Monday, June 6, 2022

The Warren Report Issue 86: July 1977



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

Creepy #90

"Warrior on the Edge of Forever" ★★
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Jose Ortiz

"The Wash Out" ★1/2
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Leopoldo Duranona

"The Search" ★★
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Carmine Infantino & Gonzalo Mayo

"Please... Save the Children" ★1/2
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Martin Salvador

"The Sacrifice" 
Story by Jose Toutain
Art by Rafael Auraleon

"Dollie" ★1/2
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Leopold Sanchez

Fedor has been having horrible dreams about battle through the ages. He tells his friend, Edik, that these dreams seem to be closer to memories and relates a thousand years of war as if to his therapist. In the end, Edik confesses he's been having the same dreams and the two agree they should ready for battle against "the ultimate evil." They dress in their Soviet military uniforms and await their destiny.

Back when Jack and I were dissecting the DC war comics, we would usually disagree about those stories Robert Kanigher and Co. would base on real-life conflicts. Jack would love the historical aspects of the script while I would loathe being back in 8th Grade History. "Warrior on the Edge of Forever" (gosh, I wonder where Dube pulled his inspiration for that one) feels exactly like one of those G.I. Combat scripts, an Encyclopedia Britannica (for those under 30, Google it) synopsis of major skirmishes through the ages, highlighting each era's number one tyrant. Worse, Dube decides to go to the 1950s-era Stan Lee Evil Commies message with his climax. The front-page newspaper opening each page is a nice touch, but it reminded me of those similar images from low-grade sci-fi movies of the 1950s. Perhaps this was crowded out from the "All-War Issue?"

John is sent on a mission to find a runaway android and his "partner" is one of the new XK-1 models, very lifelike and great for after-hours fun. This one, named Sandy, dazzles John with her sexual prowess, but when it comes time to destroy the fugitive robot, her emotions give her away. Sandy is a human, disguised as a robot!

My memory of Bruce Jones being the undisputed champion of horror and science fiction comics in the 1970s is taking a huge hit while we stroll down this memory lane. This is a confusing and unrewarding mess, more of an excuse to spotlight some soft-core graphics (and not very good graphics at that) and little more. I had to read the climax a couple times, thinking I must have skipped over a page or two but, nope, this one is just a bad read. Jones tosses in a couple of no-no words that would have stopped "The Wash Out" at the editor's desk thirty years later. Louise Jones was probably under the mistaken idea that these comics were groundbreaking and reflective of the times rather than simply exploitative.

Von Simons, the vampire slayer, searches for a bloodsucker who's been dining on the inhabitants of a small village. Meanwhile, the monster is searching for von Simons, hoping to end his own bloody reign. There's really not much to "The Search"; it's a perfectly average vampire tale with perfectly average art (I'm still not a fan of Mayo on Carmine). It's odd that Roger McKenzie ends his tale as if the reveal that the vampire is von Simons's son, even though that tidbit is ruined several pages before. Maybe Roger expected most readers would either nod off by the finale or just skip this one altogether.

Beau sits on death row, guilty of murdering innocent children, confessing his sins to a priest. He also tells the priest what led him down that dark path. When Beau's young daughter, Chrissie, runs away from home and freezes to death in a blizzard, Beau begins having visions of the dead girl. Chrissie tells him she's in a better place and the world is heading for Armageddon. She's lonely and wants some friends to play with.

Disturbed, Beau goes to his brother, who only strengthens his own convictions. He buys a gun and goes on a killing spree, targeting children he believes are being abused. After shooting a little girl in a hospital, Beau is captured and incarcerated. His story told, Beau is led to the electric chair, while the priest and a prison guard ponder whether Beau did the right thing. Beau's brother, after all, is the President of the United States, and if anyone knows we're heading for doomsday, it's that guy! The priest shakes his head and looks to the heavens, asking God to "Please... Save the Children!"

More badly illustrated hokum, courtesy of the King of Hokum, Bill DuBay. Not that Warren would have allowed graphic death to young'uns but, if so, Martin Salvador was not the prime candidate for the job. Most of the time, Salvador seems to be content just drawing big circles without hassling with inconsequential stuff like noses and eyes and mouths. On at least two of these deaths, we get the prized teddy bear or dolly to stand in for the corpse. The climax, where Dube lowers the "dopey twist" boom on his readers' heads, is uber-clunky. All of a sudden, this cop and man of the cloth see the bright side of Beau's actions because his bro is Pres? Perhaps, Chrissie's ghost really did egg her pop on? Why would two rational men suddenly find sense in the ravings of a lunatic?

In the short-short, "The Sacrifice," beautiful maiden Irana is to be sacrificed to her tribe's god. That god is a computer. My notes aren't immensely detailed and I haven't the time to check, but I swear we've seen this one a few times before. Toutain wrote very few stories for Warren, and David Horne, in his essential Warren study, Gathering Horror, posits that "The Sacrifice," as well as two upcoming Toutain contributions, were originally written for Warren's SF title, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, which would have been published in 1975 had it not been axed pre-production.

A rotting, crazed Santa Claus is spreading violence and bloodshed throughout the world, via dangerous and evil toys. But it takes a psychiatrist, questioning the mother of "Dollie," a casualty of Toy Wars, to get to the bottom of the deadly outbreak. When the woman jumps to her death and the doctor sees for himself the cackling Santa, it occurs to him that the word S-A-N-T-A misspelled is...

Easily the "best" thing about this awful issue of Creepy, "Dollie" is tantamount to one of those goofy 1970s Italian horror flicks watched without the English-language dubbing or captioning. The story makes not one bit of sense, yet I found myself smiling and cackling like a mad elf through the whole thing. How does Satan/Santa complete his rounds if his reindeer are rotting and losing appendages? Beats me. Why did evil Satan/Santa suddenly decide to spread his brand of happiness? I don't know. Why did some kids get explosive lab kits and others vampire dolls? Don't ask me. How come Dollie lost her head when mom decapitated her vampire doll? Are you still asking questions? It's Halloween III: Season of the Witch without wit.

Speaking of wit, Brancatelli made me laugh out loud several times with his coverage of the short-lived Marvel/ Hanna-Barbara partnership, which allowed Yogi Bear and The Flintstones to share shelf space with The Fantastic Four and The Amazing Spider-Man. The unholy matrimony lasted two years.-Peter

Jack-The best things about this terrible issue are the spooky cover and Brancatelli's column. The rest is disposable. "Warrior on the Edge of Forever" wastes the talents of Jose Ortiz on a pointless talkfest with an ending that is no surprise. "The Wash Out" looks washed out and probably has pencils without inks. It features offensive language and minimal plot. They should've held the Mayo when putting together "The Search"; his inks do Carmine's pencils no favors.

DuBay once again laments the coming end of the world in "Please... Save the Children," which has an offensive topic and the usual mediocre Salvador art. Even Auraleon's work looks tired in "The Sacrifice," whose twist ending goes back to "The Old Man in the Cave" on The Twilight Zone and probably farther than that in science fiction stories. I guess that "Dollie" is the best of a bad lot, with a couple of panels that are kind of interesting in the midst of a complete mess of a story. If this issue is what Creepy has in store for us, it's going to be a slog.

Vampirella #61

"An Eye for an Eye"
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Jose Gonzalez

"Skimpole's Monsters"
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Ramon Torrents

"Brother Hawk"
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by Carmine Infantino & Alex Nino

"The Enchanting Fable of Thistlewhite the Bold"★1/2
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Russ Heath

"Companions to the Sun"
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Leopold Sanchez

Mistress Quickly pores over The Crimson Chronicles, certain that the book holds the secret to untold riches. Her moronic boyfriend Dickie has no time for books and punches her in the face, telling her to get back to work. She consults the mystical volume, looking for suitable punishment for her abusive lover. Meanwhile, the Red Queen has cut out Vampirella's eyes and awaits the return of her toad-like servant, Quilp, whose mission is to cut out Pendragon's heart and bring it to her.

Conrad and Adam van Helsing rush into the room where Pendragon lies unconscious; Quilp leaps from a window in an effort to escape and falls to his death, clutching Pendragon's heart. Mistress Quickly appears to try to reconcile with Dickie, telling him that she has accidentally let loose a demon. Vampi tires of the Red Queen's endless speechifying, so she turns into a bat and flies away. Someone other than Quilp returns to the Red Queen and grabs her by the throat. Mistress Quickly and Dickie are shocked to see that two disembodied eyeballs have appeared on top of the demonic volume, while Vampi lands in an alley, transforms back into humanoid form, and remains blind.

"An Eye for an Eye" reads like a chapter of an old movie serial, though I've never seen one with a topless villain before. There are three linked plotlines running simultaneously and I know that they'll eventually intersect; for the time being, they're all exciting and holding my interest. I hope it's not just a dream! Vampi's eyes and Pendy's heart have been cut out of their bodies, so that has to slow them down. Will the van Helsings come to the rescue? What is Mistress Quickly up to? Whose hand grabbed the Red Queen's throat? Tune in tomorrow night--same Bat time, same Bat channel!

"Skimpole's Monsters" aren't really monsters--they're the exquisite puppets he carves for children to enjoy. They know something he doesn't: his pretty, young wife is having an affair with a handsome doctor. The puppets seem to be alive, seeing all that goes on in the house and taking to each other constantly. Skimpole's constant work on his creations causes him to neglect his bride, but the disabled children who arrive one by one are delighted with his puppets, and one even overcomes a psychological barrier and resumes walking. Meanwhile, Mrs. Skimpole and her lover are upstairs in bed, and she decides it's time to confess to her husband. When she does, he does of a broken heart, and the puppets fall silent, deprived of the talented man who gave them life.

I may be grading on a curve, but this is one of the best stories I've read in a while in a Warren comic. I know it's written by our whipping boy DuBay, but the art by Torrents is excellent, with the tiny exception of a few of the panels where Mrs. Skimpole's face is a little bit off. The conceit of the talking puppets is not a new one, and there are hints along the way that they may be more than wooden toys but, in the end, the writer chooses to eschew any supernatural twist and end on a somber note.

Guided by his older brother Thunderpony, "Brother Hawk" undergoes a Native American ritual of maturity and turns into his own spirit animal, a hawk. While flying, he is shot with an arrow that causes him to fall to Earth. He returns to his human state and is nursed to health by Singing Wind, a beautiful girl from another tribe. Singing Wind is out foraging for food when she is attacked and killed by a bear; Brother Hawk transforms into a bird and goes after the bear, driving it off a cliff to its death. Did Brother Hawk realize that the bear was the spirit animal of his brother, Thunderpony?

Gorgeous artwork by the team of Infantino and Nino makes this tale a feast for the eyes, and I particularly enjoyed the Native American themes. Brother Hawk is a Lenape, a tribe from my home state of New Jersey, and Singing Wind is a Walanpawpac, which I presume is a reference to the Indian place name Wallenpaupack, in eastern Pennsylvania. Some of the art here reminds me of Joe Kubert's work, a high compliment indeed.

Things sure have changed for Thistlewhite the Bold in the years since he was an Arthurian knight who came home and swept beautiful Myra off her feet. Now she's a harpy and he trudges off to work each day in the fields with his plow horse. One day, while the still stunning Myra is at home complaining about her dull life, she is abducted by a sorcerer/knight named Gayleaves, who takes her to his castle and leaves a ransom note.

So begins "The Enchanting Fable of Thistlewhite the Bold." Our hero has no money to pay the ransom, so he sets off in the company of his small friend Chippin to rescue his spouse. The duo fight off several horrible monsters on the way to the castle, only to realize that Gayleaves has made it too easy for them because he wants to be rid of the shrewish Myra. Thistlewhite and Chippin turn and head home, leaving Myra in the castle and enjoying newfound freedom with wenches at the pub!

Russ Heath's art is terrific, as usual, and the story is funny, even if it is a bit of a riff on "The Ransom of Red Chief." Sometimes I wonder if there was a lack of communication between Warren writers and artists; in the first panel, Myra is described as golden-haired, but she has raven-black tresses. The only thing knocking half a star off my rating for this story is DuBay's annoying habit of having his exotic characters speak in contemporary slang, which I guess is supposed to be funny.

A man piloting a small plane over the desert crashes after a close encounter with a flying saucer and salvages two bottles from the wreckage: a bottle of cleaning fluid that he empties out to make a canteen for water, and a bottle of rat poison that he can use to kill himself if things get too bad. He quickly discovers that the flying saucer also crashed, so he rescues its sole alien inhabitant, who has a knack for finding sources of water in the desert. The alien has something else that the human comes to prize: a pill that puts him to sleep and causes him to dream of a beautiful female companion.

As the two trudge across the desert, the man grows more dependent on the pills that bring wonderful dreams, and he even knocks the alien out at one point to gain access to more capsules. Eventually, the alien is dragging the man through the desert when a policeman shoots and kills it; the man drinks the rat poison in order to kill himself and trigger endless dreams of the woman.

Kudos to Bruce Jones for taking "Companions to the Sun" in unexpected directions. I thought that the poison in the bottle was going to turn out to be the alien's version of water, then I thought the alien was going to turn out to be the dream woman, but no--the story ended with a not terribly original "humans misunderstand aliens and kill them" climax. Still, the art by Sanchez is terrific and Jones's storytelling abilities result in a fine conclusion to a strong issue that began with a sizzling cover by Torres!-Jack

"An Eye for an Eye" is a gorgeous mess, a crazy quilt of ideas that don't seem to flow together. We all know that Pendragon isn't dead, so it'll be interesting to see how Dube pulls off returning the old sod's heart to his chest and reanimating him. Why does Dickie (who sports the worst Keith Moon 'do I've ever seen) suddenly become a demon believer after beating Missy senseless for her silly beliefs? As we've said so many times in the past, the script seems almost an afterthought when you've got art by Jose Gonzalez. 

Bill's script for "Skimpole's Monsters" is equally perplexing. They are puppets. No, they're aliens from another world. No, they are puppets. What's it gonna be? I'll give Dube credit (for once) for leaving us with the notion that perhaps Skimpole was just a really good ventriloquist who knew his wife was banging the doc the whole time, but that climax really does just sputter out.

I wasn't too crazy about "Brother Hawk" (even given its nice artwork), but "Thistlewhite" tickled my funny bone. Who'da thunk that Dube could write intentionally funny material when he wanted to? As for Bruce Jones's "Companions to the Sun," I enjoyed its few twists and turns, but can someone explain to me why this dolt would hold on to a bottle of rat poison while trudging through the desert?

Next Issue...
We've seen him at Warren.
Now see how Alex Nino tackles
The Dark Knight!

1 comment:

Quiddity99 said...

I'm sure this opening story was an overflow story from the war issue as its inclusion here doesn't make much sense otherwise. Like you I wasn't the fondest of the approach, which seems similar to what Dubay has done before (say the Lincoln/Kennedy story from issue 76). The photos of "Tayvl" throughout the story are actually Warren production assistant Bill Mohalley. I saw the twist coming a mile away for "The Wash Out", a rare whiff for Bruce Jones. Although for once Leo Duranona actually gets to draw an attractive woman. "The Search" confused me a bit with the flashbacks (not realizing they were of the vampire, not the vampire killer), so the ending was at least a little less expected for me as a result. I actually think Martin Salvador was perfectly suited for "Please... Save the Children" but it is a massive bust of a story writing-wise for me. Dubay is once again going back to the well, with this being way too similar to that face on Mars story from Creepy 87 with a bunch of parents killing their children. The ending twist comes completely out of nowhere and has no effect whatsoever. The "God is a computer" twist from "The Sacrifice is one of the most cliché sci-fi endings possible; it is nice to see Auraleon's art but I think Toutain is proving here why he is an artist's agent and not a writer. "Dollie" seems like a long held Christmas issue overflow story with a decent concept but again an incredibly stupid ending. I didn't have memories of this issue being quite a bust, but it sure was!

Great art as always for Vampirella but an iffy story for me what appears to be a predictable and already used conclusion for the Blood Red Queen (although I haven't read next issue yet so maybe this isn't the end for her). "Skimpole's Monsters" was overly long for me; it is a good story and I like the concept, but not a 4 star story in my eyes. Skimpole dying of a broken heart was rather "eh" for me, he'd have to be quite delusional to think that paying absolutely no attention at all to his far younger wife in favor of puppets was going to keep her faithful. Great job by all concerned on "Brother Hawk"; still looking forward to Alex Nino breaking out on his own but he does a fine job with Infantino here. "Thistlewhite the Bold" is pretty good too with some fine Heath art and its ending. "Companions of the Sun" was also a really enjoyable end to the issue. A far better issue than this month's Creepy.