Monday, April 25, 2022

The Warren Report Issue 83: March-April 1977



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

Vampirella #58

Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Jose Gonzalez

"A Matchstick Angel" ★1/2
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Ramon Torrents

"Yellow Heat" ★1/2
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Russ Heath

"The Christmas Flower" ★1/2
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Jose Ortiz

"The Wambaugh" ★1/2
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Rafael Auraleon

"Little Monsters" ★1/2
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Carmine Infantino & Dick Giordano

"The Sleeping Beauty" 
Story by Esteban Maroto & Bill Dubay
Art by Esteban Maroto

Stumbling out of the New Mexico ghost town they had been menaced in (last issue), Vampi, Pen, and the Van Helsings walk into a rainstorm and discover an... ancient castle. Oooookay. Inside the castle, they find the loony Dr. Lawrence Darkmore, whose constant companion is a talking monkey. Darkmore has kept his dead wife, "Lenore," pickled in a giant jar, awaiting just the right folks to come along to aid him in her rebirth.

Darkmore hooks Adam up to a machine that saps his youth and transfers it to Darkmore. Using her massive Drakulonian intellect, Vampirella deduces that the nutty Doc is going to use Vampi to raise Lenore from the dead. Crazed from lack of blood (cuz, you know, those ever-present faux-blood vials were destroyed back in the ghost town), Vampi dines on Darkmore, but the Doc is a drained husk already. As Darkmore dies, Adam regains his youth and the band of weary travelers exit the castle before the Doc's lab explodes and reduces the castle to rubble.

Awful, awful script, meandering and nonsensical. Why was this castle out in the New Mexico desert? I kept waiting for the caption that tells me that Darkmore transported V and Co., through some kind of dimensional travel, to Europe or something. Was this dope just sitting out there in his castle waiting for the right combo to pop by? Is the entire world V lives in made up of small towns filled with monsters and crazies? It's like The Femme Fugitive. And points must go to Roger for 1/ the scene where Adam magically regains his youth like in one of those low-budget sci-fi flicks of the 50s; and 2/the epic Corman/Poe "homage" finale where the castle goes blooey just as the heroes exit. This one would get the single star if not for the extraordinary Gonzalez art. Just phenomenal. Hopefully, Jose got the 1977 Warren Award for Best Treading of Water.

Young Peter Christian hopes he can make it through Christmas morning, but the youth's life is slipping away quickly. The only thing now that brings him joy is his female friend, the poor little street urchin he calls Taddie Opentoes (because her shoes are full of holes, naturally). Peter invites the girl, who sells matches on the street to survive, to spend Christmas Eve with him and his mother. Taddie asks the boy what he'd like from Father Christmas as a gift, and Christian replies that he'd love to have an angel to top their Christmas tree.

Taddie scours the city for a suitable angel that she can buy for her three pennies, but all the nice ones are price prohibitive. The Eve comes and little Taddie knocks on Peter's door, but she is nastily rebuffed by Peter's grief-stricken mother, who informs the girl that her sick friend will not see another morning. Shaken, the girl turns away and heads home, but bumps into a large man dressed in black, who asks her if Peter Christian lives in this house. Knowing the man is Death, here to claim her one true love, Taddie makes a bargain and Peter is spared. The next morning, a vibrant and lively Peter rises from his bed, wondering about the missing Taddie. Mom smiles and tells her son that perhaps the girl was there after all, citing the little angel resembling Taddie atop their Christmas tree.

Hallmark Movie of the Week visits the Warren offices again this Christmas. "A Matchstick Angel" isn't completely awful, but it's maudlin enough to cause a fatal case of eye-rolling. For one thing, I can't tell how old the two young protagonists are meant to be. Taddie, in some panels, appears to be three and Peter about eleven. Then, elsewhere, that seems to flip. Peter's mother is a nasty piece of work, except when she isn't. And I'm not sure that final panel, designed to make us gasp, "Oh my God!" really works. Missing are the panels where Death crafts a little angel and makes it appear on the tree (or does it symbolize that Taddie is really there within the tiny matchstick angel, always looking over Peter?). My reaction to the climax should be "Oh, how beautiful!" but the impatient funny book reader in me who has read this kind of ending a hundred times before just responds, "Gimme a break!" I will say, though, that Torrents (who I've been up and down on) definitely earns his five bucks a page this time out.

Uthu desperately wants the beautiful native girl who's been captured from a local tribe, but his chieftain has already marked the girl as his own. The only way Uthu can claim this prize is to go out into the jungle and kill a full-grown lioness. The boy tromps off into the brush and prepares his trap: he digs a six-foot pit and fills it with sharpened stakes, then goes hunting for an impala to lure the lioness.

While hunting, Uthu comes face-to-face with a great lioness. The boy says his prayers and raises his spear but is saved at the last minute by a boa constrictor that wraps itself around the animal and crushes it. Uthu kills the snake and drags the lioness back to his village. His reward is waiting for him, already prepared, roasting on a spit. With hunger in his eyes, Uthu digs in.

Yeah, that climax leaves a lot to be desired. It's a shocker, I'll give you that, but it seems more designed to provoke outrage from Warren's somnambulant readers, who weren't used to anything more controversial than vampire boobies and the occasional "damn." A Black woman on a spit, even in the 1970s, is guaranteed to get a rise out of an audience. To me, that final panel nearly ruins the beauty of the story and art that preceded it, though the reader response (in the letters page of Vampi #60) was typically positive. Your mileage may vary. Bruce would try a variation on this theme in the equally outrageous "Banjo Lessons" (in Twisted Tales #5, October 1983), but this time he was the one that was spit-roasted. Reader response was, to put it mildly, negative. Nothing but praise for Russ Heath's work here; in my humble opinion, it's his best since the EC days.

In the middle of a ghetto at Christmas time, an African American boy discovers a flower growing out of the sidewalk. Believing it to be a miracle, the boy protects the plant from harm, but a nasty JD stomps it and beats the boy for the fun of it. A group of local citizens come to the rescue of the boy and his plant, buying into the kid's belief that the flower will bring good times for all. The neighborhood comes together in peace and love. 

A return visit from the stomper doesn't go well, as the men and women chase him away. As he runs from the scene, the JD almost convinces himself of the miracle. Later, on the run from the police, the teen swerves to miss "The Christmas Flower" and smashes head on into a cop car, killing himself. The policeman and small boy, almost ignoring the blood and brains decorating the patrol car, agree that this is the greatest Christmas ever. Time for a hot dog!

Like "A Matchstick Angel," "The Christmas Flower" may have grown out of the best intentions  but ends up pitifully far from the thought-provoker that Budd Lewis must have envisioned. There's a lot of offensive racist language scattered through the dialogue and the characters are laughable (the cop calls the kid "Blackie" and, in turn, is nicknamed "Whitie"). It's anyone's guess what the age of the main protagonist might be; he looks like a pre-teen but talks like he's an adult. The exchange between cop and kid at the end, after the fatal JD collision, is a hoot. The two practically skip down the street, whistling Christmas tunes, hopping over the puddles of blood as if nothing has happened. And why is this story in Vampirella anyway? There's nothing remotely fanciful or horrific (unless you count Lewis's ill-advised urban slang) here to justify its inclusion in a horror funny book. Is Louise Jones still out to lunch?

A washed-up Hollywood star, John Something, and his wife Jill invite the newest superstar, Lance Somethingorother out to their remote cabin. The woman confides in Lance that's she's through being married to a bum who can't get good parts anymore, and she's dying to be Mrs. Lance if he'll have her. Jill explains that John won't grant her a divorce, so they'll need to kill him. The next day, on the ski slope, Lance loses his nerve and Jill does the evil deed. Unbeknownst to the pair, an evil spirit called "The Wambaugh" stalks the snow and captures "deceased souls"; its latest being John. 

There's a double twist in the tale's tail but it's all just so much nonsense. The plot is cliched, the delivery is confusing (I couldn't keep the two men separated, thanks mostly to the twists and Auraleon's shaky art), and the final reveal is just dumb. This might be the worst Bruce Jones script I've read.

School bus driver LeRoy is convinced that the children he's carting to and from school are "Little Monsters." He sees them scheming behind their sweet little facades, but he's not fooled, not since he was a schoolboy and watched some of the little monsters toss Mrs. Buxley from her classroom window. Now, for some reason on this particular day, LeRoy decides he has to rid the world of the hideous creatures and drives his bus into a moving train. LeRoy is killed but the little monsters crawl from the wreckage and agree that that ride was a lot of fun.

"Little Monsters" is a couple of pages too long, but I found it to be creepy enough. I like the double twist in the end; writer McKenzie seems to be steering us down that alleyway of "LeRoy is really crazy and these are just normal kids," but veers off into more satisfying territory (that of real life based on my experiences with children <smile emoji>). "Little Monsters," with a few modifications, would have fit snugly within the covers of a Shock SuspenStories issue.

The prince heads to Hellsgate to awaken "The Sleeping Beauty" with a kiss. The twist? The beauty is his mother, long dormant after a demon curses her. The prince lays one on Mom and she awakens. Too late, our young hero discovers that mother is now a demon as well. "The Sleeping Beauty" is a very simple fable, one that reminds me a lot of Maroto's Dax epics. I'm not sure DuBay saw much of the art, since most of his caption boxes have nothing to do with what's going on in the pretty pitchers. And, yeah, let's just acknowledge that the final panels are yucky. But things were different back in the dark ages and a prince couldn't be choosy when it came to fair maidens. The story panels are presented vertically, which always annoyed me. But I must say that Maroto looks to be at the top of his game this time out-Peter

Jack-First of all, does anyone know if Torres used a model for his covers? If so, who was she? At the risk of being ridiculed, I liked "The Christmas Flower" best of the stories in this issue; I thought it was an excellent tale of hope in the Ghetto. "Yellow Heat" was a close second, with its gorgeous art and unexpected ending. I'm getting to like Infantino's art, especially with Giordano's inks, so I found "Little Monsters" intriguing, especially the uncertain finish. "Lenore" was an uninspired mix of Dr. Phibes, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, and Poe, but Gonzalez is such a good artist that it wasn't too bad. "A Matchstick Angel' was too cloying for me and featured unfortunate, DuBay-like character names. Worst of the issue is a tie between "The Wambaugh" (Joseph?), which features rushed art by Auraleon and a script that makes little sense, and "The Sleeping Beauty," which is a muddled mess, despite rather elaborate art by Maroto. The sideways pages bug me, too.

Creepy #87

"A Warped Tale" ★1/2
Story by Al Sirois
Art by Gray Morrow

"A Martian Saga" 
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by Bernie Wrightson

"Those 'Orrible Passions of '78" ★1/2
Story by Bill Dubay
Art by Carmine Infantino & Dick Giordano

"The Last" ★1/2
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by John Severin

"They Come Out at Night" ★1/2
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Martin Salvador

"Warmonger of Mars" ★1/2
Story by Wally Wood
Art by Ralph Reese

Sounds like a plan!

Alex and Kevin, the entire crew of the MARS-1, Earth's first manned trip to Mars, inadvertently fly through a time warp and land on the red planet, "millions, maybe even billions of years into the past!" Once they leave the ship and explore, they are approached by two locals, a doddering old man and his daughter, a gorgeous siren. Hubba hubba! They don't make them like Cien back home!

The Martians take Alex and Kevin back to their city, where they explain that they're waiting on an invasion by the evil Reenians (from the planet Reen). Could the earthlings be of any help in the repelling of said invasion? Alex and Cien fall in love and war is put on the back burner until one day when the young lovers are canoodling and are attacked by an infantry of Reenians. Alex blasts them and the lovers head back to the city to warn the population.

Alex comes to the conclusion that, since Reen's "atmosphere is hydrogen and methane and forms an explosive mixture when combined," he's going to blow the Reenians back to Hell. Alex and Kevin climb aboard their ship and head into space for the big showdown. But when they blast the Reenians, it sets off a chain reaction that engulfs Mars in flames. So that's how Mars became a red planet.

"A Martian Saga"
Madder than hell that his Cien is now Martian toast, Alex pilots the ship into the time warp and blasts the planet Reen to rubble. So that's how the asteroid belt was built. Years later, another spaceship finds the wreckage of the MARS-1, containing the skeletons of Alex and Kevin, on an asteroid in space. "A Warped Tale" might be stupid fun if it didn't take itself so seriously and wasn't so darn confusing (So, Alex tells us that their ship passes through a time warp and arrives on Mars at least a million years in the past, but when the wreckage is discovered, scientists determine the ship to be about four thousand years old?). Obviously, Al Sirois (in his only Warren appearance) was up late watching Abbott and Costello Go to Mars the night before and thought he could do a better job. There's just way too much time warp and skewed/hypothetical science here to keep my interest. My biggest chuckle is that the boys travel a zillion years in the past and arrive just as Mars is about to be uninhabitable. Good timing! By the way, this is Gray Morrow's first appearance in a Warren funny book since 1971. In the interim, he'd been doing a lot of great work for Marvel. 

"A Martian Saga" is a tale, told in limericks, of the survivor of a crash landing on Mars. The man takes up with a band of primitive people and saves them from a giant beast. His reward is a beautiful young lady who takes him to bed. Alas, his oxygen canister runs out before he can do the deed. The poem is a lot more clever (save for a dodgy snippet such as They were fleshy and plump/round faces, full rumps) than my paltry synopsis and Bernie's art is... well, who's better than Bernie Wrightson? A magical treat all around.

"No one would know that the third murder was
more sickening than the second but nowhere
near as gruesome as the fourth or fifth."

A horrifying series of murders haunts London and seems to coincide with the extinction of life on Mars. Yeah, no, really! A detective looks back on his most bizarre case, what he refers to as "Those 'Orrible Passions of '78." Parents, for no apparent reason, murder their children in increasingly vicious fashion. It all comes to a close with the suicide of James Moon, who leaves a cryptic final message and lays down in the snow to die. At that moment on Mars, the final inhabitant lies down in the sand and dies.

A dreary and dull dirge, "Those 'Orrible..." finds Dube trying to make some kind of pretentious statement so unclear that I wonder if he even understood it. Why would this loving Martian (we see her mourn her dead children at the beginning of the story) send out a message to Earth that moms and pops should burn their kids to death? What am I missing? Each new death is preceded by something along the lines of "I thought that was the most horrible murder I'd ever seen, but just wait for the next one!" The narrator is correct with that tidbit, as each successive murder is more sickening and exploitive than the last. And how in the world could the detective (smart as he may be) make that Mars-Earth connection off of the feeble clues he's handed? A bit of a jump to a conclusion if you ask me.

There are only two people left on the dead planet Mars: a lonesome Martian and his robot sidekick. Now that all the humans who had relocated from Earth are dead, the two friends act out scenes from old westerns and drink their days away. Having watched the entire population die before his eyes, the Martian wants only to die but his robot friend is not programmed for that function. It's a lonely life on the red planet for "The Last."

For most of its length, "The Last" resembles a lost story from Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, a book that no doubt had some influence on writer Roger McKenzie. There's more than a dash of The Twilight Zone in there as well. The climax is a bit confusing and more than a bit maudlin but, overall, I liked it. Given that there's a western backdrop, Severin was a natural.

Five men land on Mars to uncover what happened to the expedition that had landed before them. What they discover is a mass grave and a perplexing diary that details the catastrophe that befell the party. Swarms of intelligent cockroaches have infested the body of Janus, the sole woman colonist, and use her body to lure the men into bed. In this way, the roaches pass into another human body and multiply. Having finished reading the journal, the men decide the entire story is hogwash... until the rotting Janus enters the room, looking for a little affection. 

The twist of "They Come Out at Night," the aliens using the humans as hosts, has an Alien vibe to it (a couple of years prior to the film's release), but that's where the resemblance ends. The script is clunky and doesn't always fill in the blanks (I assume that, despite all the grimness and swarming roaches, the other guys are keeping a smile on their faces because they're possessed, but that's not explained), and then there's that Martin Salvador artwork that gives "bland" a new face. 

Junk Carter, "Warmonger of Mars," and his wife, Deeja Squeeja, suspect that their daughter, Floovia, has been abducted. Grabbing their swords and their right-hand man/best fighter Tarkus Karkus, the Carters set out across Mars to save their child. At least that's what's supposed to happen. But events run the search (and story) off the rails.

A parody doesn't necessarily have to be funny, but when the intent to amuse is clearly present, it helps for the material to be funny. This ain't funny. The Reese art is a hoot, but Wally's script is lazy (Mung the Merciless? Conman the Conqueror?) and unfocused. The search for Floovia is forgotten when the Carters run into fantasy icons, and after that the strip just sputters out. Still, Mad Magazine would never have been able to present a parody of John Carter, Warlord of Mars, complete with a hot and naked Deeja Squeeja. That's worth an extra star right there.-Peter

Jack-I read the last story wishing that Wood had drawn it rather than written it. Reese's art is fine, but he's no Wally Wood, and the story just isn't funny. I liked "A Warped Tale," partly because of the art by Gray Morrow and partly because it seemed like an interesting SF story, something I'm not used to reading at Warren. "Those 'Orrible Passions of '78" also had an intriguing story and smooth art, enough to overcome DuBay's unfortunate tendency toward unnecessarily extreme violence.

The panel on the right is meant to
represent Martians, Go Home!

Severin's art is up to its usual high standard on "The Last," but I found the western slang in the dialogue so hard to plod through that the story was a chore to read. "They Come Out At Night" had a disgusting premise and mediocre art, but the concept was at least interesting. As for "A Martian Saga," I thought the poetry was bad and the presentation, consisting of four vertical panels per page, wasted what would have been good art by Berni Wrightson. When a comic artist draws a page where the picture is big and spread across panels like this, do they draw it and then erase to make the space between the panels?

By the way, I was surprised to see a mention of Fredric Brown (misspelled "Fredrick") on the opening page, "Four Classic Martians," where he is grouped with Wells, Burroughs, and Bradbury. The page is drawn by Wrightson.

Eerie #82

"The Man Whom Time Forgot!"
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Luis Bermejo

"And Now: The Game Is Afoot"★1/2
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Carmine Infantino & Gonzalo Mayo

"Castle of the Assassin"
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Jose Ortiz

"In a Deep Sea Tomb"★1/2
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Leopold Sanchez

Restin Dane, a/k/a the Rook, returns from traveling back in time to 1874 and the Old West. With him, he has brought his dying great-great-grandfather, a gunfighter and an outlaw. Dane leaves his grandpa in the care of three talking robots and zips back into the past. When Grandpa awakens, he is surprised to find himself in the year 1977 and in the company of the robots, but the kindness of one calms his fears.

The robot explains that Restin Dane is the Master of Time and that he built a time machine shaped like a giant chess piece (a rook) that allowed him to travel back to the Alamo in 1874 in order to attempt to rescue his ancestor, Parrish Dane. Back at the Alamo, things are looking dire for Davy Crockett and his associates until a big rook appears from out of nowhere. Restin Dane emerges, meets Parrish, and begins blowing away Mexican soldiers left and right. There are too many of them, however, and events unfold as they have always done, with Dane only able to save a young boy who is handy with firearms.

Dane and the boy hop into the time machine and travel one day into the future, emerging to find Crockett and everyone else dead. Handing the boy Jim Bowie's knife, Dane once again enters the time machine and disappears. The time machine returns to 1977, but when the robot opens it, he finds it empty. Grandpa pulls out the Bowie knife and reveals that he is the boy Dane rescued at the Alamo, and Dane must have gone to a later time to bring him into the future. Grandpa insists on going back in time to help Restin Dane in a dangerous gunfight.

I don't know if DuBay was thinking of the 1974 film, The Land That Time Forgot, when he titled this story, "The Man Whom Time Forgot," but whatever he was thinking, the concept is intriguing and the story is fun. It isn't very Eerie, but at this point, who cares? I had to read the story twice to understand that the old man whom Dane brings back to the present wasn't the same old man who dies at the Alamo, and that the boy he saves at the Alamo is the old man in 1977, but no matter. The talking robot reminds me of C3PO from Star Wars, but that film didn't open until May and this mag must have come out several months before that. Maybe DuBay had some advance notice? Whatever the inspiration, it's a fun story and a good start to a new series.

In part three of the "Tombspawn" series (see part one here and part two here), titled "And Now: The Game is Afoot," two winged vampires fly around in the year 1992, after a nuclear holocaust has decimated the Earth. After they attack and kill what looks like a giant pterodactyl, they descend into a forest to view two corpses hanging upside down from a tree. This turns out to be a holograph displayed by their enemies, who follow it up with another holograph, of a speakeasy in the 1920s. The non-vampires then record a holograph of a large, one-horned beast. The vampires attack and kill a primitive man, who quickly rises as a vampire. They see a beautiful, naked woman, whose loud scream hurts their ears and damages their equilibrium. Finally, the vampires see a group of lumbering beasts and assume they are holographs; one turns out to be real and kills one vampire, but the other bloodsucker breaks the beast's neck.

This story is so confusing and poorly told that I'm somewhat proud of myself for being able to offer anything approaching a cogent summary. Mayo's inks almost completely hide Infantino's pencils; I can only make out the artist's work in a couple of panels. I looked back at my notes on the prior two stories in this series to find that the earlier tales were similarly incoherent; hopefully, this narrative will remain unfinished.

"Castle of the Assassin" is part two of the Scallywag series (part one is here), and a fine story 'tis. Sully Sullivan tells his friend, Konishi the samurai, that he will get revenge on the ninja who stole his treasure and killed the women on his boat. Sully receives a message to go that night to Castle Ryoichi, where he encounters the seemingly invisible ninja, who attacks him with all manner of weapons. Managing to survive a face-to-face confrontation, Sully tricks the ninja into falling into a pit, where he is impaled on a spike. The ninja is revealed to be Konishi, who claims that his friendship with Sully made him careless.

Budd Lewis crafts a fast-paced, intriguing story, and Jose Ortiz's illustrations fit it perfectly. Sully could be annoying, with all of his Irish trappings, but Lewis doesn't overdo it. The battle with the ninja at the castle is exciting and I did not see the end coming, where friend is revealed to have been unexpected enemy. Nice work all around, and I'm looking forward to future installments.

Part three of "The Pea-Green Boat" opens with Greene and Plusenkat doing a deep-sea dive to explore sunken Nazi ships, seeking food. Greene relates the story of how Canadian fliers sunk the ships and, while the duo find Nazi skeletons, they find nothing to eat. Back on their boat, they are attacked by a boat full of Canadian pirates; Greene manages to escape, dive back down to the sunken vessel and he uses one of its old guns to blow up the pirates' boat.

I really did not like chapter one of this series. Chapter two was somewhat better. Chapter three is the best yet! The art by Sanchez is very strong when depicting the underwater antics, but it's less impressive when things go above the surface. The story about the attempted Nazi invasion and how it was foiled by novice pilots from Canada is fascinating; too bad the rest of the tale can't live up to the opening pages. All in all, an impressive issue of Eerie, with one exception.-Jack

Peter-At some point, I'm sure I must have read "The Man Whom Time Forgot," but it wasn't familiar. It's surely the best bit of writing Dube has done in years (if not ever). The prose is inviting rather than eye-rolling, though I'm not sure what the hell is going on. Since this is a well-liked series, I assume the rules will be given at some point, right? Well-written, twisty time travel stuff is right up my alley, so I'm looking forward to seeing how Dube develops the Dane character. 

There was, of course, quite a bit of controversy concerning the character some forty years later, when Bill DuBay's nephew decided he'd get rich quick at the expense of mega-millionaire Stephen King. DuBay alleged that King had plagiarized his uncle's property (which, if I understand all the legal mumbo-jumbo delivered here, wasn't really his uncle's property anyway) to create the mega-epic The Dark Tower. So, is TDK a rip-off of The Rook? Well, I've only read the first installment, but I'd say that King owes as much to DuBay as DuBay owes to Herschell Gordon Lewis. Should Dube have been sued for ripping off all the intestines from Gordon's Blood Feast and fashioning them into the execrable "Orem Ain't Got No Head Cheese?" It's a gunfighter and there's time travel. King always claimed he ripped off Leone for TDK. I'm inclined to believe a guy who gives a nod to the inspiration. 

"And Now: The Game Is Afoot" is the concluding chapter of the "Tombspawn" series. I had to check on this, as the first two chapters made no impact on me or, if they did, not a lasting one. I liked the novelty of the "game board" design of the splash, and that's all I liked. The rest was a yawn, and may I say again, "I'll take the Infantino, hold the Mayo"? The art looks like mid-'70s bad fanzine work. I didn't care for the latest Scallywag either; it was slow paced and the dialogue seemed disjointed, as though each character was talking about something that wasn't actually going on around them. I didn't buy that the bad guy was Konishi. A random choice designed to "shock."

I've always liked "deep sea" stories, so this chapter of "The Pea Green Boat" had me from the start. Alas, it wasn't long until it lost me, for the most part. Displaying Pussycat's log in handwriting was a big mistake; it's nearly illegible in some places and indecipherable in others (I still can't figure out what beneath the tombing waves means). I also can't figure out why there would be sea pirates. Do these bozos think there are lots of boats carrying food out at sea? Why not pick up some rods and reels instead? The art by Sanchez is sketchy and works approximately half the time (the underwater stuff is really good). I still think the concept can be mined for gold (and there's one last chapter to be told), so I'll be a patient optimist just this once.

Vampirella #59 (April)

"Pendragon's Last Bow"★1/2
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Jose Gonzalez

Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Leo Duranona

"Funeral Day"★1/2
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Jose Ortiz

Story by Cary Bates
Art by Leopold Sanchez

"The Plot's the Thing"★1/2
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Martin Salvador

"The Beast is Yet to Come"★1/2
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by Carmine Infantino & Alex Nino

Did we know that the act included a stripper pole?
When The Great Escapo is dropped into the Hudson River, locked in a safe, he emerges to see the remains of dozens of corpses of men who had dropped out of sight over several decades. Vampirella and Pendragon watch Escapo's act, which is meant to attract a crowd to the duo's show later that evening. In the meantime, Pendragon sees a beautiful young woman in an antique shop and immediately falls head over heels in love with her. He invites her to dinner and learns that her name is Rose.

After Pendragon and Vampi put on their nightly show, Pen dines with Roe and Adam and Conrad van Helsing join Vampi. Conrad reveals that the corpses in the river were the victims of a succubus, a female demon that drained their life essence and made them appear aged. Sensing that something is wrong with Rose, Conrad sends Adam to investigate the corpses, while Vampi spies on Pen and Rose making out. Conrad discovers that the corpses were dumped below Rose's antique shop and is attacked by a strange man, who dumps him in the river. Vampi to the rescue! In Rose's boudoir, she is about to get it on with Pen when Conrad rushes in and stabs her in the back. The strange man turns out to be her brother and, as he attacks Conrad, Pen stabs him as well. They both die and Adam recovers his youth. It turns out that Rose was a succubus and her brother was an incubus; as Rose died, she gave back the life to Adam that her brother had stolen.

"Pendragon's Last Bow" is one of the better Vampi stories we've read recently. The plot is interesting, although it wraps up too quickly and has to pack a lot of explanation into the final panels. Gonzalez is back in form as an artist, doing some of his finest work on the strip in a long time.

Willie Thoms escapes from the insane asylum but has trouble with all of the "Changes" in his old neighborhood. He had been put away after a man laughed at him while he was working at the car wash; he beat the man to death with a wrench. Willie heads to his old apartment, but the place is a mess and the woman he thinks is his mother doesn't recognize him. Worse still, she laughs at him, so Willie kills her by hitting her over the head with a lamp. Heading up to the roof, Willie reminisces about his drunken father and the mother who entertained a series of men at night; finally, the cops find Willie. He resists arrest, is shot, and falls off the roof to his death.

This depressing story is brought to us by Roger McKenzie, who seems to suggest that poor Willie never had a chance, and by Leo Duranona, who draws everyone as if they are ugly. The plot, such as there is, is straightforward and I had no trouble understanding what was going on. Unfortunately, not much was happening and the art was sub-par.

Lawrence Longhandle prepares the same coffin that he uses on every "Funeral Day." The day arrives and a line of tired and hungry people appear at the mortuary in Last Hope, Kansas, for the funeral. After the ceremony, the people approach the coffin, one by one, and snack on the corpse, with Lawrence the last to take a bite. It seems that the only way the people of Last Hope survive is by choosing a victim every so often and eating them.

Sometimes eight pages of a Warren story seems awfully long, and this is one of those instances. The art by Ortiz is dark and moody, with lots of black ink, and as I read, I kept hoping for something interesting to happen, but nothing did. The ending is both subtle and disappointing; I had to read the story twice to make sure that nothing more was happening.

In the future world of 1989, Michael Lee Sebastian, serial killer and strict vegetarian, murders an Enforcer, takes his gun, and heads to the laboratory of Harold and Agatha, who offer denizens of the underworld a chance to mind meld with anyone they want from the present or the past. Sebastian tries out a sample before forking over a million bucks, and he is delighted when he is briefly allowed to experience what Jack the Ripper felt while slashing one of his victims. Strapped to a table, Sebastian chooses to take over the body of the Duke of Windsor, but Harold and Agatha have a surprise for him: now that he is helpless, they reveal that they will choose the body he inhabits. Instead of royalty, he will spend the rest of his days in the body of the greatest meat-eater of all time--a T-Rex!

Oh brother! This is just plain bad. I did not know 1989 was so futuristic! Bates works so hard to establish that Sebastian hates meat that the end has to be something meaty but putting his mind into a dinosaur rather than a person seems stupid rather than clever. Sanchez sleepwalks through the art chores.

Bernard Ingles, editor of Whywald Comics, takes his job seriously. In the name of research for horror stories, he murders a young woman on the street with an axe, kills his nagging wife by tossing an electric razor into the bathtub while she soaks, and bludgeons his next-door neighbor with a lead pipe for noticing that the rolled-up rug Bernard is putting in his trunk hides a corpse. Bernard drives to a bridge and tosses rug and body into the river, but he is quickly murdered by a knife-wielding man, who is an aspiring comic book writer researching a script for Whywald Comics.

I knew nothing about Skywald Comics until about two minutes ago, when Wikipedia helped me understand that the company was Warren's rival until early 1975, when it was driven out of business by Marvel's decision to move into the black and white magazine field. Fortunately, my research did not require any bloodletting, unlike that of Bernard. Why do a story attacking a defunct publisher? Had it been on the shelf for a few years? At least it's a good vehicle for the art of Martin Salvador, whose stylings should not be wasted on anything of quality.

Pak Stavos is a cruel man who moved his wife and son to the planet Rego in order to ravage it. He tries to protect his beloved son, Jymmy, from the planet's native creatures, but his wife and his servants keep turning off the security alarms that bother the child. Little Jymmy fears the Wilwulf, a creature he's been told about, and when a giant beast steals his family's prize cow, Pak sets out to track it down, Wilwulf or not. Surviving a near-fatal attack by another beast, Pak returns home to discover that a beast has entered and ravaged the house. When he confronts the creature, he sees that it has Jymmy's face!

"The Beast is Yet to Come" has a dreadful story, something I've come to expect when I see that the writer is Nicola Cuti (at least at Warren), but the art is superb. The combination of Infantino and Nino results in panels that approach something we'd see in early 1950s' EC stories by Frazetta. My opinion of Infantino's '70s work has certainly changed since I've been reading his Warren stories, and up till now, I thought Giordano was his best inker. Move over Dick, Alex Nino is in town! I hope to see more of this dynamic duo.-Jack

Peter-"Pendragon's Last Bow" is dopey but entertaining, with nice Gonzalez art. Too many of the Warren writers are settling for the lazy "when the spell is broken, everything is back to normal" routine, as when Adam regains his youth in the climax. I think Vampi echoes the readers' thoughts when she sighs and murmurs, "I'm not sure I understand any of this!" Join the club, sister.


"Changes" is dreadful psycho-babble nonsense, nothing more than a riff on all the mama's-boy-turned-murderer tales that Robert Bloch mastered over his career. "Funeral Day" takes a worn-out plot hook and wears it out even more. Raise your hand if you didn't see that "shock" finish coming. Shame on you. The little nugget McKenzie throws in about the sun never setting begs to be expanded on but, as it is, it's just one more last second shock thrown in for naught. 

"Force-Feed" at least presents an interesting scenario, but the art, by Leopold Sanchez, is rough. It reminds me that a lot of the artwork by the Spanish artists is losing what luster it had in the beginning. Sanchez, Ortiz, and Duranona all contribute raggedy, ink-heavy work this issue that I wouldn't say is their best. Roger McKenzie delivers up yet another DOA script for "The Plot's the Thing." Whywald Comics? Stop, you're killing me, Roger. No, I mean it. Stop! How about some original plots for once? 

The Beast is certainly saved for last. "The Beast is Yet to Come" is a fabulous sci-fi tale with some very cool twists and really weird visuals. With a few modifications, this could have been popped into the Mars issue of Creepy. Well enough, though, since it saves this issue of Vampirella from being birdcage liner. This is Alex Nino's first work for Warren and he'll become a staple before too long; here, he takes Carmine's art and creates a bastard child of the duo. It's not really Infantino, but it's not really Nino either. -Peter

Next Week...
The Mad Cat with
the Hat is Back!


Quiddity99 said...

This is one of those Vampi stories where its best to turn your brain off and just go with the ridiculous premise. Is it silly, sure, but I enjoyed it more than most Vampi stories we've had lately. "A Matchstick Angel" is a decent enough Christmas story, although Torrents doesn't seem that good at making children look like children. "Yellow Heat" I ranked as my #1 Warren story of all time on my blog, it has the most horrifying and shocking ending from any Warren story for me and Russ Heath's art is just that outstanding. I never really got the sense reading this story that Jones was looking to outrage the reader or turn out something controversial. A far cry for me from "Banjo Lessons" where he absolutely was intending that, and the reaction at the time was far more harsh. The revelation that Uthu is a cannibal doesn't change the fact that up until that point he is a well fleshed out, sympathetic protagonist. Whereas Banjo in the other story is solely used as a prop over racism and homophobia, and the artist portrays him in a rather offensive manner.

"The Christmas Flower" is a lackluster story and yeah, that ending where the kid on the motorcycle dies and the cop simply ignores it to go get a hot dog is quite ridiculous. I too struggled with telling the two male characters of "The Wambaugh" apart and felt it was a rather weak story. "Little Monsters" reminds me a bit of the old Ray Bradbury story "Let's Play Poison" which got an EC adaption. Amazing art job by Esteban Maroto on "The Sleeping Beauty", the best we've seen from him in a long time. This sets off a trend of several sideways printed Maroto stories as well as horror-themed versions of fairy tales, with us getting Dubay/Maroto's version of "The Little Mermaid" in the near future as well. part of me wonders if this was originally drawn overseas and then Dubay simply wrote a story over it, something that they've done for Maroto's work before and will do in the future. Although total yuck at the incest vibe of the ending. To answer your question Jack, yes, Enrich used models for his covers. It was typically Carol de Haro or Margit Kocsis. Carol de Haro in particular was used as a model/photo reference by a ton of Warren's Spanish artists and you will see her pop up quite a lot in their stories (Love Strip from Vampirella #44 is a good example). I'm not sure which of them it was for this cover though. There's a new book on Enrich that was released a few months ago that I'd strongly recommend.

I get the sense that "A Warped Tale" wasn't originally intended for a Warren magazine given that just a few issues back that was the case for an Al Williamson story, and Sirois never writes another story for Warren. Also because Gray Morrow pops up here for one story after a 10 year absence (I'm pretty sure his last Warren story was in 1967, not 1971), and never appears again. Great stuff from Berni Wrightson on the rather simple "A Martian Saga". Not to mention the one page feature that kicks off the issue showing different types of Martians. "Those Orrible Passions of 78" has some horrifying stuff in it for sure and also didn't make the most sense to me, although I liked the inclusion of the "face on Mars" in the ending. I too got a "Martian Chronicles" vibe from "The Last". For a story featuring a beautiful women infecting men with alien cockroaches you would have figured they'd get an artist other than the bland Martin Salvador. Ah well. A rather iffy story from Jones as well. "Warmonger of Mars" is a clunker to end the issue for me, I think this may have been another story intended for a completely different magazine. Reese turned out several quality art jobs for Skywald's horror magazines which I enjoyed but I was never the biggest fan of his on this story and Wood's writing just doesn't work for me.

Quiddity99 said...

While this initial Rook story is a pretty good one, the premiere of the character is for me another sign of Warren's slow decline in its remaining years. Eerie is slowly descending from a high quality horror magazine to one that focuses more on superhero type characters, something that was never Warren's strong point (and a genre I'm not interested in at all, hence why you never see me commenting on the Batman posts). The height of this is still several years away, but the premiere of The Rook is the first big sign of the direction Eerie eventually goes in. The open ended nature of the series, much like Vampirella, means the stakes will never be that high. Also the series, even more so than Vampirella, goes for excess all the time. We'll get numerous stories in this series that are at least 15 pages long, if not 20 or 25 and that leaves a lot less of the rest of the issue to focus on something that is actually horror-related. The series also marks a noticeable decline in the quality of Luis Bermejo's artwork, most likely because the stories are so long and he has to rush through them. In any case, while The Rook starts off decently enough I can't say I'm all that happy with how it impacts Eerie going forward.

Onto the rest of the issue! I actually continue to enjoy the "Tombspawn" series. It is quite ridiculous but I've liked the set up and where we've gone to this point. I can't remember if we get any more stories in this series (Peter answers this, a disappointment that it just stops here!). This second "Scallywag" story is a pretty good one but makes me wonder if it's already over. I'm pretty sure no, but where will they go from here with Konishi dead? The story for "The Pea Green Boat" is decent, but I had such a hard time reading the handwritten captions to this story (a combination of bad handwriting and perhaps my copy of this issue being too old and worn). It totally ruined the experience for me.

I hadn't considered the possibility you'd cover Vampirella #59 (in fact my rereading came right down to the wire this week with me reading issue #58 last night). I'll have to come back later after I've read that issue to comment on it.

Anonymous said...

My big take-away this week is that there is a LOT of above-average artwork in these here funny books.

Jose Gonzalez is firing on all cylinders, his superb renderings make up for the INCREDIBLY dumb storylines.

This is the tastiest Maroto art that we’ve seen in awhile. Swipe Alert: Sexy Succubus Mom in the last panel is nicked from an Alan Weiss figure in a Solomon Kane/ Dracula crossover from Marvel’s DRACULA LIVES #3.

‘Yellow Heat’ is one of the most notorious Warren stories (outside the pages of 1984). Beautiful art. Absolutely horrifying and grotesque final panel. I would disagree with pal Quiddity that it wasn’t intended to shock and outrage. How could it NOT have been??

As for the which is more tasteless and racially insensitive, this or ‘Banjo Lessons’ — flip a coin.

I love Wrightson’s art on ‘Martian Saga’. It’s gorgeous. His four-panel homage to Classic Mars stories and novels is sweet too.

Cool to see Morrow one last time in a Warren mag. Yes, the ‘Warmonger of Mars’ thing is sub-par MAD, but I always kinda liked it. Quiddity has a good point — maybe these two stories WERE originally meant for some other publisher.

I would have to re-read the initial Rook story to give it a fair hearing, but I really don’t wanna.

Yep, Infantino and Nino make a reallly nice team. They paired up again a few years later on two issues of the revived Archie/MJL/Red Circle COMET — the art was lovely but the stories were drab and dire superhero tales with no superheroics and lots of soap opera (and written by Bill DuBay).


Jack Seabrook said...

A real highlight of doing this blog is reading the comments from people who know way more about Warren mags than I ever will! Keep 'em coming!

Quiddity99 said...

Re: b.t./Yellow Heat

The end of the story certainly is shocking and horrifying (the most horrifying final panel of any Warren story ever for me), but as to if Bruce Jones wrote the story intending for there to be controversy over the racial aspects of it, I personally don't see that intent, especially in comparison to his later story Banjo Lessons. Perhaps its a bit of naivety on my part, but for years I saw a lot of praise heaped upon the story, before I even read it for the first time, and the racial aspects never came up as a point of criticism. That certainly has changed; in recent years I've heard a lot more negative commentary on it.

The key difference for this and Banjo Lessons for me is I don't think Jones is trying to portray any message. He's just looking to write a good horror story and chose this as the setting. The cannibalism topic is broached all the time in horror stories (far more often with white characters). I feel that Uthu is portrayed in a fairly sympathetic manner in the story and set up so the reader is rooting for him. It isn't until the last panel when you realize his true intent that it all changes.

Jones approaches Banjo Lessons from a totally different direction. It is very obvious that he's trying to do an EC Comics Shock Suspenstories like tale, made all the more obvious by the artist, Rand Holmes, having a Wally Wood-lite style (as Wood drew pretty much all of those great "message" stories in Shock SuspenStories). The black character in the story (Banjo) doesn't get a single line of dialogue and is portrayed in a very subservient manner. You get somewhat of a sense that Jones wants you to sympathize with the main character (in a tale all about trying to find out why he want on a rampage and killed 3 of his friends) but this is quite troubling as a takeaway from the story, at least for me, is wondering if the guy kept quiet about Banjo's murder because he didn't want to be outed as gay. The editor had to pen an editorial to kick off the issue trying to defend the inclusion of the story (which didn't help) and for all I know, it may have contributed to the eventual end of the comic (I do recall reading in the letter pages an outraged comics store owner saying he was cancelling all future orders). Unlike Yellow Heat pretty much all the commentary I've read on the story has been negative.

Anonymous said...

B.t. - can you email me at when you get a chance?

Quiddity99 said...

Re: Vampirella 59

A rather hilarious cover; since when did Vampi pine for the old talentless drunk that is Pendragon? I have pretty much the same thoughts as you on the story, pretty good but over too quickly. A rather disappointing and pointless "Changes" is followed by "Funeral Day" essentially redoing the twist from Yellow Heat that we just got in the prior issue. "Force Feed" is quite the ridiculous premise all to set up that twist ending. I somehow didn't even pick up on the jab at Skywald in "The Plot's The Thing", but would agree that it doesn't make much sense to go over them now, 2 years after they folded. Great to see Alex Nino's debut, he is the best artist in my eyes to premiere during Louise Jones' tenure as editor. Although he starts off here inking Infantino, he'll soon break out on his own and provide what is probably the most bizarre and out of this world artwork that was ever published by Warren. Alas, much of that is in the 1984/1994 magazine, so you have to accept some terrible stories to go along with it. Although he does still have a fair amount of material in the 3 main horror magazines.