Monday, July 26, 2021

The Warren Report Issue 64: June 1975



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

Eerie #66

"The Seven Trials" (parts one and two) 
Plot by Bill DuBay
Dialogue by Budd Lewis
Art by Gonzalo Mayo

"El Cid and the Vision"
Plot by Gerry Boudreau
Dialogue by Budd Lewis
Art by Gonzalo Mayo

"The Lady and the Lie"
Plot by Gerry Boudreau
Dialogue by Budd Lewis
Art by Gonzalo Mayo

"The Emir of Aragon"★1/2
Plot by Jeff Rovin
Dialogue by Budd Lewis
Art by Gonzalo Mayo

Legendary Spanish warrior El Cid kills a sorcerer/king in war and must face "The Seven Trials" as a result after the king curses him with his dying breath. On their warship, El Cid and his men face the first trial: an attack by a group of beautiful, topless sirens. The attack is repulsed and El Cid spares one of the sirens, whose fighting skills come in handy when a giant dragon/worm attacks in trial number two. When the slimy creature is defeated, El Cid and the siren feel a strange attraction drawing them together.

Part one of the El Cid saga, plotted by DuBay and with dialogue by Lewis, was better than I expected. Mayo's art is impressive, though it's not always easy to tell what's going on in any particular panel. I kept wondering if color would help distinguish some of the characters from the others. These stories where a certain number of trials are spelled out at the start inevitably become a countdown; the first two battles were okay, and all of the gorgeous women reminded me of Maroto's work.

The third trial appears just as El Cid realizes his ship is wrecked and only he, his loyal aide Blazquez, and the siren (who somewhere located a bikini) are left to fight a group of knights on flying horses. El Cid and co. manage to survive this challenge and the rest of the surviving crew recovers as the wrecked ship reaches an island. Dwarf monsters attack and El Cid once again kills everyone who opposes him, but the lovely siren/warrior is nearly killed in battle. El Cid carries her to the village that was abandoned by the dwarves and is beset by a flying ship captained by a magician who can send bolts of fire from the sky. Trial six involves a funeral coach driven by a banshee who resembles yet another beautiful and scantily-clad woman; the banshee steals the final breath from El Cid's beloved siren. Suddenly El Cid awakens and realizes it was all a dream, except for the beautiful nurse who brought him through his fever and her astonishing resemblance to the siren.

Part two was even better than part one! Mayo strives for a Hal Foster effect and, for the most part, succeeds. The various trials are impressive and build in intensity until the (to me) unexpected "It was all a dream" ending. Usually, I would find this disappointing, but for some reason it worked in this context, perhaps because the battles were so engaging.

El Cid discovers that the Moors have ransacked a castle and are on their way to capture Calahorra. As the hero rides, he is challenged by a Moorish knight and, though the battle on horseback is fierce, El Cid is thrown from his horse. He looks up and sees that the knight has vanished; "El Cid and the Vision" were only in his imagination. Making his way to Castille, El Cid is challenged by Don Urraca, who blames El Cid for allowing the castle to be ransacked. They fight and El Cid kills the Don, but the king is angry at the bloodshed in front of him. El Cid begs forgiveness and asks that the fate of Calahorra be decided by a one on one battle between El Cid and a Moorish champion. Lo and behold, it's the knight from the vision! This time, El Cid is ready for him and uses what he learned in the vision to win the battle.

Eight more sharp pages from Mayo make this an exciting and rewarding story. No topless babes this time out, just some solid knight on knight battles. My only minor complaint about the artwork is that El Cid seems to look different from page to page.

Riding home from Andalusia, El Cid encounters "The Lady and the Lie" when two demons, Lie and Lust, try to convince him to murder a young man and rape his lover. El Cid resists, but soon Lie manages to tempt a beautiful young woman into killing her lover and a woman she finds him with, unaware that the woman is a demon in disguise. To win back the girl's soul, El Cid agrees to follow the demons to Hell and fight; his innate goodness convinces them to let the girl go free, but they promise he will see their work wherever he goes.

Like the tales before it, this is a solid three stars for me, with good art and a story that is not overly complicated and reasonably satisfying. I like the use of Lie and Lust as demons who try to tempt the young and innocent, though Mayo's depiction of them as lions or tigers with fangs doesn't succeed in capturing their hellish nature as much as it might.

After armies led by El Cid drive "The Emir of Aragon" out of Aragon, leaving the city to King Alphonso, the emir gives a super-sexy Moorish servant girl as tribute. El Cid falls hard for her, spending every night in her bed. He has a vision of her that bodes ill and she fulfills the vision by trying to trick the king into coming to El Cid's chambers to be killed. King Alphonso suspects a trap and sends a substitute, whom the girl kills, but she cleverly pins the blame on El Cid. King Alphonso smells a rat and sends a fake note to the emir to make him think it's time to attack. When the emir's army advances, Alphonso knows El Cid is innocent and El Cid leads an army to defeat the Moors once again. The beautiful servant girl falls on her dagger and kills herself.

This last effort by Mayo has a decent plot by Jeff Rovin but, at this point in the issue, I think I've had enough of El Cid. The "All El Cid/All-Gonzalo Mayo" issue is above-average, though his art really recalls Maroto's and all of his beautiful wenches essentially look alike. For 54 solid pages of sword and sorcery, which is not my favorite genre, it's not bad.-Jack

Peter-I lost my patience with this bloated, meandering Harryhausen-esque "epic" about halfway through. There's absolutely no continuity whatsoever, with Cid declaring true and endless love for his "sea nymph" at the closing of "The Seven Trials" and then bedding everything in sight in the ensuing chapters. In fact, the equally fetching half-nekkid babe in "Emir" looks exactly like his beloved "sea nymph!" I was never certain what the goal was here and it's extremely odd to give an entire issue over to an unproven character. 

But my biggest problem is the art by Mayo, which goes from astonishing to indecipherable, literally from panel to panel. Just look at that splash on page 17 (right), the beginning of the second part of "The Seven Trials." The "sea nymph" is clearly ripped off from the iconic still of Raquel Welch from One Million Years, BC, and Cid looks photoshopped. A lot of Mayo's stuff looks like a cheese enchilada that got left in the microwave too long. It's all melted together. And if I never see a fleet of flying horses again, it'll be too soon. My advice to Dube for future themed-issues: Hold the Mayo!

The Spirit #8

"Sand Saref" (1/8/50)
"Bring In Sand Saref..." (1/15/50)
"Thorne Strand" (1/23/49)
"A Slow Ship to Shanghai" (1/30/49)
Story and Art by Will Eisner

"Assignment: Paris" (5/23/48)
Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Andre LeBlanc

"A Pot of Gold" (4/3/49)
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti

"Satin" (6/12/49)
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner

"Visitor" (2/13/49)
Story and Art by Will Eisner

Peter-A particularly strong batch of stories this issue. The art has never been better, especially that of "Satin" and "Visitor," which has a very creepy vibe to it. As far as scripts go, the double-feature of "Sand Saref" and "Bring in Sand Saref" were TKOs. I liked the flashback into The Spirit's past and Sand herself was a classic femme fatale. As portrayed by Eva Mendes, Sand Saref was just about the only salvageable aspect of the lousy Frank Miller film version of The Spirit (2008). Until this issue, I was thinking I'd had too much of a good thing and the novelty was wearing off. Hopefully, the second half of the Warren era of The Spirit keeps the energy and quality this high.

Jack-It's especially gratifying to read such a strong collection of stories after last issue's misfire with the Ebony special. Some might complain that Eisner objectified women, and perhaps he did, but these beauties are usually complex characters. The flashback to the Spirit's childhood in "Sand Saref" is a great version of the typical 1930s' crime film (e.g., Dead End) where kids grow up on the wrong side of town and follow different paths. I had to wonder about the Spirit's comment that he was working for American intelligence in 1942--I doubt a look back at the weekly Spirit sections of that year would support that. The sequel, "Bring in Sand Saref," is great as well, but I was concerned that the Spirit ran right into Sand's arms without a thought for Ellen. "Thorne Strand" is another hardboiled dame who rates a two-parter, and the beautiful splash page reminds me of when I saw Eisner, right around the time of this issue, give a slideshow at the NYC Comic Con, where he showed one splash page after another and a packed ballroom ate it up.

"Assignment: Paris" makes me wonder all over again just how are we supposed to pronounce P'Gell's name? The color on this story is particularly strong. A beautiful blonde called Wisp O' Smoke is featured in "A Pot of Gold," which has a welcome supernatural element, and "Satin" is another excellent drama with another character's welcome return. Finally, "Visitor" features a gorgeous Martian agent named Cosmek and a classic final page where a nondescript man steps out of a window nonchalantly and floats off into outer space. Add a superb cover and we have a memorable issue of The Spirit.

Vampirella #43

Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Jose Gonzalez

"The Wolves at War's End!" 
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Luis Garcia Mozos

"The Easter Bunny Murders" ★1/2
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Ramon Torrents

"Cult of the Dead!" 
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Isidro Mones

"The Last Testament of Angus Crow!" 
Story and Art by Fernando Fernandez

Fresh off the plane from their whirlwind world tour, Pendragon and Vampirella are muscled by a pair of cops and told they're being arrested for multiple counts of murder. Before either can protest, shots ring out and our two heroes go down in a heap of blood and, in the case of Pendragon, alcohol. A couple days later, the Van Helsings get the news from their local paper and head to New York to be with their friends. While brainstorming, the VHs concur that the guilty party must be Pen's daughter, the loony Sara Granville, just out of prison and thirsty for revenge.

Sure enough, as we see very quickly, Sara has hired a hitman named Raven to do her dirty work and is extremely pleased that her employee did not fatally shoot her enemies. Now she sends Raven to the hospital to kill! Adam Van Helsing deducts this last bit of info and holds a gun on the cop watching his favorite vampiress recover in a hospital bed. Adam wakes Vampirella and takes her away so that she's not a sitting duck. Unfortunately, Raven has arrived at Pen's room just as the elder Van Helsing is visiting. The assassin ventilates the old man while Vampi and Adam escape, unaware that violence has occurred just upstairs.

Essentially, just dozens and dozens of "talking heads" panels, this untitled Vampirella adventure might not be to everyone's taste. There's a heck of a lot of flashbacking going on--some necessary, some superfluous--but I actually liked the story. The return of Sara Granville was unexpected and a welcome change from voodoo chiefs and snake princesses, but I do question her plan. She orders Raven not to kill Vampi and Pen at the airport but then asks him to do the deed in the much more complicated location of a public hospital. Not sure of the motive there other than to stretch out the adventure. I suspect that, even though Dube emphasizes the shot will be to Van Helsing's heart, we'll see a miraculous recovery for everyone involved next issue. Gonzalez is up to his best Mort Drucker impersonation, but that splash is just dopey. In a preview of the action just a few pages later, Pen appears to be in mid-karate pose, Vampi is dancing a la Michael Jackson, and the cop is pulling his gun just as he's been kicked in the balls. What's it all about, Gonzo? 

A soldier returns from fighting in the Crusades to find his village wracked with the plague. His house has been locked up and the only survivor is his younger sister. The locals call her a witch and demand her killing, but the soldier rides away with her to hunt for his love, Elenore, with a pack of assassins following. When he finally finds Elenore, she is healthy and waiting for him but, outside, the hit men catch up to his sister and slaughter her. The beautiful vision of Elenore fades as the girl dies and our narrator discovers that his sister was indeed a sorceress.

There's some nice, spare work by Luis Garcia Mozos on "The Wolves at War's End," but too much of the script is given over to pretentious pap (no surprise there, given Lewis's output at the time), reminding us over and over that man is his own worst enemy and God is only an image presented as a reason to kill for. I couldn't get "The Raven" out of my mind whenever the soldier would long for his lost Elenore.  GCD tells us that the story's original script was written by Victor Mora and presented in the French comic zine, Pilote, in 1973. 

A doctor's experiments with animal blood turn a psychotic drug addict into a seven-foot tall killer rabbit. The police use a heroin pusher's apartment as bait for the monster and, when the thing shows up, they fill it full of lead. The doctor sighs and explains that now he'll have to find another way to unlock the secrets of mankind. There are two ways to go when dissecting a story like "The Easter Bunny Murders!": you can assume the writer is pulling your cottontail from page one or take it as straight-up stupid. So much in Gerry Boudreau's script, in addition to the ludicrous plot hook, signals parody and that we should realize we're in on the joke. There's a semi-serious tone to the dialogue and the usual Boudreauian pretension to the caption prose but then we get silly sprinkles such as: "Word just in over the radio! The Easter bunny's struck again! This time near Broadway and 49th!" As dumb as this thing is, I enjoyed it as a break from boring barbarians and romantic vampires. Of course, I might be the fool and Gerry was serious the whole time but I think, rather, that the writer was breaking the fourth wall and admitting that this stuff is a load of crap and we shouldn't be so serious about it all. That's gotta be his aim, right? Just take a gander at that fearsome creature to the left! The only drawback is that we never see the monster's cute white tail sticking out of his Levi's.

H.G. Lewis would be so proud!
Three men, members of the "Cult of the Dead," murder intelligent, artsy folk and pull their brains from their heads for supper. The grey matter is supposed to help them achieve their lofty goals in life. A man who eats the brain of a Shakespearean actor will become the best in the business, he who munches on a scholar's noggin will become the greatest academic in history, and the guy who dines on a Warren scripter's cerebrum will... anyway... A beat cop remembers his college history professor and interviews him. The egghead turns him on to a colleague at the university, a Dr. Clancy, who turns out to be (surprise surprise surprise) the ringleader of the gang. The police bust into Clancy's office just as he's chowing down on the brains of his three henchmen and they fill the Prof full of holes. "Cult of the Dead!" is an ugly and nauseating cliche, obviously borne of Boudreau's desire to push the Warren line on gore. Congrats, Gerry, you did it. Isidro Mones does a perfect job of capturing the atmosphere of a Myron Fass publication. Yeccch!

Sentenced to an asylum for the criminally insane, Angus Crow lives out his final days trying to convince his doctors that there are aliens amongst us. A very simple tale, "The Last Testament of Angus Crow!" is one of those rare Warren stories that could have been presented as a pure prose piece. Most of the dialogue and captions describe what is going on in the panel and the art is not outstanding Fernandez (one entire page is given over to the artist's swipes of film stills). The reveal, that Angus himself might be an alien, is certainly no shocker since so many clues are laid out before us. This is not a bad story but it's nothing to get excited about.-Peter

Jack-I had high hopes for this issue based on the Vampi story, but by the end I was ready to toss it on the trash heap. DuBay reboots the Vampirella saga nicely in an enjoyable story with the usual strong art by Gonzalez. "The Wolves at War's End!" is much too long, at 14 pages, and pompous, with a poor attempt to make words and pictures work together. It's a shame that we read The Spirit and then have to slog through junk like this, created by a writer-artist team who just don't know how to tell a story graphically. I was intrigued by the start of "The Easter Bunny Murders," and the art by Torrents was a relief after the muddy work by Mozos in the prior story, but this one quickly devolves into what seems like a Warren version of a Kolchak: The Night Stalker episode (the show was running at the time). Even worse is "Cult of the Dead," which features a disgusting final page. If Warren goes in this gory direction, I'll have a hard time keeping up. Finally, the Fernandez story is okay at best, only getting a slightly better rating in comparison to the story that precedes it.

Next Week...
Dick gets randy with Vicki!


andydecker said...

While I like Mayo's art, after the first story I had enough. It had at least a kind of plot, but the rest just limped along. I didn't expect much, but why do El Cid if Spain never is put on the page? This is generic fantasy as usual. It could have been Dax junior swinging the sword while looking like a model.

Vampirella is a disappointment. Vampi's story was just a too long prologue which just ended. The rest was just the usual. Garcia did some nice illustrations, drowned in the usual pretentious and overwrought Lewis captions. A comparison with the original would be interesting. The two Boudreau stories had the same ending, cops guns them down. How boring. Fernandez delivered his usual talking heads.

In my recollection these stories are so much better. Maybe the highlights like Wrightson, Corben and some of the Spanish artists left a strong impression and the rest were just merciful forgotten.

Jack Seabrook said...

I guess I'm lucky I've never read these mags before--I don't have any rosy memories!

Anonymous said...

Of this week’s offerings, SPIRIT #8 is the only one I acquired fresh off the rack at the late, lamented Cork N Bib Liquor store (R.I.P. — *sniff*). I picked up the VAMPIRELLA and EERIE issues many years later, and don’t really recall them very well — the Vampi doesn’t sound too promising and I don’t have much desire to wade through an entire issue of Mayo’s Melty Madness and Mayhem at the moment.

I agree that this is one of the most consistently excellent issues of Warren’s SPIRIT. There really isn’t a weak story in the bunch. For a ‘Theme Issue”, there’s a wide variety of story types and the ladies themselves all have very distinct personalities. Jack, I’ve often wondered myself about the pronunciation of “P’Gell”. In my head I’ve always tended to pronounce it “Pih-Zhell” (rhymes with “Michelle”). But I wonder if Eisner meant it to be a pun on “Pigalle”, the notorious red light district in Paris.

Speaking of pun-names, the two Sand Saref stories are my favorites in this issue, quite possibly my all-time favorite Spirit stories, period. If The Spirit seems to be stepping out on Ellen here, keep in mind that these two stories started out featuring a detective named “John Law” — basically Denny Colt with an eye-patch instead of a mask — and were later turned into Spirit stories after Eisner couldn’t sell the John Law series.


Quiddity99 said...

The all El Cid issue was better than I had remembered, with fairly entertaining stories throughout. Although much like with the Luis Bermejo issue, in which I really enjoyed all the individual stories, the problem is the fact that having them all crammed into one issue gives too much of a sameness feeling. The magazine claims its a book-length epic, but in reality you've got one lengthy two part story and three stand alone stories. All five of these could have been spread across separate issues. I wonder if there was some scheduling problem at the time where they had a lot of inventory stories built up from certain artists and couldn't put out an issue with the regular variety, so they opted for these one artist ones. Anyway, the stories are fairly good for me (more entertaining than most of the Dax stories, which I think is the closest comparison). Mayo is a strong artist, and a lot of his work looks gorgeous, although at times he can also get way too over the top with the complexity, to the point where you have no idea what is going on. In fact among Warren's artists he may be tops in this department. It doesn't always show up, but when it does, its quite the weakness.

With the Flaxman Loew era of Vampi over, we're back to more serialized-type story telling, with the Van Helsings and Pendragon's daughter back. Flaxman Loew had run his course, but I can't say I'm the most excited about a storyline where we think our characters are going to die but you question, as with any never ending serialized character, if they have the guts to eliminate anyone permanently. "The Wolves at War's End" is one of my top 5 Warren stories, and I recall it also being in the top 5 in the Warren Companion. One of the best art jobs we'll see in a Warren magazine and an excellent story too, although I will admit the pretentiousness from Budd Lewis is certainly there. I think its a good companion piece with the Apocalypse series and may have worked better for that series' entry for "The Plague", although as you mentioned, its not a Warren original, so its not like they could have just handed Jose Ortiz the script and have him do it instead. The original version of this story did get printed in Heavy Metal a few years later under its original title, "The Winter of the Last Combat". Despite his pretentiousness, I prefer Lewis' version. Beyond lacking the pretentiousness, the two other major differences are that in the original story the sorceress character isn't his sister, and the wolves are real, and had killed our protagonist's pursuers (and eventually him as the story ends).

Quiddity99 said...


As for the rest of the issue, yikes! A killer Easter Bunny is a hilarious concept, and I suppose as you say, the story can work as a parody, but overall I was just not a fan and the story ends way too abruptly for me. "Cult of the Dead" has for what is most of the story, a fairly good one, only for it to crash and burn in the end when the cops show up and shoot the villain, giving us for all intents and purposes the same ending two stories in a row. They could have gone in an interesting place with this story's concept in my eyes, heck this even would have worked as a possible series for Eerie, or at least a multi-part story, but they just completely pull the plug and end it super abruptly. "Angus Crow" gives us not only what is a very predictable ending, but also an ending that is for all intents and purposes the same as Fernandez' story from the prior issue, "Surprise, he was an alien!". A disappointing conclusion as this marks the end of Fernandez's original run of stories for Warren (a few inventory and rewritten stories of his will pop up years later). I will miss his art and writing quite a bit, well at least for those stories of his not involving aliens. Also, the cover by Ribas is too dark, making it really hard to tell what is going on with Vampi.

Grant said...

I know I've mentioned it before, but I wonder if anyone here is familiar with the 1987 pilot for a TV version of THE SPIRIT with Same Jones, which I've seen more than once. It takes the sort of predictable Adam West BATMAN route by making him a comically straight-laced good guy facing a lot of witty bad guys, but even if the IDEA is predictable, it does it in a pretty clever way. (I've heard at least one person say that at the very least "Its heart is in the right place" compared to the ' 08 film version.)
I don't know about the whole thing, but a lot of excerpts are on YouTube. (The right excerpt could at least answer the question of how THAT version pronounces "P'Gell.")

Jack Seabrook said...

I've never seen either version. I think I was too fond of the comics to subject myself to the TV or film adaptations. I read some of the updated comics and they were okay, but nothing can touch the originals.

Grant said...

I've never known his Flash Gordon, but Sam Jones makes an entertaining Denny, both before and after he becomes the Spirit. Again, he's pictured as a sort of likably "priggish" good guy modeled a little on Adam West's Batman, and that part might not be considered faithful at all. (I've never known the comics well enough to really know.)

Jack Seabrook said...

The 1987 Spirit movie is available on the Internet Archive and I started watching it last night. Puh-zhelle is how they pronounce the name. The first 5 minutes are pretty bad but I'll stick with it. I do like seeing Speed from The Odd Couple as Commissioner Dolan.