Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Warren Done The Marvel Way: The Serial Eerie Part 2 (of 2)

A dissection of the serials that ran in Warren Publishing's Eerie comic magazine. This is Part 2 of 2. You can find the first part here.

COFFIN (#61, 67, 68, 70)
W: Budd Lewis / A: Jose Ortiz

A stagecoach in 1880s Arizona is ambushed by Indians and all aboard (save a rifle salesman) are killed. Stumbling across an encampment of Indian women and children, the salesman slaughters the entire tribe. A hunting party from the tribe captures the white man, stakes him to an anthill and leaves him to die. The torture doesn’t quite do the job though and in no time the man is wandering the desert, minus an eye and some skin (in a design clearly “borrowed” from the old AIP monster flick, War of the Collosal Beast). We come to find out that the man (who will soon be known as “Coffin,” probably because everyone who sees him remarks that he should be in a coffin) has been cursed by the surviving member of the slaughtered tribe to wander the Earth until he can “learn to live and respect life.” Only then will the curse be lifted. Coffin shambles through a few unmemorable stories before finally being put to rest by the Indians.

DR. ARCHAEUS (#54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 60, 61)
W: Gerry Boudreau / A: Isidro Mones

Alistair Archaeus is found guilty of murder and hanged until dead. Or so it’s believed. Archaeus actually gets up and walks away from the gallows after the dirty deed is done. There’s no explanation for this miracle (nor is one given for how the medical examiner might have forgotten about the dead man), but Archaeus plans to use his second life for revenge. If his plans come to fruition, all twelve jurors who convicted him will die in bizarre and horrid fashion (patterned after, are you ready for this, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”). If you think this sounds just a bit familiar, you’re right. The other guy’s name was Phibes. In fact, Archaeus’ second chapter, “The Quest of the Golden Dove” not only continues the pilfering of The Abominable Dr. Phibes, it takes its’ setting and most of its’ plotline from the film’s sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again (all that’s missing, in fact, is the character of Phibes’ wife). The 4th chapter is a howler, containing the murder of Sir Robert Cawling-Byrd IV (“4 Calling Birds”). Even though the series lasted a respectable seven chapters, the wrap-up is rushed and unsatisfactory when Archaeus hangs himself rather than be caught by a bounty hunter.

CHILD (#57, 58, 60)
W: Greg Potter / A: Rich Corben

“Child” was, in a nutshell, Greg Potter’s take on Frankenstein. A scientist, mourning the death of his wife, creates a living being out of the body of a huge man (think THE INCREDIBLE HULK) and the head of a small boy (now think of a tiny head atop that HULK).

IT (#56, 57, 73)
W: Carl Wessler / A: Enrique Badia-Romero, Josep Gual

Interestingly enough, this character actually got his start in Creepy (#53) as the title character in a Tom Sutton story. It is a rotting corpse that rises from its grave whenever there’s a disturbance at the family mansion, It crawls from the grave, strangles some bad guys, and heads back for his home (it’s never really explained how he gets back in to his coffin and then covers it with dirt), like some low-rent Jason Voorhees. This mini-series would have fit in very well over at Warren’s competitor, Skywald, with its nonsensical writing and muddy art.

THE HACKER (#57, 65, 67)
W: Steve Skeates / A: Tom Sutton, Alex Toth

A faceless entity stalks London backstreets, dismembering his victims and building a human puzzle. The first entry, complete with typically bizarre Tom Sutton art, is a solid horror story, but the follow-up is another animal altogether. Writer Steve Skeates seems to have forgotten what the first chapter was all about and makes the killer’s motives more culinary than puzzling.

APOCALYPSE (#62, 63, 64, 65)
W: Budd Lewis / A: Jose Ortiz

One story each for the four horsemen: War, Famine, Plague, and Death. All of the entries were created by writer Budd Lewis and artist Jose Ortiz, but you’d never know that from the wildly varied degree of success of the stories. Of the four, War and Famine fare the best, while Plague is brought down by dreadful dialogue and a meandering storyline that eventually winds up nowhere.

DAX (#39, 40, 41, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 52)
Writer and Artist: Esteban Maroto

Esteban Maroto’s long-running epic series about a swordsman, cursed to walk the Earth after unleashing a plague on mankind. The series begins as something more than just another “Barbarian strip,” but eventually becomes just that. Dax wanders from one faux Eden to the next, enjoying the fruits of supple maidens who obviously don’t dress for the cold. Maroto swings from beautiful, Virgil Finlay-esque scenes to pin-ups of nude women with flowered headdresses and boa constrictor necklaces.

EL CID (#65, 66, 70, 71)
W: Budd Lewis, Bill DuBay, Gerry Boudreau, Jeff Rovin / A: Gonzalo Mayo

Lewis and Mayo transform the 11th Century El Cid of Spain into something akin to Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts. The king travels (much like Maroto’s DAX) from one indistinguishable panel to the next, each looking like some Playboy-inspired rock video. The real problem here (as in so many of the “historical” Eerie series is that the writer becomes so enamored of his own purple prose, he forgets to write something the reader will enjoy.

PETER HYPNOS (#72, 73, 76)
Writer and Artist: Jose Bea

Peter Hypnos is an imaginative boy who discovers a factory that turns out rat head and horse head people. In his second adventure, Peter is shrunken to microscopic size and, through a series of missteps, is swallowed by a drunkard and eventually crapped out (!) into a land of Monty Python cutouts and badly drawn insects. Once Peter makes it home to tell his mother the fantastic story, she won’t believe him. Life isn’t easy for comicdom’s youngest LSD addict. Nearly a decade after the heyday of Yellow Submarine and Peter Max, writer/artist Jose Bea can’t summon up the same charm. I’m sure the horse head factory is located somewhere on Penny Lane.

W: Bill DuBay / A: Jose Ortiz

Jedediah Pan owns two wrist bands that can summon demons. In the first and third chapters, the tone is decidedly downbeat and sadistic while in the second (and best of the trilogy), writer Bill DuBay manages to find his own funny bone through all the gloom. Dr. Perry Bottles is victimized by six Mexican bandits, led by the vicious Frito (yep, Frito’s banditos!), until he’s rescued by Jedediah and his three demons. One of the rare times in Eerie series history when a story elicits intentional laughs. Jedediah gives one of his wristbands to son Jeremiah so that no one can steal both bands. Jeremiah learns to call the demons just like dad and, eventually, the two team up for several adventures.
Years later, the demons and the bracelets (sans Jed and Jer) made appearances in Vampirella #92 and 93.

FREAKS (#72, 73, 75)
W: Doug Moench, Budd Lewis / A: Leopoldo Sanchez

While the first two segments of this obvious “homage” to Tod Browning’s controversial 1932 film of the same name (reviled on its release and seldom seen until decades later) are both uninspired and unreadable, the finale is something altogether different. Nothing outside of the aforementioned Werewolf/Mummy saga in the Eerie canon is as outré and loony as the climactic chapter of “freaks.” After the exploits of the first two chapters, the Freaks band is narrowed to three, led by the charismatic gargoyle Dramulo (diapered very much like one of Marvel’s bottom-tier villains, Dragon-Man). The freaks come across a band of hooded old men who force the trio to accompany them to their town, held in the grip of fear by Kaler, a two-foot ogre who is kept in a jar and controls the townspeople psychically. The four hooded gentlemen bring the diminutive Shrek fresh meat and he, ostensibly, keeps his cool. Kaler orders the freaks to mate with captured women so that he can dine on their progeny or, as Saler so eloquently says: “Either you will make pregnant these women with your warped seed or you’ll die screaming among your own guts.”

Despite the fact that the three former carnival attractions haven’t seen much action lately, they politely decline and easily smash little Saler to smithereens (just before biting the big one, Saler exclaims: “Nooo! You puking mutant! I’ll take care of you!”).

This story is proof that Bill DuBay and Budd Lewis (the two primary writers of the Eerie series) kept one eye on their typewriters and the other squarely on the Marvel monster comics.

In the second chapter of “Freaks,” two boys search for the freaks’ wagon. One of these boys has the power of “random mental sensitivity” (don’t ask me for a definition). In a very confusing intro to Moonweavers Chapter One: “Deliver the Child,” writer Budd Lewis informs us that the “mentally sensitive” boy grows up to have a “gifted” son of his own. The second generation teams up with another boy in town and they use their powers to explore the unknown. In their first adventure, the boys discover that kindly Mr. Diggers (from down at the hardware store) is in reality an evil magician who’s conjuring up a demon to protect his infant daughter. The Moonweavers foul up their first case though when they interrupt the spell and the demon’s hands are severed. The monster doesn’t take kindly to this imposition and exacts his revenge in a surprisingly brutal fashion.

THE PEA GREEN BOAT (#79, 80, 82,85)
W: Budd Lewis / A: Leopoldo Sanchez

Al Green (The Owl) and Eric Plusenkat (The Pussycat) sail the seven seas in their Pea Green Boat searching for food and civilization after a nuclear holocaust. The first chapter is a nice set-up but the other stories are meandering and don’t further the story at all.

DARKLON THE MYSTIC (#76, 79, 80, 84, 100)
Writer and Artist: Jim Starlin

Of all the Eerie series, this one – Jim Starlin’s homage to Steve Ditko’s Dr. Strange (at least, I think it’s an homage) – is the most out of place. “Darklon” cries out for Marvel Premiere of the mid-1970s. Darklon is Little Lord Fauntleroy to his father’s King Conan . Embarrassed by his son’s lack of manhood, the king adopts another young man and gives him the keys to the kingdom, only to be betrayed and imprisoned by the traitor. Darklon seeks out the “Nameless One” and sells his soul for the chance to free his father and slay the traitor. The strip is fairly well-written but the art is a far cry from Warlock and Captain Marvel, the series Starlin would make cult favorites at Marvel. Years later, Starlin would work Darklon into the "Warlock"mythos. Pacific Comics published a color reprinting of the Warren “Darklon” series in 1983.

W: Jim Stenstrum / A: Jose Ortiz

15 years after the “Holy Cost” that destroyed most of civilization, poor Hard John just wants to live peacefully in Kansas. Unfortunately for John, the religious wars that brought Armageddon don’t seem to be over. Fortunately for John, he’s got a stockload of armed nukes just ready to fly. A continuation of “An Angel Shy of Hell” which originally appeared over in Creepy #68, Hard John succeeds where other similar Eerie series (such as “The Pea Green Boat”) fail because writer Jim Stenstrum is able to inject liberal doses of political humor without that humor coming off as simply silly (aside from the intelligent orangutan, of course).

GAFFER (#83, 85, 87, 92)
W: Roger McKenzie / A: Leo Duranona

The saga of Gaff, a poor black man who possesses a gift for gambling and uses that gift against the devil to earn three wishes. With his first wish, he helps an aging boxer fight off Death. Wish two goes to helping an accused witch (who’s actually carrying an alien’s baby!). By the far, the strongest chapter of “Gaffer” is “Final Wish,” wherein we’re whisked to (ostensibly) the brink of Armageddon. Some natural disaster has caused near-freezing temperatures and the super powers, rather than gathering together their scientific brains for a solution, fight over frozen tundras. Gaffer’s final wish is for peace on earth and, compliments of a nuclear bomb, he gets it.

MOONSHADOW (#91, 92, 93)
W: Bob Toomey / A: Jose Ortiz

Moonshadow is an assassin who wins a wager with Death but comes out on the short end of the deal. Like many of the shorter-lived series, “Moonshadow” is nothing more than a short story padded to three times its size. Thematically, I found it very similar to Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series, though much less successful.

ABLEMAR JONES (#92, 93, 95)
W: Bill DuBay / A: Alex Nino

Ablemar Jones and his pal Stanley are two with-it hepcats from the ghetto who manage to stumble into science fiction scenarios. Any semblance of story is lost in Alex Nino’s muddled (sometimes unpanelled) art. Nino would become the poster child for Warren’s porno/sci-fi magazine 1984, which polluted newsstands in early 1978.

After three installments, “Ablemar” was discontinued, but later rematerialized for one final chapter in Creepy #128, with art by Luis Bermejo.

HONOR AND BLOOD (#93, 94, 98)
W: Nick Cuti / A: Leo Duranona

The chronicles of the “unholy unions between man and vampire.” Astoundingly bad in every way, “Honor and Blood” is not 'nearly unreadable' (a phrase I admit I use quite a lot) it is in fact, unreadable. One can’t lay all the blame on the artist this time for the lack of focus. Nick Cuti’s scripts jump this way and that and follow no cohesion known to man.

THE HORIZON SEEKERS (#99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 107)
W: Leo Duranona, Cary Bates / A: Leo Duranona

Yet another variation on the “Apocalyptic wanderers.” This time, Allison and Jesse are nomads bouncing from danger to danger, fighting cannibalistic babes, giant cockroaches, and power-mad dictators. In the best chapter, “The Damned and the Dead,” the duo (now joined up with an old man named Merlin) must contend with a swarming horde of creatures who devour everything in their path and answer to a huge queen.

SAMURAI (#103, 105, 108, 109, 111)
W: Larry Hama / A: Val Mayerik

Warren Publishing dares to go where they’d not gone before: Kung Fu. Missing the bandwagon by a good five years, writer and artist nonetheless contribute a fine bit of action drama. “The Young Master, son of the venerable Old Master” must defeat Do-Shin, the greatest Archer in the land to learn the ways of the Ninja. Once he defeats Do-Shin, it’s off to defeat other titans of sword and bow. A few years after the final chapter of “Samurai,” Mayerik, who was skilled at the Martial Arts, and Hama (who had written some Iron Fists over at Marvel) would resurrect the character for a short-lived series called Young Master at NCG, a small-press comics house.

Set aside that there’s no way this series should be carried in a magazine titled Eerie (did Marvel reject it for their Deadly Hands of Kung Fu zine?), it’s still one of the best strips that Warren ran in the late 1970s. Unlike some of the Kung Fu comics of the time, the fighting scenes don’t derail the story or characters.

THE TRESPASSER (#103, 104, 105)
W: Don McGregor / A: Paul Gulacy

Dr. Ward Cavanaugh is called out to the Cope Mansion to tend to a sick child. What Cavanaugh finds when he arrives is a (literally) decaying family. Toxic waste buried decades before under the house has infected Cope, his wife, and their newborn child. Cavanugh finds himself locked up in the basement by the crazed Cope.

Writer Don McGregor must have watched all the Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe/Vincent Price flicks in one sitting for inspiration before putting pen to paper for this three-parter (right down to the burning mansion as a fade-out). Paul Gulacy populates “The Trespasser” with well-known faces: one of Cope’s early victims is clearly Kevin McCarthy (from Invasion of the Body Snatchers), Cope is Lee Van Cleef, and Cavanaugh looks more like James Coburn than Coburn’s own vanity shots.

BEASTWORLD (#104, 105, 107, 108, 109, 110)
W: Bruce Jones / A: Pablo Marcos

Tyler Callwell and the voluptuous Monica Benchly travel to a distant planet to meet up with an old college pal of Callwell’s. Once Callwell meets Peter Thomas, he discovers that the man is actually obsessed with Callwell and his He-Man exploits. Kidnapping Monica (and leaving Callwell with Thomas’ wife, Ruth), Peter ventures out into the wilderness, claiming he is the better of the two men. Not one to pass up an adventure, Callwell sets out to find Thomas and Monica. Along the way, the two couples encounter giant beetles, giant spiders, floods, and lots of mate-swapping.

If most Eerie series had a counterpart over at Marvel, “Beastworld”’s would be “Killraven,” a strip “inspired” by H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds which ran for a while in Amazing Adventures. Killraven, though, never had the “package” that artist Marcos endows Callwell with, and most of the Marvel heroines kept some clothing on. Bruce Jones pokes fun at all the sf/comic clichés (at least I hope it’s a satire!) and the reader will enjoy the ride.

There were several strips with continuing characters that only lasted one or two installments. While I don’t consider two chapters to constitute a serial, I thought I’d mention a few of them all the same.

THE BUTCHER (#62, 64)
W: Bill DuBay / A: Richard Corben

Bill DuBay’s nod to the violent men’s adventure series so prevalent at the time in the paperback world. The Executioner and The Destroyer paved the way for The Penetrator and The Death Merchant and ultimately DuBay’s “Butcher.” The series hook is that the title character is a priest, called to the bedside of a dying Mafioso to hear the Don’s last confession, shot, disfigured and left for dead by a trio of hitmen. He seeks his vengeance dressed in a garb very reminiscent of The Shadow. Both chapters were illustrated by Rich Corben, always a plus.

W: Al Milgrom, Bill DuBay / A: Esteban Maroto, Rudy Nebres

Poor Marvin kills himself because no one cares about him. When he is resuscitated as a swamp monster, everyone wants a piece of him. Marv finds no peace until a girl is accidentally shot and resurrected in the swamp as Girl-Thing.

Like Marvin itself, the story is made up of several well-known ingredients: the girl (see: the blind hermit from Bride of Frankenstein), the toxic agents that create Marvin (see: Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster), and of course, Marvin (see The Heap, Swamp Thing and Man-Thing). Poor Marvin didn’t even get respect from the editors of Eerie. It would be a full 80 issues until we saw the muck man again.

THE PIE (#64, 72)
W: Bill DuBay / A: Alex Toth, Luis Bermejo

A Maine family finds a shipwrecked alien they dub “The Pie” and proceed to make him one of the family, despite the protestations of neighbors. When the protests turn to violence, Pie does his best impersonation of Gort (the destructive robot from the classic 1950s The Day the Earth Stood Still). The second installment is nothing more than a rewrite of the first.

W: Steve Skeates / A: Leopoldo Sanchez

Yet another re-imagining of the Frankenstein Monster, not a very original one (if a “re-imagining” can be deemed original in the first place, I guess), that lasted only two issues but ended on such an abrupt note (leaving plot threads and characters dangling) that it almost seems assured there were to be further chapters before the plug was mercifully pulled.

W: Bruce Jones / A: Rich Corben

Bruce Jones’ variation on (or homage to) Ray Bradbury’s classic short story, "A Sound of Thunder." With the aid of a weird science fiction gizmo, a woman can (mentally) teleport into the prehistoric age. When an accident occurs, she is stuck and her ex-beau must make the same journey to bring her back. Once he gets there though, he decides he wants to create a new Eden with his love. In my opinion, Bruce Jones was the best storyteller Warren ever showcased.


A frozen smile across his face. His left hand replaced by a meat cleaver. Stalking the streets, killing anyone who has the misfortune to cross his path.

Sound like a slasher movie? You’re not that far off the mark.

Written by J. R. Cochran and illustrated by Tom Sutton, “The Disenfranchised” was the best 10 pages ever to appear in Eerie. Maybe the best story in a Warren Magazine period. When the story opens, we see a lone figure, wearing a topcoat and a frozen smile, ala The Joker, strolling through a slum on a windy night. We come to find out, through flashbacks, that the ghoulish nomad is Harold Olsen, searching for someone who done him wrong years ago. He was once a happy kid, helping his father run the butcher shop, until “the big guys” (the supermarkets) came and took it all away. Slipping a gasket, Harold chops his hand off and replaces it with a cleaver. After the shop closes, Harold’s father dies and leaves the young man to fend for himself. This does not go well.

Writer Cochran tapped into the phobia that America was going through in the mid-70s (and goes through to this day): the downsizing of Mom-And-Pop and the Corporate takeover of the U.S. When the “little market down the street” closed up, it took America’s values with it, leaving behind unemployment and ghettoes. Ironically, I first bought Eerie #39 in 1972 at a soda fountain. That shop’s a Starbuck’s now.

On the cover of #39, the usually reliable Ken Kelly portrays Harold as the offspring of a lizard and a Yeti. It’s a sharp enough painting but it doesn’t do justice to Harold the way Tom Sutton does. Sutton (who died in 2002) had a way of turning the most mundane subjects Lovecraftian. His work for Charlton in the 1970s, in particular, was a high point for horror comics. Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees pale in comparison to the frightening image of Harold Olsen approaching the reader with his razor blade smile and killer left hook.

1 comment:

Bruce J. Richards said...

That issue 39 with "the Disenfranchised" was given to me by our neighbor across the street, when I was.... SEVEN YEARS OLD. I had just got into monsters from the Aurora model kits, and had already been into reading superhero comic books, so when I was being babysat after school by his wife until my mom came home from work, I was reading his Eerie and Creepy mags as a way to pass time. He actually bought two issues of #39 and gave me one brand new. VERY inappropriate for someone my age, not sure what he, his wife or my mom were thinking. It was 1972; my mom was only 27 herself and freshly divorced, her mind was obviously elsewhere.

Anyway, "The Disenfranchised" is s great story combined with excellent art. I can still see many panels in my minds eye clearly today.

I think another major element it touches on was not just the corporate replacement of mom-and-pop stores so much as the effects of URBAN RENEWAL. Clearly the story takes place in a very big city locale, almost certainly a section of New York (looks like those scenes of Harlem in early 70s movies). All of those folks in the neighborhood were tenants and getting evicted, and in the interim before demolition, "the junkies" were moving in....