Monday, November 21, 2022

The Warren Report Issue 98: October 1978



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

Creepy #102

"Pantomime at Sea" ★1/2
Story by Cary Bates
Art by Joe Vaultz

"Almost Shangri-La" 
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Leo Duranona

"The Thing in the Haunted Forest" ★1/2
Story and Art by Abel Laxamana

"Killer Claw" ★1/2
Story by Mark Lasky
Art by Walt Simonson & Klaus Janson

"Night Eyes" ★1/2
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"Fair Prey" ★1/2
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Isidro Mones

Behind a  bizarre cover painting, we get a varied bag of what are deemed "monster stories."

Movie star Rory Basilla is putting his career on the line by starring in a monster movie, but he's putting his life on the line by wearing the monster suit, an underwater Gill-Man outfit that allows its owner 20 minutes or so of oxygen. The director asks Rory to pop into the sea for a tryout and, while swimming around, Rory is attacked by two scuba divers armed with spear guns. Convinced the men believe he's actually a sea monster, Rory attempts to remove his headpiece but remembers that doing so will kill his oxygen supply. The actor manages to elude his assailants for a bit but is caught off guard and captured when he's shot with a tranquilizer dart. Rory is taken to a large ship and dumped in a water tank, but at least now he can reveal his true identity without drowning. He removes his mask but the men remain unimpressed. They remove their masks as well and the space ship blasts off for outer space.

A cute little yarn that makes little sense (there seem to be no safety nets involved in Rory's dive, despite the expense of the production), "Pantomime at Sea" benefits greatly from some more cool art by Vaultz. Cary Bates never explains why these aliens go to so much trouble to capture a washed-up actor.

Searching for the body of famed Himalayan explorer Sir Hillary Brae, who disappeared over two years ago, Lawrence Banks makes the acquaintance of one Harry Clark in a pub at the foot of the mountains. During their conversation, Clark admits that he ran across Brae's traveling companion, Randolf Grimes (who disappeared at the same time as Brae), recently. Banks demands to hear the story and Clark tells it... and tells it... and tells it.

To be brief, Brae and Grimes are abandoned by their guides and become lost during a snowstorm high in the Himalayas. The men fall into a deep chasm and wake up in a beautiful, warm valley filled with fruit-bearing trees and naked men and women. Brae sees this as paradise, but Grimes just wants to get back to his family in Liverpool and attempts to climb out. Once in the snow, he discovers the truth of the paradise he just left.

There's more to "Almost Shangri-La" than that, but I was just as confused as writer Bruce Jones seems to have been. The inhabitants of the valley are obviously yeti, but they give off an "aura shield" of normalcy. It's only when Grimes gets back to the Himalayas that he discovers he's been transformed as well. The cliched twist at the climax, when storyteller Harry Clark holds up his clawed hand to reveal he's a snowman, makes no sense at all. Duranona's male characters all look hunchbacked and ugly.

In Abel Laxamana's "The Thing in the Haunted Forest," Odem Gilmer puts an axe into old man Shakleford's head and steals the fortune stashed below the old-timer's floorboards. Knowing the police will name him Suspect #1, Gilmer takes the bag of loot into the forest to bury, but realizes he needs to create a landmark to help mark the spot. He takes an axe to a nearby tree but a howl stops him in mid-swing. A ghostly apparition, a woman with her pet mountain lion (?), explains to Omer that her soul is trapped in the tree and the person who fells the mighty oak will be cursed with eternal life.

The lightbulb goes on over Omer's head and he starts chopping. The tree falls smack dab on the dope, pinning him to the ground. The woman reappears to thank Omer for releasing her from her prison and wishes him a happy eternity. A simple plot with a simple execution and a not-so-surprising twist, but Laxamana's art is the grab here. This is only the third contribution to the Warrens by Laxamana, so why does it seem like he's been around for quite a while? His style reminds me somewhat of Carmine's as inked by Alfredo, only grittier.

When Maine fisherman Alf Williamson and his grandson go missing and the wreckage of his boat floats onto the beach, a trio of divers are hired to retrieve the bodies. What they find is a giant lobster sitting on the bottom of the reef, waiting for its next meal. After one of the divers is killed, the creature is coaxed to the surface and trapped in a web of nets. While dragging the thing aboard, it's accidentally killed and the millions of eggs that had been attached to its body are released into the sea. Much like "Snaegl" (back in #97), "Killer Claw" is dumb, harmless fun meant to invoke the likes of Godzilla and Gorgo, and it succeeds in its mission. I love how Alf's corpse is reduced to a skeleton, but it retains his cap! And how does a giant lobster pick the meat from those tiny bones? Never mind!

1898 London. When Richard Patterson asks for the hand of the beautiful Elaine, her father agrees under one condition: that Patterson "make something of himself" and volunteer to travel to Africa to help with the laying of the railroad through Tsayo. Desperate for the acceptance of the man, Patterson quickly agrees and finds himself fighting mosquitoes and hiring local tribesmen to assist in the task. 

Very quickly, Patterson discovers this will not be an easy mission. A particularly intelligent and vicious lion is picking his workers off one at a time. Even a professional hunter is dealt with swiftly by the night monster. When Richard writes to his love of his plight, Elaine insists he drop everything and come home before he becomes Kibbles 'n' Bits. But nothing will halt Richard from his goal and he plods on until he is the only man left in camp. Trapped inside a rail car, Richard Patterson makes his last stand.

Based loosely on John Henry Patterson's account of the events, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo (which was eventually filmed as the excellent The Ghost and the Darkness), Bruce Jones's "Night Eyes" is a gripping, involving page-turner that contains not one hint of the supernatural. I kept expecting Jones to veer off into zombie-voodoo-monster territory but, thankfully, it never came. In fact, we never even see the lion until it's reduced to a hide adorning the train car. As I've no doubt mentioned many times, no one could evoke the atmosphere of the jungle like Alfredo Alcala, and "Night Eyes" is further proof of that.

A Navy ship runs across a drifting boat in the middle of the Atlantic. When the men board the ship, they find one survivor among the dozens of dead crewmen, a woman who claims she has recently given birth and tells the captain her sad and terrifying story. Bea was a member of a scientific team stationed on a remote island, searching for a cure for cancer. At night, the team seems to be picked off one by one, their blood drained. The attention turns to pregnant Bea, who seems to glow with life, and tempers flare. 

Eventually, the murderer, a giant mosquito, is discovered with its latest victim, and Bea and Paul, the only surviving male on the team, head for the beach. There, they are attacked by a whole swarm of the giant creatures but are able to fight them off with smoke and bullets. The dawn arrives and the mosquitoes head for shelter. Bea and Paul manage to  row out to the larger ship waiting for them and they sail away. Back in the present on the Navy ship, a terrifying discovery is made: Bea gave birth to a giant mosquito!

Why? How am I supposed to know? Obviously, Bruce thought the twist for "Fair Prey" would evoke shock rather than furrowed brow, but all I could think was how stupid the reveal was. Especially eye-rolling is the moment when one of the crew members suddenly remembers what a mosquito larva looks like from his old biology days. Strictly amateur hour, and that includes Mones's pedestrian doodles, which reminded me of the bad old 1970 days of Mastroserio and Sparling. Well, one classic and two duds this issue for Bruce. If a batter had that average, he'd win MVP.

On "The Comic Books" page, Joe Brancatelli details the early days of what would become a very controversial and divisive new contract for Marvel writers and artists. It's essential reading and reprinted below.-Peter

Jack-Not much disagreement here. I liked "The Thing in the Haunted Forest" as much as "Night Eyes" and thought "Thing" had a real EC vibe with art that recalled that of Jack Davis and a good surprise ending. Jones and Alcala manage to tell a real story for a change, with plenty of suspense, but I was slightly disappointed by the conclusion. So, it was a lion the whole time? No zombies or giant bugs? "Killer Claw" doesn't look much like Walt Simonson's work to me; I suppose Janson's inking pen was extra heavy. I had a hard time working up interest in the giant lobster, which must have been too big to get a clear picture of.

I thought "Fair Prey" had pretty good art and a nice note of menace at the end; I certainly did not expect the culprit to be a giant mosquito. "Pantomime at Sea" has interesting art but the story confused me, since I didn't understand why aliens would go fishing for a human, especially one dressed like them. "Almost Shangri-La" was worst, far too wordy and with Duranona trying to dredge up something interesting from endless panels of people sitting around talking. It gets a bit better in the middle when there's some action but the end is a letdown.

Eerie #96

"The Cutman"
"Explosive Issue"
Story by Guillermo Saccomano & Cary Bates
Art by Leo Duranona

"Mac Tavish: Hero of Zodiac V"
Story by Jim Stenstrum
Art by Pepe Moreno

"The Ark"
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Carmine Infantino & Walt Simonson

"The Shining Sea"
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by Alfredo Alcala

A pimp kills a prostitute when she holds back some money. Her young son finds her corpse and is taken in by the Fallen Angels, a quartet who were among Lucifer's rebel troops but who repented before they were thrust into Hell. As punishment, they were doomed to spend eternity on Earth, judging and executing evil doers. The Angels investigate and identify a pimp named Spider as the killer; they capture him and tie him to a bed before leaving him alone with the young son, who is given a knife and offered the chance at "Revenge." Of course, the boy can't kill the pimp, so Marlene, one of the Angels, delivers justice.

Have we reached a new low? The first story in this new series not only features some rather hideous artwork by Duranona, it also is set in the Ghetto, among prostitutes and pimps, and has a near-DuBay-like "command" of racial issues, naming one of the Fallen Angels "Hot Chocolate." A couple of pages are signed "Duranona NY '76," making me wonder why this sat in a drawer for a year and a half before being published. It's not like Warren had so many other, better quality stories to run ahead of it!

A group of mobsters sit around a table, trying to figure out a hit man who can handle a new contract. Purdy, a young member of the group, suggests Cipriano and the others reluctantly agree, making it clear that failure is not an option. The young mobster visits Cipriano, who is now an old drunk living in a hovel and tells him who to kill. Cipriano carries out the mission, but there's a catch: his target left town and the killer eliminated the wrong man. Purdy visits Cipriano to deliver the bad news before shooting and killing the assassin, whom he calls "'Dad.'"

"Cutman" is a step up from "Revenge," and I wonder if it was done a good bit later--there are no panels with Duranona's signature and a date, as far as I can tell. The Fallen Angels do make an appearance and it's called a Fallen Angels story on the title page, but I'm not sure why they're included, since they don't do anything. They see Cipriano walking by, chat with him, and agree that they're not allowed to interfere in what happens. Since when? Isn't that the whole point of the Fallen Angels? Perhaps they can't interfere in bad events until after they happen. At least there's one fairly effective panel, which I've reproduced here.

A slumlord named Mitchell hires a sleazeball named Sancho to blow up the tenement where the Fallen Angels live. Sancho assures Mitchell that no one will be able to trace the "Explosive Issue" back to him, but the Angels know better! They track Mitchell and Sancho to a topless bar, confront them, and start a brawl, but God (?) appears and tells the Angels that their mindless violence just extended their time of penance on Earth. The Angels kill Mitchell's associates before running the slumlord into a building that is being blown up.

Part three of this 30-page "extravaganza" contains some confused morals. On the one hand, we're told that the Fallen Angels are put on Earth to enact vengeance on bad guys. On another, they're punished for being too violent. After that, they're right back to knifing people in the throat and blowing them up. Duranona's art is relentlessly ugly, but worse than that, his panels are often unclear as to what's going on; in the one I've reproduced here, I thought a cat was sitting on one character's shoulder until I realized that the cat was actually the hair of another character.

Spider Andromeda escapes from a trap set for him by Lazard, the interim high governor of Rara Avis. Mac Tavish takes a week off before being flown to Spider's hiding place among enormous dunes; Spider explains that Lazard is behind the murder of prior High Governor Tagus. It seems there is an element called Polyprismite in the Rara Avis mines that can give immortality, and a battle for control is imminent. Mac and Spider stage a daring raid that succeeds in blowing up a key element of Lazard's plan to unleash chaos on Rara Avis.

"Mac Tavish: Hero of Zodiac V" made me wish for another segment of the Fallen Angels. This story is an interminable ten pages of overly long captions, corny dialogue, and grade school-level artwork. I'm not enough of a Star Wars fan to know how much is straight steal and how much is "inspired by" the Lucas film, but the whole package is hard to read and deadly dull.

Back in the drought-filled summer of 1904, everyone in Freemont, Utah, thought old Walt Simmons was crazy when he started to build "The Ark." Torrential rain follows pounding heat and, before you know it, Walt and his wife are holed up in the ark nice and dry while the townsfolk are pounding on the door, begging to be let in. Walt ends up shooting Jake and is shot in return, so his wife barricades the door and spends the rest of her days with Walt's decomposing corpse.

Not much unexpected here, other than another weak art job by Simonson, who seems barely to do anything with Infantino's usual rough pencils. The plot is obvious and the best thing about McKenzie's story is the final image, where it's suggested that Miriam will grow old barricaded inside the ark with Walt's corpse. Now that's a Warren ending!

A fishing boat with dolphin-headed people and one human is boarded by shark-headed people who demand half of the fish the dolphin people have caught. A skirmish ensues and a squid-headed man appears. He's an old pal of the dolphin-heads and they start to talk over old times. The human was found long ago in a bubble in the poisoned Silver Sea, and now he decides he has to go back and figure out where he came from and why he looks different from the rest of his family. Gurn, the human, is followed by Dorva, his dolphin-headed step-sister, and they discover a crashed spaceship in the Silver Sea, proof that Gorn's people came from another planet. Everyone else on the ship died. Gorn and Dorva head home and Gorn wonders if another ship will come some day with more of his people.

Alcala does his best with Cuti's dopey script for "The Shining Sea," but the sight of Dorva, a sexy gal with a low-cut top and the head of a dolphin, is more than a little bit creepy. God help us if this is the first story in a new series. I can't take many more people with fish heads.-Jack

The whole time I was reading the “Fallen Angels Trilogy,” I was thankful that Jack (poor Jack) has synopsis duties on Eerie. Wading through the three vignettes that make up “Fallen Angels” is tantamount to taking a Geometry course without having mastered basic arithmetic. Nothing makes sense. We’re essentially dropped into the middle of a story without much explanation as to what these “Angels” do. In fact, the group has little to no impact on the action in “The Cut Man.” There’s nothing resembling an origin and we only get hints that some dark power is behind the group’s presence on Earth and they’re doomed to wander our cities until they redeem themselves. Of the three stories, I liked “The Cut Man” most, but I’m certainly happy that this is a three-and-done and we won’t have to endure these characters and their non-adventures ever again. 

I give myself four stars for actually making it through the Mac Tavish mess. Who would have ever guessed that space opera would not be a roaring success at Warren? (Hand raises.) Seriously, this shit should have embarrassed Louise and Jim (if Jim was still paying attention by this time); it’s one thing to pay homage and another to wholesale rip a property off. Obviously, George Lucas was too busy shutting down fan fiction and lame TV shows to be policing bad comic magazines. Unfortunately, this is a sign of bad times to come.

Thankfully, the final two stories show a measure of imagination and (in the case of “The Shining Sea”) a whopping tablespoon of goofiness. “The Ark” has a dark, depressing tone, while “The Shining Sea” is like something out of a fairy tale book. Both have gorgeous art. Who knew a dolphin in a bikini could be so erotic?

Vampirella #73

"A Gathering of Demons" 
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Gonzalo Mayo

What is the secret of Cryssie Collins, an inmate at the Harstdale Aylum [sic, among many sics], who seems possessed by demons? Could she be at the heart of the vicious murders rocking the city, and why did Conrad Van Helsing take an interest in this poor girl?

A string of ritualistic murders, where the victims have had their blood drained, has Conrad Van Helsing fearful that Vampirella has lost control of her urges. Son Adam, however, never believes his extraterrestrial squeeze is responsible for the killings.

Meanwhile, everyone's favorite W. C. Fields impersonator, Pendragon, takes in an evening theater show featuring "The Incredible Professor Ten Ichi and his Mysteries of the Orient" and is flabbergasted at the display of prestidigitation Ten Ichi displays. When he goes backstage to congratulate Ten Ichi, the professor of mystic arts introduces the old sod to his son, who will one day take over the act. Pen leaves the room with an odd feeling, but a flask of the hard stuff erases all thought.

Adam and Vampi head out into the streets at night to see if they can head off another murder (how they know where to look in such a big city is not really dealt with), but even V in her bat-form can't stop the slaying, this time of a wino on a Brownstone step. Vampi-bat arrives just as the robed killer is fleeing; she unmasks him to reveal Ten Ichi's son and the two engage in battle. Vampi decks the knife-wielding psychopath but another approaches from behind. Before the newcomer can run Vampi through with a sword, the police arrive and give chase. The two assassins mysteriously disappear into thin air.

Adam and Vampi race off in his sports car and the police, suspecting Vampi had something to do with the vagrant's murder, engage in a high-speed chase. Adam manages to jump his car over water and onto a departing ferry and he and Vampi make their getaway. The cops are not so fortunate in their bid for Evel Knievel-level thrills.

Back to Cryssie Collins (pre-Harstdale Aylum). Adam has been called to the girl's apartment by his father after the girl was attacked by demons. Vampi accompanies her beau and is shocked when they open the door and see what appears to be (thanks to Gonzalo Mayo) Conrad engaged in a pillow fight with Cryssie. Vampi realizes she's the only one in the room equipped with enough power to deal with a possessed Cryssie and engages in a tussle with the she-beast. Cryssie hops out the third-floor window and escapes into the night. Unseen by any of the parties involved, an Exorcist stands below a streetlamp, observing the activities silently.

Conrad showing why he's
got a keen mind
We learn that the holy man is Father Joseph and later, in the bell tower of his church, he confronts a savage and nearly-nude Cryssie. He explains that very soon his revenge against the church system, for denying him a job as cardinal, will reach its apex. He holds a demon he has trapped in a bottle above his head and has a hearty laugh, promising that he will hold the ultimate power in no time flat!

With the help of Pendragon (who suddenly remembers the story of the Council of Wizards, a group of Anti-Christs who encourage dark acts and upheavals all over the world), Adam, Conrad, and Vampi connect the dots between Cryssie, the Exorcist, Ten Ichi, and the slayings, and discover the murders form a huge pentagram across the city. The final demon shindig will be held at the very center of the star and, hopefully, our heroes can crash "A Gathering of Demons!"

At 69 pages, this has to be the longest single story to ever run in a Warren comic book and, believe me, it feels like it. There are some enjoyable twists and turns, but too much of "Gathering" feels like Dube had several half-finished scripts and just decided to sew them all together. It's the Bill DuBay equivalent of the "Paul Side" of Abbey Road without the joyful melody. The Smokey and the Bandit homage (or is it Live and Let Die?), with Adam flying through the air in his hot rod and making a perfect landing on the ferry before the cops drive their patrol car into the drink, is ludicrous beyond parallel and slows down the pace of the otherwise suspenseful and exciting mid-segment.

It's hilarious that Conrad Van Helsing, for what must be the 50th time, immediately suspects Vampi for the blood-drained victims despite having fought alongside her for so many adventures. Though he's not credited, I guarantee Alfredo Alcala (and at least one other inker) had a hand in a huge amount of this disjointed "epic" and the sudden jump into (and out of) that look adds to the general feeling that this is a whole lot of pieces thrown together at the last second. Still, there's some awfully good art all through this mess. 

I'd ask for the resignation of the proofreader this issue ("Homocide" anyone?), but we all know there was no one checking spelling in those days. Hard to believe that five years after the fact, writers were still ripping off The Exorcist and its naughty dialogue but Bill DuBay puts his all into PG-13 exclamations such as "Die, pigmeat wench!" and "I'll tear out your sliming throat!"-Peter

Jack-There are some decent sequences in this long story, but it just keeps going and never gets anywhere unexpected. Seeing Vampi turn into a bat and back again made me wonder where her red bikini (as I think it was called at one point) goes when she's a bat. I would like to see a bat flying around in a miniature version of the Vampi outfit. There are some pages where Adam displays incredible abs and others where Pendragon looks about half his usual age. The art is inconsistent, but I agree that there are good sequences--just not those where Mayo draws posed characters looking straight at the reader. As I read this story, it made me wonder if I would have enjoyed it at about age fifteen. There's certainly plenty of action, pretty girls, and demons, so who knows?

Star Quest Comix

"Last Light of the Universe"
(Reprinted from Creepy #73, August 1975)

"The Last Hero"
(Reprinted from Creepy #52, April 1973)

"Unprovoked Attack on a Hilton Hotel"
(Reprinted from Creepy #73, August 1975)

(Reprinted from Creepy #62, May 1974)

"The War"
(Reprinted from Creepy #81, July 1976)

This lazy collection of sci-fi stories (two are from the same issue) torn from the pages of Creepy is actually just another excuse for Jim Warren to issue a Star Wars merch catalogue with a price tag slapped on the cover. But if you have to read an overpriced reprint, at least there are three fabulous tales present and accounted for. For the record, "The War" and "The Last Hero" are garbage.-Peter

Jack-Three fabulous tales? Corben should stay away from sci-fi, and "Judas" isn't that good. I didn't find "Hilton Hotel" funny and I thought "Last Light" was too long and needed more action. I agree with you about "Last Hero" and "The War."

Next Week...
More Miller Masterpieces!


Quiddity99 said...

This was one of the earliest issues of Creepy I ever owned. Really up there for one of the most odd covers we've had so far. Almost Shangri-La was my favorite story of the issue and a really strong one overall until that final panel, featuring a twist that was totally unnecessary. For some reason several panels of The Thing in the Haunted Forest look more like Alex Nino's work than Abel Laxamana's to me. I wonder if he got some help on the story. Night Eyes was a fine story; even though its been years since I've read this story I instantly recalled the end twist of his fiancé dumping him for someone else. The remaining stories in this issue were iffy at best for me. Killer Claw and Fair Prey in particular were too similar in nature for me and I'd have preferred more variety.

Very surprising to have an issue of Eerie from this era with no Rook story. Makes me quite happy. My understanding is that the Fallen Angel stories were all originally published overseas and are simply the millionth example of a new story being written over them. Aside from an extremely lame ending to the middle story, I actually liked them quite a bit, but then a big factor of that is me really liking Duranona's artwork. Mac Tavish may clearly steal the titular character and appearance of Spider Andromeda from Han and Chewie from Star Wars, but this time I felt the plot was far more reminiscent of Dune, especially the Polyprismite stuff which is clearly ripping off spice. The Shining Sea with its dolphin headed people provides one of the most ridiculous looking images we've had in Eerie to date.

I've been dreading this issue of Vampi as the full length Vampi story format is a big turn off, but for most of the way I didn't mind the story. The pacing was pretty good and the story didn't suffer the extreme over-complication that the previous two all Vampi issues, both written by Gerry Boudreau instead of Bill Dubay had. Unfortunately things completely fall apart at the end as Vampi acts like quite the idiot jumping into things on her own, then Adam simply has to quote lines from the Bible to defeat them. I too was struck throughout several parts of this story as seeing artwork that didn't really look like Gonzalo Mayo's work. Alfredo Alcala was my guess as well. Other things I didn't particularly like was Pantha simply disappearing and Conrad suspecting Vampi of the murders after all this time they've been friends. The biggest disappointment for an issue like this for me is that Vampi simply doesn't work filling out the entire issue. The backup anthology stories always outdo the Vampi stories and this time we don't have any of them. On the bright side, I'm pretty sure this is the last time we get an entire issue dedicated only to Vampirella, at least for non-reprint issues.

Grant said...

Even though it's a drawing not a photo, Vampirella still seems to be "played" by Barbara Leigh, because I guess they're still promoting that film version that unfortunately didn't happen.
I haven't looked at the cover galleries lately, so I don't know how much longer that continued.