Monday, June 3, 2019

The Warren Report Issue 9: November/December 1966

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

Creepy #12

"Dark House of Dreams" ★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Angelo Torres

Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Bob Jenney

"Maximum Effort!" 
Story by Ron Parker
Art by Rocco Mastroserio

"Voodoo Doll!" 
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Blood of the Werewolf!" 
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Steve Ditko

"Idol Hands!" ★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Manny Stallman

"Adam Link, Robot Detective" 
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Joe Orlando

"Dark House of Dreams"
Artist Richard Vane buys the house that the evil Matthew Gaunt once lived in, hoping for inspiration for his ghoulish paintings. Inspiration comes very quickly in the form of frightening, elaborate nightmares starring himself and a variety of creatures. When Vane's agent visits, he asks the artist why his work has dried up in the last few weeks after Vane had been so prolific (and selling at a fast clip!); Richard explains that his nightmares ended one month ago. When the agent presses his client, Vane explains that he died during his last sleep and Matthew Gaunt has possessed his body. The agent scoffs until Richard lifts his head and reveals the bald visage of Matthew Gaunt!

"Dark House of Dreams" is a very lukewarm bowl of Gothic muck, with a monstrous evil being who's never even justified; we have no idea why this Matthew Gaunt is the devil everyone says he is. It's a lot like those code-approved Gothics that DC foisted on Jack and me during our tenure on Do You Dare Enter years ago. All that's missing is the scantily-clad, terrified woman running through the moors. The climax is a cliche but Angelo Torres does his best to keep our mind off Archie's stodgy script.

Union Army soldier Lucas Tyrone is a coward and he's not afraid to admit it. First he plays dead during a massacre and then, later, he switches uniforms with a dead Reb and heads off, hoping for a little peace and quiet. Unfortunately, he meets up with several wounded Rebel soldiers and it isn't long before his charade is discovered. The big surprise for Lucas is that the entire group of Rebs is actually dead and heading for the promised land. By switching his uniform, he took the place of the dead man in that march. A slice from a dead man's saber makes it official. If this script was any good (and it ain't), I'd swear this was scheduled for the fifth issue of Blazing Combat. It just has that look. Speaking of looks, newcomer Bob Jenney has the look of a Myron Fass regular; it's an ugly, amateurish style that makes Orlando look like Frazetta. Jenney, known primarily for his long run on Dell's The Cisco Kid,  would only contribute four stories to the Warren zines (none of them spectacular), but some of his earlier work, especially that in the pulps, does have a certain style. The only fresh bit about this stinker is the idea that, with the donning of a dead man's clothes, the "Turncoat" becomes a resident of the land of the dead... well, sorta.

"Maximum Effort!"
Phyffe and Drumm, owners of the town mortuary, have somehow been able to keep costs down and allow the townsfolk to bury their kin for a very affordable price. But reporter Dave McCormick just has to snoop around the mortuary when he gets a bee in his bonnet, wondering just how the heck the funeral men cut their costs. What McCormick discovers, to his detriment, is that Phyffe and Drumm have been grinding the bones for fertilizer and using the flesh and blood for food. Yep, Drumm is a vampire and Phyffe... a ghoul! Oh (deep yawn), do we really get another "...because I'm a ghoul!" tagline? Seriously, "Maximum Effort!" is one dumb story; Archie wasn't fearing for his job when Ron Parker was around. Mastroserio's art is on par with that of Jenney, Grandenetti, and Stallman; James Warren surely couldn't have been admiring these guys' work and thinking this was what he had in mind for the second coming of EC.

"Voodoo Doll!"
Howard Loman turns to black magic to keep his young wife, Enid, from straying; a "Voodoo Doll!" is the (very expensive) tool Loman uses but, unbeknownst to the gullible fool, the "sorcerer" he has enlisted is in cahoots with Mrs. Loman. After Enid confronts Loman with her knowledge of his dirty deed, she whips out a similar doll of Howard and sticks a pin in its chest. Howard, just as gullible as always, dies of a heart attack. Beside herself with laughter, Enid heads down to the basement incinerator and tosses both dolls into the fire. Bad idea! "Voodoo Doll!" is fairly predictable but still moderately enjoyable (especially when compared to the terrible trio preceding it) and if you squint, Jerry Grandenetti's art really isn't so bad (this is where Jack tells me I'm insane); not nearly as bad as Jerry's art for the DC war books earlier that decade. Still, there's the lingering question: was it all in the heads of Howard and Enid or did the charlatan have legitimate powers? And it's unusual that he escaped retribution.

"Blood of the Werewolf!"
A lunatic bursts into the office of psychiatrist Steven Nigel, confessing he's the werewolf who has been committing the "Full Moon Murders" plaguing the city. The distraught young man, Carl, tells a tale of having been kidnapped and operated on by a scientist who explains his son is cursed with lycanthropy and only a full blood transfusion will cure him. After that evening, Carl transforms into a beast and murders when the moon is full. The psychiatrist tells his patient there's nothing he can do for him since he is suffering from schizophrenia, but just then the transformation begins. Dr. Nigel reaches into his desk drawer and shoots the man dead just as he's about to be torn to shreds. Afterwards, his father drops by to see if Nigel is all right and Nigel explains that the silver bullet in the gun may take some explaining but he and his father, the scientist who operated on Carl, should be in the clear. Thank goodness we have Steve Ditko to take us on this ride or else this would have been nothing but a very familiar trip (although that panel of Carl the werewolf looks awfully familiar to those of us who read "The Beast Man" way back in Creepy #11!). What a coincidence Carl stopped by the office of the very man who received his blood! What are the odds?

More Ditko goodness!

"Idol Hands!"
Professor Duffer proudly accepts the Museum Assistant Director job, a position granted him due to his excavating and bringing back to the museum the great Xochipec idol, a huge statue with a poised fist. Of course, since this is a Creepy comic, Duffer has no time to enjoy his new position since young upstart, Professor Bell, has coveted the job for so long and has a plan hatching. Duffer has a bad ticker, so one night Bell and his squeeze, Sheila (Duffer's assistant), conjure up a high priest to frighten Duffer to death. The pair haul the body over to the huge fist and... KABOOM! Next morning, the crowds have quite the exhibit to stare at.

As with most of the tales this issue, "Idol Hands!" suffers from a reheated script, one that offers no surprises with each turn of the page. Further, the ending makes no sense whatsoever. Why bother posing Duffer on the fist rather than leaving him where he fell? Is the exhibit "haunted?" If so, why didn't Bell die when he donned the High Priest garb? Most laughable of all is the fact that no one in the museum noticed the mass of pummeled flesh and river of blood running from the huge fist! As with Stallman's job on "The Black Death" (in Creepy #11), there's an odd change of gears in the last couple pages as if Stallman were rushed and couldn't finish the job.

"Adam Link, Robot Detective"
Mere minutes after Eve, Adam Link's robot-squeeze, is reassembled (following her near-fatal plunge from a cliff in the last installment), she's hauled away for the murder of two hoodlums. Police believe the thugs were pummeled to death by strong steel hands but Adam Link knows his baby doll is innocent. With the help of his friend, Jack, Link dresses up as a human and hits the town looking for clues but the clock is ticking for Eve... What better way to finish up a dismal issue than with another Adam Link junk pile? Binder's script is almost as stiff as Orlando's doodles. A pity editor Goodwin didn't assign the job to the kid responsible for the nice art on this issue's "Creepy's Fan Page," 17-year old future Warren editor Bill DuBay. -Peter

Jack-A weak issue, for the most part. The highlight for me was the Ditko story, which features excellent work by the artist and a good story with an unnecessary twist. I also found "Voodoo Doll!" fairly enjoyable and even kind of liked Grandenetti's art--it is starting to exhibit the Mod tendencies of the mid-sixties. The dream sequences in "Dark House of Dreams" cry out for Ditko; Torres isn't able to let himself go enough to do them justice. "Turncoat" recalls a Twilight Zone episode though it has mediocre art and a confusing conclusion. Rocco Mastroserio's work on "Maximum Effort!" has a bit of a Jack Davis vibe and is kind of fun albeit predictable. I thought Manny Stallman's art on "Idol Hands!" showed kind of an underground comix style and the big panel of the idol (reproduced above) is pretty cool. Finally, as for Adam Link, why are these stories in Creepy? There's nothing creepy about them, other than Joe Orlando's art--and once again I suspect Grandenetti had a hand in it, especially the cute (Mod) chick. Even the cover is dull!

Eerie #6

"Cave of the Druids!"★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Reed Crandall

"Deep Ruby!"★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Steve Ditko

"Running Scared!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Mark Ricton (Sam Citron)

"The Curse of Kali!"★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Angelo Torres

"Trial by Fire!"★1/2
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Point of View!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Rocco Mastroserio

"The Changeling!"★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Gene Colan

"Cave of the Druids!"
It's 41 A.D. and the Roman Army has invaded the British Isles, where Marcus, a lone legionnaire, tracks a lost patrol into a dark wood, ignoring the warnings of  an old man. Marcus locates the patrol and every man in it lies dead with his heart torn from his body. Resting for the night, Marcus finds himself attacked by trees whose limbs are like arms; he barely escapes death by using a fiery branch to fight off the attackers. Druids approach to cut his heart out, but Marcus surprises them by being alive and does them in; he then enters the "Cave of the Druids!" and witnesses a strange ritual, where a priestess leads her followers in the worship of Dispater. The followers attack Marcus and the priestess turns them into animals, but Marcus grabs her magic wand and tosses it into the flames, thereby causing her to be consumed in flames. Marcus walks away unscathed as the stunned druids gaze at the charred remains of their priestess.

Maybe it's Reed Crandall, but I really enjoyed the lead story in this issue of Eerie! There are no dumb detours and no forced attempt at a twist ending--just a good adventure story. I'm also a sucker for a tale involving Roman soldiers. Wikipedia tells us that Dispater was a Roman God often mistaken for a Celtic god.

"Deep Ruby!"
Lester Darrow, a jeweler, is disgusted when he is accosted on a city street by a man in rags and tatters, who shows him a large, red ruby and asks him to gaze at it. Darrow decides he must have the "Deep Ruby!" and the next thing he knows, he's inside the jewel, being chased by demons! Before they can drain his blood he manages to escape and begs the bum holding the ruby to let him out, agreeing to pay any price. Unfortunately for Mr. Darrow, the price turns out to be that he now becomes the man in rags and tatters, desperate to find another sucker who cannot resist his ruby.

Reading these stories Ditko drew for Warren makes me wonder what he could have done had he stayed at Marvel. The art on these stories is outstandingly creative and not like anything the other Warren artists were doing. I would love to see it in color. Goodwin's story gets off to a good enough start, and when Ditko's imagination is allowed to run wild (as it is here) the results are great, but the ending is a letdown.

Why is Andrew Barton "Running Scared!" as he is pursued through the streets of New York City by two men who insist that they will get him in the end? He runs from them in an alley and jumps off the end of a pier when he is cornered. A taxi pulls up and they're in it! Even when he makes it home, they're hiding behind a curtain! They finally reveal what we guessed right off the bat: Barton is dead and they are the undertakers who finally embalm him and get him in his coffin.

Shaggy and Velma chase a dead man
("Running Scared!")

I wasn't terribly impressed with the artwork of Sam Citron (who inexplicably uses the pseudonym of Mark Ricton here and nowhere else) but when I looked him up online I discovered he was a Golden Age artist who drew Superman as early as 1943. His art here reminds me a bit of what I used to see on TV in Scooby Doo--Where Are You! It's competent but pales next to Ditko and Crandall's stories.

"The Curse of Kali!"
During the reign of Queen Victoria, British soldiers in India visit an abandoned village and find the men of Lt. Smythe's garrison dead, though the lieutenant and his sergeant are not among the deceased. They soon find Sergeant Cairn, who has a story to tell. Lt. Smythe had become smitten with a pretty Indian woman who was supposed to be sacrificed to the god Kali. Smythe rescued her but received "The Curse of Kali!" from a guru. Soon, the men of the garrison began to be killed and their blood drained. Sgt. Cairn suspected the girl, but to his horror he discovered that the guru's curse turned Lt. Smythe into a blood-sucking monster, one whom Sgt. Cairn kills by driving a stake through its heart.

Angelo Torres was a very accomplished artist and he does his best with this dull tale, but Goodwin's insistence on trying to capture the cockney accent of the sergeant is annoying as all get out. What with all the "sorr" ("sir") and "uv" ("of") slang, I found it very hard to read and a real slog to get through seven pages. Comic book stories should be clear, in my opinion, and this one took me two reads to figure out what was happening.

One of the better panels from "Trial By Fire!"
Judge Alfred Harker is running for office in a small New England town but everyone keeps bringing up his ancestors, who burned witches at the stake. He can't explain why he keeps blurting out a magical phrase and apparently causing the sudden death of hecklers or his political opponents. It doesn't look good for the judge, who has no idea that his problems are all being caused by his wife, who is descended from the very witches whom his ancestors burned! Eventually, the crowd turns on the judge and takes him to the town square for burning. His wife feigns concern and runs to his side, secretly hoping to watch him be fried to a crisp, but the flames burn through the ropes holding him to the stake and he topples over onto his wife, who burns to death underneath the judge.

I am a big fan of Johnny Craig and usually find something good to say about his stories, but "Trial By Fire!" is a stinker. The art is sub par and the story is fairly nonsensical, capped off by the ridiculous ending where the judge falls on top of his wife. For some inexplicable reason, the judge ends up dead but not burned. None of it makes much sense.

The figure closest to us has a Ghastly feel to it!
("Point of View!")
Newly in charge of the insane asylum, Gorsham asks to meet the inmates. Among them is a man who claims to be Victor Frankenstein; he shows Gorsham his latest experiment, a hulking man in need of a better brain. Gorsham ridicules the inmate and beats his creature until, one night, the inmates revolt and the monster attacks Gorsham. The boss wakes up later and discovers that his brain has been inserted in the creature's body.

It's a bit confusing when "Point of View!" is supposed to take place; it's also confusing as to whether the inmate really is Victor Frankenstein or not. Cousin Eerie clears things up in his final narration by telling us that the inmate was really a nut, but how do we explain that an inmate in the asylum had the wherewithal (and laboratory) to make a monster? Archie Goodwin was really scrounging for ideas at this point with an unenviable workload each month.

Rachel Meredith reports to her new job as governess for a young boy named Donald, whose mother has been in an insane asylum since shortly after the boy's birth and whose father spends all his time in the family library, conducting research. The lad doesn't make a great first impression, what with the mangled corpse of a cat he produces from behind his back, but Rachel shields him from his father's anger. The next day, the family's servant, Lathrop, is found mangled and dead in the garden, but little Donald just giggles. Rachel speaks to his father, who tells her that the boy is "The Changeling!," a satanic creature left in place of his real son. Dad is reading up on occult lore in order to find a way to rid himself of the boy. Rachel tells Donald, and the next thing you know, a monstrous creature is attacking Pop. Donald sets fire to the mansion and, when the embers cool, all that is found is Pop's corpse, and someone remarks that they heard Donald call the murderous creature "mother."

"The Changeling!"
A Gothic horror story, this, and none better to render it than Gene Colan, whose pages seem a bit washed out and unfinished this time. Still, he's always effective in rendering these sort of tales, and the whole thing is a reasonably good finish to an issue that started out well but did not hold up.-Jack

Peter- Aside from the art, "Cave of the Druids!" is no great shakes. It's got one of those finales that sputters rather than bedazzles (the cover portrays a scene featuring demons that never happens). As with Reed Crandall, Steve Ditko always seems to turn in a job that stands out from the pack and "Deep Ruby!" is no exception. You can just imagine Archie in his tiny office desperately trying to come up with yet another Doctor Strange-esque script for Ditko to illustrate. "Running Scared!" easily wins Worst-of-the-Month award; it's a never-ending scraping at the bottom of the barrel. Hard to believe Archie was responsible for this awful mess; the doodles aren't much to look at either. "The Curse of Kali!" and "Point of View!" are two more examples of overworked plots that can't even work up interesting twists. Johnny Craig contributes the so-so "Trial By Fire!," which has an intriguing build-up to a disappointing crescendo. The hands-down winner this issue is "The Changeling!," which gives away most of its surprise in its title. It's a smorgasbord of genre hooks and Lovecraftian chills and not more than a little reminiscent of The Omen, which would not appear on screens for another decade, and it contains yet another fabulous gift from Gentleman Gene.

Next Week...
Can the Michelinie/Talaoc team
get the Unknown Soldier back on track?

From Creepy 12


andydecker said...

I always liked "Cave of the Druids", even if the ending is weak. (And I wonder what Wood would have made of this.) This reads more like a chapter then a finished tale. Still, Roman legionaires and druids, alwaya a plus. Which is the reason why Curse of Kali is such a disappointment. To waste this setting for just another dumb vampire tale is, well, a huge waste.

The rest of this issue of Eerie is rather dull. This is more "House of Mystery" then "Tales from the Crypt".

Quiddity99 said...

Creepy #12 - What an awful issue! In fact this may be the worst issue of Creepy yet. By this point I think the expansion into two horror comics is hurting them as they've had to bring on board a lot of mediocre to average at best artists like Jenney, Mastroserio and Stallman because its too much material for just the original EC artists. Goodwin is also clearly overworked. The stories themselves also aren't too good. Especially Adam Link! That said, I do enjoy Dark House of Dreams (probably not as much if Torres wasn't the artist though), Ditko is always good and now that he's fully seperated himself from Orlando, Grandenetti I am a fan of as well.

Eerie #6 - Art is a lot better here, having stories from Crandall, Craig and Colan (in addition to Torres and Ditko, who were in Creepy too), although the writing is again on the weaker side. Colan's story is the clear winner here; and my recollection is we'll be seeing him get the best story of the issue month after month until Goodwin leaves and he departs Warren (which unfortunately is only around 5 issues off!)

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, guys (assuming you're both guys). Andy, I think the Warren mags at this point are somewhere in between EC and DC, though probably closer to DC. Q99, I'm intrigued by your comment about being a Grandenetti fan. Having suffered through his '70s DC work, I'd like to hear more.