Monday, June 27, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 56: August/September 1985


The Dark Knight in the 1980s
by Jack Seabrook &
Peter Enfantino

Batman #386

"Black Mask: Losing Face"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Mandrake

When the doctor who delivered baby Roman Sionis dropped the infant in the delivery room, it was a bad sign. Despite being the heir to his father's cosmetics empire, Roman grew up unhappy, especially when he was bitten by a raccoon on a family vacation. Soon after his 21st birthday, Roman was made vice president of his father's company and he quickly hooked up with a gorgeous redheaded model who called herself Circe.

When his parents didn't approve, Roman set fire to their home, killing them. Roman became president of the company and, though he tried to interest the public in face-paint cosmetics, all he did was nearly run the organization into the ground. When he offered a big bonus for a revolutionary new makeup, Roman ignored his own scientist's warnings about side effects and put water-insoluble makeup on the market. Widespread injuries and lawsuits followed. Finally, the only hope for Janus Cosmetics was a bailout from the Wayne Foundation; it seems Bruce Wayne's father had been friends with Roman's late father.

Bitter at being forced out of his own company, Roman visited his parents' crypt one stormy night and lost his mind, transforming his face into something that had to be covered with a black mask. He began gathering small-time criminals to form the False Face Society of Gotham, a gang that carried out numerous thefts. Batman was soon on his trail and, when Black Mask (as Roman began calling himself) murdered the new chairman of the board of Janus Cosmetics, Batman knew who was to blame. What the Dark Knight didn't know was that Black Mask's next target was Bruce Wayne!

Peter: Hot on the heels of Calendar Man, we get another villain tied in with the early days of Bruce Wayne. It's a radical experiment for Doug to write a full-length origin story for an untested bad guy. Though the origin itself lacks originality, the story is entertaining and fast-paced. The art is dreadful; Mandrake's work looks like the sub-par penciling we'd find in the later-years DC mystery comics. In the years that followed, Black Mask would become one of the mid-level-tier villains, used quite a bit in comics and animation.

Jack: I agree with you that this is a half-decent story with poor art. Is Black Mask supposed to be similar to False Face, who I remember from the 1960s TV show? It's unclear exactly what happens in the crypt, when Roman pushes some sort of wooden fragment into his face for five hours. I guess we'll get a big reveal of his hideous face in an upcoming issue. We do get one panel with a long-distance shot of Circe, topless, with her back turned, wearing nothing but some skimpy undies. I know it's not much, but I was surprised to see that panel in a DC comic, even in 1985.

Detective Comics #553

"The False Face Society of Gotham"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Klaus Janson

Black Mask continues his killing spree, murdering executives of the company he once owned, Janus Cosmetics. His next target: Bruce Wayne! Our billionaire/favorite alter ego receives a call from an alarmed Lucius Fox, who fears the recent killings will cause Wayne stocks to plummet. Fox suggests that Bruce attend the following evening's benefit for Ethiopia to stem the tide of concern. Bruce agrees.

The next night, Wayne arrives at the function with the beautiful and multi-surnamed reporter Julia on his arm. Of course, he notices the car across the street occupied by Black Mask's hoods but concentrates on enjoying his thousand-buck dinner. 

Meanwhile, across town, Black Mask kidnaps super-model Circe and takes her to his super-secret hideout. The next night, he gives her the deadly mask treatment but adjusts the dosage in order to take away her beauty but not her life. Black Mask offers Circe the choice of receiving the full fatal facial or becoming his new "queen" and ruling beside him. Circe opts for royalty. 

At the same time, Batman and Robin are mopping the floor with Black Mask's hired goons, who can offer no help as to the whereabouts of their boss. Looks like the boys are going to have to roll up their gloves and do a little detective work!

Peter: The Black Mask saga is a decent time-waster but Doug seems to be taking it a lot more seriously than I do. Pert near every line the new villain recites seems to have been written for some low-budget opera rather than a tights 'n' capes funny book: "You may enter, initiates... enter--to join the swelling ranks of the faceless..." I dare anyone to read Black Mask's monologue on the title page and not giggle at least once. Of course, I'll add the obligatory Having said that... and say that I dig psycho bad guys. There's a Tim Burton's Joker vibe to Black Mask, like he's capable of doing anything at a moment's notice, that makes the story hum. Shakespearean dialogue aside, Moench pens a really good, unpredictable crime drama here and Klaus puts a very nice cinematic sheen to it. Please don't let me down with the finale, Doug.

Jack: After two Black Mask stories I remain confused. Black Mask made a mask from his father's coffin lid and it has spirit power? I did not get that from the first story, perhaps due to the poor artwork. Now it seems that putting on a mask with poisoned cosmetics smeared on the inside can not only kill a person in 30 seconds but also leave their face looking like a skull. I like the way Doug uses the double meaning of "losing face" and I like Janson's art better than Mandrake's, although it's still not great.

"Crazy From the Heat
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore & Bruce Patterson

Green Arrow and the Black Canary attempt to extinguish a fire at an abandoned building. Well, they think it's abandoned until they hear a series of shrieks emanating from within. Ollie shoots a series of foam arrows into the blaze while Canary enters. She finds and rescues a woman and her child and then heads further into the inferno, where she comes face to face with the X-Men's Storm the newest tenth-tier villain to hit Star City, Bonfire. The arsonist gets the better of the Canary and then hoofs it, leaving our heroine to suffocate or burn to death. Arrow arrives just in time to save his best girl.

Outside, Green Arrow has words for the fire chief, who arrives once the action is over. Arrow is convinced that the owners of the building had it torched so that they could simultaneously get rid of squatters and make way for rebuilding. Later, while recovering in bed, Dinah looks at an old photo of her mother, the original Black Canary, and makes a startling discovery. To be continued.

Peter: You don't get much of a look at DC's daring new villain, Bonfire, but you can tell right off the bat that, like most of these short-term criminals, not much thought was given to design. She's a chick who starts fires. What else do you need to know? Joey Cavalieri continues checking off boxes on his list of "Societal Woes" by turning the spotlight on the very real problem of the homeless and squatter's rights. Trouble is, Joey doesn't have the space to craft a solid story around these threads.

Jack: It was nice to see Black Canary take a central role and I liked Green Arrow's brief return to social commentary. What bugged me was the fact that Black Canary has a perm on page six but nowhere else in the story. Moore & Patterson's art is not bad here; in fact, it's better than Janson's work on the lead story.

Batman #387

"Ebon Masquery"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Mandrake

Batman knows that Black Mask can't resist a masked ball, so he invites the villain to attend a get together at Wayne Manor. At the party, Alfred narrows the suspects to six attendees and begins to winnow them down to one, but Black Mask tricks Bruce Wayne and they end up alone in the conservatory.

Bruce manages to fight off Black Mask, who makes a run for it. Robin tails him to the Sionis family crypt and summons Batman, but when the Caped Crusader arrives, the Dynamic Duo find themselves outnumbered by masked members of the False Face Society. After mopping up the first batch of baddies, Batman and Robin follow Black Mask, who again manages to escape.

They track him to the Sionis estate, where countless members of the False Face Society try to defeat Batman and Robin while Black Mask stands in his childhood bedroom, talking to his toys. Eventually, Batman and Robin catch up to him, but not before he has set the room on fire with himself in it. Batman rescues Black Mask, whose face is permanently charred black by the flames. Circe remains at large and, a month later, she visits Arkham Asylum, where Black Mask now resides, and leaves him her mask.

Vicki Vale lets Bruce know what he's been
missing in the three days since he last saw her!

Oh Doug, you did it to me again! Whereas the previous chapter in this arc seemed edgy, the climax is like a script from the 1966 show. This is not the first time that I've felt Doug writes to the standards of his art crew. Janson is the new wave, while Mandrake is tantamount to Mike Sekowsky. There's little to no choreography, the action is unexciting, and our heroes might as well be Colorform figures. The party dialogue is like a series of unconnected one-liners and the climax makes no sense. Biggest laugh of the year: Vicki Vale flaunting her new Jamie Lee Curtis-inspired body at the party. What a feeling! What a letdown.

Jack: In spite of the uninspired art, I enjoyed it! Moench sets up interesting parallels between Black Mask and Bruce Wayne, and the fight/chase/fight structure of the story kept me turning pages. Like other artists we've seen at DC and Warren, Mandrake is challenged by human faces, so when many of the characters wear masks, he is able to execute better panels. I also laughed at the new, buff Vicki Vale! I would love to have seen what Colan would have done with this story.

Guess which one of us liked Colorforms.

Detective Comics #554

"Port Passed"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Klaus Janson

Harvey Bullock investigates trouble down at Gotham Harbor. An Italian freighter has refused customs inspection and is being escorted to the docks. At the last moment, a source informs the police that the freighter may be carrying explosives. As Bullock is comparing notes with the beat cops, a man emerges from the water, blurts out the word "Frog--" and then croaks, a stiletto lodged in his back.

Batman and Robin arrive at the dock, summoned by the Bat-Signal, and a plan is quickly formed. The Dark Knight believes the dead man may have been trying to say "," which would signal an underwater as well as onboard threat. Robin and Bullock will approach and board the ship to investigate the explosives threat while Batman will sniff out any below-surface danger.

Robin and Bullock sneak aboard the ship; they fail to find any TNT, but there are two would-be terrorists waiting for them. They make quick work of one but the other, in scuba gear, dives over the side with a spear gun. Batman picks up the man's "trail" and deduces that the explosives are in the gun. The two grapple underwater and the spear gun goes off, blowing a hole in the freighter. The two bad guys are rounded up and a waterproof box is found. Gordon opens it, expecting to find drugs, and discovers a passport for nefarious Italian mobster Joseph Torelli and an airline ticket from Gotham to Naples. Ironically, Gordon reveals to his audience, Torelli was set to be deported back the next day to Naples on that very freighter!

Peter: One-offs usually don't float my boat (pun intended), but "Port Passed" is a fun romp with some great visuals. The dialogue between Robin and Bullock as they're speeding out to the freighter is hilarious. Bullock trying to get answers from Robin about his partnership with Batman, and Bullock's nagging feeling this is not the same Robin they've been dealing with all these years ("I always thought Robin was bigger... and older too!") bring up something I'd never thought about: the general public has no idea this is Robin Mach II! I've never understood underwater action scenes in funny books. Batman is clocked with a spear gun he "never saw coming." How do you effectively deliver a stunning blow underwater? 

Jack: In slow motion, of course! I really enjoyed this fun story and appreciated the dynamic art. It amused me that Bruce and Jason were playing chess by the fire and Jason wanted to play a video game. Isn't it about time to redecorate the Batcave and get rid of that giant penny?

"Crazy From the Heat II: The Past is Prologue"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore & Bruce Patterson

Tired of living in the shadow (both physically and mentally) of her famous superheroine mother, the Black Canary tosses her old uni in the trash and gets herself a new sexy, fireproof Danskin. All dressed up, she heads out to the abandoned buildings where she last saw Bonfire and the two engage in a brief tussle before Diana uses her "Canary Cry" to debilitate the super-arsonist. Green Arrow shows up in time to watch the end credits and give Diana a hard time about her new look.

Peter: The back story of Black Canary is confusing to the Nth, even after I spent several seconds skimming her Wiki page. I believe this is the first we've seen Diana use her "Canary Cry" weapon (essentially a low-grade "Black Bolt Bellow"), but it makes me wonder why she didn't simply use it when confronted by Bonfire last issue. If I didn't know better, I'd say Diana decided to retire and it's Vicki Vale who emerges as the new Canary. Cavalieri leaves the social commentary out this time (all the better, that) and the Moore/Patterson team do an aces job visualizing the words on the paper. All in all, not a bad little story but odd that the powers-that-be chose to spotlight the Canary's new look rather than what was going on in the lead feature.

Jack: I like that the cover is an homage to Carmine Infantino's 1948 cover for Flash 92, though I have to say I prefer the earlier version. Black Canary does bring much needed new blood to this series, but her new uniform is a definite no. One question: I thought Golden Age super-heroes were supposed to be from Earth Two, not the parents of Bronze Age superheroes. Can someone help me out? How is the 1940s Black Canary the mother of the 1980s Black Canary? Who is the father? And why isn't Golden Age Batman the father of Bronze Age Batman?

Next Week...
Corben's back!

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Journey Into Strange Tales Atlas/ Marvel Horror Comics Issue 63


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 48
August 1953 Part I
by Peter Enfantino

Adventures into Terror #22

“The Mad Beasts” (a: Russ Heath) ★1/2

“Son of a Freak” (a: Paul Reinman) ★★1/2

“In One Ear…” (a: Joe Maneely) ★

“I Can’t Close My Eyes!” (a: Chuck Winter) ★1/2

“Built Another Rat-Trap!” (a: Bill Benulis & Jack Abel) ★★

Moto, the world’s only two-headed man, is tired of being gaped at and ridiculed but then what do you expect, since Moto’s the lead act in a freak show? One night, by chance, he’s told by a man that his sister has two heads. Overjoyed, Moto meets and courts Emma, the world’s only two-headed woman. The two (four?) are married but, quickly, Moto realizes that Emma is a bit bi-polar, pinballing between just fine and eating the family cat. Moto realizes that a regular family life is now out of the question but, just as he’s about to give up, Emma becomes pregnant. All hopes for a “normal” child are dashed when the baby is born with one head but two bodies!

“Son of a Freak” is a nasty, mean-spirited piece of WTF?, but it’s undeniably entertaining in a squirmy kind of way. Some of the captions are wink-wink hilarious (Visions of what his children would look like formed inside both of Moto’s heads…) as is the transformation Emma undergoes after her wedding. When Moto and Emma had a chance to consummate their nuptials is anyone’s guess since the poor guy is tossing chains around his bride right out of the gate. Reinman’s art is perfectly sleazy, very rough around the edges, with the whole thing resembling a very low-budget exploitation flick from the 1960s. Dangerous and subversive!

Equally head-scratching is the Stan Lee’-scripted “In One Ear…,” wherein Gilby Crumshaw confounds those around him by wearing a heavy scarf around his neck even when it’s a sweltering day. Turns out Gilby’s hiding an extra pair of ears on his neck (no, seriously!). Now, Gilby’s intending to do something about this and to that end, he robs and murders innocent folk in an effort to save money for an operation. Once he gets enough in the piggy bank, he takes the dough to the renowned ear-neck surgeon, Dr. Leopold Neisen, who assures him that the amount is just right. Noticing the black armband around the Doc’s arm, Gilby (who has, remember, spent the last who-knows-how-long murdering innocent folk) gives the man his condolences and is assured the death in the family will not affect the operation. Gilby goes under but, while the Doc is prepping, he’s approached by a ghost who whispers in his ear. Gilby wakes up and discovers the Doc has removed his regular set of ears and left his lower pair. Turns out the ghost was the Doc’s brother, you guessed it, murdered by Gilby the week before. By this time in the Atlas history, Stan was clearly running out of inspiration and was going back to the “extra set of…” well two or three too many times. 

“The Mad Beasts,” despite its obvious highlight of Heath art, is the confusing, weakly plotted story of a prison warden who keeps his worst convicts in cages and, of course, the punishment is reversed by the climax of the story. In “I Can’t Close My Eyes!,” a sadistic Baron can’t get to sleep at night and offers a reward to the man who makes the perfect bed. The woodworkers all fail and they are put to death. Later, their spirits arise and the trio make a bed of nails sure to put the Baron to sleep. 

Wanna-be hunter, Hugo Hardy, has tons of mounted heads in his den but not the courage to actually earn those trophies. He buys them. Then the rats begin to show up around Hugo’s estate and the lightbulb goes on over Hugo’s head. At first he shoots them with his pistol but that fast becomes boring so Hugo begins fashioning torture traps such as guillotines and nooses. His collection of rat-tails, mounted on the den wall, soon number in the hundreds. The little mongrels suddenly disappear and Hugo suspects he’s killed them all. Little does he know, the giant rodents are holding secret meetings and crafting their own torture devices, soon to be put to the test.

In the vein of “Son of a Freak…,” but not nearly as much fun, is “Built Another Rat-Trap!,” which wastes its first three pages with unnecessary expository and cliched motivations but turns up the wack-factor to ten with its depictions of the rats building a giant cage in which to trap their own prey. Out-loud laughter was ignited by the panel of a particularly industrious vermin laboring over the trap door to Hugo’s cage!

Adventures into Weird Worlds #21

“What Happened in the Cave?” (a: Myron Fass) ★★★

“The Devil to Pay!” (a: Sam Kweskin) ★★

“The Plunderer!” (a: John Romita) ★★

“The Little Soldiers” (a: Bob Fujitani) ★

“Romanoff’s Rumor!” (a: John Forte & Matt Fox) ★★1/2

Something is killing the good people of a small mountain town, something that craves the warmth and just wants to get out of the cold. The sheriff has gotten together a posse after the Petersons, God-fearin’ old folk, are found “mashed and battered” in their little house. The trail of footprints leads right to a dark cave and, before the sheriff can do anything more, a panicked posse member tosses dynamite in the cave and blows it to hell. The sheriff opines that whoever was in the cave “is finished.” Not so, says the giant green bug man who climbs out of a hole within the cave.

An honest-to-goodness low-budget monster movie done the Atlas way. I kept waiting for the reveal to be a bear or an escaped mental patient or a Commie but no, our uncredited scripter saves the day by making the killer an antenna-headed BEM, one of a race of such creatures living in the core of the Earth. “What Happened in the Cave?” generates a good amount of legitimate suspense in the same way some of those aforementioned low-budget drive-in flicks of the 1950s managed to wrassle up.

Adolf Hitler goes to hell and the devil tells him he has a special temperature just waiting for him. Hitler insists he doesn’t belong here as he did many good deeds on Earth but no one alive on Earth will stand up for him because “they have it out for” the poor guy. Satan agrees to Hitler’s terms: if he can find one man in history that will vouch for him, Hitler goes free. Hitler climbs a long ladder and, along the way, runs into Alexander the Great, Caesar, and Napoleon, but none of them will give ‘dolf the time of day. Exasperated, the former German hero claims there is one person still on Earth that knows he’s a good guy. But when Adolf Hitler calls for Joe Stalin, he’s told Joe has left the building. The devil laughs and asks Hitler, “Who you think you been talking to?”  

“The Devil to Pay!” is like a long, elaborate joke that would be lost on just about anyone today but must have been a real hoot to the young boys and girls of 1953. Odd that Carl Wessler wrote this one, rather than Commie-baiting Stan, but I assume the “Joe Stalin in Hell” stories should start appearing regularly very soon. I like the Kweskin art, even if it is scratchy and rough; seems to favor this type of tale.

"The Plunderer"
Zor, “The Plunderer,” and his crew land on what appears to be a deserted planet full of uranium. The men begin to dig but quickly discover that the planet is far from desolate. At only three pages, “The Plunderer” doesn’t do much harm and has a nice sheen attached to it thanks to Mr. Romita. In “The Little Soldiers,” a grunt working with molten lead shoves his troublesome supervisor in a vat of the stuff and then molds the infected lead into toy soldiers. The little warriors rise up for revenge. Awful, awful art and an unimaginative script make this the worst story of the month.

Igor Romanoff tries his darnedest but he can’t get any Americans to buy into Communism, so he and his pinko friends decide to start a rumor that Earth will be invaded by Mars. Their (skewed) reasoning is that Americans will turn against their way of life if they feel threatened. Igor begins whispering in strange ears on the subway, the street corner, in the diner, anywhere he can, but the result is always the same: laughter or general indifference. When the Commie Club reconvenes, the Reds compare notes but are interrupted when Igor begins to crumble into sand. His buddies and their headquarters follow. Outside the city limits, the Martians discuss the good work they did, squelching the invasion talk and then head back to Mars to prepare for the real deal. The twist is a good one and the Forte/Fox art is ideal but the script for “Romanoff’s Rumor” is yet another tiring commie tirade. If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, blind them with Bolshevik.

Astonishing #26

“I Died Too Often” (a: Bob Fujitani) ★

“As Different as Day and Night” (a: Chuck Winter) ★★

“Monkey Face!” (a: Sid Greene) ★

“Scared Out of His Shadow!” (a: Louis Ravelli) ★1/2

“Come In and Meet the Folks!” (a: John Forte) ★★★

“I Died Too Often” is badly-written nonsense about a man who witnesses a cat’s death and learns he’s inherited the feline’s remaining eight lives. When he decides to use one of those lives to kill his boss, he’s transformed into a cat and attacked by the boss’s hound. There’s no reasoning given for the twist but then the out-of-left-field revelation is on par with the bland build-up. Bob Fujitani seems to have taken little inspiration from the script.

To make a couple extra bucks, rooming house landlady Emma Higgins rents one of her rooms to two men, the creepy Mr. Jellicoe during the day and the handsome Mr. Bancroft at night. When Ms. Higgins finds blood in the room, she naturally suspects Jellicoe is the dastardly fiend who’s murdered six women, but it turns out Mr. Bancroft has been reading Robert Louis Stevenson in his spare time. “As Different as Day and Night” is capped by a predictable finale, but I find Chuck Winters’s art so unsettling that the script becomes almost irrelevant. “Monkey Face!” is a lame three-pager about a hood cursed with a simian’s features. After a botched bank robbery, the mutt makes a deal with Satan to change his looks and the devil, always the joker, gives him an ape’s body.

Poor meek Percy Merriweather notices his shadow begins acting independently and, very soon, Percy finds himself witness to murder. “Scared Out of Hs Shadow!” is built on a too-familiar plot device but if there’s a saving grace, it’s the work of artist Louis Ravielli who, like Chuck Winter, almost seems to be a man two decades before his time with his scratchy, underground style. This was the first of only five Atlas horror appearances by Ravielli, after which he worked primarily for I.W. and Avon.

As he carries his wife’s corpse into the bathroom, Mark remembers how he came to meet the lovely Dolores and how mysterious she was about her family. Denying Mark the chance to meet them until after they were married, Dolores builds suspicion in her betrothed until one night, it all explodes. Mark witnesses his wife with a broom and a cauldron and suddenly believes he’s married into a coven. He beats Dolores to death with a candlestick and then swallows poison to avoid the inevitable witch’s curse. After Mark slumps to the floor, the in-laws enter the house and we discover they’re actually hillbillies. Hilarious, and entirely unexpected (especially after the brutal splash), the finale for “Come In and Meet the Folks!” saves what otherwise would have been a sub-par issue of Astonishing

Journey into Mystery #11

“The Hidden Vampires” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★1/2

(r: Where Monsters Dwell #17)

“The New Look” (a: Dan Loprino) ★★

(r: Monsters on the Prowl #18)

“If the Coat Fits” (a: Russ Heath) ★★★★

(r: Where Monsters Dwell #17)

“Meet the Dead” (a: Don Perlin) ★★1/2

(r: Where Monsters Dwell #15)

“The Other Face” (r: George Tuska) ★

(r: Vault of Evil #6)

"The Hidden Vampires"
The small Hungarian village of Rovato has become plagued by vampires but no one seems to know how to root the creatures out. Rovato’s mayor calls for the help of super vampire-hunter Jan Mazerok, but when the would-be Van Helsing arrives, the townsfolk complain that he’s a bit old and weak. Nevertheless, the wizened Mazerok unleashes a secret weapon from his black case and the starved mosquitoes head right for the blood-rich vampires. Granted, the twist is silly but there are a few interesting flourishes here and there in “The Hidden Vampires.” The family of blood-suckers hides in plain sight amongst the population, disguised as villagers, and discuss their plight at the dinner table! DiPreta’s vampires hardly bare their fangs and have wonderful cat’s eyes.

In the three-page “The New Look,” homely Eric goes to Nina the Witch for a handsome face. Nina calls on Satan, who grants Eric his wish but, as with most devilish bargains, Eric doesn’t emerge a happy man even with his new face. Some nice, Ghastly-esque pencils from Dan Loprino. The other short-short this issue (a 4-pager), “Meet the Dead” is a routine fortune teller thriller about a man who tracks his wife to a seance and then breaks it up just when the spooky stuff is starting. The surprising finale and some good Perlin graphics make this an easy read. The final story this issue, “The Other Face,” is a really bad revenge drama about a man who finds out his wife is having an affair with a plastic surgeon. The couple plan to murder him but he gets the upper hand first. A really dumb climax, lots of cornball dialogue, and some dreadful Tuska art easily make this the worst of the issue.

People all around the globe are mysteriously disappearing into thin air. Professor Kester believes there is a alternate dimension where people exactly like those on our Earth are trying to port themselves over into our world. When the vanished appear, perfectly healthy but not forthcoming on their whereabouts during their disappearance, Kester’s theory is that the beings from Earth-B are replacing us one by one. Harry, owner of a new and used clothing store has a strange visitor one night, who asks if he can pawn a coat of his for a short time. Harry quickly agrees, despite the warnings of wife Sarah, and the stranger’s parting words are a warning not to try the coat on. 

Harry, knowing a good set of threads when he sees it, promptly slides the coat on and disappears right before his wife’s astonished eyes. Seconds later, Harry returns and convinces his wife to try on the coat. The next day, Harry and Sarah open up the shop just like normal but things really aren’t normal anymore. The knee-jerk reaction to “If the Coat Fits” is that it’s a well-written rip-off of Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers but, believe it or not, that classic wouldn’t be published until the following year. I’m not sure writer Jack Oleck was going for the same “Red Scare” analogy Finney had in mind for the victims of his pod people but it can certainly be inferred. Pushing aside the subtle undertones for a moment, “If the Coat Fits”  succeeds as a very tense and intelligent terror tale, with gorgeous work by Russ Heath.

Journey into Unknown Worlds #21

“The Most Hated Man in the World” (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★★

“What’s Going On Here?” (a: Chuck Winter) ★1/2

“Someone Isn’t There” (a: Bob McCarty) ★★

“Modern Art” (a: Don Rico) ★1/2

“The Dead of Winter” (a: Mike Sekowsky & Matt Fox) ★★1/2

Who is Galen Tor? He’s “The Most Hated Man in the World?” To discover why there is a statue erected in every city on Earth in the year 2160, we’d have to go back 200 years to a time when the world was on the brink of global war. Every nation built up its arms and the United States was no different. For a bomb that could destroy all of America’s enemies, the military turned to scientist Galen Tor, who had perfected an explosive “100 times more powerful than the biggest hydrogen bomb!” All that was needed to trigger the device was an infra-red beam. 

"Someone Isn't There"
Galen stalls the army but, in the meantime, Earth is invaded by Martians, hoping to find a nice world to vacation on. Earth’s nations become allies but still Galen will not turn over his bomb. Instead, he offers it to the aliens, who jump at the chance to take it back to Mars to study. Galen boards the ship, leaving behind a population screaming for his hide, and then detonates the bomb when the UFO is deep into space. No one on Earth knows the true events and Galen becomes the Benedict Arnold of the 22nd Century. Joe Sinnott immediately makes every story 100% better but “The Most Hated…” also has a sly sense of humor and is immensely entertaining.

In “What’s Going On Here?,” a family is terrorized by a giant outside their home. The giant attempts to feed them with a big spoon, takes their clothes off, and tucks them into bed. I’m asking “What’s Going On Here?” that a two-panel joke somehow got stretched into four pages of tedium. Equally silly is the issue’s other short-short, “Modern Art.” Museum trustee Jason Peters is outraged when he discovers a wall of abstract art in a building associated with Rembrandts and Gainsboroughs. When he confronts the curator with his complaints, he’s told the museum is only changing with the times and then shows Turner his third eye. 

"The Dead of Winter"
A trio of adventurers decide they’re going to climb the infamous Changura mountain and no “holy season” will stop them. They ventilate the monk who guards the sacred path to the mountain but then encounter a vengeful spirit halfway up the climb. One by one, the murderers are dealt with. We’ve seen the plot of “Someone Isn’t There” before but Bob McCarty has a blast visualizing the events (McCarty’s style is very similar to that of Jack Davis) and the sadism of the men is almost amusing. 

There’s some kind of story hiding in “The Dead of Winter” but don’t strain yourself. A thief stumbles onto a town with a deep, dark secret. Something about ages-old people kept on ice and resurrected every so often, but never mind that. Matt Fox is involved with the visuals and Fox can make even the most indecipherable mess at least interesting. His style melded with the blandness of Mike Sekowsky’s is truly an odd soufflé. For instance, in the splash, our main protagonist’s body seems to be heading towards us but his legs are going in the opposite direction.

Marvel Tales #117

“Terror in the North!” (a: Don Perlin) ★★

(r: Chamber of Chills #8)

“A Little Pain Never Hurt Anybody!” (a: Gil Kane) ★1/2

(r: Uncanny Tales #5)

“Red Tape!” (a: Sam Kweskin) ★★

(r: Chamber of Chills #8)

“Uncle Gideon’s Gold” (a: Louis Ravielli) ★★

(r: Chamber of Chills #10)

“Jerry’s New Job” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★1/2

(r: Chamber of Chills #8)

"I Wait in the Dungeon"
A small French village is terrorized by a killer wolf. Some of the townsfolk claim the animal is a werewolf but hunter Marsh is no superstitious fool. He claims the beast is a simple timber wolf, protecting its cubs and he’s the man to kill it. By the end of the journey, when Marsh faces the wolf, he’s both right and wrong. There’s some nice Don Perlin artwork (very reminiscent of that of Russ Heath) on “Terror in the North,” but the script is very slow and never really works up the suspense a terror tale needs to succeed.

Dentist Simon Tulliver refuses to use ether on his patients because, after all, “A Little Pain Never Hurt Anybody!” His wife Martha, who doubles as his assistant, constantly pesters Simon to show pity on his patients but a penny saved… One night, Simon arrives home and catches Martha with her old friend (and brain surgeon) John Bainbridge in the parlor; John is attempting a coup on Simon’s “property” and Simon will have none of it. The enraged tooth-man knocks Bainbridge to the floor and attempts to strangle him but is stricken by one of his occasional fainting spells and passes out. Simon awakens on an operating table, with Bainbridge assuring him everything will be just fine as soon as he removes the small clot on the brain that’s causing Simon’s spells. But one thing… John doesn’t use anesthesia… after all…

“Red Tape” is a silly and unfocused “red menace” tale set in a prison camp that is partially redeemed by its jolting Sam Kweskin visuals. Louis Ravielli’s work on “Uncle Gideon’s Gold” is equally stark and creepy but the script, alas, is just as disappointing as “Red Tape.” Bert Rogan wants all his Uncle Gideon’s gold but the miser ain’t talking as to the whereabouts of said stash, so Bert is forced to torture him until he’s forthcoming. Bert gets his answer but it proves to be his downfall. 

Jerry Johnson lands a swell new job, one that pays a fortune to do pert near nothing. All he has to do is a bit of gophering for his boss, Mr. Eblis, but after a while Jerry grows suspicious of the company he works for. What exactly does this business export? And why do they write up million-dollar contracts for only seven years of service? Jerry overhears a conversation between Eblis and one of his underlings and convinces himself he’s working for the Russians. Rather than present his case to the police, Jerry decides to confront Eblis with his suspicions and blackmail the man for a cool million. Eblis laughs the story off and tells Jerry he’s sorry but he’s going to have to get rid of him. Eblis isn’t a Russian spy, he’s the devil! A very cute idea, with a surprise twist you may see coming if you pay attention to the clues, with some typically fanciful DiPreta art. “Jerry’s New Job” marked Tony DiPreta’s 50th contribution to the Atlas pre-codes.

In Two Weeks...
The Fabulous Mr. Fox!

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?