren's bright idea) and so, when Jim Warren decided to launch a new magazine of illustrated horror, he wisely chose the non-CCA required magazine format for Creepy. But Warren, prodded by Russ Jones (who would become Creepy's first editor), not only wanted to capture the vibe of the legendary EC comics, but also wanted to revive it with help from several members of the old EC bullpen, including Joe Orlando, Reed Crandall, Wally Wood, Al Williamson and, incredibly enough (but for one show only!), Frank Frazetta. The story behind the birth of Creepy has been told a boatload of times before, so I won't retype it here* (but you can read a fabulous version of it right here), but suffice it to say, Warren and Co. had the right idea. But the real question is: could Warren, Jones, and their crew come up with enough original ideas to fill out 42 pages of original material (as opposed to the 26 pages Gaines and Co. had to fill) every issue, or would this experiment fall to the levels of the non-EC publishers? No more stalling. Let's find out...

"Voodoo!"
Frank Prentiss is a bit perturbed that his wife has become fond of "Voodoo!," but what else is a girl to do for kicks when she lives in the jungle with a loser of a husband? Things get heated when Sylvia brings a shrunken head home and Frank banishes her from the hut. The angry woman then uses black magic to draw Frank out into the jungle and attempts to decapitate him, but the plan goes awry and it's Sylvia who ends up without a noggin. Terrified, Frank bolts into the jungle but soon hears the chant of his name, as if called by the dead woman. A figure approaches him and, sure enough, it's Sylvia, with a very tiny head atop her shoulders, come to claim her prize. In both art and script, "Voodoo!" is doo-doo. We've just come from evaluating a whole lot of bad Joe Orlando art and this, if anything, is worse than his EC work. Time may be playing tricks on my mind but I recall Joe's work with DC on House of Mystery and Witching Hour (a few years after this first issue of Creepy) was at least tolerable, but "Voodoo!" looks like something that would have fit comfortably in a Myron Fass publication. We get no explanation for the fact that Sylvia is beheaded and then, magically, has a shrunken head attached to her body. Jones and Pearson seem content to go for the shock rather than supply a well-written story, just like many comic writers who grew up on a steady diet of EC Comics (Jones was only 22 years old when this first Creepy was published and he was the first editor to boot!) and believed it was the final shock panel that delivered the goods every time.

"H2O World!"
A young couple explore an undersea kingdom located just below the waves in "H2O World" and come across a peaceful but human-shy race of amphibious creatures. Their leader explains that, after World War III, his race decided to have nothing to do with the surface world. The memory of the undersea world is wiped from the minds of the couple and the fish-leader muses that, eventually, man will destroy everything. An early example of ecological fiction, a genre that would be dipped into several times in the Warren era. Neither better nor worse than a lot of the "preachies," "H2O World" suffers from a sense of being a small part of a larger story. How did the young couple stumble onto this find and why aren't there more explorers? Writer Larry Ivie had an illustrious career in the funny books and monster magazines, which included contributing to the classic Castle of Frankenstein, and editing and publishing Monsters and Heroes, a very weird melange of monsters, heroes, and photography. Like Joe Orlando, Williamson and Krenkel were rescued from post-EC purgatory for Warren's big hoo-hah. Williamson had been working on comic strips and on comics over at Gold Key, while Krenkel had pretty much disappeared from the face of the planet. "H2O World" is just as gorgeous as the work the duo did a decade before for EC.

"Vampires Fly At Dusk!"
In "Vampires Fly at Dusk!," Elena believes her husband may be the vicious vampire killer draining the nearby villagers of their blood. Cooped up in a mansion high upon a hill overlooking the plagued village, Elena's imagination runs away with her. Why does Carlo prefer to sleep during the day and do business at night? Why does he disappear for hours at a time? Why is Carlo's library full of books on vampires? One night, while snooping around, Elena discovers a secret passageway into the castle and encounters Carlo entering with a jar of blood. Terrified, the young woman races downstairs and pulls the curtains open on the rising sun. Bad idea. Carlo explains to Elena that he's not the vampire, as her body turns to dust. Even though the "twist" is a surprise to no one but Elena, I liked this very EC-inspired tale very much. Reed Crandall's pencils and line work (especially on the last page) are glorious, sheer perfection.

"Werewolf!"
Many fans feel Larry Ivie's "Werewolf!" is the single greatest story Creepy ever ran; not for the story, obviously, but for the ultra-rare, full-length Frazetta work. While I'm not in that group, I'll allow it's hard to argue with the quality of the visuals. The fabulous art overshadows what is essentially a reworking of “The Most Dangerous Game.” Big-game hunter Biff Demmon (a dead ringer for Ernest Borgnine) tracks the ultimate game in Africa, but when he finally comes across the rare beast, the tables are turned. The third panel of the fourth page depicting the werewolf hulking over the hunters is a classic piece of art, one that Warren brought out many times over the years. It's a shame that Warren couldn't persuade (or offer enough coin to) Frank to contribute more longer pieces but, at least, we've got the multitude of classic covers.

"Bewitched!"
A man (who remains nameless) decides it would be a fun idea to burn a basketful of holly atop a hill (a sure way to kill witches), just for the hell of it, and incurs the wrath of a local coven. The man burns the holly, then hallucinates that he's being chased by a dinosaur and awakens in bed with a pain in his side. His daughter enters with a voodoo doll and explains that a nice old woman distributed exact copies of the doll (along with long needles to poke it with) to all the girls of her Brownie troop. "Bewitched!" is a really silly, meandering tale that doesn't seem to know in which direction to travel. There are hints that Madge, the protagonist's wife, may be a witch herself (shades of ABC's Bewitched, a show that debuted right around the time this issue went on sale in October 1964) but that area is not explored. Artist Gray Morrow (who would go on to 1970s' fame, if not fortune, co-creating Marvel's Man-Thing) gives his all despite the script, but there's only so much you can do with  a sow's ear. Morrow was a contributor to that aforementioned Hastings zine, Eerie, as were Torres, Orlando, and Williamson.

"The Success Story"
Cartoonist Baldo Smudge worked his way up from the ground floor to "The Success Story" he is today. Smudge began his career ruling panel borders and stumbled onto a good thing when his wife's uncle died and left them with a boatload of money. Baldo hires a writer, an artist, and an inker to create and maintain his strip, while taking all the credit for himself. The strip becomes a big hit and the three hired hands demand a raise and credit, but Smudge isn't about to give over any slices of his pie so he shoots all three and dumps them in the river. Several months later, the three corpses rise from the muck and use Baldo Smudge to make their masterpiece. Ladies and gentlemen... the Bob Kane story! Sure, "The Success Story" exaggerates some elements (I think) and devises a nasty ending for the glory hog but, otherwise, this is a true story in the comics world. There were (and probably still are) quite a few "creators" who (à la Tom Clancy and James Patterson) loan out their names for a big cash prize and think nothing of taking the credit right to the grave. "The Success Story" has a lot of humor and the rising corpses are almost an afterthought to Archie's real message. Best of all is the sequence (reprinted here) where Smudge has to deal with his workers.

"Pursuit of the Vampire!"
A stranger comes to a small Austrian village to help dispatch a batch of vampires who have been draining the locals of their blood and transforming them into creatures of the night. With help from the town's burgomeister, two female vampires are found and staked but the king vampire remains loose. The stranger confides that he knows the burgomeister is the original vampire but before the blood-sucker can attack, the newcomer shows his true self: he's a werewolf here to stop the competition. Taking elements from a whole bunch of EC stories (and Harvey and Atlas and ACG and...) and crafting "Pursuit of the Vampire!" must have been the easiest pay Archie Goodwin ever made. It's silly stuff but at least it's got some gorgeous Angelo Torres pencils to distract us. I couldn't help but wonder, throughout this entire first issue, how color would have affected the quality of these seven stories. There's some dreadful stuff in this premiere issue but, taken as a whole, it's not a bad reintroduction to graphic horror comics. -Peter

Can it get much better than this?
Jack: Never having read a single issue of Creepy before just now, I expected higher praise from you! "Voodoo!" does not get things off to a great start, but I found Orlando's art less annoying than it was at EC and it's a neat trick how Sylvia manages to decapitate herself. "H2O World" seems to me to show some Marvel Comics influence, and by fall 1964 Marvel was putting out some decent comics. Ivie's script is too talky but the art by Williamson and Krenkel is superb. I was happy to see Reed Crandall make an appearance with  "Vampires Fly At Dusk!" but the story was predictable. "Werewolf!" is a dopey tale but it's a real treat to see six pages of classic Frazetta and his work on the wolf is outstanding.

"Bewitched!" is the third story by Larry Ivie in this issue and it made me think that he wrote some weird fiction. I love Grey Morrow's work and think he makes a great addition to the bullpen of horror artists. This story seems a bit more original than the ones before it, what with the parade of vampires and werewolves. Most original of all is "The Success Story," a funny look at the comic strip business with more wonderful art by Al Williamson. Like you, Peter, I found myself wishing for color. Finally, "Pursuit of the Vampire!" makes one too many vampire stories in this issue; it's not a strong story and the end is terrible, but (again) the art is great. Seven stories at six pages each and those wonderful Warren ads in between! I like it!


Frank Frazetta
Creepy #2 (April 1965)
editors Russ Jones, Archie Goodwin

"Fun and Games!"★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Joe Orlando

"Spawn of the Cat People"★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Reed Crandall

"Wardrobe of Monsters!"★★★
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Gray Morrow

"Welcome Stranger"★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Al Williamson

"i Robot"★★
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Joe Orlando

"Ogre's Castle"★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Angelo Torres

"Fun & Games!"
Harry and Phyllis Gorman have a screaming match outside an arcade that offers "Fun & Games!" Phyllis storms off and Harry succumbs to the entreaties of a hunchbacked tout, going inside to try his hand at the special games in the back room. He shoots a realistic rifle at a dummy that resembles Phyllis, but when he goes home he finds her dead on the living room floor. Harry returns to the arcade, but this time he is the target and Phyllis does the shooting.

The cover of Creepy #2 promises "The Greatest Comic Artists in the World," notably failing to mention anything about the writers. This first story makes little sense and is all about the twist ending, which is predictable. I think Peter would agree that Joe Orlando was not in our list of "The Greatest Comic Artists in the World," though this piece is reasonably well executed.

"Spawn of the Cat People"
Todd is hunting in New Mexico when he comes across a strange scene--several men have a beautiful woman tied to two stakes in the ground. The men tell Todd that they killed the girl's father and that she inherited a curse from him. Todd rescues the girl and she leads him nimbly through the woods until they reach a cave, where he decides that she is able to turn into a cat. He shoots and kills her but, to his surprise, the rest of the men find him and reveal that she was the only one in the area who cannot turn into a cat. They all turn into cats in order to finish him off.

Two weak stories in a row don't make me think the people behind Creepy have solved the conundrum we've encountered with so many horror comics: how to find writing to match the art? Reed Crandall draws everything well but the ending of "Spawn of the Cat People" makes little sense other than as a simple shock.

"Wardrobe of Monsters!"
Five men who stole the mummy of Pharaoh Ank-Ummem from a pyramid examine several extra sarcophagi that they found accompanying the mummy. In those ancient coffins they find artificial forms of a vampire, a werewolf, a devil, and Frankenstein's monster! Archaeologist Arnold Baxter translates hieroglyphics and reads that the figures are a "Wardrobe of Monsters!" that the pharaoh could put on like living clothes. Baxter invokes a magic formula and discovers that he can inhabit the forms; one by one, he uses the monstrous bodies to murder his colleagues so he can keep all of the Pharaoh's treasure. He destroys the Pharaoh's body to eliminate a potential rival, only to find that doing so frees the Pharaoh's spirit, which takes over Baxter's physical form, leaving the murderous archaeologist stuck in the body of Frankenstein's monster!

When I read Creepy #1, I wondered where the mummy story was--and here it is! Binder's narrative is quite creative, and the idea of finding a way to work all of these classic (let's face it, Universal) monsters into one story is loads of fun. I liked the idea of Baxter taking on one monster form at a time to murder his colleagues, but I thought the denouement was a letdown, as if the page limit was reached before Binder was finished telling his tale. At eight pages, this is the longest story yet; every other one so far has clocked in at six pages.

"Welcome Stranger"
Mark and Randy are out scouting for a movie location when their sports car suffers a blowout of two tires. They see a sign for Jonesville and walk toward the town, looking for a mechanic. Instead, the duo stumble upon a sacrifice in progress in the town cemetery. A girl is tied to a stake but, when Mark and Randy protest, the townsfolk announce that the interlopers will replace the unfortunate girl. A ghost is summoned out of an open grave amid a pillar of fire; the townsfolk yell "surprise" and reveal that the whole scene was set up to demonstrate the town's fitness as a movie set. Unfortunately, Mark and Randy died of fright when the ghost rose from the grave.

The usual sharp artwork by Al Williamson highlights "Welcome Stranger," a fast-moving but, in the end, disappointing seven-page story that held my interest until the corny ending. Archie Goodwin should've thought this one out a bit more.

What happened the day Peter got lost.
("i Robot")
Dr. Link builds an intelligent robot and names him Adam. The robot learns quickly but, when its creator is murdered, Adam must run from those who hold him responsible for the crime. In the end, he decides to switch himself off to prevent him from harming any of the humans who hunt him.

"I Robot" again? What is it about this story that makes it so appealing to horror comic publishers? We had to suffer through Adam Link stories at EC and now here we go again, with seven pages seeming like twenty and Uncle Creepy telling us there will be more to come in future issues. Joe Orlando's art is fairly good for Joe Orlando, which is not saying much.

A knight approaches the "Ogre's Castle" where his brother had disappeared on a prior quest. Ignoring the warnings on an old man, the sight of skulls on posts, and the shock of seeing a beautiful girl led by two monsters, the knight crashes through the castle gates, only to meet up with an ogre. The knight defeats guards, bats, and a demon-hound; he rescues a fair maiden and kills the ogre with a well-thrown knife. Sadly, the ogre changes back into the knight's brother and the maiden turns out to be a sorceress, who changes the knight into the new ogre guarding the castle.

Angelo Torres joins every other artist from this issue not named Joe Orlando in producing pages that are lovely to look at, even though Goodwin's script is nothing special. Did anyone reading this not know that those monsters and ogres were going to turn out to be spellbound men? I bet not. Still, the second issue of Creepy is an improvement over the first and I look forward to more.--Jack

"Ogre's Castle"
Peter: With the second issue, staff writer Archie Goodwin steps in to assist Russ Jones with the editing (Jones will jump ship after the third issue and leave Archie as the sole editor as of #4). I've always had a soft soft for Goodwin, as it seems like everything he touches turns to quality. We'll have to see what he's got up his sleeve in a couple of issues. There's not a lot to like in this sophomore effort, just more cliches and tired plots we've seen countless times before. "Fun & Games!" makes no sense whatsoever (it reminded me a lot of that Twilight Zone episode where the guy watches himself kill his wife on TV); "Spawn of the Cat People" rips off the fabulous Val Lewton flick (at least that's a semi-unique "borrow"); "Wardrobe of Monsters!" is overlong and gawdawful; "Welcome, Stranger" is a little too elaborate and owns a very silly climax; and "Adam Link" was a boring SF novelty when it ran in Weird Science-Fantasy and it's no better here (might have to do with the fact that the same crew worked on both versions). That leaves the final story, "Ogre's Castle," the best of the six this issue. I first read this one when it was reprinted in Eerie #42 (by 1972, Warren had abandoned their annual yearbooks and incorporated a full-reprint issue within the regular numbering); Angelo Torres's art gave me the willies back then and it still does. It's got a really nasty twist and ends on a downbeat note to leave the issue on an upbeat one.

* By the way, we're getting most of the historical details (who did what and how many times, etc.) from Gathering Horror by David Horne (Phrona Press, 2010), a gargantuan, insanely detailed guide to all things Warren.


First word on Creepy from the pages
of Famous Monsters of Filmland #31

In Two Weeks...
Just wait 'til you see what
crawls from the muck!

Next Week...
What have the Losers gotten themselves
into this time?

Saturday, February 9, 2019

1971 Flashback: Omega-Mania Sweeps the Country - Boxoffice, August 16, 1971

by John Scoleri


Warner Brothers unleashed their first adaptation of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend on the world on August 1, 1971. The Omega Man starred Charlton Heston as Robert Neville, believed to be the last normal man on Earth living in Los Angeles following a plague unleashed due to a Russian/Chinese conflict. Said plague killed off most of society, and left the remainder a gathering of deranged mutants with an aversion to light that drives them into hiding by day. Directed by Boris Sagal, the liberal adaptation was written by the husband and wife team of John William and Joyce Corrington. A pre-Exorcist William Peter Blatty would also provide an uncredited polish on the screenplay. While the film is quite far removed from Matheson's original novel, it's still an entertaining piece of 70s cinema, and pairs nicely with Heston's other sci-fi efforts of the period, Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green.

The August 16, 1971 issue of Boxoffice (Volume 99, Number 18) trumpeted the early success of the film in a number of territories, including house records in Charlotte, North Carolina and Columbia, South Carolina. Now granted, a $64,000 opening in eleven theaters over five days in Dallas (with heavy rain!) is nothing in today's numbers, but back when the average ticket price was $1.65, it's a little more impressive.

What's even more intriguing to fans of the film are some of the promotions hinted at in the two-page spread Warner paid for.


I would love to know if anyone attended an around-the-clock Omegathon! The Omega morning and Omega noon sound far less exciting. In all my years of collecting, I've never seen any Last Man/Last Woman buttons promoting the film. And what could they possibly mean by 'a giant Omega chain store tie-up'? The mind reels at the thought...

This issue of Boxoffice also includes a synopsis of the film, catchlines ("The Family Was Out to Destroy All Symbols of Civilization" and the more effective "The Last Man Alive is Not Alone!") and exploitation tips (have a zodiac display?) and a generally positive review of the film.



Sad to say we lost actor Paul Koslo on January 9, 2019, who played 'Dutch' in the film. You can read an interview with Koslo, as well as Charlton Heston, at the I Am Legend Archive.