Thursday, February 20, 2020

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 54

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 39
March 1953 Part II

Harry Anderson
 Strange Tales #16

"You Can't Kill Me!" (a: Harry Anderson) ★1/2
(r: Tomb of Darkness #21)
"The Man in the Mud" (a: Sy Barry) ★1/2
"The Sissy!" (a: Bob Brown) ★1/2
"Suicide!" (a: Louis Zansky) ★1/2
"They Made Me a Ghost" (a: Mike Sekowsky)
(r: Tomb of Darkness #22) 

French Professor Pierre Duval seemingly has everything: his beautiful daughter Suzanne, a huge brain, and a new formula he's devised that allows headless chickens to come back to life. Well, he severs the heads and then sews them back on. I know what you're thinking: what possible reason could a scientist have for creating a serum that allows chickens to be reunited with their noggins? Well, as every mad doctor will tell you, it's for the benefit of mankind. In the words of Dr. Duval, "what I did for this chicken, I can do for human beings as well!"

Into Professor Duval's idyllic existence crawls Suzanne's new beau, a scoundrel by the name of Henri Lebret, a murderer and a thief looking for one more angle. That angle comes in the form of Duval's new play toy. Captured by the police after a robbery-murder, Lebret is sentenced to death by guillotine. See where this is going? Yep, knowing he cannot be sentenced to death twice for the same crime, the knave talks Suzanne into convincing her daddy that Lebret is a perfect test subject. The Professor promises to sew the dead man's head back on to his body and resuscitate him after he's been executed but pulls a rabbit out of his hat, hoping the new Henri Lebret won't be as enticing to Suzanne as the old one. Don't stop to ask silly questions like "How would this guy talk when his vocal chords are now at the top of his head?" Just enjoy it for what it is, a goofy escape. This one looks and feels just like an EC story, complete with an art job by Harry Anderson very reminiscent of "Ghastly" Graham Ingels. I love Anderson's gothic alleyways. Bring me some more of this guy quick!

"The Sissy!"
"The Man in the Mud" is an amusing short-short about an arrogant pick-pocket who gets his comeuppance at just the wrong time. Aunty is turning poor little Stephen into "The Sissy!," denying him the childhood of most pre-teen boys but a chance trip into town (where Stephen stumbles into the local "Black Magic Bookstore!") turns Stephen into the coolest kid on the block. If Anderson is the Atlas nod to Ghastly, Bob Brown wears the Kamen crown. About as generic and plain as it gets. Jenks has had enough of his miserable life but several attempts at suicide have left him alive and kicking. Just as things can't get worse, a lawyer shows up at his dingy apartment to inform Jenks his uncle died and left him a million dollars. Jenks is so elated he trips down the stairs and dies of a broken neck. The delicious irony of "Suicide!" is quite muted by the scratchy graphics of Louis Zansky.

While convict Blackie Droome has resigned himself to an execution by hanging he has a little unfinished business he'd like to take care of in the after-life: he really really really wants to haunt the judge who sentenced him! So when Blackie gets a new cellmate who admits to a fondness for the black arts, the none-too-bright short-timer enlists the man's aid to summon Satan. When the devil appears, he listens to Blackie's story and giggles, informing Blackie that his soul is already bound for hell. But, in the interest of novelty, ol' Scratch agrees to send Blackie, post-hanging, back to Earth for a haunt. As promised, the now-dead dope finds his astral projection in the judge's house but unable to make contact. In fact, the breeze blows Blackie's specter higher and higher until he's alone in outer space. A very clever Stan Lee script that takes the usual "devil's pact" and adds a humorous slant. Sekowsky's art is pleasing to the eye.


Uncanny Tales #6

"He Lurks in the Shadows" (a: Sam Kweskin) ★1/2
(r: Crypt of Shadows #16)
"The Man Who Changed" (a: Sid Greene) ★1/2
(r: Giant-Size Dracula #3)
"I Was a Vampire" (a: Matt Fox) ★1/2
(r: Giant-Size Dracula #3)
"The Stooge" (a: Martin Thall) 
(r: Creatures on the Loose #33)
"The Mark of Death" (a: John Forte) 
(r: Vault of Evil #17)

Mark is a mugger but his girl, Claudia, has expensive tastes so his life of crime goes on. With every mugging, Mark swears it's his last but then Claudia amps up her wants and desires. When Mark pops the question and Claudia decides a honeymoon in Paris is the way to go, our hapless mugger knows he has to hit the big time. After a particularly large haul, Mark vows to never steal again but, as he's walking home, he himself is stabbed and robbed. As he lies dying in the street, Claudia, his assailant cries out that she only wanted to bring Mark nice things! Though the pay-off of "He Lurks in the Shadows" is all but forecast from the get-go, that final panel is delivered (literally) sharply! The splash is unique as well, with Kweskin shunting aside the usual three or four-panel presentation and delivering a large splash where four actions melt into one.

Luther has long resigned himself to being a very ugly man but a chance encounter with Dorothy outside a nightclub gives him home that true love exists. After a whirlwind romance, Dorothy and Luther are married but there's still that nagging doubt at the back of Luther's brain. Why would such a lovely girl marry the Phantom of the Opera?" Back from the honeymoon in Bermuda, Luther decides he's finally going to change his appearance but says nothing to Dorothy about his trip to the plastic surgeon. A few days later, he pops up at the house to show his wife his handsome new face only to discover she's seen a surgeon as well.. and made herself, well, a bit plainer shall we say? The set-up for "The Man Who Changed" has a lot going for it; you're girding yourself for the obvious (Dorothy's actually a witch... Dorothy has a guy on the side and married Luther for his dough... Dorothy is an alien from Mars where men like Luther are handsome... etc.) but then when writer Carl Wessler lowers the boom, we're actually disappointed this couldn't have had a happier ending. "Love conquers all" and all that. But, who's to say this isn't a happy ending, right?

Count Kronin the Vampire has fallen in love with Mara, the most exquisite blonde in Europe, but he's convinced no human bombshell will interested in a guy with wings and fangs. Luckily, he remembers an article he read about Professor Malleck, a scientist perfecting a cure for vampirism (!), and pays the egghead a visit. After some coaxing, the Count downs the formula and heads for the nearest mirror. Eureka! He's cured. Humanity now reclaimed, the Count woos the beauty and the two are wed. On their wedding night, Kronin pops the bubbly and Mara pops his bubble: she doesn't drink... wine. It's a silly story with a cliched climax, yes, but I've got a feeling that's what our uncredited scripter had in mind. There's a delightful panel where Count Kronin sifts through a mountain of clippings back in his crypt to find the article on Malleck. What vampire spends his idle time clipping news items? What scientist feels the need to find a cure for vampirism in a world that doesn't believe in vampires? The best kind of funny book script: funny. Matt Fox's art is, as usual, unique and dynamic; his vampires is evil incarnate... with breasts and a sharp blonde mane.

"The Stooge" is only three pages long and hasn't much of a hook: carnival fat lady nags her husband until he chops her into pieces and the last panel reveals he's got six arms. Martin Thall (aka Martin Rose & Martin Rosnthal), a protege of Wally Wood, had a fabulous style (very much like that of Bill Benulis) and a too short career with Atlas (only four stories placed with the horror titles). His abstract style, especially on the splash, makes one forget the script's shortcomings. Last up is "The Mark of Death," a snoozer about a nephew who's waiting for (what else) his rich aunt to die and leave him all her dough. The old bat is obsessed with palm readers so he decides to become a swami and deliver her such bad news it'll stop her heart. Good try.

 Spellbound #13

"The Dead Men" (a: Fred Kida)
(r: Dracula Lives #2)
"The Death of a Puppet!" (a: Jim Mooney) ★1/2
(r: Vault of Evil #11)
"Let's Face It!" 
(r: Vault of Evil #10)
"The Pitchman!" (a: Bob Brown) 
(r: Vault of Evil #10)
"A Sight for Sore Eyes!" (a: Pete Tumlinson) ★1/2
(r: Chamber of Chills #6)

"Honest" Harry Snide canvasses the local cemetery, copying the names off gravestones, and then uses his information to bribe hoboes to vote for him (under the names of "The Dead Men") for mayor. Once he wins the election, he uses his power to stab his loyal cronies in the backs and isolates himself as the most powerful man in town. One night, he gets a call from the "Graveyard Society," asking him to come out to the town cemetery and "attend their next meeting." Only "Honest" Harry Snide would be dumb enough to accept the invite. A very, very bad story that pushes two or three of the most over-used plot devices to the max on the way to a completely predictable finale.

The Great Zaroso, puppet-master, is thrown into a whirlpool of horror when the violent acts he puts his marionettes through come to life in the streets outside the theater. Who's responsible? Don't ask. Regardless of its inane plot and bewildering climax, "Death of a Puppet" has some strong Jim Mooney visuals. Aging movie idol Roger Brent has spent zillions on fake wrinkle creams, mud packs, and beeswax to turn back the hands of time. Nothing works. Then Roger gets some 411 on an old man who's working on a brand new formula that will turn the old young again. But he's only half-finished with the serum when Roger downs it. "Let's Face It," this is one you can skip.

Herman Hunkle, the world's most gullible man, meets "The Pitchman" on the street, a huckster just dying to meet a mark like Herman. The con takes Hunkle for a fin when he sells him a gen-u-wine 5-carat diamond ring but Herman is so impressed he comes back the following day to dump even more on three "17-jewel" Swiss watches. Not settling for the small con, the pitchman sells Herman the deed to the Brooklyn Bridge for thirteen bucks. The next day, the swindler is laughing it up with the boys at the bar when he's told to head to the Brooklyn Bridge, which has been named Hunkle's Bridge and is charging a fifty-cent toll. I'm not sure what "The Pitchman" is doing in Spellbound rather than Crazy but it's a funny little strip with equally smile-inducing art by Bob Brown. I kept waiting for the inevitable panel where Herman makes the pitchman's intestines into watches or uses his eyeballs for rings but perhaps Stan and the Gang decided a little levity between ghouls and puppet-killers was just the ticket. It was.

Real estate agent/miser Luther Cain is losing his vision and he'd do just about anything for better eyeballs. When Cain visits Caleb and Em Randall's place to foreclose, Caleb tells him about a old doctor deep in the hills who can restore sight to a blind man. Luther promises he'll forgive Caleb's debt if he takes him to the old man (even while his word balloon swears otherwise) and the two men head to the shack. The operation is a success until Luther takes off the bandages and discovers the man's odd technique for restoring vision.

 Suspense #28

"With Intent to Kill!" (a: Joe Maneely) 
"Two Hands!" (a: Chuck Winter) 
"He Walks With a Ghost" (a: Al Hartley) 
"You've Got to Kill Me!" (a: Jim Mooney) 
"The Poor Fish!" (a: Bill Everett) ★1/2

Hunk Lucas checks in to his new job: helping an old wheelchair-bound geezer named Spencer Creeze get around his mansion comfortably. It's not long before Hunk's real aim becomes clear, that of relieving Specer of his hidden fortune. Problem is, the old goat isn't coming clean with the info so Hunk has to get tough. Bad idea. Stan revives another of his stale plots but has the sense to assign the dead fish to someone who can illustrate the heck out of it.

"Two Hands!" is a silly short-short about a man who sees the "perfect statue" inside an antique shop window. When he gets inside the store, however, he notices that the figure has no hands. He tells the shop owner that if he can locate the same figure in a complete state he'll give hi ten grand. The guy telephones all the dealers he knows but can't find a statue with hands so he chooses the only option open to him: he chops of his own hands. No, really!

Even though they're partners in crime, Joe treats Al like a dog. Al's got the brains but Joe's the tough guy. One night, after a job, Al steps out in front of a car and ends up a ghost. Putting his new lot in life to a good purpose, he haunts Joe until the big goon is killed by a falling hunk of concrete. Joe then becomes part of the spirit world and goes back to picking on Al. Promised he'll die a painful death thanks to a rare disease, Ed Hurley hires a hitman to off him in a quick, painless fashion. Just as the hour is approaching, Ed's doctor calls to confess there's been a screw-up down at the lab and Ed isn't dying after all! The hitman shows up and Ed tries to talk him out of his job but the tough isn't buying it, giving Ed only a few hours to get ahold of his doctor to confirm his story. The hour of doom arrives, the hitman murders Ed and then answers the ringing phone. It's Ed's doctor, calling to confirm the error, explaining that Ed's files were mixed up with those of one John Barton. In shock, the hitman, John Barton, slams the phone in its cradle. "You've Got to Kill Me!" isn't just saddled with a preposterous climx, it's also got a plot that had already been used several times in movies and
novels. Still, it's a fun read with some nice visuals (in particular, Ed's last hours are filled with sweat and grimaces).

Sadistic Ronald liked nothing more than to catch fish and watch them suffocate on land. Not a good dude. The game warden catches Ronald in the act and threatens to cart him off to the big house but Ronald chokes the life out of the lawman and buries him in the woods. Then Ronnie heads home to torture his goldfish but, while getting his rocks off, the goofball is thrown across the room by a terrible explosion. Picking himself up and heading out his shack's front door, Ronald is bewildered to see that a spaceship has crashed in his yard. The aliens, identifying themselves as Martians, explain that they're here on Earth to capture specimens of human life to study back on their planet. Unfortunately, the goofy ETs hadn't reckoned on the fact that Earthfolk need air and Ronald suffocates... just like on of his fish. Oh, the irony! "The Poor Fish!" is a fabulously-illustrated hunk of nothing, the type of fiction starring a uber-sadistic animal torturer that popped up in pre-code horror funny books just about monthly (and that includes in the ECs as well for those of you who thought the Gold Standard of Comic Books held its head higher than that). Ronald looks just like Bluto, which makes me wonder why Bill Everett never illustrated Popeye -- a natural if there ever was one.

 Mystery Tales #9

"The Specimen!" (a: Joe Maneely) ★1/2
(r: Chamber of Chills #18)
"Hunger" (a: Ben Brown & David Gantz) ★1/2
(r: Vault of Evil #22)
"Ashes to Ashes!" (a: Al Eadeh) 1/2
(r: Crypt of Shadows #21)
"The Man in the Morgue" (a: Vic Dowling) 
(r: Vault of Evil #23)
"Lost!" (a: Pete Tumlinson) 
(r: Vault of Evil #22)

Ichthyologist Carl Melton gets the surprise of his life one day when he answers the buzzer at his door. A gorgeous fellow Ichthy, Miriam, gifts the professor with a new species of fish found in deep water, never before seen by mankind. Overcome by Miriam's beauty and the rarity of his new prize, Carl begs Miriam to stay on as his assistant at his aquarium. Melton becomes frustrated that the creatures hide in a cave within the tank but Miriam assures him that they'll come out sooner or later. Then one night, Carl slips into the aquarium and beholds an eerie scene: the fish have finally ventured out of their hiding spot and reveal themselves to be half-man, half-fish. The professor gets a second shock when he spies Miriam leaning into the tank, seemingly communicating with the monsters. The woman reveals that she's a survivor of Atlantis (complete with a set of gills!); the specimens are her fellow Atlanteans, who have been brought to the surface world to study humans.

Miriam explains that she and her pals have to go but Carl, realizing he's got the discovery of a century right here in his home, convinces Miriam he's in love with her (He clutched her to him... and disguised his nausea at the fish-like odor she exuded...) and she must stay. Seeing the couple embrace, the fish-men become enraged and break out of their tank, chasing Miriam and Carl to the cliffs overlooking the ocean. As the couple fall into the sea, the blonde fish-girl explains to Carl she's taking him back to Atlantis to study; he's "The Specimen!" A wacky and thoroughly enjoyable fable with drop-dead graphics by Maneely. Carl Melton's character runs the gamut from obsessed scientist to romantic to scoundrel to selfish bastard all in a six-page span.

Hendler and Hoffman together form one of the most successful meat packing partnerships in the entire Atlas universe but Hoffman has had enough of Hendler selling their meat under the table and pocketing the profits for himself. Hendler leaves in a huff but swears he'll get his revenge so, that night, the hothead returns to the store front and poisons an entire locker full of sausages. Later, after reveling in his glory, he suddenly wonders if he's left behind some evidence that can be used against him and returns to the scene of his crime. The dope accidentally locks himself into the locker and, ironically, dies of "Hunger"... tons of meat within his grasp. After Hoffman discovers the body, he wonders aloud why Hendler didn't simply eat the meat in the locker. It was, after all, a fresh batch he'd just put in for storage. The final contribution (of seven) to the Atlas horror pre-codes by the tag-team of Ben Brown and David Gantz (Brown would go solo and head over to Toby and Morse to pencil even more horror stories), "Hunger" is too quick to establish anything more than a rudimentary explanation for the dissolution of the partnership and a bit too outlandish in its finale (it boggles the mind that Hensler was in the locker so long that he died of starvation before hypothermia!) to satisfy.

But the climax of "hunger" is nothing compared to the ludicrosity found in the final panels of "Ashes to Ashes!" Stop me if you've heard this before ("I can name that plot in two words..."): Helen has been waiting on her rich dying uncle (who made his millions off making maps), changing his bed sheets, cooking his porridge, etc. but the old buzzard just won't die so Helen and her dopey hubby, George, decide to accelerate the process. Helen tells George to go into town and bribe her Uncle's lawyer to find out how much they're getting when the old goat croaks; meanwhile she'll poison Uncle. But the nasty old coot has overheard the two conspirators and he assures Helen she and George will get nothing. Helen flips and burns the house to the ground, with Uncle still in bed. George pulls up and explains to Helen they're inheriting everything but the old nut never trusted banks so buried his fortune on a deserted island (!). The kicker is he had the map tattooed on his back! Hilariously dark comedy with a rare climax where the guilty parties go free (well, they're broke... but they're not in jail) and some startling work by Al Eadah. Old Uncle Scrooge resembles a vampire in a couple panels.

Neither "The Man in the Morgue" nor "Lost!" merit discussion. The former concerns a hood who never has good luck (and climaxes with another eye=rolling twist) while the latter chronicles a hood who hides his loot in a haunted cave.

Mystic #18

"In Old Bagdad" (a: Larry Woromay) ★1/2
"The Drowning Man" (a: Vic Carrabotta)  
"Tom-Tom!" (a: Al Eadeh)  
"Charley's Crime" (a: Jack Abel)  
"The Russian Devil" (a: Tony DiPreta) 

Niema may be a slave girl but she's ambitious. The gorgeous gal manages to kill and cavort her way right up to the top man himself: the Sultan of Bagdad! Just when she thinks she's on top of the world, Niema's new hubby dies and we all know what happens to the widow of a Sultan. Yep, fed alive to the lions! Most of the time I prattle on about how Stan and Co. find "inspiration" from EC but from "In Old Bagdad," I get a Harvey vibe. It's got that free-wheelie' fractured fable structure and some dynamite Woromay visuals.

"The Drowning Man" is a mercifully short tale of a thief washed overboard in the middle of the ocean who finds a raft to hold on to, only to discover it's actually a whale. Offensively ugly artwork from Carrabotta. A sadistic plantation owner (one of many in the Atlas Universe) gets his comeuppance when the natives skin him and use his hide for a drum. After reading "Ashes to Ashes!" and now "Tom-Tom!," I'm convinced Al Eadah believes fangs on a character is perfectly natural. Charley has the perfect heist plan but, as all Atlas plans go, the unexpected happens. A guard interrupts the blowing of the vault and Charley ventilates the guy. His partners get cold feet and exit pronto. The cops are waiting outside and Charley is gunned down in a hail of bullets. But that doesn't stop Charley and, later that night, his ghost finishes the job. Unfortunately, the bank guard's ghost arrives to spoil the day. "Charley's Crime"is an immensely silly fantasy that anticipates the post-code era when most Atlas/Marvel horror stories will be tame and insipid.

Some rare Atlas cheesecake courtesy
Larry Woromay

Ivan Petroff, "The Russian Devil," is the most sadistic man on Earth. Happily, for Ivan, he's assigned to a Russian prison camp, where he's allowed free rein to stack bodies like cords of wood. When Petroff suffers a massive heart attack, he tells his doctor on his death-bed that he welcomes the peace after a lifetime of ethnic cleansing. Alas, Petroff's rest doesn't last long as Death pulls the Russian Devil from his grave to become his right-hand man. Despite the red-baiting cliches, this is an entertaining story with a genuinely effective twist (Petroff isn't so much punished for his life of atrocity as he is annoyed). Tony DiPreta once again proves to me that he is an unheralded master of the pre-code horror art.

In Two Weeks!
At Last...
The Long-Awaited Return of
Gentleman Gene Colan!

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Warren Report Issue 27: November 1970-January 1971

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

Kenneth Smith
Creepy #36 (November 1970)

"One Way to Break the Boredom" 
Story by James Haggenmiller
Art by Jack Sparling

"Weird World" ★1/2
Story by Nick Cuti
Art by Tom Sutton

"Frankenstein is a Clown" 
Story by Bill Warren
Art by Carlos Garzon

"On the Wings of a Bird" 
Story by T. Casey Brennan
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Forbidden Journey!" ★1/2
Story by Greg Theakston & Rich Buckler
Art by Rich Buckler

"If a Body Meet a Body" 
Story by R. Michael Rosen
Art by Jack Sparling

"Frozen Beauty" 
Story & Art by Richard Corben

"One Way to Break the Boredom"
So, like, millionaire Gary Williams has had it up to here with the bummer of being bored. No hep chicks want to dig his bag, you know? So Gary calls up the devil for some ring-ding-daddy-O advice. This Satan is one with-it cat, even with the tail and horns. So, the devil promises to make Gary's nights swingin' and transforms him into a vampire. The coolest cat in town, right? Only wooden stakes can bring down this bat. But, after lots of close calls with the Man, Gary gets bored of the scene again and heads for some out-there spot in Europe where he can dig his cool fangs into any skirt that races across his peepers. Well, now, this town turns into one big bummer when Gary gets caught with his cape down and the locals take care of business.

I lived through the early '70s and I swear no one had talked like this in at least half a decade. Was Jim Haggenmiller channeling his inner Kerouac? The script is supremely dopey, even minus the inane dialogue and Jack Sparling is... well, Jack Sparling. Minus half a star for dressing Beelzebub in Peter Tork's old vest.

Spaceman Silas Dunn crash lands on a distant planet, but when he gets out of the ship he discovers he's actually in some kind of warped version of Alice in Wonderland, complete with talking toads. Turns out Silas has actually become stranded on an interstellar insane asylum. Way too goofy for my tastes, "Weird World" (no relation to the series created by Doug Moench years later for Marvel) comes off as another pretentious romp written by an English major who wants to share with the world just how much he learned in a few years at college. The Sutton art isn't all that great either.

"Frankenstein is a Clown"
Jorjo the Clown finds a second life in entertainment when his TV show, "The Friendly Frankenstein," becomes a smash-hit kid's show. Since he's in makeup every week, no one knows what he actually looks like, so he can travel from here to there unpestered. Then, one day, Jorjo's involved in a fiery car crash and killed but, as luck would have it, a Wanna-Be-Frankenstein happens to be looking for a brain for his patchwork creature. Jorjo awakens, discovers he's trapped in a hideous new package, accidentally kills the scientist, and heads back to his home. Realizing the kids don't know what he looks like, Jorjo resumes his career but goes nuts one day on set and jumps out a window.

"Frankenstein is a Clown" offers more proof that Bill Warren was a wonderful and entertaining film historian but couldn't write a funny book story to save his life. Warren peppers his script with wink-wink nods to the classics ("Now I know how it is to feel like a God!") that come off more pretentious than knowing. The climax makes no sense whatsoever; the studio lights drive Jorjo nuts for some reason and he picks up kids in a threatening way, only to let them loose in the very next panel.

"On the Wings of a Bird"
Ahzid dreams of flying away from his desert prison with the help of a huge stone bird. There's actually not much else going on in "On the Wings of a Bird" to summarize. It's obvious that writer T. Casey Brennan had lots of things to say here about freedom and unfulfilled dreams and all that, but I can't get past the sheer pretension of the whole thing. We don't know in what capacity Ahzid is being held captive (I'll lay odds that his captivity is actually a metaphor for the dampening of the human spirit), nor why there is a really big bird and a statue of a gladiator out in the middle of the desert (I'll lay odds both are metaphors for the vehicle we choose to capture freedom), nor why Ahzid is denied that freedom (I'll lay odds it's a metaphor for the uselessness of life), but I really couldn't give a stuff anyway. "On the Wings of Pomposity" won the "Warren Award" (presented at the 1971 New York Comic Con) for Best Script so obviously someone out there got it. The Grandenetti art is fair-to-middling, not bad but not up to some of the spectacular stuff he'd done in recent years for Warren.

In deep space, a quartet of explorers heads for Planetfall-3, a world that's been used to dump a valuable element known as Thurium, in hopes they can land a big payday. As the planet approaches, the Captain decides that one share is better than four and eliminates his partners one by one. On the planet's surface, with his last companion sinking in a patch of quicksand, the Captain smiles and heads back to his ship but realizes, a few panels too late, that the entire planet is a sinkhole. The ship is gone and so's his oxygen! "Forbidden Journey!" is a fun little space opera with a genuinely surprising climax and great Buckler visuals reminiscent of the work Al Williamson did for EC back in the day. Greg Theakston was a super-fan made good and, decades later, wrote a fascinating piece for his self-published zine (Pure Images) on the early days of Warren.

Carl and Al are speeding along a high road when Al loses control of the car and they fall to a fiery death. Later, Carl awakens at the scene, vaguely remembering what happened, and walks home to his wife, Linda. Sadly, we come to find, Linda can't hear or see Carl because... he's dead! A ghostly Al shows up to explain the laws of the spirit world to his spectral compadre, telling him he must reenact his own death in order to enter "the other side." Carl leaps off the cliff and, moments later, Linda emerges from the shadows to congratulate Al on his brilliant plan. Al wanted Linda and Carl was in the way, so the two lovers convinced Carl he was dead and... (sheesh, why am I bothering). The pair climb down the hillside to make sure Carl's body is close enough to the car for the cops to waive foul play and discover the dead body is actually... Al! He's the dead guy! Where that leaves Linda, who knows? Holy cow, what a tin can full of rat droppings is the package known as "If a Body Meet a Body," penned by R. Michael Rosen. If Jack and I awarded a "Worst Story of the Year" prize, this would be hard to beat. The structuring, timing, and "plot twists" are all nonsensical. If Al was actually the passenger killed, where is Carl and how come Linda was at Carl's funeral? If Al is dead, how come Linda is interacting with him? Am I spending too much time on this one? Yeah, you're right.

"Frozen Beauty"
Countess Maleva has grown old and ugly, so she summons the sorcerer, Darman, to her castle and demands he make her beautiful again. Maleva offers up her niece, the lovely Marianne, as a sacrifice and Darman admits he can make Maleva beautiful for as long as the younger girl keeps her looks. Maleva lets the sorcerer know that if he fails, he will die. Back against the wall, the wizard agrees and Maleva further demands that the sorcery occur up a snowy mountaintop so that Marianne will stay beautiful forever, even in death. After the ceremony, Maleva becomes a virtual twin of Marianne, has the dead girl buried in ice, and orders that Darman be killed. Later, at the castle, the Countess throws the first party since enjoying a renewed outlook on life. Suddenly, her head violently leaves her body and the gay laughter turns to screeches. Back in the cave, the not-quite-dead Darman prepares to dig himself out, but first he needs a little energy so he cooks part of Marianne's body.

"Frozen Beauty"
All hail the coming of Richard Corben and his unique style and humor. A few weeks ago, I mentioned that the sign of better times at Warren might be the more adult stabs at writing, but now that I've once again experienced the bewitching draw of Corben, I have to say this is the dawn of Warren Greatness II. No other writer/artist on the staff could use dark humor so adeptly (and he's only going to get better, folks); relying on sick sight gags and wacky characters (loony wizards were a staple over the years).  In all, there will be 47 contributions to Warren by Richard Corben, and while not all of them are superb, the majority are enjoyable and a good chunk are classic (can't wait to discuss "Lycanklutz" or "An Unprovoked Attack on a Hilton Hotel" or "Bless Us, Father"). Those of you out there who've experienced the Corben magic know I'm not exaggerating.-Peter

Jack-I agree with you that the Corben story is fun and a hidden gem, oddly tucked at the very back of the book after all the ads. The story is great up to the somewhat disappointing conclusion and Corben's art reminds me a bit of Robert Crumb's work. The rest of the issue is mediocre. "One Way to Break the Boredom" is boring, with an embarrassingly hip devil and more of the same from Sparling. Another bad script by Nick Cuti drags down Tom Sutton's decent art in "Weird World," while "Frankenstein is a Clown" features the umpteenth variation on an old theme. I do like Carlos Garzon's art, though. Like you, I was disappointed in Jerry G's art in "On the Wings of a Bird," and I thought the script was terrible, so I'm baffled that it won an award. Buckler's art on "Forbidden Journey!" is slick but, again, it's in service of yet another bad science fiction story. I actually thought "If a Body Meet a Body" wasn't half bad; the twist in the middle surprised me but, as is so often the case, the writer flubbed the ending.

Eerie #31 (January 1971)

"Point of View"
Story by Buddy Saunders
Art by Tom Sutton

"The Drop"
Story by Chris Fellner
Art by Bill Fraccio & Tony Tallarico

"The Devil's Hand!"★1/2
Story & Art by Bill DuBay

"The Alien Plague!"
Story & Art by Billy Graham

"The Oasis"
Story by Buddy Saunders
Art by Carlos Garzon

"Lady in Ice"
Story by Nick Cuti
Art by Frank Bolle

"The Killer Slime"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Carlos Garzon

How the heck do you read this?
("Point of View")
In the future year of 1992, humans explore what's left of Planet Earth while, in a parallel story, spores conduct a similar exploration. One of the humans dies in an accident and the spores and the other humans begin blasting away at each other. All but one of each are killed and the last survivors take off, leaving very different perspectives on what they experienced.

I groan inwardly whenever I see a parallel story in a comic book, partly because they're so hard to read! Do you read down one column of the page and then the other, or do you bounce back and forth from left to right in each row? Neither seems satisfying, and then there is the inevitable point where the stories converge. I enjoy Sutton's art on just about anything, but this is nine pages of yawn-inducing moralizing.

John is a basketball star and the tallest guy in school. Dorothy is a cheerleader and the shortest gal in school. Naturally, they are a couple, and John takes Dorothy to a haunted house where they both drop acid. As a result of "The Drop," Dorothy seems to find herself shrinking, while John finds himself growing. He steps on what he thinks is an insect. It's really Dorothy.

"The Drop"
Bring back the science fiction! At what point will we not have to endure any more stories illustrated by Fraccio and Tallarico? And how long will we suffer through stories about hippies and drugs? At six pages, this one seems padded and ends with a "surprise" that lands with a thud.

When a young man walks through the door of an antiques and curios shop, the last thing he expects is that the proprietor will lead him down to the basement and show him a cage in which resides "The Devil's Hand!" The disembodied hand moves around independently and the shop owner tells a strange story: in 1722, a witches' coven sliced the appendage off of the big guy himself in an attempt to gain power, but only succeeded in gaining a hand that they had to keep in a cage.

"The Devil's Hand!"
Passed down through the generations, the hand ended up at this curio shop, whose owner asks the young visitor's help in bargaining with Satan to trade the hand for wealth and power. The young man doesn't know how to share and kills the proprietor in order to take the hand for himself. Too bad! When he removes the hand from its cage, it strangles him and trots off to be reunited with the rest of its body.

The old disembodied hand with a mind of its own again, eh? Bill DuBay's art is only so-so and the story follows the usual "scary hand" tropes we've seen going way back to The Beast With Five Fingers. I know DuBay will become a major force at Warren, but this story does not suggest anything other than the same old thing.

Scientists are sent to a distant planet to investigate "The Alien Plague!" that has been wiping people out. They find a strange lack of paper and one of the men is struck in the hand by a small piece of metal; he soon dies of the plague and disintegrates. The scientists deduce that the aliens are like vampires who thrive on the pulp in paper and who can be found where the paper is dumped. The pile of old paper is located and the scientists are attacked and killed by flying staples from all of the old magazines lying around.

"The Alien Plague!"

Billy Graham's art is so cool that it makes up for the sheer lunacy of this story, which also features a prologue and epilogue suggesting that the events keep repeating over and over. Other scientists in space suits find a Warren mag with the story of "The Alien Plague" in it and it all happens over and over again. I always kind of enjoyed these comic book stories where the characters are reading their own adventures--the cover of Shazam #6 springs to mind for some reason. Graham's stories are notable in that he usually includes at least one African-American character among the cast, and the diversity is welcome, especially because the African-American characters are just there among the others and are not singled out.

Following a bitter battle between men and spiders on a desert planet, the men cross the desert in a tank, searching for water to slake their terrible thirst. They come upon "The Oasis" but the spiders reach it too, and further gun play results in major fatalities on both sides. Lt. Gunn is the last human survivor and he witnesses the fate of the last surviving spiders as they reach the water: they are attacked by a giant plant that used the water to lure unsuspecting thirsty folk to their doom.

"The Oasis"

I know I sound like a broken record, but the art keeps this story going! Carlos Garzon's work in Creepy #36 was cool and I like it here as well. The spiders are especially neat. He also draws Lt. Gunn with a hat that makes him look like Blackhawk. Okay, I admit it--I'm a DC geek.

October Weir's wife Vida has a strange dream in which a beautiful dead woman tells her to seek her grave in Bangor, Maine. Good hubby that he is, October takes Vida to Bangor, where they visit his old friend, Dr. Bunuso. The doctor has a young wife named Mary Ann and he also has the "Lady in Ice," a woman frozen solid in a block of ice four thousand years old. Mary Ann turns up the heat to dispose of the ice-encased female but the woman, upon thawing out, pushes Mary Ann out of a window to her death.

October visits county coroner Avis Pike, who tells him that Dr. Bunuso and his wife were suspected of killing the doctor's first wife, but the only body found was that of a very old woman, whom they buried in the Potter's Field. October and Pike head off by snowmobile to the old woman's grave site and October digs down to find the body of the 4000-year-old woman. Meanwhile, Vida is held at gunpoint by Dr. Bunuso, who admits that he and Mary Ann killed his first wife, buried the 4000-year-old ice lady, and put wife #1 in the block of ice to hide their crime. The doctor takes Vida for a ride to dispose of her but ends up running from Weir on an icy lake. It begins to crack and he is caused to fall through to a frozen death by his recently-thawed-out first wife.

I really enjoyed "Lady in Ice," which marks the return of continuing character October Weir. It packs a lot of plot into seven pages and Frank Bolle's art is refreshingly professional. It reads like something we'd find in a Charlton ghost comic, though I have to say that Dr. Bunuso isn't much of a friend if he murdered his wife and now tries to kill Vida!

"The Killer Slime"
Workmen going down into the sewer have been disappearing and Dr. Steven West suspects it has something to do with "The Killer Slime" that is found under the city streets. The slime has a high acid content and, when the doctor and his assistant go down in the sewers, they find a hand that has been dissolved from the rest of its body by the icky goo. The slime seems to have a mind of its own and suddenly disappears from the sewers. One night, Dr. West finds himself being addressed telepathically by some slime he keeps in a jar; it seems to have developed from pollution and plans to spread across the globe. Dr. West races to the docks to try to stop the slime from traveling by ship, but the slime gets the upper hand--or tentacle.

A knockoff of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with some updated concerns about chemical waste, Skeates's story is not bad, it's just not very good or original. Garzon's art seems rushed in places, though some panels show a welcome Eisner influence. All in all, an up and down issue of Eerie, with some of the same old problems lingering but with signs of promise.-Jack

Peter-The colliding POVs of "Point of View" reminded me quite a bit of Big Bob Kanigher's favorite story trick; the story itself is old hat and only adds ammunition to my argument that Warren could not successfully dabble in SF. Cousin Eerie himself sums up "The Drop" quite well in his closing comments when he calls the story a "bad trip." I'd add the adjectives "inane" and "ugly." The climax makes no sense whatsoever. "The Devil's Hand!" and "The Alien Plague!" were both so inane (the latter on a classically bad level) that I found my attention wandering and focusing on aspects of the strips I was not meant to focus on. In "Devil," it was the fact that the main character looked just like the Monster Scenes' Dr. Deadly model kit. No, seriously! And Billy Graham was one heck of an artist but his scripts lacked... oh, I don't know... focus? But, more importantly, I wondered while reading "The Alien Plague!" if Billy was doing his own lettering as well. If so, uh oh. There are more typos and bad possessives here than in a grade school kid's first essay.

"Lady in Ice" is a bizarre mish-mash of hardboiled crime and horror that works in neither genre; it most closely resembles a bad episode of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. I was confused for the entire length of the story. And only one paragraph after deriding Warren's bad science fiction, I will trumpet the only enjoyable tales to be found in Eerie #31, both with SF elements: "The Oasis" and "The Killer Slime." Now, don't get me wrong, I'm still standing high atop my mountain with a bullhorn exclaiming to anyone who will listen: "Please! Avoid Warren SF at any costs!," but I'll also admit that a goofy grin came across my face as I read these two stories. "The Killer Slime" (written by the always-interesting Steve Skeates) is like a dark Outer Limits episode and "The Oasis" has a fabulous twist in its tail I never saw coming. Further, "The Oasis" earns an extra star for dropping us into the middle of the action and not wasting two pages on expository we could care less about.

Vallejo & Wood
Vampirella #9 (January 1971) 

"The Testing!" ★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Tom Sutton

"Monster Bait!" 
Story by Don Glut
Art by Joe Wehrle

"Fate's Cold Finger!" ★1/2
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Ken Barr

"The Curse" 
Story & Art by Wally Wood

"Jack the Ripper Strikes Again" 
Story by Chris Fellner
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"The Boy Who Loved Trees!" ★1/2
Story by Gardner Fox & Barry Smith
Art by Barry Smith

"The Work Orders for the Day!" 
Story & Art by Jack Katz

"The Testing!"
Vampirella comes to the small town of Chaney, Kansas, searching for the dark tome titled The Crimson Chronicles, a volume of eldritch knowledge used by the Cult of Chaos now housed at the Jethryn Memorial Library. Vampi asks for the book at the front desk but, surprisingly, is told it's a book that can't be unshelved without the okay of the library owner, the creepy Mrs. Jethryn. But the old satanist has been waiting for Vampirella and sends her undead son, Lenny, down to give her visitor a warm welcome. Lenny tries to put the squeeze on the last daughter of Drakulon, but she's having none of it and throws the huge brute across the room. Mrs. Jethryn sics her familiar, Jet, on the bewildered vampiress and the action moves to the roof. In a ferocious thunderstorm, Mrs. Jethryn's wheelchair is struck by lightning, she's reduced to ashes, and Lenny's undead body decays and melts away. Vampirella walks away with her new prize, the Crimson Chronicles, but waiting in the shadows are her stalkers, Conrad and Adam Van Helsing.

"The Testing"
I'm not really sure what was going on here (or if there really was something going on); Archie borrows from several different sources but still manages to produce an entertaining read. Goodwin seems to have understood what it took to craft a workable series (well, to be fair, he should have, since he'd already scripted a stellar run on Marvel's Iron Man) and keep the readers coming back for future installments. He already had a decent star ready to go; he just needed a good supporting cast and that may be on the horizon. Funny that it's not mentioned much when discussing Marv Wolfman's celebrated run on Tomb of Dracula that Archie actually created the Rachel Van Helsing character for that title during his too-short stint (issues 3 and 4) and that the two series share quite a few common themes (well, yes, vampires being number one on the list). Tomb of Dracula is considered by many to be a landmark in funny book history while the Vampirella series is predominately known for its T 'n' A. Time will tell if that summation is fair.  I'm a literary lunkhead but even I was able to unearth Archie's fun Easter eggs (Chaney, Kansas, and a brooding hulk named Lenny!).

"The Testing!"

"Monster Bait!"
Dagault the Barbarian saves a scantily-clad maiden with big boobies by acting as "Monster Bait!" for a fierce dragon, then accepts an invitation back to her village to meet the folks. Bad idea; everyone in town is a vampire. I'm not sure I have to go into much detail about this worthless exercise in S&S & T&A, guided by the boobie-loving typewriter of Don Glut and the questionable skills of penciller Joe Wehrle (in his only Warren appearance), since you've already seen the big one-star rating up above and, doubtless, know how Jack and I feel about "Surprise! It's a town of vampires!" for a "twist" climax. I'll just mention, yet again, that I think Don Glut wrote one of the most enjoyable non-fiction books of all time and let it go at that.

"Fate's Cold Finger!"
"Fate's Cold Finger!" isn't much better. It's the sleep-inducing tale of Frank Williams, who's scorned by the gorgeous Anne, who tells Frank he needs to make something of himself before she'll date him. Rather than give Anne's good advice some heed, Frank tries (and fails) several attempts at suicide. A bad date with her egotistical new beau sends Anne to the phone to ask Frank if he still wants her and the dope (who's about to try suicide attempt #15) gleefully exclaims "yes," heads out the door, and is struck dead by a falling icicle. Holy irony! Both Moench and Barr will go on to bigger and better projects but this script (and accompanying art) is like something the boys fished out of the EC dumpster.

"The Curse"
A creature emerges from a swamp, not knowing why he is there and not recognizing the form he has taken. A nude girl named Zara emerges from the shadows, gives him the name Zorg, and explains that a witch named Arachne has put a spell on both of them. They must join forces to kill Arachne if they wish to return to their normal lives. The cave of Arachne holds many demons and monsters, but Zorg defeats them and then takes down the witch. Zara is mortally wounded in the battle and, as she is dying, the girl explains to Zorg that she was the sorceress who put a spell on him, not Arachne; with Zara's death, "The Curse" ends and Zorg returns to his original form of a lizard and heads back into the swamp. A very simple but enjoyable little fairy tale with a couple of good twists and some fabulous cheesecake art supplied by the master of GGA, Wally Wood, returning to Warren after a few years' working for other companies. Welcome back, Wally, we sure missed you!

"The Curse"

"Jack the Ripper Strikes Again"
Inspectors Marsh and Brenner investigate a series of murders in 1888 London; the press have nicknamed the madman Jack the Ripper, due to the extremely violent nature of his deeds. The inspectors follow up leads that take them nowhere and they watch in horror as a mob lynches an innocent man; the police are at wit's end. Announcing he's leaving to work on another case, Brenner hypothesizes to his elder partner that they should at least leave the door open to the possibility that Jack is actually a Jill. Laughing about the theory to his secretary, Miss Simpson, Marsh says his goodbyes, unaware that Jack the Ripper is making the inspector his afternoon tea in the very same room. Since Robert Bloch's "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper" may very well be my single favorite horror short story, it takes a lot to impress me when it comes to new Jack fiction, but relative newcomer Chris Fellner does exactly that. It's a fresh take on the old warhorse and the climax is subtly smooth (a label that can't be applied to very many tales found in Vampirella), plus it features Jerry G. back on the upswing of his quality seesaw. There are some great, drippy shadows and melty faces to drink in here.

"Jack the Ripper..."

",,,Strikes Again"

"The Boy Who Loved Trees"
Little Eddie plays in the forest and talks to trees; one day, they talk back to him. A gorgeous semi-clad specter rises from the tree to explain that she's a "Dryad," a spirit that lives within the tree. The Dryad invites Eddie to a party that night in the woods and the little imp happily agrees. Heading back into town, Eddie is confronted by one of the local bullies, Burt, who beats the youth into telling him what's going on in the woods. Eddie explains and Burt scoffs but, later that night, Burt sees Eddie dancing in the woods, as if accompanied by ghosts. Burt goes back into town, gets two of his gang brothers, and beats the hell out of Eddie. The terrible trio fill the kid's pockets with rocks and prepare to throw him into the lake when huge wooden arms reach out from above.

"The Work Orders for the Day!"
"The Boy Who Loved Trees!" suffers from a cliched script and some strange characters (having Burt and the Boys in their twenties is an odd choice). The only aspect worth noting, of course, is that this is the only work Barry Smith contributed to the Warren Empire and it arrived just about the same time Barry was revolutionizing sword-and-sorcery funny books over at Marvel. His work here looks almost unfinished in spots, as if he was rushing to finish so he could get on the subway to meet with Roy Thomas.

Jack Katz, the well-respected small press/underground sensation of the early 1970s, closes Vampirella #9 with a head-scratching science fiction tale (written under his "Alac Justice" pseudonym) that defies synopsis. In short, it's 1985, something real bad has happened, and the remnants of the human race are slaves to a huge electronic machine known as "Monitoring Station #40." I'll not try to talk my way through this thing as I'm still trying to make sense of what it was about. Sorry, big-thinking sci-fi fans; if I can't make heads or tails of it, I'm not going to fake it with superlatives about Katz's keen sense of humanity or that sort of hogwash. It's not my cup of tea.-Peter

Jack-The highlight of a strong issue is "The Curse," and I'm overjoyed at the return of Wally Wood! The story is pretty good and the art is gorgeous, so I'm satisfied. I had that one at 3.5 stars and then three other stories tied at 3 stars: "The Testing!," "Jack the Ripper Strikes Again," and "The Boy Who Loved Trees." I prefer stories with continuing characters, so I'm pleased to see Vampi's saga moving along; Tom Sutton knocks her image out of the park and I also enjoyed how he drew Lenny's disintegration. I agree with you, Peter, about "Jack the Ripper"; Jerry G. is back in his strong territory with this spooky tale. I thought the Barry Smith (signed "Bashful Barry Smith") story was very well done, with an ending both gruesome and entertaining. "The Work Order for the Day!" is dull and obvious with mediocre art, but it's a touch better than "Monster Bait! and "Fate's Cold Finger!"--I guess Ken Barr is better at covers than strips.

Next Week...
More Hard-Hitting