Monday, May 23, 2022

The Warren Report Issue 85: June 1977



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

Creepy #89

"Blood Brothers" ★★
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Jose Ortiz

"The Windmill" ★★
Story by Lou Rossin
Art by Leo Duranona

"Angel of Jaipur" ★★1/2
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by John Severin

"The Hungry Dragon" ★★
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by Carmine Infantino & Alex Nino

"The Door Gunner" ★★★1/2
Story by Larry Hama & Cary Bates
Art by Leopold Sanchez

"Coggin's Army" ★★
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Martin Salvador

Readers had been clamoring for an "All-War" themed Creepy for a long, long time and they finally got what they wanted this issue. Or did they? War would seem to be a natural setting for a horror story, but it can also bring out the cliches and pretension as well. Behind that gorgeous Frank Frazetta reprinted cover (originally from Blazing Combat #1) lie six stories set in several different conflicts. Shall we?

PFC Ted Mears is temporarily blinded by the flash of shelling and slowly makes his way back to camp, only to find his entire company dead. Well, all except for Voper, a soldier who crawls out from under the debris, a soldier Mears doesn't remember. The two men make their way through the forest, encountering German patrols along the way. Each time, Voper tells Mears to wait and he'll take care of the Germans. And each time, Voper comes back with more rations. 

During one of Voper's "raids," Mears hears a scream and runs toward the sound, only to discover Voper kneeling over a partially-eaten Nazi. When Mears quizzes his comrade, Voper says the dead German was eaten by animals. Mears finds it strange that he never sees Voper eat! The soldier's paranoia grows and reaches a crescendo when he confronts Voper with his belief that the man is some kind of supernatural presence. Voper laughs the suggestion off and tells Mears he needs sleep, but Mears reacts with a rifle shot. Voper begins to bleed and Mears realizes he's made a mistake; Voper is human after all. 

Ted manages to get the wounded Voper to a medic station and passes out from fatigue. When he awakens, he asks his doc how Voper is doing and the surgeon confesses that Voper is dead. Unbelieving, Mears heads to the next tent, where he finds the skeletal remains of Voper. Ah hah! It was Mears who was the ghoul the whole time!

The "(choke!)" sound effect that climaxes "Blood Brothers" tells you all you need to know about what Bruce was up to here. It's a weak thread to hang a ten-page story on, and halfway through the narrative I kept checking to see how many pages I had left. From the start, we all knew that Voper was a ghoul (or a vampire or an evil spirit or the devil or...), so there just had to be some kind of twist to justify the extra pages. Unfortunately, the reveal doesn't work when you think about it, as it raises difficult questions Bruce doesn't (and can't) answer. Was Voper ever alive? Did Mears carry Voper's corpse with him all the way to the medic station, stopping now and then for a bite to eat? The surgeon tells Mears that he was munching on his sidekick for three days. Voper must have been tasty, since his corpse is nothing more than a skeleton with a head. In the end, nothing gels for me but I will say that Jose Ortiz's art is perfectly gruesome for the subject.

A Creepy Happy Ending

In early World War II Liechtenstein, a hunchbacked windmill keeper puts on fireworks displays to amuse his king but proves to be more than just a jester when the Nazis come to town. A silly but somewhat entertaining little non-horror story, "The Windmill" has a strange happy/downer of a climax. Our hunchback hero has been stashing gunpowder for his pyrotechnics shows and a German tank targets the building, setting off a huge explosion. Which, of course, kills our "deformed" protagonist and, perhaps, levels the town, but does destroy one Ratzi tank. Not sure if this can be considered a victory.

World War I, India. British Leftenant Baume returns from a patrol with his fighter plane shot to hell. When his comrades get him out of the cockpit, Baume seems to be in a state of shock. Later, around a fire and enjoying a strong cup of Joe, Baume relates the shocking story of his father, who served during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Baume Sr. and his mate, Cassie, were the only surviving members of a native assault on their fort. If the two men could not hold the fort, the "savages" would storm the fort and kill the women and children inside.

Just as the natives were gathering for a last assault and all hope seemed lost, an "angel" (in the form of Leftenant Baume's plane) appeared in the sky and mowed the enemy down. Baume's audience scoffs at the tale, until a soldier enters the room to inform Baume's CO that the wings of the Leftenant's bi-plane were riddled with Enfield Shot, a form of ammunition not used since the Indian Uprising!

There's no explanation given for how or why Baume entered a time warp and arrived at just the time his Pop needed him, but then the story is probably better off without it. Dube seems to be riffing off One Step Beyond, complete with the expository history note at the climax. "Angel of Jaipur" succeeds, for the most part, for the obvious reason. Of all the EC artists who carried over to Warren, I think John Severin is the one who retained most of his style and power. No one else could have illustrated this tale. Well, maybe Heath.

While serving in Korea, GI Chet comes across a temple while being chased by a handful of enemy soldiers. Chet takes refuge in the temple and discovers a group of children hiding inside. He manages to wipe out the soldiers dogging him and then turns his attention to the abandoned youngsters. Discovering that the tykes haven't eaten in several days, Chet heads out to forage for food but, by the time he gets back, the precocious little brats have found plenty in the form of the dead soldiers. 

Chet, overcome with revulsion, opens fire on his little friends, killing all but 12-year-old Kim. He hurries her back to the medic station and concocts a story about enemy gunfire wounding the little girl. Plagued by guilt, Chet takes Kim back with him to the States and (presumably) marries her when she reaches age. But lately, Kim has wanted her meat rare and Chet is waking up with nightmares of his siege on the children at the temple. Kim insists she was the only child wounded and that the others are all safe and in touch, but Chet wonders when his wife will slit his throat in his sleep.

Despite a couple of nagging plot holes, "The Hungry Dragon" is a powerful and disturbing war-horror tale. The Infantino/Nino team-up continues to astound, with each beautifully complementing each other's styles. I'd have liked to have a little more info on exactly when Chet brought Kim back to the US and what exactly the arrangements were when they got back. How long have they been married? Yeah, there's some subtle creepy stuff going on here... maybe. The final panels, where Kim comments that one of her friends from the temple is trying to contact Chet and we see his interior denial, is fascinatingly foggy. 

The lines between reality and fantasy begin blurring for a disturbed Vietnam vet. That's really all I'm gonna say about "The Door Gunner" other than it's got a clever twist in its tail, one I never saw coming (despite the fact that I read this already years ago!). This one really has to be read to be appreciated. Writer Larry Hama (in his first of eight contributions to the Warren zines) avoids all the typical vet cliches and just tells a disturbing and gripping story. Hama would later go on to fame and (hopefully) fortune as writer of Marvel's super-popular G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero comic book series.

Though the Civil War has been over for years, it still lives on in the brain of the General. When the General is placed in the Cosgrove Institution for Vets, he immediately takes charge and rallies the other inmates around him, prepping them for their inevitable breakout. Similar to the previous tale but not half as effective, "Coggin's Army" is a limp noodle with more dismal graphics from Martin Salvador. It's obvious Roger McKenzie spun his "EC Wheel of Fortune" and, once again, it landed on "Blind Alleys." Were there ever any sympathetic hospital directors, or did they all derive pleasure from torturing their patients? So how did Warren's first All-War issue fare in the end? At least one of the stories will end up in my Top Ten of 1977-78 list but, overall, its contents couldn't hold Frontline Combat's jockstrap.-Peter

Jack-When we do these posts, I read the stories and rate them before I look at your reviews and ratings. Often, we are remarkably close in our assessments. This time, however, we are far apart! I'm not sure why Warren decided to publish an all-war issue of Creepy in 1977, but, for the most part, it's not very good. The big exception (for me) is "Blood Brothers," which should make my top ten list. The story had me captivated, the ending surprised me, and the art is excellent. "The Windmill" is a lightweight story, and I've never been a fan of Duranona's art. Things improve with "Angel of Jaipur," which recalls "The Last Flight" from The Twilight Zone and features art by one of the top war comic artists, John Severin. The others are Joe Kubert and Russ Heath.

I enjoyed the mix of Infantino and Nino in "The Hungry Dragon," but I thought the story went nowhere and ended abruptly. Worst of all was "The Door Gunner," which I thought had art that seemed unfinished and a terrible story with one too many twists. I rated this one star across the board and it's one of my worst of the year. Slightly better (and that's saying something) is "Coggin's Army," which was just pointless and too long. You know it's bad when Salvador's art is not the worst in an issue.



Yesterday, the Final Day"★1/2
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Luis Bermejo

"Brass Monkey"★1/2
Story by Jim Stenstrum
Art by Jose Ortiz

"Goodbye, Yellow Brick Rhode"★1/2
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Carmine Infantino & Dan Green

"He Who Waits in Shadow!"
Story & Art by Jim Starlin

Restin Dane hops in his time travel machine and returns to the Old West, looking to get revenge on Gat Hawkin (and walking toward a "Saloom"). Hawkin is waiting for him and tricks Dane by positioning a mirror just so; Hawkin pumps bullets into the time traveler's back and leaves his bleeding body to be cared for by two beautiful prostitutes, Kate and Jan. Hawkin tries to figure out how to operate the time travel machine while the ladies take Dane into an abandoned mine shaft where they encounter the Guardian, a robot left there long ago by visitors from another planet.

In the present, Dane's robots debate the wisdom of recalling the time travel machine and risking trapping Dane in the past. Dane tells his lady friends that he needs to get back to the future so he isn't stuck in the Old West. He sends Jan with written instructions to operate the Rook, but she is caught by Hawkin, whose cohort shoots her in the back. As she falls, she grabs the handle of the Rook and it disappears from the Old West and appears in the future, where Bishop Dane and a robot called Manners are waiting for it.

Manners's Old West garb
was a highlight!
In the mine, Kate hands Dane a Colt .45, while in town, the good folks have had enough of Hawkin and his goons. Outside the mine, Dane puts on a pair of wings left behind by the aliens of long ago, gives Kate a smooch, and flies into town, gunning for Hawkin and his sidekick. Just then, Bishop Dane and Manners appear and emerge from the Rook, ready for some gunplay and fisticuffs. The combination of angry townsfolk, Restin Dane, Bishop Dane, and Manners is more than a match for Hawkin and his goons, and a huge barroom brawl ensues, with the usual results.

Manners drags the Danes back to the Rook and they all return to the future, where they are surprised, on awakening, to have been joined by Kate and Jan, who seem none the worse for wear.

"Yesterday, the Final Day" doesn't always make much sense, and about halfway through, Kate says, "'I...I'm so confused! I'm not sure I understand any of it.'" The reader can understand how she feels. Still, Bermejo's art is strong enough to carry the story, and it ends up being a fun, breezy read. At 22 pages, it's one of the longer single stories we've seen to date, but I've read plenty of eight page tales in Warren mags that seemed much longer. The Rook is developing as a melange of cliches--Old West, time travel, ancient astronauts, gunfights, bar brawls, etc., but it's enjoyable nonetheless, especially the two-page spread that illustrates the fight in the saloon (or saloom).

After Hard John Apple explains to Tarara Boomdeyov that he thinks everyone in the world is out to get him and he plans to wipe them all out with his nukes, she warns him that her boyfriend Rudolf, supreme commander of the Red Threat Army, will take care of Hard John and the General. Hard John and Tarara gain admittance to the Catlick compound, disguised as a sheep and a shepherdess, only to be uncovered as spies and chained to a stone wall. Enter Rudolf, a/k/a Hemlock Zinger, "the most ruthless and despicable man on Earth"! Tarara realizes that her lover is a creep and Hemlock is about to torture the twosome when they are rescued by the General. As they make their escape, Hemlock tosses a grenade, which the General tucks under his hat. The ensuing explosion kills the orangutan and frees Hard John and Tarara, who head back to his arsenal to wipe out the rest of humanity.

"Brass Monkey" is the best entry yet in this series, which appears to have one more episode to go. Less time is spent on recap and more is spent on new action; there's no explanation for why Hard John decides to breach the Catlick compound, but the events come at the reader so quickly that there's no time to ask questions. It's a shame the General gave his life, and it's not clear if it was intentional or not, but the simian character didn't add much to the proceedings anyway.

Godeye is a hero for hire who flits around the universe with his agent, Touchy. Godeye's latest adventure takes him to the planet Elton, where he is assigned the task of rescuing a beautiful princess from a monster named Thud. The princess is suspended in mid-air, running in place on a big disco ball made of golden bricks. The ball is known as a Rhode and Godeye manages to outwit Thud and rescue the girl. He learns too late that the Rhode was made of 24-karat gold bricks, leading to the concluding pun: "'Goodbye, Yellow Brick Rhode.'"

Terrible puns mar this story from start to finish, wasting eight pages of nice art by Infantino and Dan Green, who (to my recollection) was a much better inker than he was a penciller. Lewis almost certainly thought it would be funny to take the name of the Elton John song and turn it into a pun that he could work backwards from to fashion a story. Unfortunately, the whole thing made me groan.

A man named Jim sits alone at night feeling sorry for himself. It seems his relationship with a woman has ended and now he is consumed by despair and kills himself. Darklon knocks at his door and enters, asking how he plans to resolve the situation between Darklon and his father. Darklon finds the artist dead and realizes he'll have to solve his own problem.

"He Who Waits in Shadow!" is an odd story in which an artist, presumably Starlin, is so upset about a breakup that he kills himself, leaving his creation without a guide. It's only six pages long and features the usual overwrought Starlin words and art, but it's rather effective for a short, self-reflective piece. I did not know what was going on for the first five pages, but the final page, where Darklon enters, explained it all. I wonder if this was a deadline story and Starlin had to toss something in the hopper to delay continuing the saga?-Jack

Quick! Figure out just what the hell
this is and win the prize!
The Rook is so overly complicated that I forget what the hell it's all about while I'm enjoying the action. Do I really need to know the rules or keep sorted the supporting cast in my tiny brain? Isn't it enough that I'm reading a 22-page story and not complaining about boredom? It will have to do. 

The latest "Hard John" is the weakest yet, at least in the script department. Stenstrum's dark comedy does nothing for me; it's just not very funny. The biggest takeaway from the strip is that 1984 is on the horizon. I do like Jose's Corben-esque graphics though. Despite my thumbs-down, I'm looking forward to next issue's conclusion. I had to check my notes on the first installment of "Godeye" (way back in Eerie #68) and I see I disliked that chapter just as much as this one. The plot makes little sense but, worse, it's boring as all hell and Carmine should have a restraining order issued on Dan Green. What a mess. As is always the case, Darklon is visually striking, but the script here is nothing more than a vignette. I assume this is Starlin involving himself in the story, but I could be wrong. I usually am. Sadly, the most interesting thing about this issue of Eerie is the Rook contest: 

Beginning This Thursday...

And Next Week!
Voyage to the
Bottom of the Barrel


Quiddity99 said...

And so starts the era of Warren spamming old Frazetta cover reprints... Although as one who doesn't own Blazing Combat #1 this is the only actual copy of this cover I have. I liked "Blood Brothers" a lot, Bruce Jones delivers once again. A lesser writer would have simply had Voper revealed to be a vampire or ghoul as the big twist but Jones eschews the cliché. Not much to say on "The Lighthouse". "Angel of Jaipur" works pretty good as well with John Severin perfectly suited to draw it. Returning to the cannibalism topic for the second time in the issue didn't work the best for me with "The Hungry Dragon" but beyond the repetitiveness of the topic I was fairly happy with it. I too never really saw the end of "The Door Gunner" coming and was also impressed by what appears to be pencils only art from Leopold Sanchez. "Coggin's Army" was a bit of a predictable dud for me as well. Overall though, I was fairly happy with this all war issue of Creepy. It was interesting to see the differing approach here versus Blazing Combat (which beyond being 10+ years ago at this point was also pretty much entirely written by Archie Goodwin rather than getting a mix of different writers). Absolutely a missed opportunity by not having Russ Heath draw a story though!

Impressive art from Luis Bermejo on this Rook story (particularly that two page spread), but as for the writing, its much of the same for me when it comes to this series. An average story that is drawn out for far too long. Seems like we've wrapped up the introductory storyline here so we'll see if I feel more optimistic next issue when it has to start up a new story. I too enjoyed this Hard John Apple story, the pretentiousness and religion parody drops away somewhat and fun to see the General's involvement (RIP). Interesting that Jose Ortiz tries a different art style with this story, one he didn't utilize the last time. "Goodbye Yellow Brick Rhode" is just one of many examples where an initial great stand alone story suddenly has a sequel that serves no purpose and is nowhere as good (another one I can think of off the top of my head is the Daddy and the Pie sequel). Also I don't get why they didn't bring back the original artist, Leopold Sanchez, especially since the Pea Green Boat series he's been drawing has taken the last few issues off. My guess is also that "He Who Waits in Shadow" totally was a deadline story; I like the surrealness of it, but this is one of the more nonsensical stories Warren has published in a long time.

Anonymous said...

Worth noting that this isn’t the first time that Judo Jim Starlin wrote himself into one of his stories. He also shows up at the end of ‘Death Buliding!’ in STAR REACH #1.

These two issues are from what I tend to think of as the beginning of the ‘Jump The Shark’ Era of Warren, whether unfairly or not. It’s entirely possible that what I perceived as a noticeable drop in quality at the time was really no more than me just getting a bit tired of them. In any case, this was the general time period when I started to lose interest in the magazines.

I didn’t buy either of these when they were fresh, but only acquired them years later on the secondary market. So I’m not that familiar with the contents. And unfortunately I haven’t had time to re-read them this week, so I can’t make any informed comments on them. The panels from the Infantino / Nino story do look REALLY nice, so I’ll be checking out the ‘All War’ Issue of CREEPY, for sure.


Peter Enfantino said...


your "jumping the shark" assessment is more than fair, it's on the money. I recently told Jack that a lot of these stories were a heck of a lot better when I read them 40+ years ago. They don't age well. It's only going to get worse. Some would say, "Well, then why do you bother covering these things week in and week out?" Because they're there.

Anonymous said...

I guess what I meant was, are the Warren comics of 1977 truly ‘worse’ than those of 1974 (my own personal ‘Golden Age’)? It’s obviously all subjective. But in some respects, it does seem to me that the books are on a bit of a downward trend.

If we look at two of Warren’s ‘work horses’ Jose Ortiz and Leopoldo Sanchez, their stuff in these two ‘current’ issues do seem to be less detailed and definitely less ‘illustrative’ overall than what they were doing three years earlier. Ortiz’ work on ‘Blood Brothers’ looks especially rough, like it was cranked out in a hurry. (Still pretty dang good, tho).

And using reprints (even Frazetta reprints) on the covers is usually a sign of financial belt-tightening. Within the next year, we’re going to see fewer Sanjulian, Kelly and Torres covers, more Frazetta reprints, and lots of covers by newer artists like Don Maitz, Rodney Matthews and Terrance Lindall.

Story-wise, the Warren mags were always fairly hit-or-miss, even during the ‘peak’ periods.


Over lunch, I did get a chance to check out some of these stories and art. ‘The Hungry Dragon’ is the clear stand-out for me. That Infantino / Nino combo is STUNNING.


Quiddity99 said...

I'd say we're absolutely on the downward slope at this point, from a production standpoint we're starting to see the prevalence of them using a lot of cover reprints and while the color stories were appearing nearly every issue from mid 1973 - 1975 they're much rarer now. We're seeing a reduction in the appearance of artists like Richard Corben and Berni Wrightson, while others who were at least big favorites of mine like Luis Garcia, Fernando Fernandez and Jose Bea are gone for good. I would agree that Ortiz's work is a bit weaker now than it was a few years ago (I haven't really noticed any drop in quality for Sanchez). Also as one whose a fan of anthology horror, not superheroes, the dominance of The Rook is troubling, taking up a good 40 - 50% of each issue of Eerie, even if Bermejo's art, for now at least is quite good. Vampirella's stories will start growing in length as well (even getting some issues entirely dedicated to her) which I also wasn't a fan of.

At the same time I do think there's still a lot here to like. Bruce Jones writes a lot of great stories in this era and while the output of Wrightson and Corben is down, we get a lot of stories from Russ Heath and John Severin. Alex Nino's got a lot of great stuff and at least for me (I know the rest of you don't really share my opinion on him), Leo Duranona as well. The theme issues don't all work, but there's still some good ones including a really cool experiment in Vampirella a few issues down the line. Archie Goodwin eventually comes back for a pretty good run of stories. While the quality absolutely is down in comparison to how it was a few years before, I think the big collapse doesn't happen until Louise Jones resigns as editor in 1980.