Monday, August 23, 2021

The Warren Report Issue 66: August 1975



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

Creepy #73

"Playpen of a God!" 
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Jose Ortiz

"The Argo Standing By!" 
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Paul Neary

"A Beast Within" ★1/2
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by John Severin

"Unprovoked Attack on a Hilton Hotel" 
Story by Jim Stenstrum
Art by Richard Corben

"Purge!" ★1/2
Story by Bruce Bezaire
Art by Jose Ortiz

"Last Light of the Universe" 
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Esteban Maroto

"Playpen of a God" is a needless 4-page framework that opens and closes the issue. After a deluge has wiped out most of mankind, an old man sits with a group of children, some missing limbs and scarred by the effects of war, and tells them the story of the end of the world. There's no real connective tissue from this prologue to the group of stories that follow and the final page, where all characters involved give a heavy sigh and admit that the world might have ended but at least we still have love, is downright silly. Huh? It's a waste of paper but, in the end, harmless and nicely illustrated by Ortiz.

Frawley, the captain of a drifting space station known as the "Argo," is awakened by mission control and told that a massive nuclear war has broken out on Earth and that the world will be coming to an end. Frawley and his sleeping comrades might just be the only earthlings left alive in a matter of hours. Since there's no Earth to travel back to, Frawley sets the alarm clock to "infinite" and goes back to sleep. The Argo continues its travel.

With pretension knocking at the door every few pages, I assumed this was going to be all preach and speech but, thankfully, Budd Lewis (who clearly wanted to be Harlan Ellison when he grew up) keeps the nonsense at arm's length and goes about telling a tense and thought-provoking story. The situation our protagonist is placed in can't get any scarier, can it? Millions of miles from a home that might not exist anymore. Where will they go? I thought for sure the commencement of "scratchings and tappings on the hull" was leading to a reveal of "it's all a test drill, there's no apocalypse, and they're really back on Earth, safe," but Budd managed to avoid that cliche as well (although those sounds outside the ship were never really explained--meteorites?). "The Argo Standing By!" is something we rarely see around the Warren landscape--a science fiction tale that doesn't make you roll your eyes. The denouement, that Frawley is essentially placing himself and the others into a sleep they probably will never wake from, is truly chilling.

After the apocalypse leaves the air unbreathable and the land poisoned, Rill'm MacMaur (and all other survivors) must rely on oxygen filters attached to their tracheas to survive. MacMaur seems to have a peaceful, if not happy, existence living in his mountain cabin until a horde of creatures comes a-callin' at night. Rill'm adjusts his lifestyle accordingly and then, one day while strolling through town, he comes across a fetching young lass and falls in love. He pays the girl's father for the right to take her home with him and they settle into a comfortable existence. Then one day, while Rill'm is out hunting, the creatures come to the cabin and murder Rill'm's mate. Swearing revenge, he heads out into the forest to find and kill the deadly swarm of monsters. Alas, they are too much for our hero and he succumbs to his wounds. 

For much of the length of "A Beast Within," I was captivated by Budd Lewis's story; like "Argo," Budd left his "savior" role back at the apartment and just delivered a stirring, intriguing narrative. Unfortunately, Lewis had to end it somehow and that somehow is gobbledygook to me. The final panel explains that the "beast" that killed Rill'm lived within him the whole time and that beast's name is "death." A somewhat hazy explanation if we're to take the events of the previous eleven pages seriously. In fact, much of the prose to be found in the captions of that final panel is unreadable. Is this "beast" within every man left standing or just Rill'm? Was it Rill'm's beast that killed his mate? Early in the story, an old man comments that Rill'm's beast will come callin' at some point and this whole exchange completely confuses me. That and, of course, the scratches on the door. 

But, as I mentioned, there were some imaginative elements in "A Beast Within" as well. The idea that Rill'm trades pure, clean soil for his goods is a brilliant idea, as is the notion that the old man who pays him a visit is a prospector panning for that "unpoisoned soil" in the nearby streams rather than gold. Severin's art is a bonus as well.

Without warning, the Waldorf Hotel on Saturn launches an "Unprovoked Attack on a Hilton Hotel!" Given no alternative, Hilton plans a counterattack using a brand-new bomb created by a genius scientist named Schwartzberger. A full-scale test is planned, with the site named as an asteroid near Mars. Too late, the Hilton president discovers that Schwartzberger's brilliant weapon will destroy the entire solar system. On the bright side, the crazed scientist exclaims, "Dere vill be such colorsh!"

A delight from beginning to hilarious finish, "Unprovoked Attack..." is just what the doctor ordered after spending so much time reading pretentious pap about ecology and man's inhumanity towards man and... whatever. The script is obviously a thinly-disguised parody of World War II (including caricatures of Truman and Roosevelt) and the fact that writer Jim Stenstrum was able to pull off such a feat using hotel franchises proves the man was a brilliant writer (with what most fans consider his apex coming very soon). There are no big-busted babes or horned creatures to get in Corben's way, so he concentrates on tickling our funny bone instead. Why this wasn't the color feature this issue is anyone's guess.

In 1989, "enforcers" patrol the street, arresting and executing anyone breaking the new laws. That includes speeding, public displays of affection, and possession of pornography. That's what Stanley Tayler has in his briefcase and that's why the enforcers are after him. When one of the policemen catches up with Tayler and blasts him, the briefcase spills open its contents... Warren magazines!

Bruce Bezaire lays the full sermon on as thick as syrup. "Purge!" is a tough one to slog through, and its climactic message, that Warren magazines are "art," could be taken two ways: pretentious or humorous. The script is lame and the art is so-so, but what really gets my gourd is that they wasted this issue's color on this mess. A few years later, the Brits would do this concept the right way with Judge Dredd. Someone please tell me what "permissivaness" is!

Years in the future, a deadly plague ravages the universe, killing off entire planets in days. A drifting "sphere city" commanded by Captain Hersey may well be the "Last Light of the Universe" but Hersey aims to keep his passengers and crew unaware of what is transpiring just outside their thick windows. Hersey refuses to allow any outsiders to visit their world, afraid of contracting the killer disease. But mutiny is in the air; some residents feel as though they must help outsiders or lose their own souls. The leader of these "rebels," Block, is executed and shot out into space but his body returns, bringing with it the plague. As Hersey throws a grand masked ball to lift his subjects' spirits, the air lock is breached and the disease enters the city's atmosphere, killing everyone. The last light is out.

"Last Light of the Universe" is a strong science fiction tale, patterned after Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death," with a powerful (though at times confusing) climax. That final panel is a doozy. I admit that the length could easily have been shorn half of its 17-page girth but, then again, the script never bored me. As I say, it was just a bit confusing at times. I had to re-read Block's death scene to make sure I understood what was going on. Very little preaching about garbage in outer space. So, except for one story that could have been "Purged," I'd say that this Warren experiment in science fiction succeeded brilliantly. Too bad their later full-on excursion into SF wasn't as palatable.-Peter

Jack-I guess I just wasn't in the mood for an entire issue of Warren sci-fi. I groaned internally when I saw at the beginning that it was an all sci-fi issue. I thought the frame story was unnecessary and I could have done without the panels depicting children missing limbs. "The Argo Standing By!" isn't bad, with Paul Neary's art once again reminding me of John Byrne's work around this time; the problem with these stories about people marooned in space is that they're too wordy. The characters have nowhere to go and nothing to do but listen, and as a result the tales lack action.

"A Beast Within" seemed to me like a variation on I Am Legend with watered-down Severin art that looked like it belonged more in a '70s Marvel comic than a Warren mag. The end was a letdown. The satire of "Hilton Hotel" was lost on me; I didn't think it was funny at all. It seemed obvious, like they were trying too hard. "Purge!" was my favorite story in the issue; the ending surprised me and made me laugh. I did not expect to see copies of Vampirella tumble out of that briefcase! "Last Light of the Universe" is way too long and suffers from the same problem of lack of action that "plagued" "The Argo." About halfway through, a pretty girl pops up out of nowhere, presumably to give Maroto a chance to draw her.

The Spirit #9

"The Candidate" (8/21/49)
"White Cloud" (8/28/49)
"The Coin" (12/5/48)
Story and Art by Will Eisner

"Lovely Looie" (4/10/49)
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner

"The Space Sniper" (5/22/49)
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti

"The Vernal Equinox" (3/20/49)
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner

"Black Gold" (6/15/47)
Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti

"Two Lives" (12/12/48)
Story and Art by Will Eisner

Eisner's new splash page for "The Mayor"

Jack-A nice example of mid-'70s Eisner art on the cover introduces another solid issue of post-war Spirit stories, though it's not up to the level of the last issue, which was devoted to femme fatales. Five stories come from 1949, including "The Candidate" and "White Cloud," a two-parter where a chronically-losing political party has the bright idea of putting up the Spirit as their candidate for mayor. The hero wants no part of it and, in a rare example of Dolan getting in on the action, the commish beats up the bad guys and finds himself elected to the post instead! "Lovely Looie" has a great splash page and concerns a takeoff on Gorgeous George who turns honest and creates problems for the crooks. After the Spirit wears the wrestler out in his dressing room, Dolan is able to make short work of him in the ring.

"The Space Sniper" is this issue's color feature, but the color is the best thing about it, since the Spirit has very little involvement in a tale about Nazis marooned in space and unaware that they lost the war. "The Vernal Equinox" concerns convicts who break out of prison only to find their hidden loot submerged beneath a new lake behind a recently-constructed dam.

The original splash page
The two stories from 1948 are not as good; in "The Coin," the Octopus impersonates the Spirit but the story is unnecessarily interrupted every few pages with a satire of radio giveaway shows, while "Two Lives" treads familiar ground with lookalikes taking each other's places--one in prison and the other with a battle-axe of a wife. Oddest of all is the 1947 story, "Black Gold," which features a welcome cameo by P'Gell and concerns oil in the Middle East, which is being settled by Jewish refugees from post-war Europe. The setting is more interesting than the plot.

Peter-At some point, one of the blog pitches I made to Jack was reviewing every Spirit strip chronologically. I'm not sure why that particular idea never panned out, but now I'm glad it didn't. It's not that I don't enjoy these Spirit stories, it's just that there's a sameness to them and I've exhausted my thesaurus for words that equal brilliant, hilarious, and gorgeous. Anyway, this time out I thought the art on "Black Gold" was gorgeous, the Mayor Dolan two-parter was hilarious, and "The Vernal Equinox" was truly brilliant. Can't wait for the next batch!

Next Week...
Hugo Strange is
back in town!

1 comment:

Quiddity99 said...

Fans on the letter pages had been begging for a sci-fi magazine for Warren for many years and while its still a few years away we do get an all sci-fi issue of Creepy here to hold them over. Alas, stories like this would have been far better than what we actually got with 1984/1994. While the story for "The Argo Standing By" wasn't the most memorable to me, Paul Neary is quite good at drawing sci-fi stories (I think back to "The Time Eater" which I liked a lot). I too was quite mystified by the ending for "A Beast Within" which otherwise was a fairly strong story. While its not a 4 star story for me, "Unprovoked Attack on a Hilton Hotel" was quite a fun story to read and yeah, a rare Corben story with no babes or monsters. I hope we never live in a future where possessing Warren magazines is illegal as I'll be in some very big trouble! A good wrap up for the issue with "Last Light of the Universe" an effective sci-fi take on Poe's Masque of the Red Death.