Monday, September 6, 2021

The Warren Report Issue 67: September 1975


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

Vampirella #45
various artists

"Blood Wager" 
Story by Len Wein
Art by Gonzalo Mayo

"The Parable of the Hermits of Glastonbury Tor" 
Story by Gerry Boudreau & Victor Mora
Art by Ramon Torrents

"Janis!" ★1/2
Story by Budd Lewis & Victor Mora
Art by Luis Garcia Mozos

"A Hero Born of Wishes" ★1/2
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Esteban Maroto

"The Winter of Their Discontent" 
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Isidro Mones

"There Are No Children in Hungry Hollow, Tennessee" ★1/2
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Jose Ortiz

While Pendragon lies in his hospital bed, his mind travels back to an old adventure. Vampirella and Adam van Helsing have an argument over chauvinism in the mid-1970s and Adam storms out, vowing he won't talk to his gorgeous, semi-clad vampiress girlfriend until he feels he's equal to her (good luck with that!). He heads to a bar for a beer. Meanwhile, Conrad van Helsing has some good news for Vampi: a Dr. Dellasandro, on the island of Lemondo, thinks he may have a cure for Vampi's blood addiction (I guess her malady was not a secret to the world at large?) if he can get just a little more funding for his research. Vampi has a swell idea, recommending that they bring the dough right to Dellasandro's door! But she won't be including sissy-boy Adam in the research party.

Speaking of the most sensitive man in comics, Adam van Helsing is drowning his sorrow in "man's favorite cure for self-pity" when he's approached by a face from the past. His ex-flame, Bonnie, saunters up and plants one on our mopey mama's boy and inquires as to what is up in his life. When he explains the situation, Bonnie suggests they toss away their blues and take a vacation to... you got it!... Lemondo.

Arriving on the island, Vampi, Pen, and Conrad are greeted by Dr. Dellasandro, who wastes no time in prepping Vampi for her operation, a procedure that will restructure her "entire circulatory system." Once our heroine is under, though, Dellasandro drops all pretense and reveals that he is actually a member of the Cult of Chaos! All three of our heroes are in big trouble. Not far away, Adam and Bonnie are winning big at the casino when Bonnie recommends they go in the private members club room where the real action is. But once they enter, Adam is introduced to Cesare Romano, owner of the casino, who gives Adam the skinny on who the real owners are. Bonnie was only a tool of Chaos!

Adam is given the chance to gamble for Vampi's life while the Draculonian is trapped in a giant test tube filling with blood. Vampirella manages to break through her glass enclosure and once again put the kibosh on Chaos. Romano, furious that his bosses will likely punish him for his failure, electrocutes Bonnie, but the dying girl reaches out and reduces the casino owner to ashes. Everything returns to normal on the sunny beaches of Lemondo and Pendragon rots in his hospital bed.

What a train wreck. I'm not going to pretend that the Vampirella series is rife with possibilities, but there's no rhyme or reason to "Blood Wager," which smells like a file story. Adam's whiny-asshole scene at the beginning of the story seemingly comes right out of the blue. He's been fighting alongside the vampire for God knows how long (I can't tell you because there are constant interruptions in whatever storyline is going on and characters come and go!), but suddenly Vampi is a chauvinist because she's stronger than he is? What makes this crap even funnier is that following his tirade ("Lady, I think you enjoy being superior!"), the knucklehead calls Vampi "baby" continuously. This is like a discarded early 1970s Burt Reynolds script.

Which builds to the nonsensical climax, which reads like a discarded Charlie's Angels episode. This agent of Chaos has Vampi right where he wants her and instead of putting her out of their misery, he thinks to play games instead. There's no suspense anyway since we've been told this is an adventure from the past, so we know all our heroes will survive. Hard to believe from this swill that Len Wein would emerge as one of the bright lights of comic writing in the 1970s. The art is very good but, like a lot of the art used in the Vampi series, very staged. We get panels of Vampi lounging with her legs spread, Vampi jutting forth those exquisite mammaries, and a whole lot of Vampi from the backside. Not complaining, mind you, but a lot of this looks more like a portfolio. And it might have been helpful to let us know where exactly this chapter fits in with the prior installments.

Scholar Bertrand Swann travels to Glastonbury Tor to visit the burial grounds of King Arthur. He is told by the local innkeeper that several of the nosiest "scholars" have visited but have never been seen again. Swann ignores the man and heads up to the abbey to explore. There he happens upon a beautiful woman and makes love to her (as you would) all night long. When he awakens, the woman tells Swann that he may stay here with her forever if he wishes and introduces him to the seven hermits of Glastonbury Tor, a group of reprobates. 

Swann is told that as long as he stays true to the woman, he may live forever with her in the abbey. He also is given a wish. Swan's wish is that "whatever happens, the hermits shall never inflict death on us." The agreement is made and Swann begins his life of unending sex, but as all of us chauvinistic pigs know, no man can be contained! "The Parable of the Hermits of Glastonbury Tor" is a gorgeously-rendered so-what. The story is overly familiar and Swann's arrogance is tiring. It's not really explained what the motive is behind the hermits offering up bargains to these travelers. Do they gain power from captured souls? Are they bored? Voyeurs?

"Janis" has no plot to speak of (once a year, a mythological siren rises from the depths to claim travelers as sacrifices), but I thought the atmosphere was perfect and the moody, eclectic art by Garcia was, for the most part, eye-catching. All right, I'll agree we could have done without the Jonathan Livingston Seagull full-pager and some of the prose was a bit.... mmm... much (She did not writhe in vomit issuing madness. Neither did she void her bowels in diarrhetic convulsions of horror...) but that climax really grabbed me. Enough so that I could forgive any hiccups.

The tyrant known as Lord Cervantes rules over the European village of Northwind, overtaxing the citizens and fetching their fairest maidens. John Chaucer begs the village's priest to allow him to use the Book of Asmodeus to conjure up a demon to kill Cervantes but the holy man refuses, claiming they can reach a detente with Cervantes through peaceful negotiations. Then the comely Virginia, John's love and the priest's niece, is kidnapped by Cervantes's guards and the reverend finally sees the light. The demon is conjured and cuts a bloody swath through the Lord's castle, rescuing Virginia and returning her to her people. But with the fall of Cervantes, the villagers fight over who will take his throne. As the violence escalates, the demon returns. 

Not a bad little fantasy, this one. "A Hero Born of Wishes" has some of the more attractive Maroto art we've seen in some time. I know, I know. He's Maroto; he's always great, right? Nope. He can be pretty darn frustrating at times with his indecipherable (though admittedly quite pretty) doodles, but here Esteban puts a clamp on the wilder aspects of his penciling. The climax, where the demon rises again to kill all the men (including, if we read that last caption correctly, John and the priest), is potent without hammering the "all men are evil inside" message too hard into our brains.

Sir James Grace returns from the war against Holland to find his village has been decimated by the plague. His mother and father are both dead and his sister has been taken to a nearby sanitarium. Feeling the need to connect with the only family left to him, he heads to the asylum, only to discover his sister has escaped. It's not long before Sir James discovers her body atop a pile of corpses waiting to be burned. Shaken, he remembers a girl named Alethea he had been sweet on years before and travels to her village. When he arrives, he finds the villagers about to kill her, claiming Alethea is a witch.

Sir James rescues the girl but, when they stop to rest, she tells him her life is over. The villagers will hunt her down. She begs Sir James to shoot her. He does so, and then turns the gun on himself. "The Winter of Their Discontent" has such a jarring climax, you can almost forgive the fact that there's no plot nor sign of a story anywhere. It's just seven pages of utterly depressing material with no path.

Novelist Anthony McGuinn travels to the small Tennessee town of Hungry Hollow, looking for peace, quiet, and maybe a little inspiration. As time passes, the eerie quiet almost acts as a distraction and McGuinn finds it difficult to concentrate. Heading out into the town one day, a startling realization comes to him: "There Are No Children in Hungry Hollow, Tennessee!" When he inquires after the whereabouts of the town's youngsters, McGuinn is given multiple stories, none of which strikes him as the truth. But when the writer sticks his nose too deep in, he's visited by some of Hungry Hollow's elder statesmen, who give him the awful truth: Hungry Hollow is home to a population of ghouls. That's why there are no children in Hungry Hollow, Tennessee.

Right up until the awful(ly silly) revelation, I thought "Hungry Hollow" was a good suspenser. I shoulda knowed better. The idea that this town could hide this secret for so many years is ludicrous as is that final series of panels where the townsfolk suddenly grow sharp teeth and "strip and devour the flesh of Anthony McGuinn" in exactly six minutes. If you didn't look too closely at the credits, you'd mistake this for one of those Goodwin/Orlando shockfests that popped up every issue in the first few years ("And we are ghouls!!!!"). Jack's right; this isn't a bad issue of Vampirella, it's a perfectly average one.-Peter

Jack-This isn't a bad issue, it's just not a very good one. "Blood Wager" is too long, at 21 pages, and I'm frustrated that we get another place-filler that delays the continuation of the story of Pendragon getting shot. Gonzalo Mayo's art seems wrong for this strip and Len Wein's Adam van Helsing seems like a 1970s stud/jerk rather than the character we've come to know. Mayo draws numerous panels of Vampi and other beautiful woman lounging or stretching and, while that's not necessarily a bad thing, the pages seem too busy, like a murky imitation of Maroto.

"Glastonbury Tor" starts strong but soon deteriorates into more imitation-Maroto panels and a predictable story, while "Janis!" suffers from not enough plot, hazy art, and a very early '70s vibe. "A Man Born of Wishes" is fairly good but has a muddled finale, though Esteban demonstrates that he has not forgotten how to draw beautiful, naked women! "Discontent" left me discontented with a dumb ending to a pointless story. I think the best story is the last, "Hungry Hollow, Tennessee," where I was bothered by the scratchy art and fairly predictable plot until the climax, where Ortiz's scratchy style works perfectly.

Eerie #68

"Half Walk"
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Jose Ortiz

Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Paul Neary

Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Leopold Sanchez

"The Muck Monster"★1/2
Story & Art by Bernie Wrightson

"Deep Brown & Jorum"
Story by Jim Stenstrum
Art by Esteban Maroto

Coffin wanders through the Arizona desert, wishing he could die but cursed to continue living. He is found and taken in by the traveling caravan of Halfwalk's Circus, where he is injected with morphine and thrown in a wagon with other unfortunate humans. Halfwalk makes his living by selling freaks to carnivals but, when he lends his selection of freaks to one such carnival to be put on display for a week, tragedy strikes. An insane woman who thinks she is doing the Lord's work shoots and kills the Geek and sets fire to other wagons, killing numerous freaks. Not to be deterred from continuing his profitable business, Halfwalk declares that Coffin, his pain numbed by morphine, will be the latest geek. Additional freaks are created by having an unscrupulous doctor graft body parts onto unfortunate victims. Disgusted by what he has observed, Coffin tracks down Halfwalk, who reveals himself to be armless and legless but not without the ability to fight; Coffin manages to kill the villain but must resume his wandering.

Jose Ortiz has become one of my favorite Warren artists and the dark tale of "Half Walk" is disturbing but impressive. I am a sucker for stories about circuses and carnivals, so having Coffin end up as a geek was perfect. Lewis surely was familiar with Tod Browning's Freaks, and having Halfwalk turn out to be without arms and legs recalls the poor actor in that film who had the same disability. The final fight between Halfwalk and Coffin was kind of silly, with Halfwalk's professed ability to form "legs, arms, hands of supernatural power" not helping much in the few panels it takes for Coffin to overtake him, but I didn't care.

Karas Hunter is set upon by Goblins in the woods but manages to fight them off with the aid of a well-placed shot from an Exterminator. The duo tell each other their stories and agree to team up to find and stop Yaust so that the Earth may be saved. Suddenly, a shot from a Gremlin's gun cripples the Exterminator and Hunter is forced to continue his quest alone.

I admit that it's a wordy entry of the Hunter II series and it doesn't do much to move the story forward, but I enjoyed "Goblin," mainly due to the combination of the Neary art and the welcome exposition. Sometimes I have trouble keeping these stories straight and it helped in this case to have it all laid out for me.

When Chuck Mayhew gets a letter from Uncle Sam in 1968 telling him he's been drafted, he buys a bus ticket to Canada and heads to a bar for one last drink. A "fairy" pays for Chuck's drink and Chuck knocks the man down, but when his victim gets up and shakes Chuck's hand, the young man is catapulted to another world where the "fairy" turns out to have brought him back as a champion who will kill a giant cyclops that has been eating the local citizenry. When asked his name, Chuck stutters, "'God... I--'" and is thus known as "Godeye!" Training the hapless earthling doesn't go well but Chuck has an ace (and the rest of the deck) up his sleeve; when he comes face to face with the cyclops, Chuck dazzles him with a series of card tricks before shoving him off of a cliff!

"Godeye" veers wildly from one tone to another, starting out as the story of an anti-war character, then throwing in some cringeworthy anti-gay slurs before switching to a humorous fish out of water tale. The pages where Chuck fails at his training to be a hero in battle go on a bit long and aren't very funny, but the concluding confrontation with the cyclops is clever and I ended up liking the story. The art by Sanchez is terrific.

A scientist builds a man and tries to give it life. When he fails, the scientist chops up the body, dissolves it with acid, and washes it down the drain. The liquid travels down a cliff until ending up in a graveyard, where it melds with a corpse and comes to life. Finding its way back to the home of its creator, "The Muck Monster" is unable to express its thoughts and the scientist immediately goes insane. The monster wanders off to spend the rest of its days sitting at the edge of a cliff, warmed by the sun or covered by snow.

Wrightson's art easily earns four stars and the color is superb. It's too bad there's almost no story in these seven pages. The monster narrates in its thoughts, but it fails to come to life, then comes to life, then...sits. The end. It's a cross between Frankenstein and Swamp Thing, but what was Wrightson getting at? Darned if I know.

A young white man named Jorum Broquerat purchases a large black slave known by the nickname of Deep Brown and the two become fast friends, setting off on one adventure after another. After winning and losing numerous battles, women, and fortunes, Deep Brown is killed in a fight with a giant spider and Jorum makes his way alone.

An odd story that seems like it was written for some other purpose, "Deep Brown and Jorum" doesn't succeed as a comic book tale but might do better as a prose piece. The first five pages are presented in standard comic book format, but the next five are illustrated vignettes, with long captions accompanied by illustrations of some aspect of that page's adventure. There is then a page with no dialogue or captions, followed by a final page that returns to the standard comic book style. Maroto does a good job drawing it but it's so unusual that I kept waiting for some explanation of the format and none ever came.

All in all, a most enjoyable issue of Eerie!-Jack

Peter- Four stars for Halfwit "Halfwalk?" Oh Jack. I almost feel responsible in some way for your breakdown. It was I, after all, who talked you into tackling Warren. This blancmange of inanity and ugliness is exactly the sort of thing that kept me at arm's length from the Eerie serials all those years ago. The writing smells like the DuBay throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-splatters type of writing that would become all the rage in the Warren zines a few years later. Nonsentences with dark shapeless ooglies (there's that DuBay influence again!) in the panels. Much is made of Coffin's one eye and half-eaten face and yet he's kept in the shadows (or shown from the back side) throughout the length of the story. Truly awful stuff.

"Goblin" almost sinks from the weight of its own expository but I liked the camaraderie between the Phoenix and the robot, sorta Bob and Bing on the Road to Apocalypse. Neary's art is okay if you don't look too close at the detail (which isn't really there). These Goblins have nothing to do with the Goblin who receives his own zine down the road. "Godeye" is Budd Lewis wanting to be Harlan Ellison. There's a lot of corny one-liners and silly nicknames and it's all easy on the eyes. It's certainly a breezier read than the opening but, really... Zeppo Marks? Who proofed these things? 

Jack's right, of course, about "The Muck Monster." It's a gorgeous piece of work but void of a story. I'd also like to know how the ooze managed to find a seven-foot corpse to settle into. It's a rest stop between Wrightson's most celebrated creation of the 1970s to the fruition of the dream project he'd finally finish in 1983. But the story has always been secondary to the visuals in a Wrightson story anyway and the art is so strong here it gets my full four stars.

"Faggot" seems to be the word bandied around the Warren break room in September 1975. It's dropped a few times in "Godeye" and then again in Jim Stenstrum's "Deep Brown & Jorum." Not something to look back on with pride. The story itself is an odd one, as if Stenstrum handed DuBe a list of possible adventures for his two characters and Editor Bill said "Nah, just it throw it all in one script." How else to explain the ten adventure synopses?

Next Week...
Bad kitty! Finally!


andydecker said...

Three stories by Budd Lewis in Eerie, and not one worked for me. While I didn't mind that Coffin basically left the western setting and it was the first time that the "he can't die" was a part of the plot, the character was thrown in a cage and at the end released as a deus ex machina. From vigilante to plot-device. Sad.

"Godeye" was a mess. The first part seemed wasted for the introduction of some lame fantasy satire – I really hope it was meant as a satire, because if it was meant as a serious fantasy it is on the level of fan-fiction -, and the ending didn't made sense. He is back in earth just because he wants to?

Wrightson's "Muck Monster" is just another variation of Frankenstein, but I still love it. The last panels are just sad. Sure, it has nor real plot, but that was often the case with the Warren stories.

I also wonder if the Vampirella story was another inventory piece. It is hard to believe that Wein at the time felt the burning need to moonlight for Warren. I used to like Mayo as an artist, but this is more posing than story-telling. It is nice posing, no doubt, still it is too static.

"The Hermits of Glastonbury" delivered no surprises except the question why celts are looking like Chinese warlords.

After a story about a beautiful ghost luring men into doom we get with "Janis" another story about a ghost luring a man into doom. Did really somebody edited this magazine? The art by Garcia is again very beautiful, but one wonders (again) how this story read in its original presentation.

The next surprise is that Maroto can draw a coherent tale, and with the lousy track record in fantasy Warren has this is indeed not a bad story. The morale is tedious, but back than it packed more punch. Man is evil and hopeless ... (cue creepy background music) ... after all the Stars are our destination in SF this was indeed edgy for 16 yers old readers, as pathetic this may sound today.

And Boudreau manages to score again. Even if this tale could easily have been published by EC, after all this half-baked crap a solid, unpretentious actual horror story is a nice change.

Grant said...

I know there have been sword and sorcery type stories where VETERANS are abducted to fight in fantasy story battles (like the famous "Gulliver Jones" stories), but Godeye might be the first one I've heard of about it happening to someone trying to KEEP OUT of the army. Is it pictured as a punishment, or just some kind of irony?

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, guys. I would say they were trying for irony rather than punishment.

Quiddity99 said...

Rare for me to be a day late to this! Three day weekend threw me off. Given the involvement of the Cult of Chaos and the fact that Len Wein is writing the story, I've got to figure "Blood Wager" was an inventory story that wasn't drawn until now. For the second straight issue we put the current Vampi serial on pause to do a flashback/dream story. I'm a bit higher on the story than you, I found it at least average. This is Gonzalo Mayo's first Vampirella story and I think he does a great job with it. He will soon become the main backup artist for Vampirella when Jose Gonzalez isn't available, although they will still go through a few more guest artists first. "The Hermits" is a fairly good story in my eyes, perfectly suited for Ramon Torrents, although the garb on said hermits is a bit over the top. "Janis" is the only time I've seen Luis Garcia's comics work in color, and I think it looks absolutely gorgeous, up there in the conversation for the most beautiful looking artwork to ever appear in a Warren magazine. The story was, once again, not a Warren original and I've got to assume the color was done by Michele Brand or someone else working for Warren rather than Garcia himself. It is a very simple story for sure, but this is one of those cases where the art is just so ridiculously good that the story doesn't matter to me.

"A Hero Born of Wishes" is another strong effort; Maroto continues to be really good at these medieval-type stories. "The Winter of Their Discontent" is another really great one and the best story of the issue from a writing standpoint. That said, this is for all intents and purposes them doing "The Wolves at War's End" all over again, just shifting around things slightly (his lover's the witch rather than his sister) and with a different ending. The former is an awesome story; I'm down with with seeing another story inspired by it, but a mere 2 issues later? Poor job by the editor for sure. "Hungry Hollow", while having a bit predictable of an ending, I liked a lot as well. Ortiz's art is really strong here, I especially like the image of the woods at the start of the story and the way the atmosphere comes off. Overall this is an great issue of Vampirella in my eyes, best single issue we've seen in a very long time. I just wish we had a real cover!

We've got another high quality issue of Eerie here; "Coffin" kicks off the issue in strong fashion; I too thought the setting/theme was a good one. Two Paul Neary drawn serials essentially intersect here as we bring both "Hunter" and "Exterminator" together. Another great story with "Godeye" which pulls off a comedic story quite well and has some awesome Leopold Sanchez art to go along with it. Not really sure of what their intent was as to if this was to just be a stand-alone story or a serial; my recollection is we eventually do get a second story but its a long way off. Agreed that there's not much of a story to "The Muck Monster", but like with Janis above, the artwork is so strong I don't mind it at all. "Deep Brown and Jorum" is considerably too wordy for my tastes; I do think its a decent story but Stenstrum goes a bit overboard with it and the speculation as to if this was a serial compressed to one story makes sense.

Grant said...

Considering all the dark stuff in the Eerie "action hero" stories, I can't help wishing that Warren had tried to get the rights to the "Destroyer" Men's Adventure books along the way for installments in it. They not only have a nearly superhuman protagonist in stories that are partly science fiction, they also have plenty of "lurid" sex and violence that would've made them right at home as an Eerie series.
(The Destroyer comics I've seen definitely go easy on the first thing, in spite of being after the Code, I think.)
But of course I don't know any of the ins and outs of that kind of negotiating.