Monday, April 22, 2019

The Warren Report Issue 6: May/June 1966

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

Eerie #3 (May 1966)

"Soul of Horror!" ★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Angelo Torres

"The Lighthouse!" ★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Al Williamson

"Room with a View!" ★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Steve Ditko

"Monsterwork!" ★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Rocco Mastroserio

"Under the Skin!" ★★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Jerry Grandenetti and Joe Orlando

"The Monument!" ★★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Alex Toth

"Full Fathom Fright" ★★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Gene Colan

Peter reads Eerie as Jack looks on
("Soul of Horror!")
Caught red-handed performing a black magic ritual, Simon Hectate confronts an angry mob out to silence his weird incantations once and for all. When he refuses to end his sorcery, the enraged mob murders him and covers up the crime. Miles away, at the Catlett farm, the Mrs. births a brand new baby boy, Lemuel, but dies of shock while looking into the child's eyes for the first time. Over time, Lemuel grows at a rapid pace and shows intelligence unheard of for such a young child. The man who brought him into the world (and our narrator), Dr. Locke keeps an eye on Lemuel and his father, who seems to grow years older every time the doc passes by the farm. Eventually, the senior Catlett dies and, soon after, all the men who killed Simon Hectate die in mysterious ways. Locke goes out to question the now ten-year-old (but a strapping man in appearance) Lemuel and catches him mid-incantation, reading from one of Hectate's old tomes. Lemuel admits that he is Simon incarnated and allows how his body might die but his evil spirit will be forever reincarnated. A fight ensues and Dr. Locke kills Lemuel, leaving his body to burn in the shack. When he gets home, he discovers his wife has given birth to... a new Simon Hectate.

Archie pulled inspiration from various sources (just as Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines did years before) and it's pretty clear he'd been cramming on Lovecraft about this time as "Soul of Horror!" has that distinct Dunwich/Innsmouth vibe without being overly plagiaristic. A nice touch is the business with the blackbirds (legend says the birds shriek and caw when they catch a departing soul but remain quiet when the soul is still free... so there's not a lot of shrieking going on in this tale) and Angelo's art is atmospheric, not relying on movie stills this time around. What's not discussed is the child that is "hijacked" by Simon's spirit, a baby that might have grown up to be an okay kid had a demon not stolen its body. Where is that baby's soul? I'm meandering. Good story, good art!

"The Lighthouse!"
Literary agent Roger Culp must make his way out to "The Lighthouse!" where his number one writer, Eric Standish, makes his home. On foot through the thick fog, Roger encounters a pretty young girl looking for a man named Matthew Frye. The woman tells the agent she'll lead him up to the lighthouse with her lantern but she soon disappears and Culp finds himself slipping and falling off a precipice, hanging on for dear life. His screams bring Standish running from the lighthouse and he is saved from a horrible death. Inside the lighthouse, Roger relates his tale to a clearly-disturbed Standish, who then tells his tale: eighty years before, Eric's grandfather, Matthew Frye, had been the lighthouse keeper and had fallen down drunk on the job, allowing a schooner to wreck on the rocks below. One sole survivor climbed the rocks, a pretty young girl, and confronted the keeper. Frye throws the girl from the top of the lighthouse.

As Standish finishes his story, the men hear a racket downstairs and see the approaching figure of the young girl, who bursts in and launches herself at Eric. Both fall to the rocks below. The next day, Eric's body is discovered on the beach, entangled with the girl, dead for eighty years. A whole lot of Gothic goin' on here, with a bit of the "sins of the fathers" thrown in. That panel of the first body being thrown from the lighthouse is very vague; in fact, you could also interpret that the girl threw Matthew Frye Sr. to his death as the grandfather's fate is never actually disclosed. And everything Matthew/Eric tells us in the flashback is supposedly based on notes he found in the lighthouse. Why would Matthew Sr. confess to the murder? Bewildering. Williamson's art is fine; the final panel in particular is a chiller.

"Room With a View!"
A traveler requests a room one dark and stormy night at a rundown inn. Only one room available and that's the one no one wants to stay in. "Poppycock," says the traveler, "Give me the key and I'll take my chances." Of course, this being a magazine called Eerie, we know there's definitely something on the horizon for this wayfarer. When he gets to his room, he unpacks and catches a glance of himself in the wall mirror, only to gaze upon what looks to be a sorcerer behind him. Swirling around, he finds the room empty. Musing that it might be the hard day's travel wearing on his brain, the man gets into bed but can't get the face from the mirror out of his mind. He tiptoes to the mirror and turns on the light to find a cast of ghoulish characters, including the sorcerer, in the mirror behind him. As he continues to gaze, the creatures surround and reach for him. He grabs a chair, with the intent to shatter the mirror... Downstairs the innkeeper hears a loud scream and rushes upstairs to find the room empty save the traveler's suitcase, but when he looks into the mirror he beholds the true fate of his guest.

Let me just say what a pleasure it is to see Steve Ditko's mastery added to an already stellar bullpen. "Room with a View!" has both feet in what you might call Ditkoland, with sorcerers and gorgeous-but-a-bit-off gals and ghouls that hang on a precipice between silly and scary. Archie gives Steve a meaty script to work with (sure, it's got a few plot holes, but...) and could you see anyone but Ditko doing this script? I love Steve's 4-color work (obvious high points would be The Amazing Spider-Man and The Creeper, but you could also point a finger at his Charlton work as well... The Question anyone?) but this black-and-white work he'll do for Warren (16 stories all together) is insanely good stuff. We'll discuss his true Warren masterpiece in two weeks. How's that for a tease?

Just as he's cutting a body down from the gallows, hunchback Otto decides he's had just about enough of this body-stealing stuff and he's going to tell Dr. von Reich that it's time he found another ghoul to get him his bodies. When he gets to von Reich's castle, the doctor is ready to operate on the Frankenstein-like monster he's got on his table. He scoffs at Otto's complaints about the long hours and dirty work and gets to the business of putting this freshly dead brain into the monster's skull. Otto complains yet again about the doctor's promises to fix his hump and the mad scientist sighs and exclaims that his assistant is right. Time to fix that pesky hump. He chains Otto to the dungeon wall and then throws the electrical switch that brings the monster to life. The creature bursts its bonds and heads towards Otto, while the smirking von Reich tells him that this is how his hump gets fixed. At the last second, the creature spins around and heads for the doc, while Otto explains that the brain came from his brother, who was blamed for Otto's crimes. Yep, "Monsterwork!" is incredibly silly but it still brought a dopey smile to my face and the twist is a good one (it'll make you go back and re-read that splash, I guarantee), so what's not to like? Mastroserio's pencils are up and down; his lab interiors are detailed and noirish but the final panels make the marauding beast as frightening as Milton the Monster.

"Under the Skin!"
Leo Ernst was once the reigning horror king until Eric Stavros and his magical make-up bag took Hollywood by storm. Now, Leo begs Eric for his secrets only to be readily dismissed. Desperate, Ernst peeks in on Stavros as he tries out new make-ups and discovers the big star keeps a notebook. Convinced the diary is his way to recapture the spotlight, Ernst murders his adversary and shows up to the studio the next day in full monster mode. Even though the crew is shocked and saddened by the death of Eric Stavros, money talks and the buzz begins about Leo's second coming as a monster movie star. After the take is over, however, the star can't seem to get his make-up off and his screams draw the cast to his dressing room, where Ernst has ripped his face off.

"The Monument"
Gruesome chiller, proving Archie Goodwin was hitting a lot of base hits and doubles if not home runs (those will come, though), despite the monstrous workload. "Under the Skin!" features some above-average contributions from Jerry Grandenetti on pencils (at least the GCD claims this is Jerry ghosting) and Joe Orlando on inks. Well, this is above average for those two guys. Orlando is our current whipping boy and Grandenetti felt our ire week in and week out when we surveyed the DC horror comics a few years ago. They're both going to be around for a while so this is not the last you'll hear about my discomfort at seeing their "artwork." But that last panel is a humdinger.

Evan Slater's architecture firm is going belly up due to a lack of exciting ideas. Slater orders his crew to come up with something fast but then stumbles on something in his office. One of his assistants had been cleaning out old files and came across some stunning designs drawn decades before by the now-retired Charles Langton Colt. Slater begs Colt to design a perfect house for his firm but Colt wants no part of it, citing old age and oncoming death. Slater appeals to Colt's ego, telling him that the building can be the old man's shrine, "The Monument" to his genius. Colt happily agrees and begins work. Of course, this being an Eerie script, Slater kills Colt after the house is built and moves onto the house himself, not realizing that the dodgy old rooster had built his bed as his final resting place, complete with automatic embalmer.

Frazetta at the toy shop?
Brothers Burt and Sam Caine, sea divers, hire out to an eccentric old coot who claims there's a sunken ship full of treasure at the bottom of the sea and he's hiring the Caines to bring it up. Good old-fashioned greed takes over and the brothers kill the old man, figuring to take what they imagine to be millions in gold for themselves. What's really down there in that treasure chest is a demon, just itching to be free so it can feed. The thing bites Sam before Burt can kill it but the wound becomes infected and Sam transforms into a demon, attacking his brother. Burt discovers that water triggers the transformation and is forced to dispatch his brother but once he gets to shore, he's hospitalized and then institutionalized. His therapy includes hot baths. Uh-oh.

Both "The Monument" and "Full Fathom Fright" have ho-hum scripts centering around the greed of man, but both also have some dy-no-mite graphics. Like Ditko, Toth and Colan both excel in the black-and-white medium. Evan Slater's demise is deliciously grim. Colan can't hope to match that incredible sea demon Frazetta conjures on the cover, but he gives it the old college try Speaking of the cover, is it just me or does it look like Colorforms owes Frank Frazetta a bit of dough for "inspiring" their artists when creating Colossus Rex for their Outer Space Men toy line? Overall, one of the more satisfying complete Warren issues thus far. -Peter

Jack-I agree completely. Of course, the art is always better than the writing, but this issue was very good overall. I was glad to see Torres open the issue with strong work, and I thought "Soul of Horror!" was well-told and had a horrible ending. I've always liked spooky stories about lighthouses, so the Williamson entry was satisfying, and I agree that it's great to see Ditko in such fine form with "Room With a View!" I thought Rocco Mastroserio was very impressive at the start of "Monsterwork!" but his art wavered a bit as the pages went on and I thought the conclusion came out of left field. I was pleasantly surprised by the Grandenetti tale and my confusion over just what Orlando did or didn't do continues to grow. Is this art better because Joe inked it or was he involved at all? Alex Toth's work continues to amaze me and, in one panel, I saw that he used overlapping word balloons to demonstrate how repetitive the exclamations of various characters were. Was anybody else doing that? Finally, Colan's page designs are wonderfully creative, with oddly shaped, interlocking panels that allow him to expand or contract the size of the image as needed to tell the story. Overall, a very enjoyable mag.

Creepy #9 (June 1966)

"Dark Kingdom!"★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Gray Morrow

"The Castle on the Moor!"★★1/2
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Adam Link's Vengeance!"
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Joe Orlando

Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Dan Adkins and Wally Wood

"The Coffin of Dracula"★★
Part II
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Reed Crandall

"Out of Time"★★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Alex Toth

"The Spirit of the Thing!"★★★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Steve Ditko

"Dark Kingdom!"
In 500 B.C., the mighty Spartan warrior, Argos, has been defeated in battle and taken into custody aboard a slave ship. Ignoring the warnings of other prisoners that he will never escape, he leaps from the ship and swims to shore, where he is soon attacked by giant, bat-like monsters. He defeats them, only to have a figure cloaked in black tell him that there is no escape. Argos does not give up, besting a beautiful woman who turns into a huge snake and fighting off skeletal soldiers. Soon, the Lord of the Underworld reveals that Argos is in Hades, having been nearly killed on the field of battle. Argos still will not relent, and he makes a mighty effort to climb up sheer rock walls to a light above, escaping the hand of Hades himself clutching at his back. The next thing he knows, Argos awakens on the field of battle, having been left for dead. Two soldiers help him up and remark on the giant, skeletal hand print burned into his back.

Archie Goodwin and Gray Morrow combine to open this issue of Creepy with an exciting tale, far from the Universal monster "tributes" of which we're already growing weary. The story is well-plotted and the conclusion makes sense, even if the supposedly surprising twist at the end (the hand print) isn't particularly interesting. Here, the journey is what matters, not the destination.

"The Castle on the Moor!" has fallen on hard times, so Lord Everleigh has to give tours to visitors to keep it going. When one tour group is stuck there for dinner due to an injured coach driver, a busybody named Mrs. Hill goes where she was told not to go and ends up dead in the tower, victim of the lord's son, who happens to be a werewolf. The hungry, mad son goes on a rampage and kills all but two of the visitors and his own father before he is dispatched with a silver bullet. Miss Creighton, one of the surviving duo, is relieved until the other survivor, Mr. Wayne, reveals that he is a ghoul and plans to eat all of the dead folks, saving her for dessert.

"The Castle on the Moor!"

Sheesh! I'm a big fan of Johnny Craig (or Jay Taycee, as he is credited here) and always like to see that he writes and draws his own stories, but this one is a clunker. I groaned inwardly when it was revealed that there was a werewolf on the loose, but I give Craig credit for drawing a pretty spiffy lycanthrope. The twist ending, however, is another matter. Everyone else is dead--surprise! I'm a ghoul! It just didn't work for me, and Craig's art, which can be a little shaky in his lesser efforts, is not quite up to the standard he set at EC.

"Adam Link's Vengeance!"
Adam Link survived his fall off a high cliff, but all that's left of him is a head, a partial torso, and an arm. Will "Adam Link's Vengeance!" give him the necessary strength to crawl 48 hours to an isolated cabin and call for help? Yes it will! With the aid of Tom Link, he returns to the lab and creates a new, super-sized body for himself, then he goes seeking Hillory, who sends out Eve for a knock-down, drag-out bout with Adam. Adam knocks her block off and frightens Hillory, who falls off a cliff to his death.

This stinker of a story is credited to Joe Orlando and Eando Binder. The GCD tells us it's really Otto Binder we have to blame for the writing, but I am pretty darn sure Jerry Grandenetti is once again ghosting for Orlando, providing at the very least the pencils for this story. We've seen enough of Jerry's work in the last several years to recognize his trademark shaky big letters and black mask-like shadowing around the eyes. Take a look at the page reproduced here and see if you agree. The mystery of who really drew this mess is the most interesting thing about it.

Wood? Adkins? Who cares!
Allan Wallace is a comic book artist whose work is getting the best of him. He keeps drawing himself in terrible peril and his psychiatrist is only interested in getting paid. Finally, Allan is so "Overworked!" that he disappears into his art, though his editors just think he's late again with his deadline.

In an interview in Comic Book Artist #7, Dan Adkins says that, around this time, Wally Wood was doing art breakdowns and Adkins was doing tight pencils, with either Adkins or another artist doing the inks. It sure looks like Wood's work to me, but perhaps that's the whole point. Adkins says Wood gave him credit because Steranko walked into Wood's apartment and saw Adkins working on the story. The tale is appealing to comic fans but it never really goes anywhere; it does, however, give Wood (Adkins?) the opportunity to draw scenes from many of the genres in which Wood excelled, such as science fiction, swordplay, and Gothic horror. Oh, and gorgeous women!

"The Castle of Dracula"
Harker, Van Helsing, and Seward find a vampire in a cave at the coast. They stake the fiend while it lies in "The Coffin of Dracula," but Lord Varney escapes, possessed by Dracula's spirit. Determined to find his resting place before daylight, the trio make their way to the imposing Castle Varney, where they discover Mina, barely hanging on to her life. The doctors transfuse Harker's blood into her body to save her, when suddenly Varney/Dracula appears. Harker smacks him in the face with a cross and hangs onto the back of the Count's horse-drawn carriage as the fiend tries to make his escape. A wild ride along the edge of a cliff ends in the carriage falling over the side and the Count, fortunately, dies with a sharp piece of wood in his heart, his coffin sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

Not much better than part one, this Dracula ripoff hits all of the usual notes but falls flat. I like the use of the name Varney, which shows some knowledge of vampire story history, but Crandall's heart doesn't seem to be in it this time around and the story is unoriginal.

After mugger Joey Quinn commits murder, he runs down the wrong alley and hits a dead end. Suddenly, he is transported to the 17th century, where a conjurer named Isaiah Curtin says they will trade places. Thrilled at being able to escape a murder rap, Quinn agrees, and Curtin disappears into the future. Just then, angry villagers knock at the door and, before you know it, Quinn is being burned at the stake for practicing witchcraft!

Toth's atmospheric work on "Out of Time" resembles a woodcut

If the end of the story weren't so darn obvious from page three (of six in all), I would give this story more than two and a half stars. Once again, Alex Toth's art is stunning. In "Out of Time," he uses blacks so effectively that each page is a joy to view. Also in this issue, and reproduced at the end of this post, is a one-page bio of Toth in which he admits to being influenced by none other than one of our favorite targets, Frank Robbins! Also on that page is a piece of fan art by young Bernie Wrightson.

"The Spirit of the Thing!"
What strange creature climbs the stairs of a Greenwich Village rooming house late one night and enters the attic room of university student Michael Rogers? Why did screams ensue, and why did it sound like there was a great struggle? Worst of all, why did the other denizens of the rooming house enter Rogers's room to find him near death? The student tells a strange story of having been hypnotized by Professor Jerome, who separated Rogers's spirit from his body so that he wandered through a shadowy half-world before returning to find the professor dead and the professor's spirit in possession of the student's body! Doomed to wander the spirit world, Rogers's ghost visits the graveyard and inhabits the decomposing and already-buried body of Professor Jerome, clawing his way out of the ground and making his way to the attic room, where he battles the professor to the death. Rogers re-inhabits his own body and dies, leaving Professor Jerome's spirit to wander forever more.

Perhaps my own purple prose gives a hint as to how much I enjoyed "The Spirit of the Thing!," in which Ditko borrows liberally from his own work at Marvel on Dr. Strange and brings Goodwin's story to life. The art is superb and makes this the most exciting, entertaining tale in an up and down issue. I preferred Eerie #3 to Creepy #9, but the Toth and Ditko stories at the end sure improved the issue for me.-Jack

A Frazetta PSA from Creepy #9
Peter-I've been labeled a tough grader when it comes to attaching a star-rating to the stories we read. Safe to say, I've read thousands of illustrated horror stories in my lifetime (and these Warrens have been perused several times each over the years), and the cliched, padded, and predictable never cease to shorten my patience. Four-star ratings are very rare in my book (as you recall, I only awarded 79 first prizes to EC over its entire run), so sue me if you disagree. The very first four-star rated story, in my estimation, for Warren is the Goodwin/Wood/Adkins collab, "Overworked!" This masterpiece contains a lot of in-jokes and perhaps an autobiographical touch or two, since Goodwin was writing the majority of the stories for Creepy and must have felt quite Overworked. Several of the panels are iconic (the giant creature in the woods, the babe and her BEM, etc.), and the script is imbued with a sense of humor (the therapist who keeps subtly asking for his client's overdue payment) that, more than anything, brings to mind the similar Feldstein/Gaines "inside stories." No one drew beautiful women like Wally Wood (even if Adkins seems to have lent more than a helping hand). Oh, and don't worry, there will be more four-star chills to come!

"The Spirit of the Thing!"  has the same kind of other-worldly art that made Ditko’s Dr. Strange a fan favorite, and an ultra-clever and intricately-plotted script. "Out of Time" is a tad too predictable for my tastes but at least it's given a nice Toth coat of paint. "The Castle on the Moor!" is an atmospheric but text-heavy Gothic which crashes and burns with its incredibly lame twist climax. Still, Johnny Craig's werewolf  is surprisingly effective (I say that because we're not used to horror monsters from Mr. Craig, are we?). Do I really have to comment on "Adam Link"? Okay, it's awful. And not in a fun/awful way, as the last chapter seemed to be. This was a chore to read. Part II of "Coffin of Dracula" brings the extended thriller to an exciting and satisfying conclusion. Archie's doing a good job bringing the "classic monsters" into the Warren mags and applying novel twists rather than retreading the same old schtick. On the Creepy Fan Club Page, we get a bio of maestro Toth (whose mug shot makes him look like Mickey Spillane's twin) and some fan art from a 17-year-old Berni Wrightson. We'll have a little more to say about that guy in a few years' time!

Next Week...
With the arrival of Kirby to the DC war titles
The Losers finally lives up to its title!

And in two weeks...
We bid a fond farewell to
Warren's bold experiment!

From Creepy #9

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