Monday, January 31, 2022

The Warren Report Issue 77: August 1976



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

The Spirit #15

"Sally of the Islands" (7/17/49)
"The Masked Man" (7/24/49)
"The Ball Game" (7/31/49)
"Matua" (8/7/49)
"Lurid Love" (9/18/49)
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner 

"Ace McCase" (9/28/48)
"Winter Haven" (12/4/49)
Story and Art by Will Eisner

"The Prisoner of Donjon" (8/29/48)
"Murder, ... Bloodless Type!!" (6/20/48)
Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Andre LeBlanc

Jack-Sometimes, taking the Spirit out of Central City results in great stories, such as "Sally of the Islands," where Eisner and Feiffer are able to create fully realized characters in very little space and tell a good story in only seven pages. The Spirit makes only a brief appearance in "The Masked Man," where a two-bit private eye impersonates the hero and learns it's not so easy to impress Ellen Dolan. "The Ball Game" is a satire on baseball and politics that isn't very funny; Sammy has never been one of my favorite characters and he takes center stage in this one. Science clashes with superstition in "Matua," a well-told story where a giant stone supposedly is an ancient monster about to return to life. These four tales open the issue and are presented in the order in which they originally appeared over four consecutive weeks in the summer of 1949.

"Lurid Love" satirizes love pulps with fake ads, but it's a weak story where the ads are funnier than the plot. Commissioner Dolan falls for a battle-axe in "Ace McCase," not realizing she's a crook. This story has a real surprise at the very end. Eisner does nice visual work with snow in "Winter Haven," in which Dolan and the Spirit happen on a convention of fences at a ski resort and engage in an exciting battle on the slopes.

Eisner's skill at mixing comedy and drama is on display in "The Prisoner of Donjon," in which an elderly prisoner refuses to be set free when the decrepit prison where he has spent decades is to be demolished. When he gets out, he insists on keeping a wire trash basket upside down over his head to simulate the view from behind bars! Finally, "Murder,...Bloodless Type!!" is an action-packed yarn about a man who pretends that his twin brother killed him. In all, a solid issue--too bad there's only one more at Warren!

The highlight here, of course, is the quartet of "island-hopping" stories that opens the issue. I had the most fun with the giant monster trappings of "Matua," but appreciated the noir of "Sally of the Islands." The latter would have made a great little mid-1950s Allied Artists B-flick, with its menacing shadows and cliched bad guys. I had to laugh when Sally asked Smith, "Who are you or what are you..." but not "and why do you wear that familiar mask?" Seriously, the Spirit goes undercover but leaves his trademark eye mask on? Yeah, I know... forget it, Peter, it's the comics!

"Lurid Love" is an on-the-nose clever send-up of the "Confessions" rags of the time, complete with faux-but-believable ads. Sammy's golden moment (reprinted to the right) was my spit-the-whiskey-out-laughing panel of the issue. I found the remainder of the issue to be gorgeously illustrated but familiar in the plot department. Still, this was the strongest issue of The Spirit in some time.

Vampirella #53

"The Human Marketplace" 
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Jose Gonzalez

"Opium is the Religion of the People" ★1/2
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Rafael Auraleon

"The Professional" 
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Zesar

"The Last Man Syndrome" ★1/2
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Ramon Torrents

"Jackie and the Leprechaun King" 
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Esteban Maroto

Crossing the US/Mexico border, Vampirella and Pen are stopped after Vampi's phony passport is flagged. A CIA agent named Spectrum (of course!) approaches Vampi and asks for her cooperation in a case involving a white slavery ring. With no obvious options, our Drakulonian Diva agrees and heads for San Francisco, where she hangs out in a seedy bar filled with salty seamen (ooooh, I just couldn't wait for the obvious typos on that one!).

Sure enough, within minutes, V is harassed by a sailor (wearing stripes, as if the vampiress were whisked back into Barbary Coast days) and eventually drugged and kidnapped. When she awakens, Cap'n Silver explains to her that she'll be brainwashed, sold to a wealthy foreigner with power, and then instructed to murder her "master." Silver explains that the same scenario will take place simultaneously around the world. Vampirella is dumped into a cell with several other captives.

When V runs out of her blood formula, she takes a bite out of one of her fellow inmates, only to discover that the girl has no blood! She's been transformed into a "cybernaut"! Taking wing, our heroine targets one of the sailors who kidnapped her. The man explains that Cap'n Silver's process not only brainwashes the victims but turns their bodies into "synthetic plastic." Holy Cow! The tar further elaborates that the girls are meant to make love to their "masters" and at just the right moment their bodies will explode! Holy Cow!

Vampi dines on the sailor and his dying screams alert Cap'n Silver, who enters the room armed with a gun. He takes a shot, but Vampi does a bat-change and avoids the bullet. Silver runs out the door and falls into a quicksand marsh, sinking out of sight. Meanwhile, the other sailors have decided that they're going to give the girls a test drive, unaware of the consequences. The bang ends with a literal bang. Vampi is congratulated by agent Spectrum and given a proper fake passport and birth certificate. The future is wide open.

It's almost inane to raise my hand in class and ask about silly plot points (if Vampi is so afraid of the border agents, why doesn't she turn into a bat and meet Pen on the "other side"?), but "The Human Marketplace" is so crammed full of head-scratchers and cliches, I almost feel I'd be amiss ignoring them.  Where is this island just outside of "San Francisco harbor?" Neither Alcatraz nor Treasure Island have the lush jungle foliage present and the nearest island would be Hawaii, wouldn't it? A few days' journey, at least.

Why would the CIA figure V is the perfect woman to go undercover on this assignment? What in their folder shows them she could be an asset? That she's a heck of a prop in a vaudeville act? What does Pen do while he's lounging around San Fran waiting for his girl to do all the work? Never mind, I think we can guess that one. Why is Vampirella always short on her faux-blood supply? It reminds me of the old Ultraman show where the big silver guy's chest-light would always start blinking in the middle of a big fight, signaling his power was running low.

But, hell, forget all that. "The Human Marketplace" is the most entertaining Vampirella chapter we've seen in years, dumb as a Motley Crue boxed set and equally void of vitamins. Boudreau discards all the eye-rolling seriousness we've seen in recent installments and goes for sheer nuttiness. If all Vampi stories were like this one, I'd be a lot less cranky.

(Insert eye-rolling emoji here)
A man searches the Naked City for the Snowman, a drug dealer who kept his sister addicted to heroin. He finally finds the scum in an abandoned amusement park and closes in for the kill. Turns out the Snowman has a gang of monster bodyguards that our hero must contend with before he rains hell down and achieves some sort of peace with his vengeance.

Having plumbed the depths of bad Harlan Ellison imitation, Gerry Boudreau turns his sights on the dark and violent world of McBain and Westlake and has just as much success with "Opium is the Woman of the World," er sorry, "Woman Loves Opium in Her World".... whatever. Simply attempting to imitate the style of hardboiled does not make a story hardboiled, as we see from the brain-dead metaphors dotting the landscape. The Manhattan skyline appeared on the horizon a supine glamour queen lying nude on a bed of darkness, her face wet with autumn rain sure sounds like the opening of an 87th Precinct novel but, believe me, Hunter/McBain never wrote a line so pretentious and solipsistic. The unchecked wave of racism bits here and there continues even into the Louise Jones era, with Gerry's character commenting on the "yellow munchkins in rice fields" he fought during the war. I'm amazed this crap has been pretty much ignored over the years.

Check out the "carefully prunned (sic) rows of shrubbery,
arrowing down the alibaster (sic) length of sidewalk..."

Peter Grant uses his good looks to first bed and then extort money from the beautiful housewives of Santa Mira. But when the women get wise to Grant's game, they join forces and end his little game. But one of them has actually learned a good lesson from the exercise. The final twist is a good one, but I have to say "The Professional" was way too long and boring. Halfway through the story, anyone with half a brain would know where this was going. I refuse to be a fanboy and add an extra star just because "The Professional" was written by my favorite horror comics writer. I have my scruples after all <wink emoji>.

A man walks the empty streets of the city, imagining the world has come to an end, even though a woman is being burned at the stake before his very eyes. In the end, he has what the Warren Publishing Company's psychiatrists term "The Last Man Syndrome." As he falls to the ground, people walk over him and trample him. The End.

When I finished "The Last Man Syndrome," I wondered when Jim Warren sent out the memo to his staff that the stories printed in Warren zines should change the world, not scare the reader. I wish I could remember my reaction as a 14-year-old Warren zombie to the McGregor, Moench, Boudreau, and McKenzie tales of inner turmoil and the human condition. The 45-years older me feels the strain of eye-rolling constantly through flowery sentences derived from entirely too much summer school required reading: Well, he had his privacy now. He didn't even feel the passing of a million feet that relentlessly trampled his lifeless body. He couldn't hear the numbling (sic) angry voices cursing him because he had gotten in their way. I can understand now why Jim W. never hired a proofreader. The guy woulda been at the office 24/7.

Little Jackie Paper loves his books filled with fantasy, but he's not very fond of his alcoholic father. So, one day, Jackie decides to head out on his own to find glory over the nearby hills. What he finds in the forest is the cute, lovable, and oh so adorable leprechaun, Bubba (not Baba... that would be plagiarism!) O'Reilly and his pet dragon, Fluff (stop... my sides are aching!). Together, the trio fights battles and enjoys incredible adventures until they run into Blackbeard and his cutthroat pirates. Bubba and Fluff are both slain, but Jackie is spared. That's because Blackbeard is, in reality, Jackie's dad, who explains that the "demon monsters" had cast a spell on the lad to convince him that they were the good guys. There was no Bubba and Fluff. Now, Pop explains, it's time for Jackie to grow up! As Jackie Paper walks away from the (imagined) bleeding carcass of Fluff, he sighs and thinks how much fun the evil villains were.

If this is the new "Golden Age of Warren," I think I'll go back and re-read Creepy #49 and Eerie #39, thank you very much. While I wasn't nearly as angered by "Jackie and the Leprechaun King" as Peter, Paul, and Mary should have been, it's still not my desired field of leisure reading material. What's Dube's message, exactly? That adulthood is for the birds? Now there's a viewpoint seldom shared. Can't wait for Dube's take on "Yellow Submarine." Maroto's art is the pits, little more than early sketches stolen off napkins. 

This month, Joe Brancatelli discusses the sudden firing of Carmine Infantino at DC and Marvel's musical-editorial-chair. Joe also brings up the fact that comic sales are down at least 30% from the previous year (a trend that will continue every year) and gets in a couple of snarky (but well-deserved) jabs at Stan Lee and Warren Publishing itself. I miss Joe Brancatelli.-Peter

Jack-Peter, that's the same Joe Brancatelli column we read two weeks ago in Creepy #81. Still, it's better than the comics on offer this time out. Unlike you, my favorite story was "Opium is the Religion of the People," mainly because Auraleon was the perfect choice to illustrate this grim tale. Boudreau is clearly a fan of classic films and even slips in a cameo by Dr. Archaeus among the rogues' gallery on the wall. I was happy to see Gonzalez back drawing Vampi, but his art doesn't seem as good as it used to and the story is a mixed-up mashup of cybernauts, a vampire, white slavery, and The Most Dangerous Game.

I was also glad to see a story by Bruce Jones, but "The Professional" is ruined by the terrible art, unnecessarily violent end, and silly twist. Still, it's better than "The Last Man Syndrome"--when a writer spends an entire story making the reader wonder what the heck is going on, the payoff had better be good, and this one isn't. Finally, "Jackie and the Leprechaun King" is more DuBay page filler with decent Maroto art. I really think the editor just gave DuBay a page count and he wrote till he filled it.

Creepy #82

"Forgive Us Our Debts"
(Reprinted from Creepy #50)

"A Most Private Terror"
(Reprinted from Creepy #52)

"Deja Vu"
(Reprinted from Creepy #51)

(Reprinted from Vampirella #35)

"A Scream in the Forest"
(Reprinted from Creepy #53)

An all-Maroto reprint "Super Special Summer Giant" (though I'd question 76 pages being a "giant") proves that too much Maroto isn't necessarily a great thing. The scripts are, for the most part, decent, but Maroto's style should be absorbed in medium doses. That way you don't realize that Esteban's males all look like golden gods.-Peter

Jack-The best page of this issue is the new Brancatelli column, where he writes that many comic scribes look down on their readers and argues that comics were of higher quality in the 1960s and consequently sold better. I'm not sure I buy the second part of his argument.

Looking back over my comments on these five reprints that feature Maroto art, I see a theme--the guy can draw but he's not a good storyteller. The best of the lot is "A Scream in the Forest," and Warren colored a couple of its panels to cobble together a nice cover. "Deja Vu" is presented in color, though it was originally black and white. Four of the stories were first published in Creepy with cover dates in the first half of 1973, while the fifth is from a 1974 issue of Vampirella. At least (for once) Warren is not reprinting recent stories.

Eerie #76

"Deliver the Child"
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Leopold Sanchez

Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Luis Bermejo

"Oogie and the Scroungers"★1/2
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Esteban Maroto

"The Silver Key"
Story and Art by Jose Bea

"Beware Darklon the Mystic!"
Story and Art by Jim Starlin

In 1936, cousins Gerome and Jason have a club they call the Moonweavers, dedicated to exploring the unknown. Jason has supernatural powers and senses something strange going on; the boys follow the brain waves to a spooky old house on Blake Street and find Mr. Diggers (from the hardware store) in the basement, summoning up a demon. The demon is not happy that Mr. Diggers commands it to keep watch over his baby daughter for the rest of her life and, when the boys distract Mr. Diggers, the magic barrier is broken momentarily and the demon springs to attack the man who summoned it. Mr. Diggers snaps back to attention and re-establishes the barrier just in time to sever the demon's hands, the only part of its body that had passed through the barrier. The demon is furious and somehow rushes upstairs, where it chews off the hands of Mr. Diggers's beloved daughter.

Peter and I don't always do these posts in order, and I can see from his comments below that he gauged my reaction to "Deliver the Child" accurately. It starts out as another boring bit of nostalgia, gets interesting when the boys encounter Mr. Diggers in the basement (I think he's nude, but fortunately Sanchez is good at shadow placement), and becomes horrible at the needlessly violent end. Stories like this one are part of the reason I never read Warren comics as a kid. This ending is shock for shock's sake. How does the demon bypass the barrier at the end when he's mad? It reminds me of the dogs next door who run right through the electric fence when they see a deer.

In 1799, a crusty old loner named "Wolfer O'Connel" lives alone out West, chopping wood and avoiding bathing. One day, some Indians approach him without warning and he doesn't take kindly to it, so he plays a trick on them before slaughtering them with his axe. The Indians were afraid of an evil spirit that Wolfer soon discovers is a great big mix of wolf and bear; Wolfer fights it off before luring a pack of wolves to kill it (and themselves) in a fall off a cliff.

Luis Bermejo's art in "Highsong" is reminiscent of Berni Wrightson's, especially in the long shots; his closeups of Wolfer's face aren't quite as good. The story suffers from more over-writing by Lewis, as well as more graphic violence, when Wolfer slaughters the Indians. Still, it is set in the wilderness, so it doesn't seem quite as out of place as that of the prior story.

Buck Blaster, Prunella McShatters, and Oogie (the god) are visited by an IRS ship looking to collect back taxes. Prunella uses her godlike powers to blow up the ship and she and Buck return to life on their lonely planet.

"Oogie and the Scroungers" (the scroungers are the IRS agents) is another overly long, unfunny adventure featuring people none of the readers could care less about. Maroto does know his way around the female form, so Prunella is a visual delight, but DuBay once again fills pages with meaningless drivel. His attempt at humor completely falls flat.

On his way to school one day, young Peter Hypnos encounters a painter in the village square. Peter is hurled into a painting, where a strange creature hands him "The Silver Key." Peter unlocks the door to his future and meets more bizarre creatures; eventually, he finds his way home, but his mother doesn't believe his tall tales.

As Peter points out, Jose Bea's artwork here is a direct swipe of the work of Terry Gilliam on the Monty Python TV show, which had taken America by storm when it began airing on PBS in late 1974. For me, the Gilliam skits have dated badly, and so have these Bea stories starring Peter Hypnos.

Two dangerous men meet across a table in a cabaret and stare each other down. One of them, a professional assassin named Koph-Fan, explains that he was hired to kill a crown prince named Darklon. Koph-Fan and three other dangerous men tracked Darklon to a bedchamber, where they mistakenly killed his girlfriend. Darklon took revenge by murdering the other three. Suddenly, Koph-Fan attempts to kill the man across the table, who is Darklon, but fails. In return, Darklon kills Koph-Fan after torturing him to learn the name of the man who hired him: Kavar Darkhold, Darklon's beloved father.

Never having read the series that begins with "Beware Darklon the Mystic," I'm intrigued, mainly because it's mid-'70s work by Jim Starlin. As a kid, of course, I loved Captain Marvel and Warlock and, while the art here is not up to the level of his Marvel work, the story is enjoyable and has some of the usual Starlin touches. I look forward to seeing where this goes. It's interesting to see an ending that seems like a Star Wars rip-off, yet it came before Star Wars.-Jack

Peter-Perhaps because it mines the fields laid down by Mr. Bradbury, I liked "Deliver the Child" a lot. I'm sure Jack will not like its uber-vicious climax, but I prefer my horror stories dark and grim. I'd also prefer them to be void of typographical errors (and this story is an example of what happens when you don't proof a zine before it heads to the printer), but, hey, I'll take a good story over good punctuation anytime. Yes, the back of my brain wonders if I enjoyed this story so much because the rest of the crop is moldy and derivative. I will say that the setup is very confusing.

I also really enjoyed the sole adventure of Wolfer O'Connell, a series that surely would have been more tolerable than Hunter or Freaks in the long run. Bermejo's art is some of his best; I liked that Budd didn't take time out to explain what the wolf-bear-thing was. It just was.

No amount of force-feeding will ever get me to see the bright side of crap like "Oogie" and "Peter Hypnos." Both have their fans, I'm sure, but neither swings my pendulum. Dube's cutie-pie nicknames and dopey dialogue ("Prunie's terrific at washing dishes... and I can always pump munchkin gas...!") leave me nauseous and I'll be a happy man when I don't have to look at Jose Bea's Monty Python homages again. Does Jose ever get back to being that artist that could creep you out with just a panel of two men talking in a diner? 

The complicated saga of Darklon has been dissected many times before (this is a great place to find out more), so I won't waste space other than to say that Starlin was a master, but this wasn't his masterpiece. In my long-ago assessment of the Eerie serials, I said: Of all the Eerie series, this one–-Jim Starlin’s homage to Steve Ditko’s Dr. Strange (at least, I think it’s an homage)-–is the most out of place. “Darklon” cries out for Marvel Premiere of the mid-1970s. Having re-read the opener just now, I haven't changed my mind.

Next Week...
Another old fave returns!


Quiddity99 said...

A rather ridiculous story to kick off Vampirella, although happy to see Jose Gonzalez' strong art. I was surprised to see Boudreau as the writer as the whole plot point about these women's body exploding after they make love to someone is used all over again by Bill Dubay a couple of years later in a 1984 story (I suppose its possible Boudreau gave him the idea). I never really thought about Vampi being an illegal alien, but at least she got that all settled by story's end. "Opium is the Religion of the People" ain't a bad story, but there's a big level of sameness to this story to me. Auraleon's art looks way too much like his other stories, while Boudreau's story is way too much like his other stories (including not only Auraleon drawn stories but Ramon Torrents drawn ones too). Net result is its just not that memorable to me. "The Professional" on the other hand I enjoyed quite a lot. Strong Bruce Jones script and good art from Zesar in what is unfortunately his last Warren story. Last time I see him pop up in comics period in fact since his long run at Skywald had come to an end by this point. "Last Man Syndrome" on the other hand completely bores me and is the weakest of the issue. Torrents is swiping a Skywald back cover in the last of that series of panels you posted. I enjoyed "Jackie and the Leprechaun King" a lot as well. Kind of a nice companion piece to "A Scream in the Forest" in the reprinted Creepy issue, although Maroto's art at this point in his Warren career isn't as strong as it used to be. As for Carmine Infantino, we'll soon see where he turns up!

This all reprint issue of Creepy was my first time reading all of these stories with the exception of "Relatives", having already owned that issue of Vampirella. Fairly strong batch of stories here for me, with "A Scream in the Forest" being the best one.

"The Moonweavers" is a pretty good follow up series to "The Freaks", with a couple of fairly high quality stories for me. Bradbury is a good comparison, it also reminded me a little bit of Stephen King's It. Especially love Sanchez's art here. The ending is reminiscent of the recent Vampi story "The Blood Red Queen of Hearts" albeit more horrific as that poor baby did nothing to deserve that. "Wolfer O'Connel" was so-so for me but I did enjoy the setting. "Oogie" keeps disappointing; right around here Dubay starts getting on a kick about including IRS agents in his stories and he'll eventually (although not for a couple of years) grab several Fernando Ferndandez drawn stories and rewrite them intp a series called Bruce Bloodletter about a heroic IRS agent. Yawn. I don't know what to say about the "Peter Hypnos" story that hasn't already been as this seems like a retread of the prior two. This is his last Warren story; I'll definitely miss him, although not for this series. "Darklon" was quite the oddity to me the first time I read it. Darklon is much more of a traditional superhero than what we'd typically get in Eerie and the art, while good, doesn't really fit Warren all that well. Interestingly enough, Starlin did his first Warren story two years earlier for a special issue, but it missed the deadline and got thrown in the inventory pile, not to see the light of day for many years, so this ends up being his actual Warren debut.

Anonymous said...

I have a vivid memory of acquiring this week’s CREEPY and SPIRIT at a little liquor store in Oklahoma, about half a mile from my Aunt and Uncle’s house on a brain-meltingly hot and humid Summer day. That’s practically all that I remember about them. A week later, we were staying with some other relatives in Wisconsin, and my cousin told me there wasn’t anyplace nearby to buy comics. Bummer! But there WAS a head shop where he occasionally bought FABULOUS FURRY FREAK BROTHERS comix (and other stuff) and did I want to check it out? Well, I wasn’t a stoner (not yet) but any port in a storm, ya know. Off we went and lo and behold, they had a copy of STAR*REACH #1. O frabjous day!


Peter, unfortunately, I have to agree with you. My Golden memories of the Louise Jones Era are being somewhat tarnished upon this re-read. Either the comics weren’t really All That in the first place, or The Suck Fairy got to them when I wasn’t looking. I’ve been gingerly peeking ahead and while there are definitely some outstanding stories on the way, they’re fewer and farther between than I remembered. Alas.

Some general thoughts:

Yes, Auraleon’s stuff is looking very same-y by this point. Torrents too. Maroto is VERY hit and miss, mostly ‘miss’. His art on the Oogie stories didn’t start all that strong out of the gate, not by his standards, and the latest installment is quite poor. ‘Jackie and the Leprechaun’ is downright ugly to look at.

Nice Sanchez art on the Moonweavers story. That shockingly cruel ending — yeeow.

I liked Starlin’s Darklon stories quite a bit back in the day. I re-read them all just within the past year, and thought they were still pretty good.

Cool to have Pepe Gonzalez back on Vampi. He was always a bit inconsistent on the strip, but nobody ever drew a prettier Vampi.

I do like that Sanjulian ‘Oogie’ cover.

Quiddity, your comment about Infantino: we will indeed! :)

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks to you both for the detailed comments! We love to read them every week or two.