Monday, July 12, 2021

The Warren Report Issue 63: May 1975



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

Creepy #71

"Room For One More" 
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Luis Bermejo

"But When She Was Bad" ★1/2
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Luis Bermejo

"His Name Is John!" ★1/2
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Luis Bermejo

"The Song of Alanbane" 
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Luis Bermejo

"The Minotaur" ★1/2
Story by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Adapted by Rich Margopoulos
Art by Luis Bermejo

Okay, so pay attention cuz I'm only going to try to explain this once (how I wish I didn't have to 'splain it at all!): Mrs. Lomax has murdered Mr. Lomax and is intent on running away with his best friend, Augie. Well, that's what she thinks! Mr. Lomax caught on to the Mrs.'s scheme months before she planned on poisoning him cuz Augie is still Mr. Lomax's buddy, not Mrs. Lomax's bed buddy! But anyway, Mrs. Lomax goes to the Farrow Funeral Parlor and orders up a coffin for Mr. Lomax, flirting with the handsome Mr. Farrow (whose wife died months before... kinda... sorta) in the process. 

While Mr. Farrow is readying Mr. Lomax for embalming, Lomax sits up in his coffin and explains what's going on. The "poison" his wife has been giving him is actually a super-secret formula that gives the user symptoms of death. He holds a gun on Farrow and tells him to give him some more of the potion and bury him; Augie will dig him up later. But Mr. Farrow actually has something else going on in the back room; he's keeping Mrs. Farrow's body company with the corpses of several other unwary visitors, all propped up in a dining area. In a very short amount of time, he adds Lomax, Augie, and Mrs. Lomax to the guest list.

Farrow wears a "death mask" to make his wife's corpse more comfortable with her present state. After dispatching Mrs. Lomax and Augie, Farrow is called to the showroom by a customer. Unfortunately, the dimwit forgets to take off his scary mask and the customer screams in fear. This brings the local police, who break in just in time to see Farrow berating and emptying a pistol into his wife's moldering corpse.

"But When She Was Bad"
I've never been near a rotting corpse, so I have no idea if it smells as bad as Doug Moench's script for "Room For One More" but, I gotta tell you... this is some gawdawful crap. There seem to be two or three contrived and confusing parallel story lines and no resolution to any of those threads. Farrow's obsession is inane, as is his random selection of victims. How the hell could the smell not warrant a visit from the cops? If you're going to try to convince a mortician to go along with your scheme, do you threaten him with death? If it was me, I'd be very nice to the guy who's going to be putting you into the ground for later exhuming. And what's the story with Augie and Mr. Lomax? Are they really really close friends? I'd add that the final panel makes no sense, but then I've just wasted hundreds of words describing an entire story that makes no sense. 

"His Name Is John"
After surviving a terrible car crash in which her parents are both killed, Julie begins hearing voices in her head. Those voices tell her to do terrible things like bash her puppy's head in. Who are these voices? Is it mental erosion due to Julie's concussion? Is there a sinister force at work? Good luck if you think you'll find out anything about what's going on. If I was Luis Bermejo, I'da been on the phone to Jim Warren. "If you're going to dedicate an entire issue to my art, could you at least give me something literate to illustrate?" Neither "Room for One More" nor "But When She Was Bad" makes a lick of sense. To add inanity to inanity, "But When She Was Bad" either ends on a cliffhanger or the last page wasn't printed. It literally ends mid-scene. The big secret the voices keep prodding Julie about throughout the second half of the tale really isn't that much of a secret, is it?

In "His Name Is John," a priest is beamed up into a spaceship by an alien who claims he is God. The creature is about to destroy Earth because it hasn't become the paradise it envisioned. Can the father talk this God into giving us another chance? Some will cry "pretension," some "heresy," but I just found "His Name Is John!" to be a wall-to-wall bore. So many other writers have tried to put a spin on "the creator." If you want to present your "vision" to the world, I'd advise you not to be so talky about it. That seems to be the main problem with Warren science fiction.

There seems to be no defense for the demon Alanbane, a huge "dark knight" equipped with a sword that can seemingly cut a swath through any army. In the end, only love and a fetching naked lass can defeat this hellspawn. In direct contrast to "His Name Is John!" is "The Song of Alanbane," light on text and a feast for the eyes. Boudreau manages to pull off a feat not usually successful in funny books: story as poem. Bermejo's Alanbane is an imposing figure, no doubt, but if Gerry's rhymes come off as pretension, the entire presentation is dust. Thankfully, Boudreau hits the bullseye; RE Howard would be proud. Easily the best thing in this issue.

Every year, fourteen young Grecians are sent to Crete to be sacrifices for King Minos's Minotaur. Prince Theseus vows to put an end to this bloodshed, so he volunteers to be one of the fourteen in the latest export. With the help of Minos's daughter (who believes her father to be kind but a bit loony in the head), Theseus confronts and slays "The Minotaur"! Not a bad adaptation at all, "The Minotaur" is an exciting bit of mythological adventure, tantamount to a newly discovered Harryhausen film. The art is a bit sparse but it'll do. Overall, I'm not sure the artistic talents of Luis Bermejo merit a full issue of his work.-Peter

Jack-I had the same thought when I finished reading this issue. He seems to be a mid-level Warren artist--not as good as Wrightson or Sutton but not as bad as Fraccio/Tallarico, either. I like "The Minotaur" best of the stories this time out, though the story (based on Hawthorne, based on Greek mythology) is better than the art, which is a bit bland.

Next came "The Story of Alanbane," where the art is decent and the story good enough. I was not as impressed by the rhymes as you were and I thought it unusual that the naked girl is as un-sexy as she is, which is not what we're used to from Warren. "Room for One More" has its enjoyable sections, but the whole thing ends up a complete mess. "But When She was Bad" is junky pop-psychology and "His Name Is John!" is twelve endless pages of religious babble and ancient astronauts. If Warren is going to spend an entire issue on one mediocre artist, they'll need to improve the writing.

Vampirella #42

"The Mountain of Skulls"★1/2
Story by Flaxman Loew & Gerry Boudreau
Art by Jose Gonzalez

"Around the Corner...Just Beyond Eternity!"
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Luis Garcia Mozos

"Laugh, Clown, Laugh!"★1/2
Story by Shelly Leferman
Art by Ramon Torrents

"Straw on the Wind"
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Rafael Auraleon

"The Whitfield Contract"★1/2
Story & Art by Fernando Fernandez

After the airplane Vampi and Pendy are on is drawn down to a crash landing by a mysterious force, she turns into a bat to survey the desert island on which they've landed. Pendragon and the rest of the survivors are captured by beautiful women, who lead them to their village and put them in a cage. The women behead obese, loudmouthed Clarence Swinger, while Vampi flags down a paddleboat whose two owners are looking for El Dorado.

Vampi leads the men to the crash site, but they are more interested in scavenging the wreckage for valuables until the native women happen by and kill their guide. One of the fortune-hunters machine-guns the native women after his partner knocks out Vampi; the nasty duo march through the jungle until they find the womens' village, which features "The Mountain of Skulls," which happen to be plated in gold. Waking up to the realization that she hasn't had her blood substitute in a while, Vampi gets hungry and feasts on one of the men from the paddleboat. His partners make a run for it. Vampi and Pendy restack the golden skulls and, after a sisterly (?) kiss between Vampirella and the leader of the native women, our heroes are free to leave. The remaining fortune-hunter is killed by a giant snake.

I am so happy to see Jose Gonzalez back as the artist for this strip that I can excuse some of the problems with the script. Why are Vampi and Pendy on a plane? Where are they going? Where are they coming from? How did everyone survive the plane crash? Who are the random extra people that come and go from the group of plane survivors and the group on the paddleboat? Why is Vampi always running out of blood substitute? Has she ever heard of foam packaging? Where did the giant snake come from?

Is there life after death? "Around the Corner...Just Beyond Eternity!" Doing research for an article on immortality, a man revisits a decaying house that he had first visited when he was an RAF flyer in the First World War. He was shot down over Germany and taken to the house, where an old woman took him in but then revealed his presence to angry villagers, though she insisted on keeping him there until the army came. The young man was aided by a beautiful young woman, who helped him to escape but who also offered him a place next to her in the small lake outside. Returning years later, he saw the young woman in a portrait and learned that she had died before he was brought there. Did his resemblance to her late brother call her back from beyond the grave to help him?

In spite of Luis Garcia Mozos's very scratchy art, which looks unfinished but which I suspect is supposed to look atmospheric, I enjoyed this story. The ghostly turn it took at the end made up for the unfocused storytelling at the beginning, and it all made a kind of sense by the last page. I guess I was in a mood for a Gothic romance.

Droopy, the sad-faced clown, is the hit of the circus! He never socializes or removes his makeup, so reporters begin to clamor for a picture of him as he really looks. One reporter succeeds in snapping a photo and it show that Droopy is really a fanged ogre. No one believes it until a Senator investigates and Droopy is forced to reveal himself. Now everyone hates Droopy! To save the circus, he must allow himself to be displayed among the freaks, where patrons can mock him.

"Laugh, Clown, Laugh" is written by Shelly Leferman who, as far as I can tell, had a career as a letterer for comics. Was he (she?) the one who made all of the spelling errors in the Warren mags? In any case, this eight-pager is not at all original or well-written, but I like the crisp, clean artwork by Ramon Torrents, though the comic credits it to Esteban Maroto. Too bad such nice art is wasted on a depressing tale like this.

Pantha returns to the strip club (where she was not a stripper) but is fired for taking two days off. Another strip club owner invites her to work at his joint but, when she arrives, she meets the head stripper, a woman who goes by the name of Cleopatra and who has a pet leopard named Antony. Cleo kisses Pantha and Pantha reacts badly, so when Cleo tries to sic Antony on Pantha, our "heroine" turns into a panther and rips Cleo to shreds. Pantha flees to an opium den but, when one of the druggies tries to have sex with her, a man named Jack Kimble, who is searching for his daughter, rescues her and takes her home with him.

Kimble is kind to Pantha, so she insists that he sleep with her, which he does. He then counsels her to leave the nasty city and she tells him that one more "Straw on the Wind" will break her spirit. He walks off and is robbed and killed by a man who has his eye on Pantha through her apartment window.

Budd Lewis's script is, in a word, dreadful. I knew we were in trouble when Pantha angrily calls Cleo a "female fag," but it gets worse--in the opium den, Pantha gets high and has a memory of her father getting a little too friendly. That memory then is confused with a druggie trying to rape her as she wakes up. One would think she might have had enough of men for awhile, but the first guy who is kind to her finds Pantha insisting that he hop in bed with her. I like Auraleon's art (except for the guys with the giant, bald foreheads), but this story is the dregs and surely in the running for worst of '75. And from the winner of Best Warren Writer for the year, Budd Lewis!

John Gamble, paid assassin, has killed Peter Whitfield, and the Syndicate asks him to attend the funeral. He feels some guilt over murdering his friend and decides to retire, but when he goes to the funeral, the Syndicate men say that's not allowed. Whitfield's wife Jill, with whom Gamble once had an affair, knows her husband was murdered and is working on identifying his killer.

Two days later, Gamble is assigned a new victim: Dr. Hackett, who was paid by the Syndicate to certify that Whitfield died a natural death. The doctor has figured out that Whitfield was killed by someone with a tremendous mental power and Gamble decides not to kill him. Gamble calls Jill Whitfield to apologize and she reveals that she knows he killed her on orders from Modesto of the Syndicate. The next day, Gamble visits the Syndicate and explains that he comes from another planet and has special mind powers that he uses to kill cleanly. He plans to return to his home planet but promises to come back some day and kill Modesto.

Fernandez's stories don't look like those of anyone else, and this one has a lot of plot and is interesting until he flubs the ending. There was no need to have Gamble be an alien from another planet. Perhaps the writer/artist felt that he had to add a supernatural element to make it fit in a Warren horror mag. Who knows? But for most of its 12 pages, it's probably the most cogent story in this underwhelming issue.-Jack

Peter-Even more slapdash than usual, Flaxman Butterworth's script is a sinkhole of stupidity and lukewarm Moench-esque prose (The last screams of the moribund intermingled with the dolorous wails of the living creating a nightmare of cacophony). What is it that brings the plane down in the first place? Am I supposed to be so intoxicated by the half-nekkid jungle girls that I'll completely forget the pilot's exclamation of  "Something's drawing us down!?" And what's with the fact that every Amazonian looks exactly alike? I thought, at first, we'd get some power-mad scientist who's created a race of sexy androids to guard his Fort Knox of skulls but, alas, that old trope was not trotted out. Why is it that sometimes Vampi is a helpless femme and other times a savage beast? And where is she getting that endless supply of fake blood (that, inevitably, is destroyed every issue)?  Only the vicious beheading and some sexy lesbian titillation save "The Mountain of Skulls" from being unsalvageable dreck. Lots of fat-hating as well!

There's a line in "Around the Corner..." that perfectly sums up my feelings about the tale: My mind swirled in confusion. A thought that has nagged at me while reading some of these Warren stories popped up yet again here: do these writers begin with an outline or are they just winging it through the entire process? Nothing about "Around the Corner..." cries out "natural progression." I've always thought Luis Garcia's art well-done but a bit "fuzzy." The fuzz is starting to grow to epic proportions. 

Inside cover

"Laugh, Clown, Laugh!" is equally perplexing. Yeah, I know that the Senate once blamed funny books for rape, sadism, juvenile delinquency, and high gas prices, but the Droopy witch hunt is ludicrous beyond belief. And how was it that Droopy was hiding those fangs? Though Esteban Maroto was credited on the splash, this is actually a Ramon Torrents production. The chore continues with "Straw on the Wind," the rebooted Pantha, which replaces the execrable "Dracula" series. Based on this first new chapter, the act might be tantamount to replacing old kitty litter with... old kitty litter. Awful dialogue ("Get away from me, you female fag!") and a ponderous storyline that seems to go absolutely nowhere. The highlight here would have to be Pantha's story about fishing a beloved cap out of a toilet with a comb. I hated hated hated this junk.

"The Whitfield Contract" starts promisingly enough. I'm a men's adventure paperback fanatic, so a hit man story falls well within my enjoyment parameters. Then, of course, the damn thing descends into mediocrity and lunacy. I literally laughed out loud when the coroner told Gamble that he'd guessed the real cause of death for Whitfield was "a certain form of electrical energy transferred from a powerful outside source... a superior brain!" I know we've been forced to wade through some bad issues but Vampirella #42 might be the worst collection of pretentious and half-baked crap yet. To add insult to injury, the 1974 Warren Awards are announced and, as usual, the grand prize goes to more pretentious prattle, Budd Lewis's "Excerpts From Year Five." Laughably, the story is so important that Warren doesn't even list the title correctly!

Next Week...
More vampiric hijinx!


Quiddity said...

In contrast to the two of you I'm quite happy with the stories and the art for this issue. Yes, Bermejo is not on the level of someone like Berni Wrightson, but he's still a very good artist, at least at this point in his Warren career (he will have a Reed Crandall-esque collapse eventually). He's got really strong artwork throughout the issue. "Room for One More" was in fact my favorite story of the issue, a story perfectly suited for Bermejo's style. "But When She Was Bad" and "His Name is John" I liked quite a lot too. My one complaint is that the idea of having one artist do an entire issue isn't a good one. Creepy's best as a pure anthology with a mix of different types of stories and artists. For whatever reason Dubay suddenly becomes obsessed with issues dedicated to one artist, with three of four issues of Creepy being dedicated to one (granted one is all reprint) as well as the next issue of Eerie. I don't get why these stories couldn't have simply been spread out over several issues.

Good to see Gonzalez's return to Vampi, although I did enjoy both Sanchez and Ortiz's brief time of drawing her. The story is as usual nothing special, although this does hold the distinction of being the final Flaxman Loew story and the series goes in an entirely new direction starting next time. Very happy to see the return of Luis Garcia, my all time favorite Warren artist to its pages, although this story is not a Warren original but rather a reprint of a story from a series called "The Chronicle of the Nameless" that was printed in the French Magazine Pilote. This and subsequent stories from the series will appear in Vampi over the next several issues although are rewritten by Warren regulars with original writer Victor Mora often not credited at all. "Laugh, Clown, Laugh" I enjoyed quite a bit and Leferman did a good job in their one and only Warren story. Droopy is quite a sympathetic figure and it's a fairly unique and sad story, although also quite absurd (why in the world would a Senator put so much effort into unmasking a clown?). "Pantha" returns but there is nothing special here, at least story-wise; Auraleon's art is strong as usual. Like you, I found "The Whitfield Contract" a good story, until the final two pages where out of nowhere our protagonist is revealed to be an alien. Fernandez is one of my favorite Warren artists and is usually a very strong writer too, but if I have one complaint about him, its his tendency to throw aliens in there at the end. He had done this previously with the story "The Truth" which was a really effective gothic horror story until a UFO appears out of nowhere.

Anonymous said...

I was so used to Leopoldo Sanchez’s wonderfully chiaroscuro-soaked art on the Vampi series, that I was honestly a little let down by my first real look at Gonzalez’ take. The letters pages in the previous few issues had been full of fans clamoring for his return, and I’d seen a few of his gorgeous photo-realistic pencil renderings of the lady on the inside covers, so my expectations were likely a bit too high. Hence, my slight disappointment.

In retrospect, this issue’s Vampi story looks just fine, about par for Gonzalez — neither his best work nor his worst. And Vampi herself looked beautiful, of course. But overall, the story looked a little bland to my 13-year-old eyes, a little too ‘open’, not enough atmosphere, the line-work a little skritchy, the compositions and page layouts not as dynamic as Sanchez’s.

Speaking of ‘a little bit bland’ : I can’t think of a single Luis Bermejo story that really wowed me. He is to the Warren mags what Bob Clarke was to MAD Magazine: competent, serviceable. Pleasant. You never groan when you see his name in the credits, but neither do you ever think, ‘Oh boy, a Luis Bermejo story!’ And I’m sorry, but FIVE Bermejo stories in one issue is like having five courses of mashed potatoes for dinner.


Grant said...

The thing about "The Mountain of Skulls" that stays with me is a part that's like some self-parody. It's the fact that Vampirella's costume gets some attention of the negative kind, when another female passenger attacks her with one of those "You shameless hussy!" type lines.

In fact, that might be the actual phrase.
As far as I know, it's pretty rare for her outfit to get any kind of attention, good or bad.