Monday, December 30, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 171: April 1976

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Blitzkrieg 2

"Walls of Blood"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

"Circle of Death"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: A Nazi soldier named Franz is not overjoyed to spend his birthday with his fellow soldiers killing Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. Among the Jews trapped in the ghetto are Benjamin, who is turning thirteen, and his grandfather, who insists on celebrating the boy's milestone birthday. The next day, as the trio of Nazi soldiers look on, Jews talk about the alternative to staying in the ghetto: being taken to work camps to be murdered en masse. Spurred on by Benjamin's grandfather, who recalls the ancient rebellion at Masada, and horrified by the Nazis' murder of children in the ghetto, the Jews revolt. A woman blows up a tank with a bomb in a baby carriage and Benjamin grabs a rifle and begins shooting. Nazi planes arrive the following day to bomb what remains of the ghetto and the Jews are wiped out. Franz wonders if he will ever forget the horrors in which he played a part and Benjamin secretly escapes through the sewers to keep fighting.

"Walls of Blood"

"Walls of Blood" is a powerful look at a horrible event in Poland during WWII, told with courage and unstinting naturalism by Bob Kanigher and drawn unflinchingly by Ric Estrada. It's an unusual story for a DC War comic due to its sheer brutality and Kanigher deserves credit for letting Franz show some humanity. Estrada's art is not top tier (compare it to Kubert's cover), but the story is so strong that it really doesn't matter. Anyone who thinks DC comics were just for kids should read this issue of Blitzkrieg.

In the fifth century, a cold, snowy winter in Gaul is made worse by the arrival of Attila the Hun, who spares one village when the residents pay him tribute. In spring, Attila approaches a camp of nomads who do not know him and thus do not prepare tribute, so he throws a noose around the neck of an elder and drags the man around the outskirts of the camp in a "Circle of Death," marking the boundary of where the nomads may advance. The Huns return at harvest time expecting tribute, but the nomads are ready for them and attack, killing the Huns and vowing to fight until Attila is destroyed.

"Circle of Death"

Kanigher's historical tale has clear parallels to "Walls of Blood," since both stories show a powerful army attacking a less powerful group of people and forcing them to stay in a confined space. Like the Jews of Warsaw, the nomads of this story are pushed to the limit and rebel, though their attack on their oppressors is more successful than the one 1500 years later. Again, Estrada's work is competent but not spectacular.

Peter: If Bob Kanigher's aim with Blitzkrieg was to enlighten and educate rather than to entertain, then he accomplished those feats in spades. "Walls of Blood" is a grim strip, full of evil and horror but also infinitesimal hope as well, one I'm surprised exited the CCA unscathed. As with a lot of aspects of World War II, I don't know much about the Warsaw Ghetto, but I should. Allan Asherman's text piece,"The Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto," is a good place to start. I'm not as enamored of Big Bob's Hun series. We'll get a rest from that for two issues before a finale in #5. Two issues in, this new title is the place to turn for quality Kanigher material.

G.I. Combat 189

"The Gunner is a Gorilla"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Duel in the Desert"
Story by Murray Boltinoff
Art by Fred Carrillo

Peter: The crew of the Jeb Stuart take advantage of a Nazi-free evening to take in a local circus show but, right in the middle of a fabulous gorilla act, the Germans invade and the big top goes up in flames. Just before dying, the circus owner talks Jeb into taking Francois Le Grand, his intelligent gorilla, to the neighboring town, where the man's brother lives. Naturally, since this is a DC War Universe, Jeb happily complies and off the boys (and ape) go. Along the way, the Haunted Tank takes enemy fire and Commander Jeb is dazed. No problem, since this gorilla has taken machine gun practice and can tell the bad guys from the good. Nazis in the dirt, the boys drop the ape off in the little village and get back to the serious work known as... war!

Hard hittin' DC war action

Back in the bad old days of 1960s' DC, every title had to have an ape. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Jimmy Olsen, all of them. National became synonymous with gorilla comics. Now, Jack Seabrook's favorite gimmick comes back to haunt us in the 100th installment of The Haunted Tank. Rather than celebrate this milestone (in fact, the event isn't even mentioned in this issue's pages), Bob Kanigher resorts to silliness with "The Gunner is a Gorilla." No, you're right, I've been complaining about this odious title for "years" now but Big Bob's inane script and Glanzman's inarticulate graphics may have just combined to deliver the nadir in DC war comics. How is it a good idea for Jeb to bring a gorilla (even a trained one) along in a cramped tank? How is it Francois knows how to work a machine gun and how'd he get to be a crack shot? Never mind. On the bright side, Sam Glanzman draws a better gorilla than human. I'll try to forget this one until it's time to choose a Worst Story of the Year award.

Gorilla Grodd v. stick figure soldiers

"Duel in the Desert"
In the horrendous back-up, "Duel in the Desert," a G.I. is wounded by a Nazi but manages to overpower the German and take him prisoner. Now, the ordeal becomes taking him through the desert and surviving the Ratzi's vicious tactics. A tedious six pages lead to a ludicrous climax when the Nazi finally overpowers our G.I., strips him of his uniform, and attempts to infiltrate a G.I. outpost. Two soldiers on lookout gun the man down, opining that he must be a kraut infiltrator. What gave them the clue? Who knows?

Jack: If this month's issue of Blitzkrieg showed that not all DC comics in the '70s were aimed at kids, "The Gunner and the Gorilla" reminds us immediately just how bad things can get. The setup, at a circus where a gorilla trained to impersonate Adolf Hitler angers trigger-happy Nazi soldiers, is ridiculous, though I thought it was funny to see the simian join the crew inside the Haunted Tank. The final indignity came with the gorilla attacking the Nazis with a machine gun and his bare paws. At least Sam Glanzman's art makes Fred Carrillo's work on "Duel in the Desert" look surprisingly good in comparison. G.I. Combat has officially edged Weird War Tales out of competition as the comic book I'm most looking forward to being done with in a few months' time.

Our Army at War 291

"Death Squad!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Redondo

"The Saga of Butch O'Hare"
Story and Art by Norman Maurer

Jack: When Sgt. Rock and the men of Easy Co. come across a farmer, frozen to death after being buried up to his neck in snow, they continue on to a nearby town and find a horrible scene: six men dead by hanging, women and children shot dead in the street, and survivors in shock. A young woman tells of eight soldiers in S.S. uniforms who came into the town, led by a bald man, and slaughtered the residents before heading toward the forest.

Rock and his men set out to find the eight killers. In a forest clearing, everyone but Rock is injured by surprise gunfire but they manage to shoot and kill seven of the S.S. soldiers. Rock orders the others to patch themselves up and return to town while he tracks the bald S.S. leader through the snowy woods alone. Injuring his foot when he steps on a knife left sticking up through the snow, Rock trudges on until he finds the enemy, who shoots him. When the bald man approaches for the kill, Rock grabs his foot and they tumble over the edge of a cliff into a snowbank. Knowing it's kill or be killed, Rock smothers and kills the man with his bare hands in the deep snow.

This powerful spread really looks like Neal Adams had a hand in it.

Bob Kanigher must have been in a foul mood this month, what with the brutal story in Blitzkrieg and now this! The two-page spread that follows the story's opening page is powerful and, at first glance, I thought it was the work of Neal Adams, but that's unlikely. Perhaps Kubert helped Frank Redondo with it, because the art in the rest of the story doesn't reach the level of this spread. The story is wrenching and I have to say I think Rock acts out of character in tracking the Nazi alone. He's a good sergeant and he almost gets himself killed in an act of vengeance when it would have made more sense, from a military standpoint, to marshal the troops and track down the bald S.S. man.

The planes look like Grandenetti planes!
In early 1942, an American aircraft carrier in the South Pacific is menaced by Japanese bomber planes, but super-hero Butch O'Hare takes flight in his own aircraft and shoots down five bombers single-handled, saving the ship. His career as a flyer came to an end in combat in 1943 and he was awarded the Medal of Honor. "The Saga of Butch O'Hare" is a fascinating bit of WWII history about the man after whom Chicago's O'Hare Airport is named. I recently read an interview with Joe Kubert and learned that he and Norman Maurer were partners in business and close friends for many years; knowing that doesn't make me like Maurer's art any more, but at least I respect him and understand why he keeps turning up in books connected with Kubert.

Peter: Back in the '90s, there was scuttlebutt that Arnold Schwarzenegger had been signed to play Rock in a big-screen blockbuster, but that day never came. I always thought if Hollywood had to pick a superstar to play Rock, let it be Bruce Willis. If the movie had ever come to light, I expect the script would have been something like "Death Squad!," a very exciting little piece of vengeance fiction. "Death Squad!" is  the prototypical Rock script (the Sarge takes on great odds, always makes the right decision, and survives nasty wounds), but also shows a side of Rock we seldom see when he murders Stone (Rock and Stone--get it?) in cold blood rather than take the Nazi prisoner.

Our hero's thought balloon lets us know that the killing was necessary because, Rock rationalizes, "That wasn't a man I was fighting! That was the rotten evil this war's all about!" Whatever gets you through the day, Sarge, but the Ratzi you strangled wasn't armed (like the one on the cover). I think it's grittier and more realistic if we get to see this character lose it now and then. I always feel bad about disliking bio-back-up stories like "Butch O'Hare" but, doggone it, they all seem the same and the generic art really sinks my boat.

Star Spangled War Stories 198

Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"The Last Battle"
Story by Arnold Drake
Art by Frank Redondo

Peter: The Unknown Soldier has been arrested for treason! How could this be? Well, the long story short is that our bandaged hero was assigned the task of infiltrating the Nazi campaign in occupied France, hiding a new German secret weapon capable of killing hundreds of Allied soldiers in a matter of minutes. Taking the disguise of a French peasant with friends in high places, US gets into the death factory and steals some top secret notes and an electronic gizmo that looks important, unaware he's been found out. When he gets back to America and hands over the papers, he's horrified to learn the Nazis had rigged the gizmo with a tracking device and a bomb--BLEWIE!--and one very important American scientist is blown to bits! But a prison cell can't hold the number one Allied spy and US breaks out, ostensibly to clear his name.

One of the more contrived episodes of the Unknown Soldier and so, not as satisfying as the usual Michelinie masterpiece. "Traitor!" is set up from the very beginning to fail; we know US is a die-hard patriot and his uppers also know that, so where's the suspense? Even though the plot is a bit tired, Michelinie is such a craftsman that he manages to inject a few winning bits into even the weakest of his efforts. Georges, the French traitor who cozies up to the Nazis, meets a grisly accidental death by knife and the dialogue between Georges and his favorite German, the obese Sgt. Schepke, is crisp and memorable. A rare misfire for Michelinie but I have no worries he'll regain my complete respect.

Three G.I.s are wounded (one loses his sight, one his hands, the third his legs) and on their way home from the war but, when their hospital is attacked by Nazis, the trio combine their skills to fight "The Last Battle." While Bob Kanigher was out to lunch one day in early 1976, Arnold Drake ransacked Big Bob's Bag of Cliched Plots to craft this load of hooey. The only plus is Frank Redondo, whose work here closely resembles that of our old buddy, Mort Drucker. In fact, the whole package looks (and smells) like a 1950s reprint.

"The Last Battle"

Jack: The framing sequence at the beginning of "Traitor!" creates curiosity that is then satisfied by the flashback, but I agree with you that there's never any doubt that the Unknown Soldier will survive. The fun is in reading how it comes to pass! There's a nice bit of business when US is being given his assignment by a Marshall; US quietly carves a sculpted face out of a block of cheese and the entire thing is done visually, in counterpoint to the dialogue. There are some lapses in tone, especially in a non-verbal sequence of panels where sheep are targeted that reminded me of a comedy strip by Sergio Aragones, but I agree with you, Peter--it's problematic that we realize US is never in real danger. Gerry Talaoc's art continues to be first rate.

"The Last Battle" is fairly interesting for the first few pages, and Redondo's art is very nice, but once it becomes apparent that the story is heading down the old Kanigher cliche path of wounded soldiers banding together to fight as one, it loses momentum; it's odd that the final battle is disposed of in a few quick panels.

Weird War Tales 45

"The Battle of Bloody Valley"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Buddy Gernale

Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Mike Vosburg & Vince Coletta

Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Noly Panaligan

Peter: A platoon of German soldiers is forced back into a strange valley covered in a thick mist. When the fog clears, the Nazis discover they've somehow entered into a place "time has forgotten," ruled by Romans who insist on training the Germans with medieval weapons before turning them loose. Too late, the Nazis discover it's all been a trick: the Romans have trapped their guests in a huge arena and let loose a flock (?) of giant vampire bats to slaughter them. Well, I have to admit I didn't see the climax of "The Battle of Bloody Valley" coming but not because it's some sly twist on George Kashdan's part but, rather, a supremely dopey out-of-left-field ploy in order to justify the title of "weird war tale." There's no real explanation for either the Romans that time forgot or why they keep pet vampires. And how many poor unfortunates find their way into the arena? Can't be much of a regular event.

"The Battle of Bloody Valley"

"Ordeal" is a lazy bit of writing (more "Ripley's Believe It or Not"-style nonsense) about a Nazi who's trapped in a haunted cave but "Conquest!" proves, despite the evidence, that Jack Oleck could still pump out a clever tale now and then. In our distant future, man wages war against all in the galaxy, conquering planets and slaughtering billions merely to gain new real estate. While we're off bombing Saturn or Neptune, Mars comes calling (at least they look like Martians!) and plants its flag on our soil. Earth's mightiest warrior, "the Major," now relives his past in a burned-out rocket ship moldering in a scrap yard. Oleck manages to surprise with his downbeat ending and the art is serviceable. Additional kudos to our uncredited colorist this time out; the colors are vibrant and jump off the page. That alien to my left sure looks like a Wally Wood creation, doesn't it?

Jack: Once again, the sharp Kubert cover is the issue's highlight. "The Battle of Bloody Valley" is a weird melange of ideas with vampire bats that fly in from out of nowhere. I thought "Conquest" was an SF story that made little sense though, in comparison to what we've been reading in the Warren mags, at least the work is competent and everything is spelled right. "Ordeal" has up and down art with some nice bits. Overall, this issue left me cold. It's generic DC--a smooth product but nothing worth rereading over 40 years later.

Our Fighting Forces 166

"Sword of Flame"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by George Evans

"Death Ship"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by E.R. Cruz

Jack: The Losers are not happy to be put under the command of a young French woman named Major Orleans, who leads them in a parachute drop into occupied France. She insists that they must travel to a chateau and retrieve the sword of Joan of Arc before the Nazis take it and head back to Berlin; the loss of this precious item will surely spell doom for France! The Losers shoot Nazis out of trees and swim through a river before reaching the chateau, only to find that the Nazis just took the sword! Major Orleans and the Losers recover the sword and hide from the S.S. in a garden maze, but when the chips are down and it looks like the major is about to be shot by a Nazi officer, a bolt of flame shoots out from the sword and engulfs the enemy. The major reveals that she is the countess of the chateau where the sword is kept.

I really like George Evans's art on "Sword of Flame," and the Losers are definitely back as a functioning team after the Kirby period, but the story seems slight and the supernatural event at the end that saves the day doesn't seem to fit the gritty tone of the Losers series. I kept thinking the major would be revealed as Mlle. Marie but, though one of her names does turn out to be Marie, I don't think it's our favorite, long-lost freedom fighter.

"Sword of Flame"

On a two-day pass, Johnny Cloud plans to spend some time relaxing outside London, but a dogfight between a British flyer and a German ace results in the British pilot's death, so Johnny Cloud hops in the cockpit with the corpse and takes to the air to defeat the enemy with some fancy flying.

At five pages, "Death Ship" is little more than an anecdote, and it's a shame that George Evans was able to draw the lead story this issue but not the backup with aerial fighting. Still, E.R. Cruz's art looks nice and the story is reasonably entertaining.

"Death Ship"

Peter: For some reason, the powers-that-be believed that the Losers needed a female dynamic, so we’re amidst a constant carousel of brave female freedom fighters. Why no one thought to simply bring Ona back (or somehow make Mlle. Marie work in this title) is beyond me. Bob Kanigher (always a very smart guy) obviously thought adding a strong woman to the cast would make him (and the company) look hip. This was, after all, the peak of the '70s Women’s Lib movement. But if Bob really wanted to come off as some sort of equal rights freedom fighter, he’d have put Major Orleans in khakis rather than hot pants and ballerina shoes. The twist of “Death Ship,” that a pilot safely landed his plane even after he was dead, has been used way too many times. I don’t disagree with the idea of filling in the Losers’ back stories with these short-shorts, but these are disposable vignettes rather than enlightening pieces. "Tales of Asgard" this ain’t.

Next Week...
Is everyone ready for the
Second Coming of Warren Publishing?

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 50

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 35
January 1953 Part II

 Strange Tales #14

"Horrible Herman" (a: Joe Maneely) 
"The Grinning Skulls!" (a: Werner Roth) 
"The Experiment!" (a: George Tuska) ★1/2
"The Golden Coffin" (a: Mike Sekowsky) 
"The Man who Talked to Ghosts!" (a: Carl Burgos) 

Horrible Herman has one of those problems only Strange Tales characters can have: even in a nice, tailored suit, Herman looks like a monkey. People stop in the street to gawk at his primitivity and relationships are out of the question. What woman would have him? One day a waitress talks nicely to Herman and he mistakenly takes that for affection. When he shows up after her shift and sees her with another man he goes ape and kills them both. Now pushed beyond insanity, Herman decides the human race must be extinguished so he uses his vast scientific knowledge (did I neglect to mention that, chimpanzee appearance notwithstanding, Herman is a very smart guy?) to build a rocket to fly into space. Once safely out of earth's atmosphere, he releases a bomb he's created designed to "start a chain reaction of the atoms" that will split the words in two. Unfortunately, Herman wasn't smart enough to remember that "far beyond the pull of gravity" there's no... gravity. His explosive doesn't fall to earth but rather floats right back up to the ship. Below, two men remark on how lovely the sudden light in the sky looks. A wacky, wild, and very funny little insanity that takes everything to the extreme. Herman isn't just unattractive, he's an orangutan. His isolation complex doesn't just push him into murder but attempted genocide. He's not just smart but able to do something no astronaut had ever done at the time: break through earth's atmosphere. There's just the oversight of gravity that prevents his master plan from seeing fruition. Ain't that the way with 1950s scientists?

Dr. Henrik Vandeever is on the verge of an amazing archaeological find: the fabled Melanesian Totems. Built skull upon skull, they're hideous to everyone but the Professor and his jungle guide, Morgan, the latter of whom sees dollar signs rather than skulls as far as the eye can see. At first eager to study the totems, Vandeever soon suspects there is something malevolent in the ancient idols and urges Morgan to pull up stakes. Not one to pass on a possible buck, Morgan sets up a deal with a shyster in the jungle village and returns to chop down the skulls. The next morning, Vandeever awakes to find one of the totems has a new addition. Under the pseudonym Jay Gavin (and later, under his own name), artist Roth would pencil The X-Men for quite some time beginning in late 1965. A couple of things jump out at me while reading "The Grinning Skulls": the art looks strikingly like that of the underground comics artists of the late 1960s like Robert Crumb, and that Michael Fleisher wrote a wonderful variation of this old standby, "They Shoot Butterflies, Don't They," for House of Mystery #220 (December 1973) wherein the money hungry tour guide ended up chow for carnivorous butterflies (don't take my word for it, go read it!).

"The Experiment" is a three page throwaway about a scientist who claims he can turn a gorilla into a man in only seconds. It doesn't work. "The Golden Coffin" is about a bonehead who resurrects Midas from the Beyond and forces the King to bestow him with the power of gold at the touch of (just) one hand. Though Midas pleads with the man to reconsider, the dunderhead won't listen and he gets his wish. On the way back home, he's hit by a truck and his (non-gold wielding) hand has to be amputated. Isn't the solution to our moron's plight (and that of Midas himself) to simply eat without your hands? The Sekowsky work here is not horrible. Finally, "The Man who Talked to Ghosts" wants a wife who will clean up the mansion and not interfere with his hobby. He gets the girl but then she gets ideas about what to do with all the money. Pretty soon, our titular character is "The Man who Was a Ghost." It doesn't end well for his wife, either. Carl Burgos adds quite a bit of visual punch to Stan's lazy script.

 Spellbound #11

"Never Trust a Woman" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
"The Madman" (a: Arthur Peddy) 
"Watch the Birdie" (a: Sid Greene) ★1/2
"The Empty Coffin" (a: Ed Goldfarb) 
"The Hypnotist" (a: Bill Benulis) 

Eric treats his wife, Clara, with disdain even though she does everything he orders her to do. Maybe that's the problem. Eric is a magician and his wife his assistant on stage. Their most popular act is the guillotine, a trick that has Clara swap out a real blade with a rubber blade just before Eric's head is severed from his body. Eric never thinks to treat his wife with respect but, one night during the act, he learns that you can "Never Trust a Woman." Simple yet clever, with a sharp (pun intended) Stan Lee script and really nice DiPreta art, "Never Trust a Woman" leads to a predictable, yet satisfying exit for the surly Eric. That might be due to the fact that Stan wisely avoids the cliche and Clara maintains her "wide-eyed doe" look from start to finish, never giving away what her intentions might be. I've said it before and I'll say it probably a dozen timeshare, Tony DiPreta is emerging as the biggest surprise (for me) while dissecting these funny books. His style is so un-flashy and perhaps that's why he's flown under the radar for the last sixty years. I've never seen the name come up in discussions of the great Atlas horror artists. Let's rectify that now.

"The Madman" is proof that Stan could hit the highest of highs and lowest of lows in one issue. A goofball wanders the streets, muttering "I've got to find it!" The police chase him into the graveyard where at last he finds his plot. How did he get out of the grave in the first place? I have no idea. In "Watch the Birdie," world-renowned photographer Andrew Breen is actually a con artist; he's doled out his assignments to true photographers and then stiffs them on payment. His latest "find" is Leonard Calvin, an old man who owns a magical camera that delivers the finest photos Breen has ever seen. Breen manages to get his hands on the picture box and, despite warnings from Calvin, snaps his own photo and discovers that the Indians were right about the camera stealing the soul. Andrew Breen is one of those laughably corrupt Atlas individuals who loses my interest and tests my patience mere panels into the five pages of story.

Claude Raymond is living with a bunch of loony-tunes, his wife's family, in the heart of a swamp. They all claim they can see and speak to the dead! What keeps him there? Of course, it's the five million that's rumored to be stashed away in the rotting old mansion they live in. Claude bides his time but patience is not his virtue and he begins killing his in-laws one at a time until only wife, Harriet, is left standing. It's at that point that Claude realizes his in-laws don't merely speak to the dead... they are the dead! But were they dead before he "killed" them? Good question, and one you won't find the answer to in this Carl Wessler-penned maddeningly slow and incoherent waste of time.

Francois tires of his daily grind as master hypnotist of the stage and widens his interests to include robbery. To put a cherry on top of each of his heists, he commands the victim to commit suicide. But ego gets the best of Francois after so many easy thefts and he seeks a new challenge so he allows himself to be arrested in an attempt to walk away from the guillotine at the last second. To accomplish this would make him world famous. Problem is, the man assigned to behead Francois is Paris's first blind executioner. Oops! A silly four-pager, yes, but Stan's script is witty and funny and Bill Benoit delivers some wacky cartoonish art that elevates the dark humor. Why would a master criminal want to be "the most famous man in all of France?" So, Stan has a few plot holes.

 Suspense #26

"Worse Than Death!" (a: George Roussos) 
"Beauty and the Beast!" (a: Al Eadeh) 
"Alone with a Ghost" (a: Vic Dowling & Bob Stuart) ★1/2
"Vampire Killer!" (a: Fred Kida) 

Karl Tooker steals jewels from a corpse and parlays the dough he earns into a fortune but being one of the richest men alive isn't good enough. Tooker is getting old and he wants more years to spend that hard-earned cash; in fact, he wants to live forever. So Tooker travels to Tibet, where he looks up a medicine man who has an immortality potion. When the swami warns against drinking the "accursed" potion, Tooker ventilates the old man and downs the formula. Too late, the hood realizes that the potion grants eternal life but also paralyzes the partaker. Ugly, scratchy art and a meandering, over-long script make this one almost "Worse Than Death!"

Sculptor Tony has found the perfect model for his "Beauty and the Beast" painting but can't seem to find a man ugly enough to stand in for the "Beast" half of the portrait. To confound things, Tony has fallen in love with model Carla but she's in love with a football player and it's become distracting. Finally, Tony can take it no longer; If he can't have Carla, no one will! He follows Carla and her beau up a steep mountain road with the intention of running them off the road but, instead, finds himself plunging off the cliff to the rocks below. Tony stays in a hospital bed for months, but the good news is, once he's released and back at his easel, he's found his "Beast!" Like George Roussos, Al Eadah can pump out some pretty ugly art but, in this case, it kinda works in the story's favor. Tony spends time wandering through the Bowery looking for his perfect "ugly man" and the seediness of the borough comes through perfectly thanks to Eadah. The twist is a nice one even though events escalate a bit too quickly.

When a ghost begins murdering tourists at the Tower of London, Parliament orders the landmark closed to the public but an enterprising crook figures a way of breaking into the Tower in order to haul off the Crown Jewels. He nabs the jewels but then has to deal with the ghosts of Anne Boleyn and her jealous hubby. "Vampire Killer" is just as silly but it has some nice art by Fred Kida. Famed vampire killer Malcolm Crowley is onboard a cruise ship when talk of sea monsters drifts about and the passengers demand a return to port. Crowley poo-poohs that idea, relating his story of how he liberated a French town of vampires and drove them all into the sea. Story told, the crowd disperses and Crowley wanders the deck. Suddenly, tentacled arms reach out for him and "Crowley discovers what has really become of the vampires..." Well I, for one, would love to know what Malcolm knows cuz it's not apparent to me from the last panel, which shows a vampire/octopus. All through the story, it's hammered home that the bloodsuckers can't survive water so, I assume, they mutate. I assume.

Mystic #16

"Ghosts in the Night" (a: Carmine Infantino) 
"Birth of a Vampire!" (a: Larry Woromay) ★1/2
"The Most Miserable Man in the World" 
(a: Carl Hubbell) ★1/2
"A Scream in the Dark!" (a: Sam Citron) 
"The Wooden Box" (a: George Roussos) 

Supreme Russian General Ivan Zaroff is a masochistic monster, who delights in the torture of "traitors" on his rack. One such "traitor" is Petrov, whose family Zaroff has already tortured and murdered. Petrov goes to his grave without revealing the whereabouts of headquarters for the underground but, with his last breath, he vows vengeance from beyond the grave.

Zaroff laughs it off but, soon, odd things happen: a painting of George Washington is discovered in Zaroff's house by his comrades; a flag stick pin appears on the General's lapel during an important meeting and, most important of all, atomic submarine blueprints go missing and are discovered, falling from Zaroff's coat pocket. Laid out on the rack and facing torture, Zaroff muses that at least death will come quickly. The spirit of Petrov pops up to inform his old adversary that the General is already dead and now he's in the hands of the vengeful dead! Ah, Stan and his thinly-veiled warnings of the evils of communism! Difference here is that Stan actually tells an interesting story, with a nice reveal, and it's all laid out for us visually by Carmine Infantino, who is fast perfecting his own style and breaking away from "the pack."

A group of villagers in the Hungarian town of Arad drink away the evening in the White Horse Inn, telling stories about vampires while the blood-suckers prowl the night. This evening, the tall tale told is of the creation, by Satan, of the first vampire. "Birth of a Vampire!" has an intriguing premise and an interesting middle but a criminally bad (and downright dopey) twist in its tail. The art by Larry Woromay (according to the atlastales website) is very sharp, foregoing the usual svelte vampire for a giant bat-creature.

Ahab is not only clumsy, he's "The Most Miserable Man in the World." His camel, laden with hand-sewn rugs, has abandoned him; he can't get his villager friends to donate food; and now, his wife has left him for a muscleman. With all hope fading, Ahab does what every man in the 1950s Atlas world did: he calls upon the devil to lift him from this hell. The nattily-dressed Satan chuckles and informs him he's already there. Both "A Scream in the Dark!" and "The Wooden Box" suffer from ill-conceived plots and silly twists. "Scream" concerns an adulterous couple who take a boat into a tunnel of love and emerge aged for no apparent reason. Equally head-scratching is "The Wooden Box," wherein Death (or a faux-Death) sells a small black box to a pawnbroker but warns him not to open the lid or he will perish. Not one to believe in superstition (and why would one believe when the customer is a talking skeleton?), the dope opens the lid and becomes a talking skeleton himself. I'm sure the deadline loomed when Stan and the boys worked on these last three tales this issue.

In Two Weeks...
Genius or Lunatic?

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-Stirling Silliphant Part Two: The Manacled [2.18]

by Jack Seabrook

A wide shot of a railroad terminal serves as the opening of "The Manacled," a thrilling episode written by Stirling Silliphant that premiered on CBS on Sunday, January 27, 1957. The scene is set as an announcer's voice is heard listing the California cities at which the next train will stop.

There is a dissolve to a busy lunch counter inside the terminal, where the counter girl is shocked when two men sitting at the counter lift their arms and she sees they are handcuffed together. The men are Sergeant Rockwell, a policeman, and Steven Fontaine, his captive, a con man and thief who is being escorted to San Quentin Prison. Fontaine explains to the shocked counter girl that he "'merely stole from the rich to help the poor,'" though he admits the only poor person aided was himself.

The duo rise from their stools at the counter and there is another dissolve, this time to the platform, where we observe that Fontaine is not just handcuffed--he also wears a heavy iron shackle around his left foot and ankle. A close up of the shackle shows us its weight, as the prisoner drags his foot up the stairs and onto the train.

Gary Merrill as Sgt. Rockwell
As Rockwell and Fontaine pass through a train car, an older woman asks for help lifting her bag onto the luggage rack and the sergeant obliges. A little boy pretends to shoot his toy gun at Rockwell and Fontaine scares the boy with his handcuffs. The two men enter their cabin and a nosy conductor offers to help the policeman with his prisoner, causing Fontaine to deliver a sarcastic retort when the conductor asks if he is being taken to the gas chamber. The contrast between Fontaine and Rockwell is interesting: the criminal is well-dressed, handsome, and a smooth talker, while the officer of the law is gruff, rugged, and brusque.

The train gets underway and the sergeant explains that the shackle around the prisoner's ankle is what is called an Oregon Boot, which requires a special key to unlock and remove it. Fontaine begins to talk to the sergeant, trying to engage him in conversation and telling him to look in his inside jacket pocket, where Rockwell finds an envelope containing a small key. He deduces that the envelope was planted on him by the old woman in the train car when he helped her with her bag; Fontaine confirms that she is a skilled pickpocket working with him. The old woman's suitcase is said to contain $50,000--half the money that Fontaine was convicted of stealing--and the con man offers it to the policeman to let him go free.

William Redfield as Fontaine
Fontaine uses psychology to try to win over the sergeant, playing on the assumption that the hard working policeman could use a $50,000 windfall to relieve some of the tension in his life. Rockwell fingers the key pensively but gives the envelope back to Fontaine, who gently places it atop a magazine Rockwell is reading, leaving it there for further consideration by the sergeant. As the train continues to roll on through the night on its way to San Quentin, Fontaine plays solitaire. The train stops at Bakersfield and the con man keeps adding details about how Sergeant Rockwell could successfully get away with accepting the money and losing his prisoner.

Rockwell is being won over by his smooth-taking captive and leaves Fontaine alone and handcuffed in the cabin as he ventures back to the old woman's seat to check for the money in her suitcase; she got off at the last stop but left her bag behind. Sure enough, the money is there, and the sergeant demonstrates how seriously he is considering taking Fontaine up on his offer by ducking down in the seat and hiding when the conductor walks by. If Rockwell were not thinking about taking the money, he would surely just pick up the suitcase and take it back to his cabin!

The Oregon Boot
The sergeant returns to join Fontaine and the con man's hopes dim when Rockwell says that he will get a reward when he turns the money in to the authorities. Fontaine keeps the pressure on, making correct assumptions about Rockwell's home life and lack of funds; Fontaine portrays the sergeant's personal life ironically, but the policeman sees it differently. As the train approaches the stop for San Quentin, Fontaine begins to get frantic, insisting that he cannot go to prison. Rockwell tortures him by describing the final stages of the trip to San Quentin, step by step.

In a last, desperate attempt to win over Sergeant Rockwell, Fontaine suggests shooting the sergeant  with Rockwell's own gun to ensure that the officer will not be suspected of complicity. He posits a flesh wound in the arm, allowing Fontaine to take the key, unlock the boot, and escape; the sergeant could later call for the suitcase at Lost and Found and no one would be the wiser.

Rusty Lane as the conductor
The conductor calls out that the last stop is coming up. Rockwell has made his decision: he takes out the handcuffs to put them on Fontaine, but suddenly there is a struggle as the prisoner resists. Fontaine pulls out Rockwell's gun and fatally shoots the sergeant in the chest. He takes the key to the Oregon Boot from the dead man's pocket and attempts to unlock the shackle, only to find, to his horror, that the bullet damaged the key and he is trapped. Fontaine is crushed as he realizes that he is no longer just a thief--he is now a murderer, unable to escape.

"The Manacled" is a thrilling half hour of suspense, expertly directed by Robert Stevens, who keeps the pace quick and who succeeds in convincing the viewer that the actors are on a train hurtling through the night; the tight compartment that they share increases the tension between captor and captive. The illusion of a moving train is accomplished by means of visual and auditory tricks. After Rockwell and Fontaine first enter their cabin, there is a cut to a shot of a train racing along the rails at night, its light shining brightly from the front of the engine. During the men's conversation, lights reflect on them intermittently through the window from outside, as if the train is passing the lights along the way. There is another shot of the train traveling along the rails at night after Fontaine offers to give the sergeant half of his money, and this is followed by a reflection shot from inside the cabin where we see Fontaine, Rockwell, and Rockwell's image as the men converse. Finally, while the duo sit together in the cabin, it seems to rock gently back and forth, conveying the sense of a train traveling rapidly along bumpy rails.

Betty Harford as the counter girl
The other important ingredient in making the illusion of train travel work is sound, which is managed perfectly in "The Manacled." As Fontaine walks through the train corridor early in the show, we hear the sound of his foot dragging along the floor, weighed down by the heavy boot. Later, to accompany the exterior shot of the train at night, we hear a loud horn blowing. Subtle audio clues to the moving train continue as the men talk in their cabin, with the ringing of bells growing and decreasing in volume as the train passes various landmarks. When the train stops at the Bakersfield station, we hear a car horn and voices outside, letting us know that the motion has ceased for a few minutes and that life goes on as usual despite the drama unfolding inside the train. The conductor is heard to yell, "'All aboard!'" and we know the train is about to depart. The last station stop is announced in a similar way by the conductor, who calls out "'Richmond'" as the train approaches the stop for the prison. All of these carefully worked out sounds act in conjunction with the visual clues to give the viewer the feeling that they are witnessing action that is taking place on a real, moving train.

Edith Evanson
The two lead actors give superb performances and their personalities and acting styles complement each other and make the events believable, right down to the shocking conclusion. The episode credits report that Stirling Silliphant wrote the teleplay based on a story by Sanford Wolf, though I have been unable to find any evidence of any short stories ever published that were written by this author. It is likely that Silliphant was given either an unpublished story or a teleplay that needed revision, much as he was brought in to polish the script for "Never Again."

So who is "The Manacled" of the title? The obvious answer is Fontaine, since he wears handcuffs on and off and also the Oregon Boot that limits his mobility. But I think there is also an argument that Sergeant Rockwell is manacled, both by his life as a policeman who has to work hard to raise his family and by his task of having to escort prisoners to San Quentin. Fontaine certainly thinks this is the case and tries to use it to his advantage as he plays on what he hopes are Rockwell's insecurity and greed. The word "manacled" can be either singular or plural, and the fortunes of Rockwell and Fontaine are inexorably joined together as they hurtle toward their doom.

The Oregon Boot was a real accessory among prisoners, according to an article in Wild West. Invented by the warden of an Oregon prison in the nineteenth century, it was more effective than the ball and chain because it could not be picked up. Use of the shackle spread in the decades that followed, though it fell out of favor after the 1920s.

How the key works
Sanford Wolf, who is credited with writing the story, wrote for TV between 1957 and 1967 and is credited with writing three films. He was known variously as Sanford Wolf, A. Sanford Wolf, and A. Sanford Wolfe, but I have been unable to find out any other information about him.

"The Manacled" is TV noir, dealing with themes of doubling and reflection, as the lawman and criminal represent two paths open to a man in the frightening world portrayed by director Robert Stevens (1920-1989). Stevens directed mostly for TV from 1948 to 1987, including 105 episodes of Suspense and 49 episodes of the Hitchcock series. He also directed two episodes of The Twilight Zone. He won an Emmy for directing "The Glass Eye."

Starring as Sergeant Rockwell is Gary Merrill (1915-1990), who served in the Air Force during World War Two and who played Batman on the Superman radio show in the 1940s. He was on screen from 1943 to 1980 and on Broadway intermittently from 1939 to 1981. Married to Bette Davis from 1950 to 1960, his films included All About Eve (1950) and Fritz Lang's Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950). On TV, he was seen on The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and seven episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "O Youth and Beauty."

The damaged key
William Redfield (1927-1976) is brilliant as the smooth-talking con man Steven Fontaine. On Broadway from 1936 and on screen from 1939, Redfield appeared in Fantastic Voyage (1966) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and he was seen on Alfred Hitchcock Presents three times, including "The Greatest Monster of Them All." He also played Felix Unger's brother Floyd in a memorable episode of The Odd Couple.

In smaller roles:
  • Rusty Lane (1899-1986) as the conductor; he was on screen from 1945 to 1973 and played numerous roles on shows such as The Twilight Zone and Batman. He was on the Hitchcock show nine times and played a priest on "Listen, Listen.....!"
  • Betty Harford (1927- ) as the girl working at the lunch counter; she was on screen from 1951 to 1991 and she was in five episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid."
  • Edith Evanson (1896-1980) as the older woman with the suitcase; she was on screen from 1940 to 1974 and appeared in Hitchcock's Rope (1948) and Lang's The Big Heat (1953). She was also in "Listen, Listen.....!" with Rusty Lane.
The sound credit for this episode goes to the aptly-named Stephen Bass (1912-1993), who worked mostly in television from 1951 to 1980, including doing the sound for 36 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents between 1956 and 1959.

Watch "The Manacled" online for free here or buy the DVD here.

Bristow, Allen P. “The Oregon Boot Was Not Made for Walking.” HistoryNet, HistoryNet,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
“The Manacled.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 2, episode 18, CBS, 27 Jan. 1957.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: A Bottle of Wine, starring Herbert Marshall!

Listen to the latest podcast from presenting Alfred Hitchcock Presents, about "The Older Sister," here!

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Warren Report Issue 23: April-June 1970

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

Creepy 32 (April 1970)

"Rock God" 
Story by Harlan Ellison
Art by Neal Adams

"Death is a Lonely Place" ★1/2
Story by Bill Warren
Art by Bill Black

"I... Executioner" ★1/2
Story by Don Glut
Art by Mike Royer

"A Wall of Privacy" ★1/2
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by Ernie Colon

Story by Bill Warren
Art by Bill Fraccio & Tony Tallarico

"Movie Dissector" ★1/2
Story by R. Michael Rosen
Art by Bill DuBay

"The 3:14 is Right on Time!" 
Story by Ken Dixon
Art by Billy Graham

"Rock God"
Thousands of years ago was made the "Rock God," Dis, and verily he was a mean God. Down through the centuries, Dis reigned terror upon those who crossed his path until his body was divided into seven parts: the Blarney Stone, the Stone of Scone, the Black Stone of Islam, the Koh-I-Nor Diamond, the Lost Stone of Solomon, the Plinth, and the Amida of Daibutsu. These stones are scattered to the four corners but "chips and bits" broken off find themselves strewn about as well. One of those bits is cast into the foundation of the "Stedman Building" in New York. Frank Stedman, the builder, had taken kickbacks and used shortcuts to erect the skyscraper. Built on a faulty foundation,  the building is sinking and Stedman's investors come calling. But first the man must deal with his wife, who's threatening to leave Frank and spill the beans on his extra cash flow. Frank kills the woman and Dis rises from his sleep, ready to do some damage.

More "Rock God"

That's a half-assed synopsis, I know, but this story is very hard to follow and makes little sense. The story behind the story is that comic fan Harlan Ellison wanted to write a script based on a Frazetta cover and this is the one that landed in his lap. Neal Adams was then assigned to visualize Harlan's words (a natural choice, since Adams was coming off much acclaim for his stint on Deadman and was just about to revolutionize comics with Denny O'Neil on Green Lantern/Green Arrow). I liked writer Ellison's use of the seven stones but Dis's reappearance and the Stedman episode seem rushed, as if this was only a couple of chapters from an Ellison novella. I've never been a huge fan of Harlan's (a bit too pretentious for me); his reputation was built on some solid work in the 1950s and early '60s but the writer became more of a lightning rod for controversy afterwards. I'm not denying the man his talent, but that pretension I alluded to certainly shows through in "Rock God":

Work, mouth, work this man out of the East River where fish eat garbage.

"Death is a Lonely Place"
I assume Harlan had it in his contract that the captions were to be held to a minimum and that actually works in favor of Neal Adams, who turns in a solid, if not spectacular, job on graphics. Heretic that I am, I'll even opine that the cover this story was written around is one of Frazetta's weakest. I'd have loved to be a fly on the wall when Harlan got his comp copies and saw his first name misspelled on the intro page not once but twice!

Miklos Sokolos, a centuries-old vampire, finds that "Death Is a Lonely Place" when he falls in love with a "normal" girl. At first, Miklos decides to bring the girl into his "lifestyle" but he has a change of heart and commits suicide by dragging his coffin out into the sun. Though "Death Is a Lonely Place" is far from perfect and contains some sentences that could have used a bit of editing/proofing (When the sun goes down and people leave graveyards are lonely and depressing.), at its core is a sympathetic character and a surprising conclusion. Bill Warren and Don Glut and the rest of the "second tier" scribes of Warren funny books tended to leave things off in a somewhat ludicrous fashion, as we all know. So it's refreshing that there's no reveal that Miklos's love is really a werewolf and, instead, we get a genuinely sad fadeout.

"I... Executioner"
No such luck with Don Glut's "I... Executioner," a predictable bit of nonsense about a reporter sent out to interview a prison executioner, only to discover in the end that the hooded man is, in reality, death (surprise surprise surprise). Glut isn't fooling anyone and it doesn't seem like he meant to. His reporter lets out hacking coughs from the get-go (and makes a point of explaining it to Mr. Death), so it's not a shocker when the man takes off his hood and explains he's here to take the reporter to the other side. I only wish the story had been a few panels longer so we could learn if the prison officials knew the guy was the Grim Reaper and where they mailed his bi-weekly salary.

In the distant future, citizens are ruled by electronic flying "eyes" that keep watch on all. A telepath comes in contact with similar mutants who wish to escape the tyranny and hop over the tall brick wall that circles the city to freedom. When the night comes, most of the rebels are killed, but one man scales the wall to discover that the other side is miles long but only five feet wide. One of the better science fiction tales to come out of the Warren mags so far, "A Wall of Privacy" is an obvious nod to Communism but doesn't use a ball-peen hammer to deliver its message (as Stan Lee might have). The weak point is the Colon art (under his David StClair pseudo), which looks posed, cartoony, and fake. The twist is a nice cherry on top.

Dr. Hal S. Clarke has built the world's smartest computer (S.A.L.O. = Selective Analog Logical Operative), but his assistant, Kurt, is jealous of and enraged by all the attention his boss has received when, after all, it is Kurt himself who has done all the work. Oddly enough, the machine doesn't take oil, it takes blood (how novel!), so it needs sacrifices on a daily basis. One day, Kurt has had enough of big-head Clarke's ego, so he conks the professor right across the noggin and takes control of S.A.L.O. Unfortunately for Kurt, the big machine has got a mind of its own (in fact, it rechristens itself "V.A.M.P.I.R.E."--how cliched!) and, very soon, Kurt becomes part of his large toy. Ugly to look at and barely readable, "V.A.M.P.I.R.E." is yet another of the "homages" to 2001 we'll have to endure (as a reader, you're supposed to wink-wink at Big Warren's nods to Arthur C. Clarke) but, hopefully, any further rip-offs will at least add something new to the mix.

Two young boys, Bobby and Tom (think George Lucas and Steven Spielberg), love monster movies but are convinced they can do a better job. An argument on the set of their first low-budget feature sees the pair parting ways angrily, with each swearing they'll one-up the other when the last "Cut" is called. The boys finish their films and have a "world premiere" in Bobby's garage, inviting about a dozen folks to critique the end results. Bobby goes first and the audience raves at the make-up techniques and cinematography, but mostly how "respectful" Bobby is of the monsters in the movie (see where this is going?). Tom's turn comes and his primitive acting skills and lack of a script have the critics rising from their seats and literally ripping the boy to shreds. The audience is made up of monsters! I enjoyed most of "Movie Dissector," the two boys and their enthusiasm for the genre, but the finale is criminally bad and ruins what goodwill Rosen had built. I was very surprised to see this wasn't written by Don Glut, as this is his usual playground. DuBay's art is not bad at all for a beginner and it's only going to get better.

"Movie Dissector"

"The 3:14 is Right on Time!"
"The 3:14 is Right on Time!" brings the issue to a close on an up note. A station conductor murders his customers and loads their corpses onto an abandoned train car, waiting for his death. When the time is right, he fires up the willing engine and drives it on to the next station, which happens to be Styx. His fellow conductor, Death, welcomes him and loads him onto the 3:14. Destination: unknown. It's not that "The 3:14" is masterfully written (it's got a few plot holes you could ride the 3:14 right through), but it's just so damn weird and that's an element missing from so many of the Warren scripts. Why does this conductor feel the need to load his train up with dead bodies before he can make that last trip down the tracks? Don't ask me. How is it he's been able to run this show for so long without any Feds sniffing 'round? Makes no sense to me either. But there's a very fine eccentricity permeating the words and deeds in this story and just the kind of uneasiness any horror fan would love to soak up. Billy Graham's atmospheric art is just perfect. On the Creepy Fan Club page, we get our first look at Ken(neth) Smith's work. Very soon, Smith will be contributing some dazzling covers to the Warren zines.-Peter

Jack-The good news is that this issue of Creepy is all-new, with plenty of comics and not a ton of ads. The bad news is that none of the stories is particularly good. The Ellison/Adams effort is best, mainly due to the gorgeous art, but the story is muddled and overblown. I liked the contemporary part of the story better than the ancient part but it ends before it can really get going.

"V.A.M.P.I.R.E." is so bad it's laughable, and I thought "Movie Dissector" was only marginally better; as often is the case, the art is not bad but the story is a stinker. I agree with you about the creepiness of "The 3:14 Is Right On Time!" and I like Billy Graham's art, but the story (like many others) runs out of steam before it's over. The other three stories are all mediocre, both in text and illustration.

Jones & Bode
Eerie 27 (May 1970)

"Journey Into Wonder" 
Story by Bill Parente
Art by Ken Barr

Story by Gardner Fox
Art by Miguel Fernandez

"The Machine God's Slave"
Story by Buddy Saunders
Art by Ernie Colon

"Swallowed in Space!"
Story by Bill Parente
Art by Tom Sutton

"Enter... Dr. Laernu!"★1/2
Story by R. Michael Rosen
Art by Dick Piscopo

"All Sewed Up!"
Story by Buddy Saunders
Art by Mike Royer

"Face It!"1/2
Story by Nick Cuti
Art by Jack Sparling

"Journey Into Wonder"
On the birthday of King Xenia of Halidom, any male resident of the kingdom who thinks himself worthy can ask the king to knight him. When the ugly dwarf named Grendel makes this request, the king and his knights are outraged and assign Grendel the task of finding and bringing back the sorceress Eleen, knowing full well that no one has ever survived this "Journey Into Wonder."

Grendel sets off and, aided by a map drawn by an old crone who wants the dwarf to retrieve her lost ring from Eleen, he passes the monstrous Grinka and meets beautiful, blind Eleen, who turns out not to be a sorceress after all. Using his wits to defeat Grinka, he takes Eleen back to the king, but one of his knights doubts that the girl is who Grendel says she is and insists that the dwarf prove himself in a trial by arms. Grendel once again prevails by means of wit and courage; the king knights him and, suddenly, Grendel becomes a handsome man and Eleen's vision is restored.

Amazonia's shirt never had a chance.
I did not have high expectations when I saw that the first story in this issue was a fantasy written by Bill Parente, but I thoroughly enjoyed this charming tale! Ken Barr's art is very pleasant and he uses some creative page designs to keep things interesting, while Parente manages to tell a coherent story with a happy ending. I'm not sure this belongs in Eerie, but I liked it nonetheless. One of the cool things about doing this series is that I get to know more about certain writers and artists, like Ken Barr. I always thought of him as that guy who painted those Marvel mag covers, but he had quite an extensive career.

A beautiful girl named "Amazonia" is on a quest to place the iron crown on the head of the king who has usurped the throne of the kingdom. She battles demons and other baddies and her tiny shirt barely hangs on, but she finally reaches the king and plops the crown on his head. Voila! He turns out to be her Pop and drops dead, freed at last from a nasty spell by the placement of the crown.

"The Machine
God's Slave"
Whew, I guess two fantasy stories in a row were one more than I could handle. I have the utmost respect for Gardner Fox as one of the all-time great comic book writers, but this is not one of his top 1000 stories. In fact, it's a wordy stinker. And don't get me started on the art of Miguel Fernandez, which strikes me as amateurish. It's not as bad as Fraccio and Tallarico's work, but it's pretty awkward all the same.

Office clerk Murray Roche stole probe tapes from the department of stellar exploration and flies a dilapidated spaceship to the planet Selcannam, where he hoodwinks the natives into loading his craft with treasure. He demands that an old priest tell him where all of the goods came from and kills the man when he won't reveal the source of the valuables. As punishment, Murray is chained to the temple idol, a sort of tank that starts to roll slowly on its own, making Murray "The Machine God's Slave." He is dragged hither and yon until the machine god rolls into the sea and Murray drowns.

I think Buddy Saunders was better off publishing fanzines and selling comic books online than writing stories like this, which doesn't have much of a plot and just falls flat at the end. Ernie Colon's overly stylized art is getting on my nerves as well. Maybe it's the lack of color or the unfinished look, but it just seems to be a lot of effort and not much of value.

"Swallowed in Space!"
Five people have traveled deep into space, fleeing the destruction of Earth's civilization in search of the secret of creation. As they approach the answer, crew members begin to disappear one by one, until only a single man remains. He concludes that, by becoming one with the universe, man has become supreme.

At least, that's the best I can make of the gobbledygook that is "Swallowed in Space!" Leave it to Bill Parente to follow up the nice script for "Journey into Wonder" with another incoherent mess. Tom Sutton does his best with this mess but there's only so much he can do.

Who has cast a spell on Gerda, turning her into an animal? Gretchen the serving girl is killed in the woods by a werecat. Baron Bruno summons Dr. Laernu to the castle to solve the mystery of the murders before Gerda marries a Duke. Lucky Gerda also stands to become a baroness when her father dies, but her sister Lisa doesn't mind.

"Enter... Dr. Laernu!"
That night, Dr. Laernu chases off the werecat and then uses his incredible deductive skills to announce that the creature is Gerda, who has mud on her shoes and thus must have been running around outside. It seems Lisa was jealous after all and cast a magic spell on Gerda. Dr. Laernu flips the spell so it rebounds on Lisa, who turns into a sow and is quickly captured to be slaughtered and eaten by villagers. Dr. Laernu, his task completed, fades into the ether.

"Enter... Dr. Laernu!" keeps almost making sense, but it's plagued by terrible proofreading that makes some of the word balloons a bit confusing, not to mention the dopey plot and hit or miss art by Dick Piscopo. He seems to have been looking at Dr. Strange comics when he drew Dr. Laernu (whose name spelled backward, as Cousin Eerie tells us, is Unreal) but I can't say what he was looking at when he drew Gerda and Lisa, neither of whom is exactly a knockout.

Bitten by a werewolf while in the service in Germany, taxidermist Nesbit Pegler returns with a monthly inconvenience and has to lock himself in the cellar every full moon to avoid wreaking havoc. The rest of the time, things are great, so he hires Felix Knox to assist him with his business, which is a roaring success. Nesbit gets engaged to lovely Elissa, unaware that Felix is cooking the books and hitting on his gal while Nesbit is locked in the basement and getting hairy. Felix catches on to Nesbit's secret and, when Nesbit discovers that Felix has been stealing from him, Felix goes to Nesbit's house and kills him with a silver bullet. Felix thinks he has things "All Sewed Up!" when he stuffs and mounts the wolf he shot, but when the full moon is over, visitors to the shop are shocked to see a naked Nesbit Pegler in place of the wolf.

"All Sewed Up!"
Well, I have to give Buddy Saunders and Mike Royer points for trying. We haven't had much humor in the Warren mags beyond the corny comments of the hosts at the beginning and end of each story, so I was relieved to read something to break the tedium. Royer's shortcomings as an artist actually work to his favor in this story, since it's intentionally goofy. It's no EC-level classic of gallows humor, but it's a start.

Mister Mentalto, the mind reader, and his assistant Rhoda join the run-down carnival of Bunk and Jenssen. Their act is nothing special but they both wear metal masks. Jenssen's sexy teenaged daughter Marion tries to cozy up to Mentalto to see what's under the mask, so Rhoda whacks her in the head. In return, Jenssen smacks Rhoda a bit too hard and she drops dead in the middle of the next performance. Marion sees Mentalto take out Rhoda's brain and bury it; the horny teen tells her Dad it's platinum and they dig it up, only to find a miniature Rhoda in a tiny coffin. Mentalto confesses that he shrank Rhoda while experimenting with miniaturization; he also was affected, and he shows Jenssen and Marion that his face is tiny.

Jack Sparling can draw a
pretty girl when he wants to!
"Face It!"
"Face It!" has some pretty good art by Jack Sparling and some nice atmosphere, but Nick Cuti's script fails to deliver the punch at the ending that is required to make a story like this work. The tiny face on Mentalto's head just looks silly and the whole explanation of miniaturization comes out of left field. It's too bad--this issue started out well but couldn't keep up the quality of the first story.-Jack

Peter-Reading the first stories this issue, one might be convinced that Eerie had gone over to the dark side of "sword and sorcery." Luckily, it's just a toe in the waters. "Journey into Wonder" is a fun romp with some dazzling art, but "Amazonia" is just the opposite. Gardner Fox's script (his first for Warren) was probably moldering away on one of his shelves (doubtless rejected by Weird Tales) for thirty years until he heard editor Parente exclaim "I'll buy anything!" Fellow newcomer Fernandez does his best to make the titular femme fatale barbarienne look like a frog with breasts. This probably would have been handed to Wally Wood if he were still a member of the Warren club. Fox will stick around for a while, contributing more weak fantasies, while Fernandez was a one-hit-wonder.

We're offered up the same see-saw in quality with the two science fiction entries this issue. "The Machine God's Slave" is a clever and unpredictable delight (yes, the Colon art still needs work--imagine what Reed Crandall could have done here) and, like "A Wall of Privacy," gives us hope that the Warren writers have somehow cracked the science fiction nut. Well, maybe not. Bill Parente manages to say something deep without actually saying anything in "Swallowed in Space!" I'm sure Jack (the college guy) can tell you what the hell that was all about but me, I'd just shrug my shoulders. Not top tier Sutton either.

"Enter... Dr. Laernu!" seems like the opening chapter for a continuing character (and probably would have been a few years later), but the story is a snooze. The highlight of "All Sewed Up!" is obviously the final panel but not for the horrific reasons Buddy Saunders imagined. I'd hate to be standing where Felix and Elissa are standing when Nesbit made his change. The closer, "Face It!," reminds me of one of those sleazy Eerie Pub stories, complete with Jack Sparling's lurid art. It's not an awful story but, let's face it, the twist is a major letdown.

Vampirella 5 (June 1970)

"The Craft of a Cat's Eye" 
Story by Don Glut
Art by Bill Fraccio & Tony Tallarico

"Scaly Death" ★1/2
Story by Don Glut
Art by Billy Graham

"An Axe to Grind" 
Story and Art by Jeff Jones

"Avenged by Aurora" ★1/2
Story by Bill Parente
Art by Tom Sutton

"Ghoul Girl" 
Story by Don Glut
Art by John G. Fantucchio

"Escape Route!" ★1/2
Story by T. Casey Brennan
Art by Mike Royer

Story by Don Glut
Art by Jack Sparling

"The Craft of a Cat's Eye"
The fifth issue of Vampirella gets off to an inauspicious start with two stinkers from the pen of Don Glut. The first, "The Craft of a Cat's Eye," serves up one of horror's most overused characters, the greedy nephew. Jack's waiting for his rich diva of an aunt to drop dead; in the meantime, he must make nice and avoid the numerous house cats she keeps around her for comfort. In the end, Jack gets his name in the old bat's will and poisons her, but her cats rip him to shreds in the most surprising climax of the issue. Surprising in that it just suddenly happens out of nowhere. No transition whatsoever. Many will remember my about-face on the merits of Jerry Grandenetti's Warren work and, while there's certainly nothing of that scale on the horizon, there does seem to be some glimpse of talent hiding in the muck of this Frallarico swamp. "The Craft" has an unusual panel layout, much like some of Jerry's better work, and bits here and there actually come off as stylish and moody (like the page reproduced here, where the action melts from one scene into another without borders). Bits, I say. But oh, that final panel.

"Scaly Death"
At every turn, prehistoric lovers Kand and Borg elude "Scaly Death" (this is the history where cavemen and cave girls co-existed with big critters in 1,000,000 BC). Poor Kand loses her bikini bottoms several times running from Triceratopi and Stegosauri, but Borg vows he'll bring his luscious babe safely out the other side of the deep fissure in the earth. Then, wouldn't you know, after avoiding the jaws of death for so long, they (literally) walk into... the jaws of death. A monstrously dumb slice of the Jurassic age mixed with the Stone Age (you know, just like in the Raquel Welch movie?) that ends on a darkly humorous note. I would assume Don Glut sent over a boatload of his Animal World stills to artist Billy Graham for "inspiration."

"An Axe to Grind"
Stella sells lightning rods and thinks she's found the perfect place to ply her wares. When the old man who owns the old dark house lets her in to see what's in the bag, Stella gets the shock of her life. Jeff Jones's first Warren script is not much in the way of plot (it does have a funny climax), but at least the writer knew exactly the correct artist to assign. The graphics are gorgeous, so nice in fact that you don't really need words to enjoy "An Axe to Grind." Bill Parente turns in one of his best scripts with "Avenged by Aurora," wherein a sorcerer's apprentice seeks revenge for his lover's murder and finds it only after death. Human characters have never been Tom Sutton's strong point (unless they have long beards or tentacles), but with "An Axe," we find Tom honing that particular corner of his craft. Love that grisly final panel as well.

Some kind of Sutton magic!
("Avenged By Aurora")
After that left turn into quality, it's back on the roller-coaster down into the Abyss of the Abysmal with Don Glut's dopey "Ghoul Girl," about a poor young beauty accused of being a corpse-eater. Of course, in the end, it's her accusers who are the ghouls. The twists and turns here make no sense whatsoever. John Fantucchio's art is rushed and unpolished, just like the script. With "Escape Route!," T. Casey Brennan gives us fear that his stellar "Death of a Stranger" (in Creepy #31) might have been a fluke. Phillip comes home from work to find his house enveloped in flames and there's nothing he can do to save his wife, Sherry, who burns alive in the blaze. His every waking hour is haunted by the event and then, one day, he's in a restaurant when a fire breaks out.

Ken & Barbie?
("Escape Route!")
Sherry beckons to him from the smoke (death, unfortunately, has robbed the girl of her nipples) and Phillip joins her. There's not much of a story evident here and any message Brennan might want to impart is lost on this reader. Grief will make you do strange things? Mike Royer still has a way to go before his art can be labeled "dynamic." Seriously, it just sits there, lifeless as a Gold Key strip. Finally, "Luna" is more "Peek-a-boo, look at my boobies!" nonsense from the Glut/Sparling team. A scientist discovers that when he adds water to a minute portion of rock sample taken from the moon, a gorgeous, semi-clad (and all the right parts are just covered up, too!) babe pops out of his slide and grows to normal earthling-size. Unfortunately for the nutty professor, the samples produce more monstrous results as well. For some reason, "Luna" managed to entertain me in a primitive way, so much more than most Glut scripts. Maybe it's the sheer dopiness of the concept (I mean, the girl's name happens to be Luna!) but this one was fun.-Peter

Jack-After starting out as EC copies and then falling into reprint hell, the Warren mags are starting to find their own personality. This is not a bad issue of Vampirella, and all three of the mags we read for this post are at least half-decent. There's not a great pattern of quality yet, but things are moving in the right direction. "An Axe to Grind" by Jeff Jones seems to me to be what a Warren story should be; it just looks right. It's light on story, of course, and the ending is far-fetched, but Jones succeeds in telling his tale with a combination of words and pictures where both are required to understand what's happening.

Billy Graham must have been looking at an anatomy textbook when he drew "Scaly Death," since the characters have so many muscles! The spelling in this and most of the rest of the stories this issue is so bad that I feel my brain cells dying as I read. Who did the lettering and how could they make so many mistakes? There's one spot on the inside cover where someone wrote a "U" over an "E" to fix the spelling of "ARTHUR" but didn't bother to white out the "E." On page 36, in the Sutton story, one line reads: "I WILL JOURNEY YOU THROUGH THE THE SIGNS OF THE HEAVENS..." And on and on. How did this stuff get printed with so many mistakes? Did anyone ever ask about this in an interview with the people responsible? DC and Marvel never had this many errors.

In Two Weeks...
Jack and Peter go ape over
the 100th installment of
The Haunted Tank!

From Vampirella #5