Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Hitchcock Project-Alfred Hayes Part Four: Beyond the Sea of Death [9.14]

 by Jack Seabrook

When shall they meet? I cannot tell,
Indeed, when they shall meet again,
Except some day in Paradise:
For this they wait, one waits in pain.
Beyond the sea of death love lies
For ever, yesterday, to-day;
Angels shall ask them, 'Is it well?'
And they shall answer, 'Yea.'

--from "One Day" by Christina Rossetti

In "Beyond the Sea of Death" by Miriam Allen deFord, which was first published in the May 1949 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and which won a fourth prize in the magazine's story competition that year, an unnamed reporter narrates the tale of Sophie Renford, "a rich young woman" convicted of murder. The identity of her victim is not disclosed at first, and the reporter is determined to examine her motive. Sophie's mother died when she was born and she inherited a fortune when her father died. Not pretty, she was shy and awkward; she was raised by Minnie Briggs, who evolved from Sophie's nurse to her governess, her chaperone and, finally, her adult companion. Briggs "cherished her with a maternal passion" and was crestfallen when Sophie eloped with the family's chauffeur.

"Beyond the Sea of Death"
was first published here

After two years of unhappiness, they were divorced and he was paid $50,000 to disappear. Sophie bought a gun to protect herself if he should return and became convinced that no man would ever love her for anything but her money. Time passes, and one day Sophie answers an ad in a literary magazine and begins corresponding with Keith Holloway, an American engineer living in Bolivia. She conceals her wealth from him and finds that they have much in common; he is also an orphan who lives with an elderly friend. They exchange photos and he writes that he's coming to America for a visit and wants to see her.

Keith arrives and he and Sophie are inseparable. She hides her wealth and large home from him, but when he proposes marriage, she confesses that she is rich and had a prior husband. Keith is not concerned, so she brings him home to meet Minnie, her surrogate mother. He returns to Bolivia and his letters to Sophie are filled with plans for their future together. Sophie's joy comes to an abrupt end when she receives a letter telling her that Keith was killed in a mine explosion. She pores over his past letters and fixates on a quotation from the poem cited above: "'Beyond the sea of death Love lies for ever, yesterday, today.'"

Interpreting the quotation as a premonition, Sophie settles into the quiet life of a spinster with Minnie until, one evening, she reads in the newspaper an advertisement for a talk by Swami Avranyakananda, who uses the same quotation in the ad. She thinks it's a message from Keith, attends the swami's lecture, and makes an appointment for a private meeting with him. She returns home from the meeting convinced that he gave her messages from her dead lover. Minnie is skeptical, especially when Sophie announces that she plans to spend all of her fortune to finance a temple for the swami. Minnie decides to investigate and watches people come and go from the building where the swami is staying, until she selects an unhappy young woman and approaches her.

Diana Hyland as Grace Renford

The young woman tells a tale of heartbreak, involving a Bolivian mining engineer whom she agreed to marry but who was killed in a mining accident. She shows Minnie a photograph of the man and Minnie recognizes him as Keith Holloway. Like Sophie, the woman is convinced that the swami carries messages from her dead fiance. Minnie understands the confidence game now and how Sophie was led astray. Before she goes to the police, she decides that she must tell Sophie, so that the young woman can "face life with more common sense." The reporter tells the reader, "It was a bad mistake. It made a murderess of Sophie Renford."

That evening, Minnie tells Sophie about her investigation and what she discovered. Later that night, Sophie "committed her murder." The reporter explains that he or she met Sophie in prison and later won the Pulitzer Prize for helping break the "'Rich Young Widow Conspiracy Ring.'" But it was not the swami whom Sophie killed. "The one thing she could not endure was the bursting of the iridescent bubble of her dreams"; forced to face the truth that no man had ever truly loved her, Sophie "shot Minnie Briggs through the heart while her old companion slept."

Mildred Dunnock as Minnie Briggs

In the introduction to "Beyond the Sea of Death" in its original magazine publication, the author calls this story "'primarily not a murder story but a story.'" It poses the question, what does one do when a dream dies? Sophie spent years convincing herself that no man could love her for anything but her money. Duped by Keith, she fell hopelessly in love, and when he died, she believed that she could communicate with him beyond the grave. She felt this so strongly that she was willing to give away her entire fortune to build a temple for the man she thought had established communication between her and Keith. When she discovered that Minnie was responsible for the death of this dream, she killed the closest thing to a mother that she had.

Minnie is the victim of her own love for Sophie. She believes that she is helping the young woman by telling her the truth, but she really is destroying the only thing Sophie had to cling to, as false as it was. DeFord's portrait of two women and their tragic fate is well done. As a mystery, it works--we know who the killer is from the start, but we don't know the identity of the victim until the story's final line. Minnie becomes an unlikely detective, but her "client" does not appreciate her efforts and pays her with a bullet.

This short story has been reprinted many times since its original publication; perhaps the producers of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour noticed it in the collection, The Quintessence of Queen, published in 1962. It was adapted for television and aired on January 24, 1964. The story had been adapted for TV once before, airing on the live, half-hour series, The Web, on October 24, 1951, but it is unlikely that this show was available to the writers of the Hitchcock hour and it is probably lost. Like "Bonfire," the adaptation is credited to Alfred Hayes and William D. Gordon, which suggests that there were two versions of a problematic script.

Jeremy Slate as Keith Holloway

The show opens with Grace (as Sophie has been renamed) running up the stairs and going to her room in tears. She speaks briefly in voiceover (the only voiceover in the show) and takes from her dresser drawer a stack of letters tied with ribbon, and a gun, which she loads. We see a framed photo of Keith Holloway on her dresser and there is a dissolve to "'less than a year ago.'" The character of the reporter who narrates the short story has been eliminated and almost the entire show plays out in flashback. Keith checks into a hotel, having traveled from Bolivia to see Grace, and Grace tells Minnie about her beau for the first time, taking her companion to an apartment that Grace has set up to deceive Keith into thinking that she is not rich. The viewer can infer Grace's status by the fact that she has a butler and wears a fur coat; dialogue between Grace and Minnie is used to explain how Grace met Keith and how their relationship developed. The initial section of the story is jettisoned and dealt with in a few lines of dialogue so that the show can get right to the moment where Keith arrives.

In addition, the magazine where Grace saw the ad from Keith was not a literary magazine but rather a magazine called The World Beyond, which Minnie refers to as "'that spooky spirit magazine you read.'" This shows that Grace is already predisposed to believing in the supernatural even before she meets Keith. A scene follows in which Keith, in an ill-fitting suit, visits Grace at her fake apartment, where she ineptly tries to cook and serve dinner; the steaks are inedible and the coffee only hot water. Keith pulls a volume of Christina Rossetti's poetry from her bookshelf and reads from it, setting up the later use of her poem. Keith tells Grace that he became interested in spiritualism when he was in New Dehli and that he felt he was somewhere else when he was in the mountains of Bolivia. He then quotes the line, "beyond the sea of death" from the Rossetti book, again foreshadowing the later importance of this verse.

Abraham Sofaer as Dr. Shankara

In a budget-conscious effort to show their courtship progressing quickly, we see stock footage of a football game and shots of Keith and Grace cheering in a small section of what is meant to be a large crowd at the game but which looks nothing like it. Despite Minnie's counsel to move slowly, Grace accepts Keith's marriage proposal on a romantic overlook above the city of San Francisco. There is yet another mention of the Rossetti poem as Keith says goodbye to Grace before ostensibly returning to Bolivia. After she learns of Keith's death, we see Grace reading from the book of poetry and taking a gun from a case.

The swami, renamed Dr. R.D. Shankara, has already given his lecture when Grace sees his ad, and we next see them in a darkened room together as he speaks as if giving a message from beyond the grave. She immediately believes that Keith is speaking to her. Minnie tells her, "'You're in love with a ghost,'" and Grace replies, "'Keith is real to me. More real than this world or anyone in it.'" This is a big hint about how Grace will react when Minnie tells her the truth. Minnie's investigation is shortened; she meets a woman in the hallway outside Dr. Shankara's room and pretends to need advice. They sit together and the woman reveals that her story mirrors that of Grace, right down to the same photo of Keith.

Unlike in the story, Minnie goes to the police before speaking to Grace and, when she tells the young woman the truth, Minnie brings in police Lieutenant Farrell to talk to Sophie. He shows her Keith's mug shot and explains that her beau has used many aliases; she drops the photo and runs upstairs to her room. There is another dissolve and we are back to the opening scene. Minnie enters Grace's bedroom and sees the gun in her hand. Now, rather than thinking that Grace intends to murder the swami, the inference is that she is contemplating suicide. Minnie tries to talk her out of it, but suddenly Minnie realizes that Grace is pointing the gun at her. Minnie tries to run but is shot and killed in a most unconvincing fashion. Grace talks to her companion after shooting her, accusing her of taking Keith away and asking why.

Ann Ayars as Lucy Barrington

The TV adaptation changes the murder mystery of the story, dragging it out and telescoping it in ways that diminish its effectiveness. We don't know until the very end of the TV show that a murder will occur, while the mystery in the story is focused on who will be the victim. Much of the character development in the early part of the story is eliminated and covered in brief lines of dialogue; in its place, the TV show adds a scene where Grace demonstrates her inability to impersonate a less-affluent woman. One wonders if the voiceover that we hear briefly in the first scene might have been a remnant of an earlier draft of the teleplay, and perhaps more voiceover to explain the story's narrative might have been a better way to dramatize it than the dialogue used in the show.

Both the TV adaptation and the short story don't address the issue of Grace's deceit. She is not entirely innocent in her relationship with Keith, deceiving him about her real station in life and seeming to make him fall in love with her under false pretenses. Still, when marriage is proposed, Grace confesses the truth, while Keith maintains his deception.

The co-writer of the teleplay is William D. Gordon (1918-1991), who wrote for radio in the 1930s, served in the Infantry during WWII, and had dual careers as an actor and as a writer and story editor for TV from the late 1950s through the mid-1980s. As an actor, he appeared twice on The Twilight Zone and once on Thriller. As a writer, he wrote two episodes of Thriller and six episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including two where he is co-credited with Alfred Hayes. He also worked as a story editor/supervisor for four TV series, from 1963 to 1981.

Orville Sherman as Charles

Director Alf Kjellin (1920-1988) was born in Sweden and started out in the movies in 1937 as an actor. He began acting on TV in 1952 and continued until 1979. He started directing films in 1955 and worked as a director on American television from 1961 to 1985, concurrent with his work as an actor. As an actor, he appeared in the 1966 film adaptation of Jack Finney's Assault on a Queen and in one episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. As a director, he was at the helm for one episode of the half-hour Hitchcock series ("Coming Home") and eleven episodes of the hour series.

Diana Hyland (1936-1977), as Grace, is a pretty, blue-eyed blonde, and it is hard to accept that she would ever have trouble finding a husband. In the story, she is described as not pretty, shy, and awkward, but Hyland does not display those traits. Still, she does her best to portray a hopeless woman. Born Diana Gentner, Hyland appeared mainly on TV from 1955 to 1977. She was on one other episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, she was on The Twilight Zone, and she was a regular on Peyton Place from 1968 to 1969. Hyland was romantically involved with John Travolta after they met while filming a TV movie; she was 40 and he was 22. She died of breast cancer at age 41.

Francis DeSales
as Lt. Farrell

Mildred Dunnock (1901-1991), as Minnie, is excellent, embodying her character with humor and compassion. She was a founding member of the Actors Studio and originated the role of Linda Loman in Arthur Miller's classic play, Death of a Salesman, on Broadway in 1949. Dunnock played many roles on screen from 1944 to 1992 and appeared in Hitchcock's "The Trouble with Harry" (1955). She was on the Hitchcock show four times, including "Heart of Gold," and she was also seen on Thriller.

Jeremy Slate (1926-2006), as Keith, is believable as a con man who knows how to appeal to desperate women. Born Robert Perham, he landed at Normandy on D-Day and later went on to a career in movies and on TV from the late 1950s to the early 1990s. He appeared in five episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "One Grave Too Many." In an interview, he admitted that he acted from 1960 to 1970 and then tuned in, turned on and dropped out, spending the next ten years traveling around the USA in a motor home.

In smaller roles:
  • Abraham Sofaer (1896-1988) as Dr. Shankara. He was on screen from 1931 to 1974 and appeared in three episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Changing Heart." He was also on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, The Outer Limits, Star Trek, and Night Gallery.
  • Ann Ayars as Lucy Barrington, the other woman duped by Keith. She was on screen from 1941 to 1967, but this was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show. She also appeared on Batman. Ayars was a star soprano in the New York City Opera and taught music for two decades after her film and TV career ended.
  • Orville Sherman (1916-1984) as Charles, the butler. He was on screen from 1958 to 1982 and also appeared on The Twilight Zone. This was his only role on the Hitchcock show.
  • Francis DeSales (1912-1988) as Lt. Farrell. He was on screen from 1950 to 1978 and has numerous TV credits. He also played a police lieutenant on the radio show, Mr. and Mrs. North (1942-1954) and its TV version (1952-1954). He has an uncredited role in Psycho (1960) and was on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. He can also be seen in "Crack of Doom" on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Vince Williams
  • Vince Williams as the first hotel clerk. He was on screen from 1958 to 1971 and appeared in four episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "Death Scene."
Ollie O'Toole
  • Ollie O'Toole (1912-1992) as the second hotel clerk. He started out on radio in the 1930s and was one half of a comedy due with Art Carney, impersonating famous politicians. His screen career lasted from 1950 to 1984 but this was his only role on the Hitchcock show.
Jim Barringer
  • Jim Barringer (1943-2002) as the messenger boy. He appeared in ten TV shows between 1957 and 1964 and this was the only one of them for the Hitchcock series.
Watch "Beyond the Sea of Death" for free online here. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the story!


"Beyond the Sea of Death." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 9, episode 14, CBS, 24 Jan. 1964. 

DeFord, Miriam Allen. "Beyond the Sea of Death." Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May 1949, pp. 40–57. 

The FictionMags Index, 

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001. 


"Introduction to 'Beyond the Sea of Death.'" Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May 1949, p. 40. 

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 

In two weeks: Our series on Alfred Hayes concludes with "The Photographer and the Undertaker," starring Jack Cassidy and Harry Townes!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "Help Wanted" here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "Bad Actor" here!

Monday, November 30, 2020

Batman in the 1980s Issue 16: April 1981

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

The Brave and the Bold #173

"One of Us is Not One of Us!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Jim Aparo

One of the Guardians of Oa approaches Batman with an unusual request. He says that, among his people, "One of Us is Not One of Us!" and he needs the Dark Knight Detective's skills to help him root out the impostor. For some reason, none of the Green Lantern Corps have returned his calls, so he sought out the "B" team. Before the Guardian arrived, Batman had been heading to a ship to investigate some stolen jewels; the Guardian kindly accompanies Batman and helps him defeat the thugs on board the vessel with some well-placed power rays.

Batman and the Guardian then head west to the Ferris Aircraft Co., where they confront Green Lantern in his secret identity of Hal Jordan, test pilot. Hal at first doesn't recognize either of them, but when the Guardian transforms Hal into Green Lantern, he suddenly remembers that his memory was blocked by his arch-enemy, Sinestro! GL gives Batman a primer on Sinestro's background and the trio head off to the Guardian's home world to try to figure out what's going on.

Jack: I always liked those little blue guys, ever since they set off to find the real America in the O'Neil/Adams run on Green Lantern. This is a fun story with terrific art by Aparo, who turns out to be quite adept at drawing the Guardian. True, there is a lot of back story to fill in, but it's all done in such breezy fashion that I didn't mind. Of course, this sets up next issue's Bat-partner as Green Lantern, and I'm looking forward to the story's conclusion.

Peter: I grew up a Marvel Zombie, so most of the back story to "One of Us..." is lost on me. I'd have liked a Stan Lee-esque (*see Green Lantern #7 for the whole story) notation to let me in on whether this Sinestro story is new to B&B #173 or a tidbit dropped years before. It's this type of story (as opposed to "Robin Takes a Wife") that makes me want to take a deep dive into some of those "lesser" titles like JLA and Green Lantern. I do have to wonder why Sgt. Blue Head would beg the Bats for his help rather than Supes or Wonder Woman. Is good detective work really going to save the day in outer space? Looking forward to the conclusion!

"Knight's Gambit!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

In Jolly Olde England, Nemesis watches as Council member and chess grandmaster Noel Chesterton wins a chess match. Out in the street, Nemesis witnesses the attempted kidnapping of Sir Robert Greene and foils the plot; Chesterton later receives a phone call warning him about Nemesis, but he argues that his current plot is too important to give up. At Chesterton's home, Nemesis fails to stop another kidnap attempt and finds himself under arrest for helping to abduct the man.

Jack: For a Nemesis entry, "Knight's Gambit" isn't half bad. Spiegle seems to have tried a little harder this time out to make his art look professional, and the story moves along at a decent clip. There's a needless interlude where Nemesis wonders what Valerie is up to after he forbade her to accompany him, but for the most part this is an enjoyable backup story.

Peter: Well, it's no Queen's Gambit but it'll pass ten minutes well enough. I'm not as keen on Spiegle's Colorforms graphics (Dan's foregrounds are just as bad as his backgrounds) as you are, Jack; there's not much in the way of storytelling, just a lot of talking heads. 

Detective Comics #501

"The Man Who Killed Mlle. Marie!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Dan Adkins

Mysterious telegrams summon Alfred Pennyworth and Lucius Fox to Paris. An intrigued Bruce Wayne/Batman follows them there (instead of, you know, just asking the guys what's up) and is immediately caught up in a web of intrigue. A French inspector explains to Batman that Fox and Pennyworth were both helping the freedom fighters during WWII, and both may have intimately known the legendary Mademoiselle Marie. 

The Inspector further explains that Marie was murdered during the waning hours of the war by a traitor, but her body was never found. Rumors of a daughter, possibly fathered by one of Marie's aides, have circulated throughout France. Batman meets up with Lucius and Alfred at the meeting point addressed in the telegram just before a trio of machine-gun-toting Parisians enter the room. As Batman is overpowered and knocked unconscious, the group's leader, a brunette named Julia, points a gun at Alfred and lets him know she knows how to use it.

Peter: I'm a sucker for DC war crossovers (and I already know Jack is waving his Mlle. Marie flag below) so I was up for this adventure-thriller but... not much happens here. Perhaps the second part will bring an answer to so many questions. Inherent in a "deep dive" like "The Man Who Killed Mlle. Marie" is the head-scratching time & space continuum problem. We know that Batman (and Robin) took part in WWII stories cuz we've read them, so why is it here the Caped Crusader admits he knows just about nothing about the Freedom Fighters, other than the fact that Alfred fought in the Resistance thirty years before? It's hard not to scrunch up your face and think, "Hey, wait a minute, if Alfred was sixty-plus years old in those old 1940s' Batman stories, how was he in France gunning down Ratzis and making sweet music with Marie at the same time? Yes, I know it further makes no sense for me to dwell on it. "Just get over it," I hear you typing. OK, I will, provided we get a solid conclusion next issue.

Jack: I feel like we heard about Alfred's past as a resistance fighter in WWII not too long ago, but I can't help picturing the tubby Alfred Pennyworth from the Golden Age comics! I'm happy to see Mlle. Marie again but sad to think she was killed at the end of the war; I don't know what's coming next, so I assume she really is dead, even though her body was never found. It's a real shock to see Alfred brain Batman but I can assure everyone that the butler did not kill the freedom fighter. No way, Jose!

"The Five-Fold Revenge of Dr. Voodoo!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

Dr. Voodoo is back in town and he's red-hot angry at Batgirl for foiling his diamond exchange robberies (way back in 'tec #496) so he's going to get at the "lady of the bats" through the people she loves and cares for. First, Voodoo rigs a bomb in the Batcycle and then uses his mental powers to influence mechanic Jeff Cotton to take her for a ride (the cycle, not Batgirl!). Jeff goes boom! Babs feels terrible about Jeff's dire prognosis (critical condition) and looks to office hunk Jim Dover for compassion. But, alas, Jim is under the mental powers of Dr. Voodoo and rudely rebuffs Barbara's whining. At wit's end, Batgirl takes to the skies and it's there that Dr. Voodoo finds her. Knocking Batgirl unconscious, Voodoo injects her with a formula specially prepared to heighten her "painful emotions!"

Peter: Say what you will about Dr. Voodoo. Sure, he's a cad and a diamond thief, a brute, possibly a murderer but... he had the good manners to simmer while Batgirl/Barbara Gordon tended to her legal problems before concocting a new plan for vengeance. Not all baddies would be that polite. But, as to that plan, I'm not really sure why he bothered. He blows up Jeff (and, good job that, surviving a bomb blast to the crotch) and then aims a little lower by forcing Jim to be rude over the phone, only to jump Babs while she's swinging around. I get it, V's trying to get Batgirl's nerve-endings fried, but why not just kill her when he has a chance? Throw her off the building, maybe? Like Jack below, I was impressed with the Delbo-Giella work this issue; obviously the pair were practicing in their off-hours as their work has improved tenfold in just the last several issues. As dumb as this story was, I was still entertained and that's the goal, right?

Jack: Dr. Voodoo was a lame villain back in issue #496; so lame, in fact, that I had forgotten all about him. This story gets off to a good start with a very impressive splash page, picturing a Batgirl voodoo doll being hanged by the neck, but then it meanders around a bit before getting good again at the end. Delbo and Giella draw a nice Batgirl and, overall, Detective is winning the art competition among Bat titles hands down.

Batman #334

"The Lazarus Affair, Chapter Three:
Infinity Island!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin

Batman awakens and is immediately set upon by a crowd of lunatics. He is strapped to a chair and given a choice: join the followers of his mysterious captor and live a life of luxury, or join the lunatics and be consigned to an underground mine.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, Robin and Catwoman quickly escape their captors, find and free King Faraday, and all three take a speedboat to a location in the Indian Ocean. They are captured by giant bubbles and taken to the mine right next door to Batman, who witnesses their arrival and elects to join them. Outside the mine, Talia races around, zapping mutates with a ray gun.

The Bat quartet manage to escape the mine and find Talia, who is suddenly aging before their eyes. She runs to join their mysterious captor, who promises her eternal youth. Batman is not surprised when they all come face to face with Ra's al Ghul!

Jack: Novick and McLaughlin do their best to keep up with Wolfman's speedy plot twists and turns, and actually come up with some decent panels this time out, such as the one reproduced here. Still, there seems to be an awful lot of running from here to there, but to what end? We all knew it was going to be Ra's eventually. So far, Marv has given us 51 pages of "epic" story, with 25 more promised for next issue, but for the life of me I don't know what the point is. Peter?

Peter: You got me, Jack. If you wanted Ra's to come in as your "super-secret villain," try not including his daughter in the "epic" and, for gosh sake's, don't title it "The Lazarus Anything!" Scheduling four issues on this dreck makes no sense to me but, possibly, it might have been more enjoyable if Marv had spilled the beans at the climax of part one. Then we could get to the meat of what's happening on this island. As it stands, there's probably going to be a boatload of exposition next issue. This chapter is especially egregious, with its "air of mystery." If I was Batman when Robin was beseeching him to reveal the mastermind behind the plot, I'd have turned to him and said, "Really? And you want to be my partner?"

"...From the Ashes!"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Dan Spiegle

Susan Talley hires Jason Bard to find out who torched her boarding house, since the mean old insurance man is convinced that she did it and so he won't pay up. While he visits the scene of the crime, Bard is knocked out; when he awakens, he finds a piece of cloth snagged on a piece of wood and deduces that the firebug was none other than Susan's ex-husband. Bard locates the creep trying to burn down his own trailer, but ex-hubby ends up French toast and Bard makes sure Susan will get the insurance money.

Jack: It's depressing to turn the page and see more art by Dan Spiegle. I guess someone out there must love him (there are Frank Robbins fans, don't forget), but I think his art is strictly from hunger. And why bring back Jason Bard? His backup series in the early '70s was nothing special. Really, all he has to distinguish him from any other private eye is a cane and a limp. That's not much to base a series on.

Peter: You're depressed by the art but the script is equally bad. For giggles, though, you can't beat the sequence where Bard explains that there's not time to break down the door so he risks severing an artery or blindness by swinging through a plate glass window. I guess there's plenty of time to stanch the bleeding while the bad guys are beating you up, eh? Spiegle's work is so blah and lifeless, you can't tell which character is which. Bard takes turns looking like the Hulk and a Saturday Night Fever devotee.

Next Week...
A Very Creepy Christmas!

Monday, November 23, 2020

The Warren Report Issue 47: November-December 1973


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

Eerie #52 (November 1973)

"Ghoulish Encounter"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Jaime Brocal

"Darkling Revelation"
Story by Al Milgrom
Art by Martin Salvador

"The Hunter"★1/2
Story by Rich Margopoulos
Art by Paul Neary

"The Beheaded"
Story by John Jacobson
Art by Aldoma Puig

"The Golden Kris of Hadji Mohammed"
Story by George Henderson (adapted from a story by Frederick Moore)
Art by Isidro Mones

"Death Rides This Night!"★1/2
Story by Esteban Maroto and Al Milgrom
Art by Esteban Maroto

"Ghoulish Encounter"
Realizing that he needs to find a place to hide his human body until he can locate the amulet that will allow him to transfer his consciousness back to his unwrapped form, the mummy stashes the body in a crypt in the local cemetery. He does not realize that his act was observed by a young woman, who recently lost her mind and turned into a ghoul when forced to eat her deceased husband because they were both trapped in a locked basement.

Licking her chops, the ghoulish gal heads for the crypt while the mummy tracks down and kills the men responsible for the theft of the amulet. The prize itself has disappeared, and the mummy deduces that it must be around the neck of a woman who often accompanied the thieves. He returns to the crypt and sees that there has been a "Ghoulish Encounter" between the woman and a tasty corpse; he kills her and is relieved to discover that her choice of repast was another body. Elsewhere, the woman wearing the amulet boards a coach to leave for parts unknown!

"Darkling Revelation"
I have to hand it to Steve Skeates for creating real suspense with this ridiculous situation. I was convinced that the ghoul gal was munching on the mummy's human body all the while, and I was wondering what he would do if, say, an arm was missing. The revelation that she mistakenly ate a different body surprised and pleased me. I was not so pleased by the gratuitous violence that took up most of the rest of the story. It seems like all the mummy does is shamble around and murder people in graphic ways. If this series is going to improve, we need to be able to have a character with whom we can identify. We don't have that yet.

Arthur Lemming staggers through the woods until he collapses. He is found and taken in by a band of gypsies and soon falls in love with pretty Ophelia. Meanwhile, in town, his wife Angela is convicted of witchcraft and sentenced to death. Arthurs asks old Mother Eva to tell his fortune, but right in the middle of the process the full moon rises. He turns into a werewolf and kills lots of gypsies; when he kills Ophelia, Mother Eva curses him with the memory of what he has done. 

Gleaming helmet, furry
boots, and Zip-A-Tone!
"Darkling Revelation" is average across the board. Al Milgrom's story doesn't really go anywhere interesting until the very end--it may be worthwhile to see Arthur as a werewolf have to deal with the memory of his crimes. Like the Mummy series, the Werewolf series is cursed with the need to have a sequence where the main character goes wild and kills lots of people. This is predictable every issue and means that most of the new characters who are introduced won't be around long. Hopefully, the series will start to go in a more interesting direction soon. Martin Salvador's art in this story is particularly uninspired.

In the 21st century, after atomic destruction, a man called "Hunter" makes his way through the snowy wasteland that used to be the Rocky Mountains, ending up at a monastery where the monks worship a giant computer. They think that there are no more demons, but Hunter knows better. He encounters three mutant demons that enter the monastery and he manages to destroy them all. He then reveals to the monks that he is half-human and half-demon.

Not a bad introduction to a new series character! The best feature of "Hunter" is the art by Paul Neary, which (and I think I may have said this before) reminds me an awful lot of what John Byrne and perhaps Mike Zeck would soon be doing much more famously. There's plenty of Zip-A-Tone on display and lots of gleaming helmets and furry boots. It's not always entirely clear what's going on, and I chalk that up to Neary's inexperience as a storyteller, but his graphics are above-average. For a Warren science fiction story, this is bearable.

"The Befuddled Beheaded"
Dean and Maggie rent a haunted house and immediately meet "The Beheaded" ghost of Bianca Eden. Dean insists he's there to help her get reunited with her head, so the ghost shows him the events that led to its being removed. He's actually after Bianca's hidden treasure and convinces the ghost to lead him to it after telling her he knows where to find her head but needs cash to make the trip. Once Bianca realizes Dean's real goal, she beheads Maggie and ends up causing Dean's demise. Maggie seems to end up with her head back on, happily living in Bianca's home and explaining to a cop that she is the ghost's descendant.

At least, I think that's what happened at the end of this story. It was all somewhat confusing. Early on, Dean blithely tells Maggie that ghosts can't harm the living, but later on, Bianca grabs a sword and lops off Maggie's head. So much for Dean's belief. The final pages, with heads being stuck on bodies, is hard to follow, and Aldoma's art isn't very impressive.

"The Golden Kris..."
An old Arab tells a sailor a story in a San Francisco dockside bar in exchange for a drink. "The Golden Kris of Hadji Muhammed" was a dagger that belonged to a sultan. On the dagger was a saying about all women being unfaithful. When a beautiful woman is brought to be one of the sultan's brides, she insists that he renounce the saying and then she is spirited away by another man. The old Arab was sent to track her down, which he did. She had killed the man who kidnapped her and she wants to be returned to the sultan. Soon after she returns, she kills the sultan with the dagger and the old Arab tells the sailor that she became his wife.

As we so often complain, the biggest problem with Warren stories is the writing. This tale is based on a short story by Frederick Ferdinand Moore that was first published in the May 1912 issue of The Blue Book Magazine. I don't have the original to compare this adaptation to, but it is in keeping with the type of tale that was popular in those days--swashbuckling among the denizens of foreign lands. George Henderson does a good job of fitting it all into eight comic pages and Munes's art is dark and sensual. I like this story a lot.

Dax lies badly wounded among the corpses on the field of battle, so Death sends his sexy, female helper down to collect him. But Dax isn't quite dead yet and tries to use his considerable powers of persuasion to convince the fox to abandon her master and return to life with Dax. Persuaded, she kisses him and turns into a slug-like monster as punishment for betraying Death. The Grim Reaper then has a chat with Dax and admits he's been after him for some time. Dax says no thanks, I'll keep living, and Death relents, but Dax discovers to his dismay that his spine is broken and he lies paralyzed on the bloody ground.

Dax gets a gander at what his latest
conquest looks like in the morning.
"Death Rides This Night!" features the usual, lush art by Maroto and the usual progression of events, in which Dax finds a hot woman who turns out to be some sort of supernatural creature. I read that this was the story where Dax finally dies, but that's not clear from the last panel, so time (and next issue) will tell. Poor Al Milgrom does his best to make some sense of Maroto's flowery panels.-Jack

Peter- Neither the Mummy Walks nor the Curse of the Werewolf series is brain food. Once you get past that, these are bearable stories. Hindered, it would seem, by a format that never changes. The Mummy is Richard Kimble in bandages, visiting weird European villages that all happen to be haunted by their own beasties. It's never clear why the poor unfortunate girl who gets trapped in the basement with her husband (and we're never told how they got trapped either) and has to resort to cannibalism suddenly decides human meat is preferable to a Whopper with Cheese, other than the fact that it advances the plot. The climax is hilarious ("Oops, I didn't have to kill her after all!") but nothing has been resolved. We're still at Point A.

The same could be said for the Werewolf, who exists only to slaughter those he loves, but I find this series to be much more enjoyable despite, or maybe because of, its sameness. Lemming is one cursed guy, never getting a break, and the best is yet to come. Martin Salvador's art is coming around; his werewolf is still more a teddy bear than a Howling monster. Having Lemming's memory restored pushes the series down an interesting road next issue. Of all the early Warren serials, "Hunter" was the most intriguing and showed the most potential. Whether it ever achieved that potential is another story altogether. But it was certainly ground-breaking. (SPOILERS!) If I recall correctly, this was the first major character to be killed off and certainly had its share of copycats down the road (including two spin-off series). I may regret saying this now, not having read the series in over a decade, but it was the best SF series Warren published. Go ahead, name another. To enjoy the opening chapter, however, you really have to look past RichMargo's obvious adoration of Moench&McG. Their presence is felt right from the splash (The environment: Bad! The individual: Equally Bad!) but, after a few pages, RichMargo settles down and simply lets the tale unfold.

Of the two non-series stories this issue, I really liked "Golden Kris," due mostly to the primitive but atmospheric Mones artwork. Amazing that just a few posts ago, I was checklisting Mones's weaknesses and now he's evolving into a mid-'70s Jerry Grandenetti. "The Beheaded" is dreary nonsense; really very hard to keep my eyes open during its duration. I can picture this being adapted into a 1980s' romcom/horror starring Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner. For the most part, "Death Rides This Night!" is just another Dax installment, but what saves it is its strong climax and the fact that it's the finale. The idea that this unconquerable barbarian will die a slow death, amidst the carnage he helped create, is a powerful one.

Enrich Torres
Vampirella #29 (November 1973)

"Vampirella and the Undead of the Deep!" 
Story by Flaxman Loew
Art by Jose Gonzalez

"The Evil Eye" 
Story by W. Eaton
Art by Ramon Torrents

"Stairway to Heaven!" 
Story and Art by Fernando Fernandez

"Last Lunch for Rats!" 
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Auraleon

"The Vampires are Coming, the Vampires are Coming!" ★1/2
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Isidro Mones

In the conclusion to last issue's thriller, Alastair MacDaemon, last Laird of the MacDaemon clan, is buried in the deeps of Loch Eerie with Vampi and Pendy as onlookers. Vampi is visited in her dreams by spirts that night, ghosts that beg her to bring Alastair back home for a proper burial. Believing this is the right thing to do, Vampi dives down to the bottom of the Loch, where she happens upon a sunken luxury liner populated by the undead. The corpses dance to the ragtime band that plays in the ballroom while Vampirella's long-lost love, Tristan, saunters on down the staircase.

Elated, Vampi accompanies Tristan outside the ship for a little kissing and petting but, to our Drakulonian heroine's horror, Tristan's outer shell dissolves and standing before her is the Monster of the Loch! Realizing she's losing energy, Vampi attacks and drains all the dancing copses of their blood and then heads for the surface, dragging Alastair's body and head along with her. The script for "Vampirella and the Undead of the Deep" is just as disjointed and blurry as any that preceded it; as Monday morning quarterbacks, we know that's not going to change. The reasoning behind Alastair's burial in the Loch and Vampi's subsequent urge to "unbury" him is skewed. I assume it's all tied into the Loch Monster's desire for vengeance, but the details are sketchy. What's more fanciful than a Titanic full of zombies is the fact that Vampi can speak, dance, and change into a bat (and fly!) underwater. Jose, however, seems to hone his skills every issue. There are several pin-up-worthy panels of Vampi in various stages of undress. 

"The Evil Eye"
W. Eaton's choppy "The Evil Eye" concerns a witch's curse plaguing ten generations of the Lanier family. The curse involves a metal box that is handed down through the generations; when the owner of the box opens the lid, they lose that which they most cherish (great-great-great grampa Ezekiel Lanier loses his eyes, great grampa Craig Lanier loses his pecker, etc.). Now the box belongs to vain Larry Lanier, so you can just guess what he's going to be void of by story's end. No real surprises here, but Torrents's art has definitely improved over the last few months (although one foxy lady seems to put in an appearance in two different time frames). I'll give it a thumbs-sideways as this has been a real weak month and I'm jonesing to like something.

After an automobile accident, Farley Foster lies dying on an operating table, his life flashing before his eyes. The light approaches even as the surgeon tries his hardest to keep Farley alive but, in the end, Farley chooses the light. I'm not 100% sure what Fernando was trying to say in "Stairway to Heaven!" but the story and protagonist touched me in a way very few Creepy stories have. The tale never approaches pretension the way a McGregor or Moench piece would have, given the same plot; the prose is tight and to the point. Of course, that long hallway to "wherever" and the light that approaches have been a part of literature for many a moon, so "Stairway" does not perform miracles with the trope. It's just a good, sentimental story with a great Led Zeppelin song title.

The very definition of
"swift justice" in the '70s
The boys in the gang always picked on poor runt, Harold, but killing his pet rats was just a lousy thing to do. Harold swore to his only friend, Albert, that he'd get those guys; it was only a matter of time. Then, when Al and Harold go swimming down at the lake, they run into the four bullies and Harold is subjected to more harassment. When Bully #1, Max Robbins, proposes a breath-holding contest, Harold agrees but, long after the other boys have surfaced, he never surfaces. 

Twenty years later, all the boys (including Al) have grown up to be powerful businessmen and co-owners of the Apex Chemical Company. When three of the men turn up dead, all drowned in brutal fashion, suspicious eyes fall on Al and he's convicted of first-degree murder. The judge turns out to be Max Robbins, co-owner of Apex, and the only surviving member of the four rats. As Al is hauled from court, he warns Max that Apex has been dumping chemicals into the lake Harold drowned in, and Max is next on the murder list. Soon after, Max is poisoned by bad water and Al's cell is broken into. Al disappears and, it seems, Harold's revenge is complete.

At least I can't level accusations of pretension at "Last Lunch for Rats!" This is one dumb story, with a whole lot of empty-headed plot twists. Doug starts us down a path of Willard-style vengeance, teasing us with visions of rodent-chewed bully guts, but then dumps the whole "Harold has become psychotic" angle and swerves into the water-based kills. I'm thinking the writer just couldn't decide which would be cooler, so he opted for both. Having your partner in the business also be the judge that sentences you to the electric chair is one bad break. And how about the swift trials they had back in the early '70s? No jury and quick justice. One more quick, dim-witted question: once dead Harold broke Al out of the pokey, what was the plan? Was the odd couple going to live down by the polluted river? I may be the dopey one, giving this a full two stars as a reward to Doug for skipping the whole "Bullying: a man-child contest borne of a father's backhand" nonsense, but it's worth it.

Foiled by the deadly drumsticks
During the Revolutionary War, drummer boy Chad Bowman watches as a Redcoat rises from the battlefield and drinks the blood of the corpses around it. Chad flees, comes across a regiment of Patriots, and tries to convince them that he’s seen the devil. But, of course, no one will listen to a foolhardy young boy until the men come face to face with the vampire themselves. By then, it’s too late and "The Vampires are Coming, the Vampires are Coming!" Not a bad story at all, with Doug Moench managing to work up quite a bit of suspense, marred only by a really dumb climax (the vampire is felled by drumsticks!). One of Isidro Mones’s better contributions thus far. One question though: what happened to all the girly strips? Wasn't the initial idea behind the launch of Vampi to spotlight women in horror (and, yes, I realize there's nothing feminist about a zine like Vampirella)? Not a whole lot of that going on this issue.-Peter

Jack-Not only the strips with ladies are missing, but where's the color story in the middle? This month's Eerie has 76 pages while this month's Vampirella only has 68. In the letters column, the editor writes that they wanted to see how readers reacted to an issue without color inside. I am skeptical! He promises color will return next issue.

My ratings for the stories in this issue were in line with yours, Peter. I liked "Stairway to Heaven!" best and found it unusual and interesting. The writer creates real intrigue about what's going on and the artist mixes styles to good effect. How about that--they're the same person! It's more philosophy than horror, but it works. The Vampi story came in next for me, completely due to the art by Gonzalez. I was thinking that this is one really big loch until it became clear (sort of) that much of what was going on was in our heroine's mind, though I can't imagine why the loch monster just disappeared from the story all of a sudden. How did it know Vampi was in trouble? And hadn't it been eating human sacrifices for centuries? Now it's just an evil shrink?

"The Evil Eye" is another well-illustrated tale, but it boasts no surprises. That leaves the two Moench stories. "Last Lunch for Rats!" made me wonder where Tom Sutton disappeared to, since he's much better at drawing stories with kids than Auraleon is. "The Vampires Are Coming" is just weird, with a Revolutionary War setting and a fatal drumstick. I thought drumsticks had rounded ends.

Not what we would want to see our
14-year old daughter doing...

Creepy #58 (December 1973)

"Change... Into Something Comfortable" 
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Richard Corben

"An Excuse for Violence" 
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Adolfo Abellan

"Shriek Well Before Dying!" 
Story by W. Eaton
Art by Jose Bea

"Soul and Shadow"★1/2
Story by Gardner Fox
Art by Reed Crandall

"The Waking Nightmare!" ★1/2
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Isidro Mones

The Wolfman, escaped from Grimstone's Carnival of Freaks, enjoys a bloody jaunt through the city on Halloween night. Ripping to shreds many young boys and girls but soon tiring of the easy game, the lycanthrope breaks into a mansion full of celebrants. But the young, happy faces disguise the truth beneath: these are the vampires and ghouls of Grimstone's Carnival of Freaks masquerading as, of course, humans. Grimstone emerges from the shadows to explain to the Wolfman that, because the creature is a human during the day, he and his "employees" no longer can trust him, and they tear him to pieces.

Moench-isms abound in "Change... Into Something Comfortable," starting with Doug's annoying habit of defining his caption boxes (Night: a time to die... abruptly, fiercely, terribly... with unmitigated terror a choking of sour bile searing a shrieking throat...) and peaking with a script that makes little to no sense. Why has this werewolf suddenly decided to dine on the townsfolk and, most curious of all, why does Grimstone suddenly decide that a werewolf is a big risk to have around all his creepy-crawlies? Wouldn't the fact that a werewolf becomes a man half the day have occurred to him at the onset? I would have liked to have sat through Grimstone's job interview process. The Corben art is great but this werewolf is no Lycanklutz; this one is a big furry bear in clothing, nowhere near as frightening as the earlier creature. More frightening, in fact, are the breasts on the female ghoul. How that cloth maintains its hold on those basketballs is anyone's guess.

Two black girls are murdered on the already racially-tense campus of Harrison State. It's up to guidance counsellor Ken Corrado to track down the killer (because, after all, that is listed in the job description of a college counsellor), with the help of "associate" Ron Gray. Both girls were drained of blood, but that's immaterial to the protestors, who turn violent when their outrage is ignored. In the end, it's discovered that the killer is LeRoy Holmes, an African-American janitor, who was bitten by a white female vampiress and who becomes a white blood-sucker now and then. LeRoy is beaten to death by a white cop and the terror comes to an end.

What a freakin' mess. How can anyone read the ten pages of utter crap known as "An Excuse for Violence" and not roll their eyes and throw the damn zine in the pool? Don McGregor once again shows us how much he wants to unite the people, since we're all the same on the inside. So, then, why give LeRoy Holmes such a cliched name? Don hammers home just what an important script this is by using the "N" word. Why does Count LeRoy target black girls? Other than to forward Don's thesis on racism, there is no reason. A big deal is made of the white vampiress/black man union, but then we get almost unintelligible art by Abellan that makes distinction impossible. How is the panel of LeRoy changing into a bat supposed to signify a transformation of races when all we see is a big bat? My patience for these political diatribes is wearing thin.

"Farm equipment salesman" Floyd Crampus knows a good thing when he sees it and that choice piece of real estate right now belongs to Josh Silar and his daughter, the mousy but attractive Ada. Floyd worms his way into Ada's heart when he discovers that the family has a bank account stuffed full of 28,000 dollar bills. Once he gets Ada wrangled, he starts to work on Mr. Silar, who's immediately wise to the young whippersnapper's game. The senior Silar has a pair of fatal heart attacks and Floyd wastes no time in convincing Ada that they should become Mr. and Mrs. 

Josh Silar might be buried deep, but that never stopped an angry father; Floyd and Ada watch in horror as Josh rises from the grave while Ada is paying her respects. Floyd grabs his new bride and tosses her in the VW, hightailing it, but Mr. Silar convinces his neighbors to rise from their earthly resting places and join him in a little vengeful fun. The corpses run Floyd and Ada off the road and Floyd is burned to death. Ada goes back to her farm, Pop in tow, and adjusts to life without Floyd.

If it ain't eco/racial/feminist awakenings, then there's always the EC rip-off to fall back on, and that's precisely what "Shriek Well Before Dying!" (one of the dopiest titles ever) offers up. Writer Eaton takes the standard "money motivation" plotline and does absolutely nothing original with it. 28,000 bucks sure seems like a piddling amount to settle for when you're going to so much trouble (although, to be fair, my inflation calculator tells me that $28,000 in 1973 is tantamount to $164,000 today), but what's more giggle-worthy to me is Floyd's blasé reaction to his dead father-in-law rising from the dead (nice casket, too, with a sunroof yet) and, somehow, catching up to the speeding auto. The gravedigger's reaction is even funnier. Jose Bea's art is adequate but rushed. There's a panel of Ada and Floyd canoodling next to a haystack that I had to look at a couple dozen times before I could decipher whose limbs belonged to who.

A warrior enters the temple of Shalimar to seek a legendary jewel but discovers a beautiful princess named Karalina sleeping on a stone altar. The woman awakens when the barbarian takes the jewel and explains that she's been trapped in the temple and wants to escape but could only leave when the jewel was stolen. The pair leave the temple, unaware that the warrior has lost his shadow. Later, that shadow attacks them, killing the barbarian and reducing him to bones. Karalina takes the jewel back to her temple and slips back into her sleep.

"Soul and Shadow" is an odd one. It's got Reed Crandall and Gardner Fox written all over it; this late in their careers, fantasy and sword-and-sorcery were just about the only genres they contributed to. But damned if the story didn't work for me and I can't really say why. It's very familiar (the general plot was explored in an earlier tale in, I think, Eerie), and Fox's prose is as purple as ever before, but it's also got a bit of an edge to it. Call me an art idiot, but it's the best from Crandall we've seen around here in years; his Karalina is eye candy. "Soul and Shadow" would be a Warren swan song for both Fox and Crandall. Very shortly after this appearance, Crandall quit art, became a janitor for Pizza Hut (according to my Wikipedia sources), and died in 1982. A really shitty ending for one of the EC masters. 

A strange virus overtakes Houston, transforming peaceful, law-abiding citizens into murderous madmen. Can science overcome this epidemic and return Houston to the AFL Championship game? Writer Don McGregor lets us know right up front that "The Waking Nightmare!" isn't just a reimagining of Night of the Living Dead but a serious treatise on drug addiction and the government's failure to help those afflicted, by signing his opus "Donald Francis McGregor." Unfortunately, Donald Francis McGregor's wordy novel is disjointed and boring, a lethargic jumbling of (one assumes) best intentions and lazy plotting. Don can't help but interject his opinions on solving drug addiction, but the problem is that he does it in a way that slows the pace. The quasi-happy ending is anti-climactic and preachy. I continue to be unimpressed with Mones's art; it's muddy and impenetrable at times (I defy you to make sense of the page where a man throws himself off a building and lands in front of Mason's car) and just adequate for the remainder.-Peter

Sometimes a haystack is just a haystack...
Jack-The letters page in this issue has two items of interest. The first is a letter from the great Fred Hembeck, whose career would end up being longer and more successful than those of many Warren creators; the second is a note from the editor who, in answer to a question about what ever happened to Billy Graham, replies that he was swallowed up by "Monstrous Marvelosaurus." The two highlights for me in a mediocre issue are the Corben art on "Change," a story that displays one of the biggest gulfs in quality between writing and art I can remember, and "Soul and Shadow," an unexpectedly entertaining bit of sword and sorcery from two old masters whose best days were behind them.

The two McGregor stories are dreadful. The sheer number of words overwhelm the art, which isn't very good either. The Eaton/Bea story had two memorable panels. The first is on page 27, where the young lovers get it on behind a ridiculously phallic haystack, and the second is the last panel, with a decaying Dad you just have to like. Like Vampirella, this issue of Creepy is 68 pages long and has no color story, making me wonder if the longer issues with color were summer specials.

Next Week...
Batman teams with the
Guardians of the Galaxy!
Wait... What?