Monday, June 20, 2022

The Warren Report Issue 87: August 1977



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

Vampirella #62

"Starpatch, Quark & Mother Blitz" ★★
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Jose Gonzalez

"U.F.O." ★★1/2
Story by Josef Toutain
Art by Ramon Torrents

"Beautiful Screamer" ★★1/2
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Leopold Sanchez

"Time Ticket" ★★
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Esteban Maroto

"Fog" ★★
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by Carmine Infantino & Dick Giordano

"By Treason's Knife" 
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Leopold Sanchez

With her eyeballs stolen from their usual resting place, Vampirella tosses and turns in a hospital room while Pen lies dead, his heart similarly robbed, in a nearby bed. Suddenly, a stranger arrives, kidnaps the gorgeous vampiress, and takes her to his spaceship. Meanwhile, Adam and Conrad are tracking Vampirella through Con's eerie psychic abilities. They soon arrive at the spaceship, expecting the worst.

To their shock and utter delight, they discover that Vampi has been rescued, not kidnapped, by an alien named Starpatch, who travels the galaxy with two slimy creatures named Mother Blitz and Crouchback, as well as a small flying robot known as Quark. Together, the odd quartet travel the universe, searching for beings in need of help. They've reinstalled Vampi's eyeballs and, miraculously, Pen's heart. The entire cast enjoys a hearty larf and toasts the times to come.

The subtly titled "Starpatch, Quark & Mother Blitz" could be construed as Dube's way of painting himself out of all the corners he's written himself into over the last few issues. How else but to bring in a man from outer space to heal the unhealable? There's nothing of consequence other than scenes designed to get us back to the point we were at before the arc started (which was nowhere if I recall correctly) and get us propelled into the next one. Does Adam serve any purpose other than to exclaim "But Dad, Vampi's in trouble! What do we do?" at this point? I thought the best scene in this installment was where the dopey would-be sorceress reads a chant from the Crimson Chronicles™ at the same time Crouchback shows up at their window. Otherwise, all we're left with is some (admittedly) gorgeous art and a whole lot of spinning wheels. 

Derek Brown, expert in "mysterious phenomena," visits the office of Rona Helder, a gorgeously drawn journalist who recently wrote a piece on UFOs in Alaska. The article was accompanied by a photo of a spaceship in the snow. This photo has Brown intrigued, since he believes that UFOs are massing in that area. Rona agrees to accompany Derek to Alaska to interview the photographer, provided she writes the ensuing, exclusive report. The photographer takes the intrepid duo to the spot where the UFO landed and Derek agrees there's more to this story than a hoax.

That night, the three use the photographer's helicopter to fly over the area and, sure enough, a flying saucer arrives and forces the copter to land. When the trio exit the vehicle, the aliens destroy the copter and fire a beam at the pilot, reducing him to ashes. Rona and Derek take cover in a nearby cave, where they discover a whole fleet of UFOs grounded and awaiting the call to duty. Rona and Derek race back to Washington to inform the government of the impending invasion, but their story is met with the usual ridicule and mockery. Too bad; shortly afterwards, the invasion begins. 

Warren writers were constantly reaching back and "paying homage" to EC horror, but "U.F.O." has to be the closest to EC science fiction we've yet seen on this journey. The plot doesn't hold its head above water, but the adventure is enjoyable enough. There's a scene where Derek makes a big deal out of the aliens' allowing him and Rona to survive the crash of the copter and a later callback to that when he says they were allowed to survive so that they could go back to civilization and tell their story. The public would rain scorn upon the fanciful tale and no one would believe an invasion was imminent. Why not just kill the two explorers in Alaska and leave the world none the wiser? Just proves that there might not be intelligent life out there after all. 

Rick's been Bentley's chauffeur for six years and he's fairly confident the old man will leave him everything when the will gets read. Then along comes coquettish Susan Taylor, subbing in for the vacationing maid, and Rick's plan goes all to hell. He knows what Susan's up to and confronts her. After a brief pissing match, Rick rapes the girl to show her who's boss, and that seems to excite rather than enrage Susan. A partnership is born.

Capitalizing on the old man's belief that dreams can guide decisions, Susan and Rick begin a bizarre, nightly ritual designed to influence Bentley's choices come time to draw up a new will. The sideshow works and Bentley informs the pair he will be leaving them everything once he's gone. Disaster strikes when Rick intercepts a letter from a newly discovered heir to Bentley's fortune; the man will pay a visit in two days' time. The pair decide it's time to kill their benefactor by poisoning his bedtime sherry but, in the best Warren tradition, the dopes screw up and poison themselves.

Speak of the devil, here's a good old-fashioned EC "homage," delivered by Bruce Jones in classic noir fashion. Susan is cut from the same cloth as the classic 1940s noir dames who preferred to be assaulted rather than wooed. The plot of "Beautiful Screamer" is obviously a retread and the climax may be a tad predictable, but that won't stop the reader from smiling just the same. All we're missing is art by Johnny Craig; the Sanchez work is serviceable but looks like something he whipped out over lunch.

When he is the victim of a blackmailer, Don Vega approaches pawnbroker Lorenza Delacarte, rumored to be possessed of witchy powers. The Don soon discovers the rumors are true and the comely maiden agrees to grant Vega one wish in exchange for seven minutes of his life. She explains the Devil has given her the power to grant "good deeds" and Don Vega quickly agrees. Alas, as in most bargains with the Devil, our protagonist soon wishes he could change his request. "Time Ticket" seems to be another of those Esteban strips published somewhere else and provided with a new script by Gerry Boudreau. At just six pages, it feels long and meandering, but it looks great. I love how, in true Maroto style, a maiden is disrobed before being beheaded. 

A nuclear test releases a killer vapor from within the bowels of the earth. The mist forms into a "Fog" and develops a taste for human flesh, making its way across the land. Marine biologists Reed and Molly are out to sea when they spy the strange looking black fog heading their way. The vapor quickly overwhelms the ship, stripping all hands of flesh and then turning its attention to Reed and Molly. The pair barely escape the ship and head for land but, once docked, they run across a grim discovery: a town full of human bones. The fog has already been here. 

They quickly make their way inland, heading for a cabin where Reed feels they can be safe. Along the way, they find a frightened little girl and adopt her into their survivalist group. Arriving at the cabin safely, Reed boasts that, given time, they can find a way to defeat this creature. Time's up, though, since the fog has adapted, becoming a stream of black liquid, heading for the cabin.

Echoes of The Blob reverberate all through "Fog" but, unlike that earlier classic, no help is on the way and we can assume mankind is doomed. I liked this one quite a bit, not only due to its source material but also because Cuti avoids making ecological proclamations or providing any lengthy back story (we get just a quick nod to 1950s sci-fi with the obligatory nuclear bomb side effects) for his hungry vapor. Extra half-star for having the balls to kill a pooch. Love this Infantino/Giordano pairing; a fully clad Molly manages to be sexier than most of the unclad babes found in these pages.

During the early days of World War II, Eric, an English soldier, is recruited for a secret mission to assassinate General Rommel. The plot involves the soldier sacrificing his men for the "greater good," but what's not planned for is that one of his men would practice black magic. When the deed goes down and Eric is facing Rommel, he simultaneously learns the entire plot was a setup in order to kill his comrades, and that voodoo is a bitch.

Wow is "By Treason's Knife" a complicated mess! I had to reread that climax a couple of times to sort through all the twists and turns, and I'm still not 100% sure if the surprises were effective or nonsensical. The voodoo angle is introduced late and then almost intrudes on the climax, or maybe it's the lame double-cross that stymies the black magic. It looks like Leopold Sanchez had more time to work on this than on "Beautiful Screamer," as his art here is much more detailed and stylish.-Peter

Jack-Great cover, terrible interiors! "Starpatch, Quark" boasts another dreadful DuBay title and great art by Gonzalez. The Red Queen story arc didn't end--it collapsed. "U.F.O." is a dull story that goes nowhere, while "Beautiful Screamer" has uncharacteristically rough art from Sanchez. I thought Jones's attempt at noir was cheesy. "Time Ticket" isn't great, but at least it's better than the first three stories; "Fog" wastes terrific Infantino/Giordano art on another bad story from Nick Cuti. How did he do E-Man? His Warren work is awful. Like you, I was confused by the events of "By Treason's Knife," but I agree that Sanchez spent more time on the art than he did on "Beautiful Screamer."

Creepy #91

(Reprinted from Eerie #60, September 1974)

(Reprinted from Creepy #78, April 1976)

"Phantom of Pleasure Island"
(Reprinted from Creepy #75, November 1975)

"Benjamin Jones and the Imagineers"
(Reprinted from Creepy #80, June 1976)

"Cold Cuts"
(Reprinted from Vampirella #34, June 1974)

(Reprinted from Creepy #75, November 1975)

"Gamal and the Cockatrice"
(Reprinted from Vampirella #47, December 1975)

"The Shadow of the Axe!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #79, May 1976)

As Joe Brancatelli once famously noted, Jim Warren sure loved to trot out those old Frank Frazetta covers. I imagine he didn't pay Frank very much in royalties the second time around (if anything at all), but a mediocre Frazetta (which this one is) is still a Frazetta. Inside you'll find three bonafide classics, four pretty darn good thrillers, and one stinker ("Benjamin Jones"); that's a very good ratio, especially when you consider how much mediocre new Warren material was being bound and printed in 1977.-Peter

Jack-"Nightfall" is a great story, and I liked the art by Toth on "Phantom" and by Jones on "Cold Cuts," but I thought "Thrillkill" wasted the talents of the late, great Neal Adams. Heath's art shines on "The Shadow of the Axe!" It's not a bad collection.

Eerie #85

"Lost to the Land of Nowhen"★1/2
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Luis Bermejo

"Gonna Nuke Mankind Right Outa My Hair"
Story by Jim Stenstrum
Art by Jose Ortiz

"First Wish"
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Leopoldo Duranona

"Blackstar & the Night Huntress"★1/2
Story by Gerry Boudreau 
Art by Esteban Maroto

Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Leopold Sanchez

Bishop Dane shows the robot he has named "Useless" how to use a six-shooter and Restin Dane hops into the Rook and travels back to the Old West by means of an hour-long time fragment he has discovered. Back in 1857, he enters the abandoned mine and speaks to the robot sentinel, who reveals that Restin now has mental powers to unlock the door. Restin touches one machine and it explodes!

In 1977, Useless realizes that Restin's hour is almost up and he has not returned. Bishop and Useless hop into the reserve time castle and head back to 1857 but, just before they get there, Restin realizes his hour is almost up and rushes back to his time castle, only to see it disappearing. Bishop and Useless emerge from the reserve castle to witness Restin disintegrating before their eyes.

Determined to memorialize his lost grandson, Bishop purchases the mine and the land around it and sets up a mailbox outside the mine's opening. Meanwhile, Useless works to rebuild the robot sentinel that guarded the mine. The duo travel back to 1977, where Kate and Jan discover the old mailbox next to the mine entrance. Inside, they find a letter that has been in there for 120 years!

Hopefully, next issue will not see Starpatch and Mother Blitz arrive to reintegrate Restin Dane. The hopping back and forth in time seems pointless this time out, and I have no idea what was going on in the mine or why the machine blew up. DuBay is leaning a little too hard on space aliens in his various stories, don't you think? Still, "Lost to the Land of Nowhen" gives us 14 pages of smooth art by Bermejo, and the robot characters, especially, are likeable. I still can't get over the resemblance to C3PO. I hear his voice in my head reciting the lines of Useless.

All of the warring armies are about to converge on Hard John's launch pad in Kansas and he must decide whether to send the nuclear missiles off to destroy the world or not. A quick trip to church yields no answers so, when Hemlock Zinger and his men arrive, John and Tarara have to prepare for the worst as he heads down into the launch room and she stays above ground. As Zinger and his men lower themselves by rope down the missile silos, John is visited by God (or Jesus), who helps him decide. In the end, all of the missiles but one will land harmlessly in the ocean; the final missile will go straight up and come back down on Kansas to wipe out all of the warring armies. John and Tarara stand waiting for destruction.

Despite the title, "Gonna Nuke Mankind Right Outa My Hair" is a fitting end to the saga of Hard John. I know Peter won't like the visit from the deity, but I didn't mind it--perhaps it was meant to represent an answer to John's prayer earlier in the story. I wasn't clear whether it was God or Jesus visiting, since it looked like Ortiz drew a hand with a wound in it. In any case, a bit of religion is welcome in a Warren story once in a while--we certainly get plenty of demons!

As the old gym is being torn down in 1977, Jamie recalls an incident 40 years before, when he was a boy. His adult friend Gaffer had a pal named Wildcat, a washed-up old boxer who had been beaten and blinded by mobsters after he refused to throw a fight. Wildcat's daughter is dying and the boxer's one wish is to fight off Death and save the young woman. Sure enough, Death appeared in the boxing ring, and Gaffer used the first of three wishes he had from the Devil to ensure that Wildcat beat Death and his daughter lived.

No real surprises in "First Wish," but it's a sentimental, well-told tale with appropriate artwork by Duranona. I knew what was going to happen but I enjoyed it anyway.

His spaceship destroyed in a battle, a space mercenary named Ramon Blackstar meets a beautiful huntress named Rowena Square. "Blackstar & the Night Huntress" manage to escape enemy soldiers by piloting a stolen ship through a black hole. They land on an unknown planet, where they end up meeting alternate versions of themselves and merging with them.

When I was young, I used to enjoy science fiction. Now, with steadily advancing age, I can't seem to get interested in it, and reading Warren sci-fi stories certainly doesn't help. Blackstar battles someone in a spaceship, lots of ray guns go off, blah blah blah. Like Peter, I found the only thing about this story even remotely interesting to be Maroto's drawings of the scantily clad Rowena, which says a lot about how uninteresting Boudreau's script was.

Al and Eric, the Owl and Pussycat on the Pea Green Boat, happen upon an abandoned ship and find the food and medicine they badly need. Back on their own ship, they head for a light on the shore, only to find the abandoned ship rushing ahead of them and crashing on a coral reef. Scavengers board the ship and find food and treasure, but Al and Eric follow and kill the men who ravage the ship. The ghostly "Dutchman" appears and explains that he is cursed to sail the seas for abandoning his crew long ago. Al and Eric sail off and reach shore.

I'm not sure why Al and Eric are so mad at the scavengers who board the Flying Dutchman, but there's one panel (reproduced here) where a head is cut off that just about made this issue of Eerie worthwhile as a horror comic. Think about it: other than Death in the boxing ring and the severed head, why is this mag called Eerie? What's so eerie about a time-traveling castle or a half-naked huntress? Warren's second-oldest magazine has lost its focus.-Jack

"Blackstar Finds the
Back Door to Heaven"
I've decided that worrying about the rules of the Rook's time travel is a waste of time. It's confusing as all hell and I'll let that statement stand ad infinitum. With that weight off my shoulders, I can just sit back and enjoy a thrilling adventure. And that's pretty much what we get this time out. The cliffhanger was very effective, making me want to skip ahead to the next chapter and find out what's in that letter the girls found in the mailbox. But I'm a professional and I'll just have to wait until the next post.

Jim Stenstrum ends the "Hard John" series with its best chapter; some might say that climax, when John meets his maker, is a tad silly, but... well, no, they would be right. I found the rest of the story, especially John on the road to his difficult decision, immensely entertaining. The same can't be said about "Gaffer," which is eleven pages of cliched, maudlin crap, made all the worse by Duranona's sludgy artwork. Really, I should have seen the "Death enters the ring" scene coming the second we were told Amy is dying, but I really really wanted to believe...

The only reason to make your way through the Burroughs-ian "Blackstar & the Night Huntress" is to witness the many ways Maroto can pose the female posterior. As usual, Esteban does a great job with that part of the anatomy, but the rest of his stuff (especially backgrounds and secondary characters) has become very sketchy. The Boudreau script is typical Warren space opera, low on original content.

"Dutchman" is the last chapter in the "Pea Green Boat" saga, but the climax gives no hint it was drawing to a close. I think it was a good time to end it though; the series, which had a couple of very good installments, had become meandering, and Budd Lewis seemed to have taken his eye off the end goal. I could go my entire life without having to read cursive caption boxes again.

Next Week...
Can a new villain take our
minds off all this awful art?

1 comment:

Quiddity99 said...

What a clunker for Vampirella's story this month. When the only way to resolve the storyline is to bring in a deus ex machina alien to save everyone you know the writer has no clue how to write an ending. EC Sci-fi was exactly what I was thinking of with UFO, and the whole "protagonists find UFOs, go to the government, are laughed away, then the aliens invade" thing was an EC story. It also reminds me of the type of story you'd see on The X-Files. Strong art by Torrents here. This was a story originally intended for the "Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow" magazine that Warren was in discussions with Josep Toutain on, but never got published, so they simply threw it in here. "Beautiful Screamer" also reminded me much of old EC stories, but was fairly good. "Time Ticket" was fairly enjoyable for me as well and used the 7 minutes gimmick in an interesting way for Don Vega. "By Treason's Knife" I enjoyed, although it did seem like a lot of effort just to take out one unit. This story was drawn by Jose Ortiz but is mis-credited to Leopold Sanchez. Overall a fairly strong issue outside of that dud of an opener.

Creepy #91 is one of those rare Warren issues I don't own, and don't really see a point in trying to obtain since its 100% reprint. The listing of contents shows a ton of great stories, so at least they did a good job in determining what to reprint.

Thankfully "The Rook" story is shorter this time, although not much of consequence seems to happen as a result. The Rook has the exact same issue Vampirella has, when the series is a permanent feature there are no stakes and you have no reason to fear the bad things that happen to the hero/heroine. The Rook disappears, but I'm sure he'll be back, good as new next time. "Hard John Apple" ended fairly well for me although it is disappointing that we have two stories in a row with no horror element to them whatsoever. While predictable, I liked "First Wish" a lot, and Gaffer continues to be one of my more well liked series from this era, with from what I recall, even better stuff to come. "Blackstar and the Night Huntress" came off as quite pointless to me, although it was at least less overwritten than the previous Maroto drawn sci-fi series "Oogie". "The Pea Green Boat" has finally come to an end with another story rather hard to read the captions of. The last few stories in this series have had a very same feel to me and I'm glad that it's over, even if we don't get an ending.