Monday, July 29, 2019

The Warren Report Issue 13: July/August 1967

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

Eerie #10 (July 1967)

"Warrior of Death!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Steve Ditko

"The Slugs!"
Story by Bill Pearson
Art by Joe Orlando

Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Dan Adkins

"Voodoo Drum!"★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Neal Adams

"House of Fiends!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"For the Birds!"★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Gene Colan

"Warrior of Death!"
Having slain many of the enemy in battle, a warrior named Zahran laments his impending death. Along comes the Grim Reaper, who grants Zahran immortality so that the warrior can kill lots of other people and serve Death's need for more corpses. Zahran, now a "Warrior of Death!," goes on a killing spree and gradually wipes out tribes, armies, and great cities, eventually reaching the gates of the western world. The large city before him sends out its champion to engage Zahran in hand to hand combat and Zahran is killed--it turns out he was not the only warrior to whom Death had granted immortality.

Steve Ditko is near the top of his form in this story and it's reasonably exciting, but the problem with any of these tales where someone is granted immortality is this: we know it's going to go wrong and the most interesting question to be answered is how. Goodwin does not provide a satisfying solution here, since it doesn't figure that two warriors granted immortality can kill each other, does it? Wouldn't they both stay alive?

Jake and his sister Luci are out in the swamp, hunting "The Slugs!" The shambling, humanoid monsters seem to have invaded the bayou and, when Jake twists his ankle, he sends Luci back for help. While she is gone, Jake is attacked and sinks into the muck, later rising as a slug himself. When Luci and the family return, they naturally shoot Jake. Luci keeps looking for Jake and is bitten by a vampire bat, which seems to have some sort of connection with the slugs.

Help us understand the
conclusion of "The Slugs!"
I really have no idea what happened at the end of this story! All I can say is that Bill Pearson managed to get another vampire into another issue of Eerie. The story is plodding and by the numbers, though it does remind me a bit of Man-Thing and Swamp Thing, which would follow at Marvel and DC a few years later. Joe Orlando's art is about as usual.

A spaceship comes across "It!" in the dark reaches of space. It is a giant, humanoid, lizard-like creature that appears to be dead. The spacemen bring it aboard and it revives, wreaking havoc until it is reduced to ashes by a powerful laser beam. Unfortunately, before It died, It gave birth to a couple of little Its, who are hungry themselves.

If it's Dan Adkins drawing a story set in space, he's sure to be in full Wally Wood mode, and that's certainly the case here. The story is nothing special and the big surprise at the end isn't particularly surprising, but the level of craftsmanship is decent enough.

Wyler tells the story of Gilman, his former neighbor in Jamaica, who utilized zombie labor to tend to his cane fields until he got greedy and wanted to control the undead workers himself. He savagely beat the old native doctor whose "Voodoo Drums!" summoned the zombies, but revenge was taken on him and his skin was used to make the latest drum.

An example of the unfinished
art in "Voodoo Drum!"
I am a big Neal Adams fan, but this story appears to be done in unfinished pencils and is not as impressive as his usual work. Goodwin's tale is another one where nothing unexpected happens, so Adams's washed-out illustrations fail to make much of it.

The autumn wind blows cold and the fog billows around the spooky "House of Fiends!" as Dr. Prentice approaches its front door one mournful night. A servant of short stature named Gromley opens the door but is reticent to let the doctor in, since he's not the usual physician, Dr. Aldrich. Hugo Lupus welcomes Prentice in and explains that his niece Rachel is insane.

"House of Fiends!"
The story that proves Jack has lost it.
Prentice is taken to see Rachel, who is kept chained in the tower; he tells Lupus to leave him alone to speak with the girl, who explains that the rest of her family use her to lure doctors as bait: her father is a werewolf, her mother is a vampire, and their servant is a ghoul. That night, when the moon is full, Prentice witnesses Hugo turn into a werewolf. He then finds Gromley eating the corpse of Dr. Aldrich. Prentice goes wild and kills Gromley, then drives a wooden stake through the heart of Mrs. Lupus. Finally, he finds Hugo the werewolf menacing Rachel and uses a well-thrown silver dagger to end his life. Prentice sets Rachel free and she laughs as she reveals that she is a witch who had been kept under control by her family!

I have not been drinking, I assure you. I gave this story four stars! I never thought I'd see the day when I enjoyed a Jerry Grandenetti piece more than one by Neal Adams, but that day has come. This tale is a boatload of fun from start to finish, and Jerry's highly-stylized art fits it to a T. It's a perfect match of story and art. Lock me in the tower if you must!

"For the Birds!"
Unsuccessful as an actor, Stanhope resents old Ivors, who spends his days feeding pigeons in the park and who is said to have a fortune hidden away. The actor begins to study the old man's daily routine and soon befriends him, asking for advice and gaining his trust until, one day, Ivors reveals that his cash is hidden in the refrigerator. Stanhope strangles the old man and takes his place, making the most of his skill with stage makeup. Money stuffed in a bag, Stanhope is wheeled to the park, where the pigeons begin to swarm about him and attack him, hungry and angry at his failure to feed them. In the end, Stanhope's flesh is food "For the Birds!" who leave his skeleton picked clean.

Gene Colan can make anything entertaining, even this familiar tale of a greedy young man who gets his just desserts. The ending is ridiculous, especially the idea that pigeons could strip a live adult male of all his flesh while a policeman looks on from a few feet away, but I still enjoyed seeing what Gentleman Gene did with it.-Jack

Peter-Things are going to be a lot less memorable around these parts when Steve Ditko parts ways with Warren next month and heads to DC for a short stint, where he will create the classic Creeper character. "Warrior of Death!" is yet another Ditko triumph of art over script (what little script there is) and immensely enjoyable. Dan Adkins became a controversial figure in fandom circles when it was discovered he was "swiping" from other artists to fill his panels (the whole story is told in Alter Ego #153-154), but here Dan lifts whole stills from Ray Harryhausen's 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) to create his "It!" Dan's not the only one given to homage on this story as Archie obviously found inspiration from It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958). It's not a bad yarn and it's got a decent shock ending, but it does seem a bit tired. "The Slugs!" is just awful, with a typically low-budget sleaze art job by Joe Orlando.

Neal Adams contributes an interesting experiment with "Voodoo Drum!," but I'm not sure I'm entirely happy with the raw pencil look. When you compare it to Neal's other Warren work, I think "Voodoo" pales. Jack and I have been discussing the ups and downs of Jerry Grandenetti's... um... unique art. Definitely an acquired taste, I'll grant you, but now and then the guy could come up with a startling chain of nightmarish and (dare I say it) stylish visuals. "House of Fiends!" is not one of those semi-classics; Jerry seems to have reeled his garish side in on this one to the detriment of the story. "For the Birds!" is a weak finale to a below-average issue. The final image, of Stanhope's corpse picked to the bone, is ludicrous. Prison be damned, I would have said "To hell with this... the cop can arrest me!" before the birds ate their first finger!

Creepy #16 (August 1967)

"A Curse of Claws!" 
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Neal Adams

"Frozen Fear!" 
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Reed Crandall

"Angel of Doom!" 
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Jeff Jones

"The Frankenstein Tradition!" 
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Rocco Mastroserio

"There Was An Old Lady" 
Story by Archie Goodwin and Daniel Bubacz
Art by Bill Molno

"Haunted Castle!" 
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Norman Nodel

"The Sands That Change!" ★1/2
Story by Clark Dimond and Terry Bisson
Art by Steve Ditko

"A Curse of Claws!"
Stark, a ruthless big-game hunter, is perplexed when he shoots a panther while hunting in a "forbidden zone" of Africa but finds a dead man where the panther should be. A gorgeous and semi-nude woman calling herself Lilith and surrounded by big cats explains to Stark that he's shot one of her "servants" and now must take its place. Before the girl can deliver the kiss that will transform him, Stark strangles her and sets fire to the grass around her to keep her cats at bay. He makes his way back to camp, where his friends dress his wounds, but his condition worsens overnight. A chilling scream and his allies rush to Stark's camp, only to find his body torn to shreds. His hands have become claws.

Not even Neal Adams can keep "A Curse of Claws!" from being more than ho-hum. The script moves at a snail's pace and relies on one of the most overused villains in comics at the time: the heartless hunter. Adams's work here is surprisingly sedated, as if Archie gave Neal instructions not to get too fancy; Adams's usual flare with panel placement has disappeared, leaving a very unexciting story told in a very unexciting way.

"Frozen Fear!"
The ancient warrior, Ragnor, has been frozen in ice for almost a thousand years, waiting for some unfortunate soul to come along and thaw him out. That duty falls to Dr. Neal, his lovely wife, Karla, and a small expedition. One of the explorers accidentally chips a little too much out of Ragnor's block of ice and the warrior pops out, sword and all, to wreak havoc. I'm a big Crandall fan, so the art of "Frozen Fear!" is nice enough but the plot is a microwaved variation on Universal's The Mummy and the final "twist" in the last panel is laughable.

After destroying the pulsating heart of Kadith (last issue), Thane the Barbarian has moved on to a new settlement and a new set of problems. An "Angel of Doom!" is preying on Thane's fellow villagers, flying in and swooping them out to some sort of horrible death, and the latest victim is Thane's squeeze, Rena. Enraged, Thane sets out to discover just what it is that plagues the valley and fairly quickly stumbles on the truth: the Angel of Doom is a gigantic wasp! Thane engages in a fierce battle with the creature, with both sustaining mortal injuries. The thing flies off and Thane stumbles after, tracking it to its cave, high upon a cliffside. There he discovers the missing villagers, hanging like meat from the cave ceiling. The wasp attacks Thane again and the enemies fall from the cave opening to the valley floor. The monster is dead but Thane survives, discovered by the villagers and then outcast for destroying their God. Thane protests, but the elders turn a deaf ear. Pity that, since the barbarian was about to tell them he had spied a huge nest of the giant wasps inside the cave.

"Angel of Doom!"
The second adventure of Thane the Barbarian is, like its predecessor, head and shoulders above most of the sword and sorcery funny book strips that permeated the '60s and '70s. Though he's got a ways to go before he becomes the fine artist we know and remember fondly, Jeff Jones definitely displayed a particularly individual style even in his infancy, one that almost predicts the "Spanish style" that would permeate (and reinvigorate) the Warren line in the 1970s. Archie does the best he can (as he did with the first chapter) with a genre that was bled dry back in the 1930s and the surprise finale is a killer. It's odd that Archie didn't prolong the life of Thane (who will make one more appearance, via Bill Parente, in #27) since S&S was so hot at the time, but perhaps reader reaction was little to none. A more popular barbarian, Dax, would see the light of day over at Eerie in the mid-1970s.

"The Frankenstein
London, 1888. When Dr. Pike discovers that his prize student, Todd, has cheated on one of his exams, he blackmails the young man into providing corpses for Pike's experiments. Corpses prove to be worthless to the mad scientist after a while, so he forces Todd to murder young women and bring their fresh bodies back to the lab. In "The Frankenstein Tradition!," Pike is building a woman out of body parts and Todd unwittingly sets into motion another legend, that of Jack the Ripper! Even at a meager eight pages, this one feels way too long and padded, but I was impressed with Rocco Mastroserio's art, in particular his rendering of a walking dead woman. The big reveal isn't that much of a surprise though, is it?

In "There Was An Old Lady," good-for-nothing Jed Willis finally works up the nerve to rob Granny Peters, an old woman who lives in a shack on the outskirts of town. Jed's fellow hoods warn him that Granny is a witch but Jed sees dollar signs and hoofs it out to the shack. When the old woman answers, Jed threatens to throttle her until she gives up the loot. But Granny has a card up her sleeve and, before long, Jed discovers that all those rumors are true. Lame plot punctuated by awful graphics and a not-so-surprising twist. Sal Trapani was a mainstay at DC and Marvel in the 1960s and '70s but, mercifully, only contributed to a handful of stories for Warren. [The GCD says Bill Molno ghosted for Trapani on this story, though it's signed by Trapani.--Jack the pest] I couldn't make heads or tails of "Haunted Castle!," a mind-numbingly inane waste of space about Count Orloff and his (you guessed it) haunted castle. Visualized by Warren's most schizophrenic artist, Norman Nodel (as by Donald Norman), the tale is ostensibly about Orloff's victims, chained to the basement wall, reaching out from the other side to get just desserts. The final panel reveals that Orloff, whom we're led to believe lives in ancient times, actually inhabits today's world. Or has lived for hundreds of years. Or enters a time vortex. Or is the victim of a really bad script. Or all of the above.

"The Sands That Change!"
Leave it to the reliable Steve Ditko to save this issue from the bin pile. Comic book artist Tom Newman is honeymooning with his lovely new bride in the Mojave Desert, a region the Indians claim has magical powers. Tom has to pump a few new ideas out for his comic book company before he can turn his attention to his neglected wife. But when Tom draws a new monster on his sketchpad, he discovers that the magical powers in the region extend to his pen. A fabulous fantasy, with wall-to-wall action and a nasty climax, "The Sands That Change!" finds Steve Ditko messing with charcoal to great effect. Alas, this was Ditko's final work for Warren, the first sign of bad times to come for the publisher.-Peter

Jack-I didn't think there were any real standout stories this issue, but then none of them was a complete dud, either. I liked "A Curse of Claws!" best, especially with finished work by Neal Adams, as opposed to what we got from him in Eerie the prior month, but I have to say Frazetta's cover version of the cat woman is preferable. It's exciting to see the first work from Jeff Jones here, though it did not blow me away; I liked "Haunted Castle!" much more than you did, especially the talking skeletons and the unexpected ending that finds the main character inhabiting the modern world. "The Sands That Change!" is interesting and a bit of wish-fulfillment for the creators, since it features a comic book artist with a knockout wife! I didn't think it was any better than the Jones or Nodel stories, though, and a tick below the Adams tale. Lowest ratings went to "Frozen Fear!," despite the usual solid work by Crandall; "The Frankenstein Tradition!," with pretty decent art by Mastroserio, and "There Was an Old Lady," which has a kind of fun finish even though the whole thing pales next to the top-notch art surrounding it. The Fan Club biography of Mastroserio is fascinating and once again reinforces the fact that, while we may disparage the work of some of the lesser artists in these mags, they often seem to have long and illustrious careers.

Next Week...
Heath to the rescue!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 39

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 24
July 1952 Part II

 Strange Tales #8

"The Old Mill" (a: Gene Colan) 
(r: Vault of Evil #4)
"Fame!" (a:Manny Stallman) ★1/2
(r: Journey Into Mystery #10)
"The Storm" (a: Vic Carrabotta) ★1/2
(r: Uncanny Tales #3)
"Something in the Fog!" 
(a: Ed Goldfarb & Bob Baer) 
(r: Journey Into Mystery #10)
"If the Shoe Fits" (a: Joe Maneely) 
(r: Tomb of Darkness #12)

"The Old Mill" is another of the seminal stories that could be tagged as "The Beginning of the EC era at Atlas," as it has a wallop in its climax worthy of a Tale from the Crypt. Our narrator goes to work for the sadistic mill owner, Kurt Braun, who believes in taking a slice of hide for every dollar he pays. Initially willing to put up with the abuse to earn a wage, our man soon finds working for Herr Braun to be more than taxing... it could cost him his life. After Braun catches his worker mislabeling a bag of wheat, a fight ensues and the mill owner is killed. The next day, village men come to pick up sacks of flour and discover one labeled Kurt and one Braun. Our story teller has disappeared. Two milestones here: a gruesome death (albeit one handled off-screen and left to our imagination) and a killer who gets away. No swift justice doled out to the murderer. The mill owner's corpse doesn't rise from the sacks and reassemble to meet his killer on the moors as he escapes. Well, maybe that did happen after our climax. Who knows?

Vance Roamer will do anything to hit it big in show business. The problem is, Vance has no talent and he's constantly reminded of that fact by casting agents and directors. The would-be thespian hits on a grand idea to make people notice: he rents a nice tuxedo, top hat and cane, and performs before the biggest audience he's ever had. Everyone wants him. He's in the spotlight. People reaching out for him. Vance Roamer knows there's only one way to achieve a greater "Fame!" in the end... so he steps off the rooftop. Wow! A Day of the Locust-esque look at the desire for fame and how it can destroy you. A unique Strange Tale, for me, in that the art (not credited but attributed to Manny Stallman) takes a back seat to the searing script. Vance Roamer isn't the usual bad guy that terrible things happen to, he just wants to be an actor. Roamer's final step off into his adoring fans is a lasting image. Not bad for a 4 page comic story.

"The Storm" and "Something in the Fog" are similar in both theme and quality. Miko "The Killer" Arley, the protagonist of "The Storm," is on the lam and desperate for a plane ticket, desperate enough to murder an innocent man for the passage. He regrets the flight, in the end, when it turns out to be piloted by Satan and heading for Hell. In "Something in the Fog," a crew of smugglers is ratted out by an undercover agent and elude capture only after a dangerous chase. Adrift in a soupy fog, they run across an old schooner, board it, and notice the crew are dressed in old-time gear. When they tell the Captain to head out to deep waters and stay away from the mainland, the Captain tells them no problem and shows them the name of the ship: The Flying Dutchman! Finally, in "If The Shoe Fits," a murderer breaks into a cobbler's shop and forces the old proprietor to fashion him a set of shoes to make him appear taller. The old man finishes the shoes and then gets a knife in his side for his trouble. As he lay dying, the cobbler curses the shoes and the sadistic killer comes to rue the day he ever walked into the shop. A skimpy hook to hang a plot on, but Joe Maneely drums up a perfect crime noir look that saves "If the Shoe Fits" from being a complete disaster. The uncredited writer adds a strange angle by having the cobbler narrate the story even after he's been murdered.

Brodsky & Rule
 Spellbound #5

"Blackout at Midnight!" (a: Bill Everett) 
"In the Bag!" (a: Jim Mooney) ★1/2
"I Have to Kill!" 
"He Waved to Me" (a: Jack Keller) 
"Room of Shadows" (a: Mike Sekowsky) ★1/2

A dabbler in the occult finds he's blacking out between midnight and dawn and waking with evidence of foul deeds. "Blackout at Midnight" is an odd one, a story that makes not one bit of sense but wallows in that fact. The face of our narrator, Michael, is not shown until the fourth page when he awakens from one of his spells and sees his unshaven, haggard face in a mirror. Then the subterfuge resumes until the final page, when we see Michael has, for some reason transformed into a hairy, fanged demon and commits suicide via wooden stake. But why has Michael become this monster? Is it because of his interest in the black arts? Bill Everett does his best to keep us from questioning too many of the plot holes and delivers more fine chills.

Claire marries George for his wealth but, after several months elapse, she's still no closer to the booty. The poor girl decides hubby must keep it in the black bag he carries everywhere he goes so she talks her brother-in-law into stealing the bag. As soon as the bag is in reach, Claire murders her accomplice and opens the bag, only to discover it contains the tools of George's trade. She becomes the next to die under the axe of her husband, Paris's public executioner. "In the Bag" contains a good twist and very nice visuals from Jim Mooney. "I Have to Kill" is a three-page bit of rubbish with sketchy art and a cliched climax; something about a slaughterhouse worker who has bad dreams and wakes to find they might not be dreams after all.

The sole supernatural element of
"He Waved At Me"
Confidence man Andre Masson boards the USS Britannica to travel to America to pay off his partner but a bet aboard the ship is just too good to pass by, so Andre bets his partner's one thousand bucks that the ship will average no more than 9 knots speed during the journey. An initial storm slows the progress to Andrews delight but, soon after, the Britannica is speeding along at 17 knots. Andre must come up with a Plan B very quickly so he has a pretty young lady witness him falling overboard in order to stop the ship. Unfortunately for Andres, the girl is a mental patient and her nurse doesn't believe her story. "He Waved at Me" is an extremely busy little story but none of the elements merge to create something worth reading. The bet aboard the ship, created by the Britannica's Captain (!) is an oddball choice (would a confidence man involve himself in a wager where the Captain himself could alter the results?), but even more head-scratching is the splash, which promises black arts and demons, two elements that are never even hinted at in the story. The art by Jack Keller is a giant step down from that of Everett and Mooney.

What's a girl to do when she's married to John,  a fat, unromantic beast who demands she do the cleaning, the cooking, and the other stuff, but gives nothing in return? Well, if you're Rita, you crave the night and your dreams, which take you to the "Room of Shadows," a place where life is wonderful and filled with roses. Tired of living half a life, Rita talks her neighbor into murdering John and burying him in the basement. Unfortunately, after the dope splits John's heading two with a metal pipe, he gets cold feet and runs from the house. The police arrive and gun down Rita, who goes to a permanent "Room of Shadows." The climax is extremely vague (as Rita is bolting from the house, a newsboy is calling out headlines of the crime she's just committed!) and the art, by Mike Sekowsky, is ugly and amateurish but there are kernels of something imaginative lying in slumber in those first few pages.

 Mystic #10

"Bluebeard" (a: Tony Di Preta) 
(r: Crypt of Shadows #7)
"Death Notice!" (a: Werner Roth) 
(r: Chamber of Chills #7)
"They Called Her a Witch!" (a: Russ Heath) 
(r: Where Monsters Dwell #25)
"The Man Who Saw Tomorrow" (a: Joe Sinnott) 
(r: Crypt of Shadows #7)
"Detour!" (a: Myron Fass) 
(r: Vault of Evil #7)

Murdering stranded travelers has become old hat for "Bluebeard" Bates but it's a very lucrative business. Bates dumps the bodies in his cellar and the local sheriff (obviously a lawman who'll look under every rock for a clue) can't seem to pin the disappearances on old man Bates. There is one drawback to his hobby and that's the ghosts of Bates's victims haunting his shabby shack. But Bluebeard has gotten used to the haunts and that irritates the spirits to no end. They finally get their revenge when Bluebeard kills the wrong traveller and he joins the haunting crew.

"They Called Her a Witch!"
Obit writer Mack Maxon discovers his typewriter has the power of life and death when he writes up a phony "Death Notice" and the event occurs! He puts his new power to to good use when he approaches mafia big-wig Chiller Quade with a deal to off Quade's enemies. Mack soon discovers, like Bluebeard Bates, that the dead can get really pissed off when they're taken advantage of. There's some fabulous Werner Roth here despite the fact it adorns a so-so plot (like most of these Atlas dummies, Mack never seems to see the big picture of his power, settling for chump change instead).

Russ Heath's "They Called Her a Witch!" is only three pages long but it manages to steal the "Best-of-Issue" prize from its big brothers. A young man visits the Hungarian town of Liepzwig and is startled to seethe local children hurtling insults and stones at a gnarled old woman. When prompting a nearby villager, the man is told the old lady is a witch. Attempting to get to the bottom of the superstitious nonsense, he visits the cottage of the old woman to get her side. Bad move. No, there's not enough room for things such as character development (but then you don't usually get that in the longer tales, do you?), but there's a creepy feel to the proceedings and a great whammy in the final panel.

Photographer Philbert Hooten has made a boatload of dough selling his offbeat pictures of graveyards but he desires to branch out into another field of photojournalism: the future. To that end, Philbert creates a camera (by "studying calendars for hours at a time!") and snaps a pic of the world one week hence. Things go pear-shaped when the snap is developed and shows the future as a blank. Joe Sinnott is fast ascending to the ranks of Heath, Colan, and Maneely as Atlas artists who make stories that much better just with their presence. The package ends on a downer with "Detour!," yet another variation on the "traveler who meets up with the personification of death and then takes its place at the climax" story. Yawn.

Suspense #20

"The Beast-Man" (a: Werner Roth) ★1/2
"Stranger in the House!" (a: John Romita) ★1/2
"The Pain in the Neck" (a: Allen Bellman) 
"Furnished Room With Corpse" (a: John Romita) ★1/2
"Fairy Tale!" (a: Edward Goldfarb & Bob Baer) 
"The Brute!" 
"The Oath!" (a: Jim Mooney & Bernard Sachs) 
"The Man With No Face" (a: Dick Ayers) 

William Frankenstein, grandson of the infamous monster-maker, has returned to the castle on the hill to follow in his grandpa's footsteps and create life from the dead. Billy is determined not to repeat the mistakes the elder Frankenstein made so, this time, the head of the monster is filled with sane gray matter. The nearby villagers, however, are not taking the latest experiment sitting down and fire up their torches for a march up the hill. Unbeknownst to the angry mob, a little tyke has followed, hoping to get a glimpse of the new monster.

Ceremony complete, the creature rises from the slab just as the mob busts down the door. They shoot Frankenstein dead and thrust their fire sticks into the frightened monster's mug. Heading for the exit, the creature is in the right place at the right time as the snoopy little moppet takes a tumble right into his arms. The villagers, mistaking the creature's intent, rescue the boy and fill the monster full of lead. As the little boy cries that the giant saved his life, the crowd lets out a collective sigh, realizing they've judged a book by its cover. "The Beast-Man," Stan Lee's unauthorized and unimaginative retelling of Universal's Son of Frankenstein (complete with one-armed burgomeister) is as bland as pablum; almost an omen of the innocent shock tales that will befall the industry in just a couple years time. Roth's illustrations are neither exciting nor tedious; they're just there. All that's missing is the hunchback.

Seeing as how it's getting closer to dusk, Alma is anxiously awaiting the arrival of husband, Harry, at their remote cabin. The quiet is interrupted by the sound of footsteps on the porch and a stranger enters the cabin, asking about Harry and warning about the coming full moon. "Werewolves," the man exclaims, and then pulls a knife on the terrified woman. Alma exits the house and hides in the barn but the stranger finds her. Harry comes home and discovers Alma, transformed into a werewolf, standing over the body of the stranger, apologizing to her husband for not waiting before supper. Other than the nice Romita art, "Stranger in the House" is a two-pager stretched out to seven, with multiple panels of Alma wondering where Harry is and the stranger commenting on the approaching dusk, and we know the punchline from the get-go.

Three short-shorts follow and not one of them is worth much comment. "The Pain in the Neck" is a really dopey tale about a man who lives with constant neck pain and visits a doctor who performs an operation to relieve the pain. The operation is successful but when he gets back home, the stress begins again and he hangs himself. At the funeral, his wife tells the funeral director her husband wears aside 15 shirt and the man informs her that hubby had a size 16 neck. Wearing a shirt too small would cause incredible pain. (sound of a very loud groan) Equally bad is "Furnished Room With Corpse," wherein George Greely sets out to commit the "perfect murder" by killing himself and leaving no clues. The finale ball is fumbled but at least we get a second helping of Romita's dazzling visuals. At this point in his career, Romita's style was more akin to Colan than the more polished approach he would drape all over The Amazing Spider-Man in the late 1960s. The farmer of "Fairy Tale" sees his goose lay a golden egg and fills his head with dreams of wealth... until his wife cooks the goose for her husband's birthday.

"Furnished Room with Corpse"
A tad bit of Everett?
Carnival act, Bruto the Beast-Man is, in reality, a Shakespeare-loving softie but his job forces him to act the animal. Then, one day at the circus, a gorgeous redhead approaches the cage and Bruto falls in love. With the help of the circus hypnotist, Bruto casts a spell on the woman (he appears as a very handsome gent in her vision) and a great romance begins but it's not long before she realizes she's actually in love with another man: that freak in the cage back at the circus! GCD doesn't attribute art for "The Brute," but it shows traces of a very sketchy, amateurish Bill Everett (no, I'm not saying it is Everett, but it resembles the style). The twist is amusing and, other than the finale, wherein Bruto loses his cool and strangles his new girl, it's a sensitive little romancer. It's also, sadly, the best story this issue by default.

A murderer knocks on Carl Waugh's door, seeking asylum and asking for a sympathetic ear. Carl hides the man in his air-tight vault, vows to keep him safe from harm, and waits for the approaching mob. "The Oath" is a wordy and predictable slog (when Carl discovers the murdered man was his own brother, he keeps his vow and locks the killer in the vault forever) with some low-grade Jim Mooney art (I suspect inker Bernard Sachs had something to do with the weak visuals since Mooney is usually spot-on).

Surprise! Not!
Lewis Terrence (aka Comrade D-93) joins the Commie movement and works for a mysterious leader nicknamed "The Man," doing little errands and observations but the game escalates when he's asked to commit... murder! "The Man with No Face" is typical 1950s Atlas red-baiting nonsense, with mustachioed, sneering commie bad guys and innocent (but confused) American lemmings and an escalated word count, designed to get its message through loud and clear: the Red Menace is real!
It's also got the cartoony Dick Ayers doodling and a surprise reveal that surprises no one. I didn't live through the 50s and its scary times, so I can only view these paranoid scenarios as a Monday-morning-quarterback but, I gotta say, the familiar plots are a pain to wade through.

In Two Weeks...
More Everett Magic!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 160: May 1975

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 37

"The Three Wars of Don Q.!"
Story by Arnold Drake
Art by Leopoldo Duranona

Peter: American war correspondent Nick Taylor stumbles onto a career-making story but he's trapped by the Nazis in an old castle in Spain with nary a typewriter to be found. Luckily, while hiding in the crypt, Nick is discovered by a crazy old man who fancies himself Sancho Panza and Nick as Don Quixote. Nick scoffs at the old man's whimsy but, very soon, he begins to doubt his own sanity. Panza talks Nick into donning a suit of armor in order to fight the Moors and then produces a coin that can transfer the duo across time. After a few dangerous adventures, Panza and Nick end up in a future ruled by apes (stop me if you've heard this before) and only our heroes can prevent the simians from destroying the planet.

"The Three Wars of Don Q.!" is horribly disjointed, borrows from several sources, and suffers from  weak Leo Duranona visuals. I've often decried the four- to six-page story limits foisted on scripters; it's obviously not enough room to develop characters and rewarding plots. Here's the exact opposite of the spectrum: the Weird War "epic," wherein Arnold Drake is given 18 pages to pad and meander and still can come up with nothing readable. Well, I'm not always fair, am I? There's a nice touch Drake throws in towards the climax where we discover the "God" that the apes pray to; it's the remnants of an old King Kong poster with only "Starring Robert Armstro" showing under the great gorilla. Sure, it's a variation on the bomb idolized by the mutants in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, but it's clever nonetheless. The only bright spot in an otherwise dismal failure.

Jack: Oh, Peter, lighten up! I enjoyed this story and laughed out loud more than once. Sure, Duranona's art is a bit rough, but it's better than what we're getting from Kirby or Glanzman and probably about on par with Estrada. The story is best when it's shifting back and forth between the present and the past; Nick taking down a Nazi plane with a spear is neat, and his view of a tank as a dragon is rather inspired. The whole thing is like a DC/Weird War knockoff of Cervantes, in that the novel had Don Quixote tilting at windmills and here they're Nazi planes and tanks. The trip to the future is less successful, but again I chortled when the Armstro that they believe in turned out to be the cut-off word Armstrong from a poster of King Kong. Frankly, I enjoyed this issue more than any issue of Weird War Tales in recent memory.

G.I. Combat 178

"A Tank is Born"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Face of the Enemy"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: Just after the Colonel lets Jeb know he'll not be watching over the Haunted Tank anymore, the boys watch in horror as a fellow tank squad goes up in smoke. But what conked the tin can? At the site of the axed tank, Jeb meets an old sea captain who tells him that his ship was torpedoed by a U-Boat and all his men were lost. The Captain now spends his time planning revenge. No time to swap war stories; a score of FWs sets its eyes on the Haunted Tank and manages to score a bullseye before our heroes blast the birds out of the sky. Left with no tank, the crew ponder their future when, wonder of wonders, a brand new Pershing is discovered in the wreckage of a nearby bombed-out train. The boys christen their new vehicle by blasting the heretofore mentioned U-Boat out of the water and dub the new ride "The Haunted Tank II."

"A Tank is Born"
Not a horrible entry in the Tank series but really not much to get excited about either. This tin can is stuck in some deep mud and the plots (as well as the dialogue) are being recycled on what seems to be a yearly basis. I will say that Sam Glanzman contributes his best art in quite some time; the air battles are not up to Russ Heath levels but they're certainly exciting and well-choreographed. The Colonel definitely seems to be playing more of a part (physically) these days as he actually halts the tank's spinning action after it's nailed by a shell from the U-boat. I suspect that "The Haunted Tank II" era will be no more memorable than the first (it's a shame the Colonel couldn't halt the spinning of the series's wheels in the mud!).

In the short-short back-up, a disgruntled gunner complains about his job, arming a long-range weapon and wishing he could see the "Face of the Enemy." When his whole troop is wiped out by a Nazi tank, he finally gets his wish. The problem with Big Bob's "ironic tales" is that the set-up robs the pay-off of any surprise. Is that ironic?

"Face of the Enemy"
Jack: G.I. Combat continues its mediocre run. It's not howlingly bad, like Kirby's Our Fighting Forces, or wildly uneven, like Weird War Tales, it's just not very good... ever. Glanzman's art is better than usual and actually features some interesting layouts, making me wonder if another artist (Kubert?) had a hand in this story, but it's hardly fair to blame Glanzman when the work is poor and give credit to an imaginary other when it's less so. The backup story is short, at four pages, and Kanigher utilizes his classic trope of banging the reader over the head again and again with a topic until the story is over. This is told like a '50s-era story except for the very 1970s' downbeat ending.

Our Army at War 280

"Mercy Mission"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by George Evans

"Medal of Honor"
Story and Art by Norman Maurer

"The Rock of Easy Co.!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(reprinted from Our Army at War #81, April 1959)

"The Rock and the Wall!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #83, June 1959)

"Every Man's a Sergeant!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #52, December 1957)

"Sentries Never Sleep"
Story Uncredited
Art by Fred Ray
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #6, February 1953)

Jack: Easy Co. crosses the Remagen Bridge into Germany and the war is nearly over! Four Eyes sees smoke and jokes with Little Sure Shot that he sees smoke signals, but when Easy Co. finds the source of the smoke it turns out to be a wrecked German tank that is being used as a decoy. Gunfire breaks out and Easy again defeats the enemy. In the battle, Four Eyes's leg is grazed and Sgt. Rock orders Little Sure Shot to take Four Eyes back to Battalion Aid.

"The Rock of Easy Co.!"
Rock is left alone, and a dying German soldier gives him a doll, asking Rock to take it to his little girl in their nearby farmhouse. Rock agrees to go on this "Mercy Mission," but when he reaches the farmhouse he is knocked out by a Nazi commander, who grabs the doll and removes orders hidden inside. The orders tell him to activate an electrically-controlled mine field right where Easy Co. is situated! Rock staggers to his feet and kills the commander, but not before the mines have been activated. Little Sure Shot shows up to help wipe out the rest of the Nazi guards, and Rock races back to the mine field, just as the mines go off.

Fortunately, Easy Co. knew to avoid it because Little Sure Shot sent smoke signals from the farmhouse to warn them. Easy Co. fights off another bunch of Nazis and resumes its march into the heart of Germany.

("Medal of Honor")
Even though George Evans's art resembles Jack Sparling's in spots--especially in the depiction of the Nazi commander--he does a decent job with another entertaining entry in the Rock series. Kanigher's trend of using fewer words and more pictures to tell the story continues and, while this probably would've been better illustrated by Russ Heath (or Joe Kubert, of course, but that's no longer an option), it's an above-average Rock entry for 1975.

In 1861, in the Arizona territory, an eight-year-old boy and a herd of cattle are captured by the Indian leader Cochise. The boy's father rides after the Indians but is wounded and must return to Fort Breckenridge, where he is tended to by Dr. Bernard Irwin. Lt. Bascom and 60 men head out and track down Cochise, but the Indians attack the white men in a box canyon and a scout travels back to the fort for reinforcements. Dr. Irwin leads the second group of soldiers and manages to trick the Indians and rescue the lad. "As punishment, Irwin burned the village."

"Every Man's a Sergeant!"
Yikes. Talk about tone-deaf. From the vantage point of 2019, this is a story of the white man's atrocities against the Indians. The whole point of the story is that Irwin was later awarded the first Congressional Medal of Honor but, from another point of view, he should have been tried as a war criminal. I can accept the back and forth battling between soldiers and Indians, but that extra bit about burning the village was uncalled for and ruined the tale for me. Better than expected Maurer art, too!

Herr Hauptmann may be a man of iron, but he's no match for "The Rock of Easy Co!" The American sergeant got really tough working in a steel mill back home, so when the Nazis come at the Americans, Sgt. Rocky stands up and blows them away with a machine gun. He also plants a mine under a tank and shoots a potato masher out of the air. Finally, he defeats the Iron Captain in hand to hand combat, earning him the nickname, "The Rock of East Company!" No, that's not a typo.

It's kind of hard to believe that this corny story, written by Bob Haney and illustrated by Andru and Esposito, would give birth to our beloved Sgt. Rock--or Rocky, as he is called repeatedly in this six-pager. He does demonstrate the super-heroic tendencies we'd later see in Kanigher's long-running series but, other than the name and general appearance, this isn't yet the leader we'd come to know and love.

"Sentries Never Sleep"
In a jungle outpost nicknamed Green for Baker, three soldiers--Howie, Ed, and Dave--hold off the enemy while waiting for a sergeant to arrive and tell them what to do. They manage to defeat an enemy force in a dense jungle before the officer arrives and, when he does, he remarks that "Every Man's a Sergeant!" in Green for Baker, based on their success at fighting in close quarters.

Mort Drucker's art always makes me smile, and this six-page reprint is no exception. He just knew how to draw war stories and, especially, the faces of the men who fought. It's obvious what's going on from early in this story, but with Drucker at the drawing board it's still fun.

In the early days of the American Revolution, a Colonial soldier named Will Latham is sentenced to death by firing squad after falling asleep at his sentry post. His executioners all load their muskets with blank charges and he pretends to fall dead, thus escaping the Grim Reaper. He joins another company and is promoted to captain for bravery, but when another sentry falls asleep he takes the man's place and loses his life in the course of repelling an attack by the British.

Mediocre Fred Ray art drags down the excessively wordy "Sentries Never Sleep," a story from the very early days of DC war comics. It's a good thing we didn't start this blog in the early 1950s, because stories like this might have knocked us off our track before we ever met Sgt. Rock!

Bill Mantlo would have probably called this
"The Doomsday Gauntlet" or some such rubbish
("Mercy Mission")
Peter: Despite the fact that Big Bob considers "The Rock and the Wall!" to be the first Sgt. Rock story (and not "The Rock of Easy Co.!"), the powers-that-be (I assume editors Allan Asherman and Joe Kubert) deem this issue to mark the "200th Anniversary of Sgt. Rock!" Even with the new millennial math they're teaching in grade school, I can't figure that out. According to my notes, the boys are jumping the gun by a couple of issues. Well, no matter. With "Mercy Mission," we find poor Sgt. Rock still in the same old script doldrums, only this time the Sarge has to deal with some awful George Evans doodles as well. Big Bob's most famous war character continues to be a conundrum; he's one of the smartest tactical brains in World War II but he falls for some dopey traps at times, doesn't he? Speaking of dopey, the plot comes off like recycled Fantastic Four with Colonel Schnitzel (or whatever his name is) and his grand device which, if operated correctly, will blow up one field in the entire war. How many millions were spent on this doomsday machine? No wonder the Nazis lost the war. "Medal of Honor" is really hard to slog through; it looks (and reads) like a Scholastic book report.

"The Rock of Easy Co." is a Rock story in name only. The plot was borrowed years later by Big Bob for the "Iron Major" stories and there's just no getting used to that goofy Andru/Esposito art, is there? For me, the greatest joy of the 100-page "super spectaculars" is that it usually means we'll get a Mort Drucker story and, sure enough, we get "Every Man's a Sergeant!" Predictable, yes, but I couldn't care less about the words when I have Drucker's "gee,whiz!" style to admire. Speaking of words, I think "Sentries Never Sleep" could hold the record for DC war verbosity; it's the equivalent of a Stephen King novel.

Kirby & Berry
Our Fighting Forces 155

"The Partisans!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and D. Bruce Berry

Jack: Somewhere in the snowy woods of Yugoslavia, Sarge drags a wounded Gunner along with him when he comes face to face with a man in a furry hat and another man in a green hat. The two men are silent but, when furry hat man waves his hand, a large group of locals with guns emerge from the mist. They all head off somewhere and Sarge follows with Gunner slung over his shoulders.

After a long march, Sarge sees Nazi soldiers guarding a railroad bridge that "The Partisans!" plan to blow up. The locals attack a railroad station to divert Nazi attention from the bridge, leaving Sarge alone on the bridge to battle an enemy tank. The tank points its gun at the group of partisans, who have appeared on a rocky spot next to the bridge but, when the tank blows them up, the entire hill explodes, having been mined with explosives.

The bridge is destroyed and Sarge is badly wounded. Nazis are about to shoot him when another group of partisans, along with the rest of the Losers (Johnny Cloud and Captain Storm), appear and all of the Nazis are killed. Gunner and Sarge are given emergency medical attention in a tent and Sarge is shocked to learn that the man in the fur hat was the ghost of a man who had been killed in fighting the year before.

Essentially a solo outing for Sarge, this story is better than the worst we've seen from Kirby, but that does not mean it's anywhere near the quality of the Losers stories we were getting before Kirby took over the strip. The King's fetishistic drawings of big machinery are a little weird, frankly, and his Sarge could be anyone--Sgt. Rock, Sgt. Fury, etc.

Ben Grimm guest-stars as Sarge in "The Partisans!"

Peter: There's no denying that "The King" delivers the goods when it comes to big bulky inanimate objects and the results of exploding devices, but I've still got major problems with the individual characters and the lack of any personality or distinguishing features. Seriously, I can't tell them apart. The story is a tad confusing and it's capped by another of the endless "You mean our savior was a ghost?" denouements found in the funny books of the period, but I'll allow that it's the best Losers Kirby has contributed yet. I ain't sayin' it's very good, though.

Star Spangled War Stories 187

"A Death in the Chapel"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Waiting for a Legend"
Story by Don Kaar
Art by Frank Redondo

Peter: After the events of last issue (Unknown Soldier is sent into Monte Grande, a small village held by the Nazis, to eliminate a priest who may be collaborating with the enemy), our hero is caught with his guard down and threatened by a vengeful soldier. US makes quick work of the Nazi and then sets about convincing Father Memmoli that it wasn't American soldiers who ran down innocent children in the village square. US drags the corpses of the Germans who had masqueraded as Americans into the father's church and leaves them there for discovery. When the priest confronts Colonel Weile about the charade, the Nazi drops all pretense and admits to the ruse, assigning a guard to watch that Memmoli doesn't escape to alert his townsfolk. Memmoli talks his way out of the church and heads for the forest where the men have made camp, awaiting orders from the Nazis. When Memmoli reveals the truth, the men angrily head back into the village and mow down the stinkin' Nazi scum that murdered their children. When Colonel Weile's orders to Memmoli go unheeded, the German shoots the father in the back and is then murdered by the Unknown Soldier.  Back in D.C., the Soldier is informed that the Americans are pulling out of Monte Grande and leaving it to the Germans. Our hero's reaction leaves his C.O. without his prized world globe.

"A Death in the Chapel"
Certainly better than any other war series entry this month, but I have some concerns that David Michelinie might be throwing in a few too many superhero conventions for a character who's grounded in "reality" (well, as realistic as a guy who can fabricate a full-functioning face mask out of pretzel dust and twigs) rather than fantasy. The finale, where US reduces a globe to tin with one fistful of fury, stretches my credulity more than a tad and there are several instances where the bandaged daredevil seemingly darts between bullets. I do hope that Michelinie makes something of US's anger at all the lives destroyed at the whims of our fickle government. Still, despite my misgivings, this is still the only DC war series worth reading at this time.

"Waiting for a Legend"
Sgt. Liam O'Connor and a handful of U.S. Cavalrymen attempt to hold off the Moros in a Philippine Catholic Church while "Waiting for a Legend," the famed Sgt. Quinn. While the men wait, O'Connor tells them of his history and friendship with Quinn, including several fistfights and weekends in the stockade. The Moros attack the church just as Quinn's men arrive and the combined cavalry forces are able to repel the invasion. When O'Connor inquires as to the whereabouts of his old friend, he is informed that Quinn died three days earlier. O'Connor collapses and dies, the victim of a stab wound during the siege. The fourth and final script for SSWS by writer Don Kaar, "Waiting for a Legend" is an entertaining read that avoids most of the cliches we find in these back-up stories. I say "most," because O'Connor's collapse is a little silly but, luckily, doesn't torpedo the entire tale. Also well-done is the art by Frank Redondo, whose style resembles that of Gerry Talaoc.

Jack: As we learned when reading our way through the DC horror line, the influx of Filipino artists at DC in the mid-'70s meant that the readers had better get used to their particular art styles. Fortunately, Gerry Talaoc was one of the better ones, and his work on Unknown Soldier continues to impress me. I have the same concerns as Peter about the superhero-like nature of the character under Michelinie, but I enjoy it nonetheless. Of course, it's all heavily seasoned with circa-1975 malaise, but a good story is a good story. In fact, I think "A Death in the Chapel" could have been longer, exploring more of the priest's personality. The backup is also good, and Quico (Frank) Redondo's art is pleasing without being overly stylized. The bromance between the two main characters is entertaining without being overdone; Kanigher would have been more direct and less successful with this story.



Here's how our favorite war titles did in 1974 (Weird War Tales was still too young to qualify and we won't see sales figures for that title until 1975). We're suckers for lots of trivial data, so we've included the sales reports for the three previous years as well. As you can see, sales for the DC titles were up across the board.

                                                        1974        1973         1972         1971                
G.I. Combat                                    168,042   161,702    170,557    167,841        
Our Army at War                            178,134   163,221    165,021    161,881          
Our Fighting Forces                       161,417    147,968    156,524    164,142      
Star Spangled War Stories             144,765    144,292    154,716    145,869      

Amazing Spider-Man                     288,232   273,204     288,379    307,550    
Batman                                           193,223   200,574     185,283    244,488    
Superman                                       285,634    240,558     252,317    325,618    

Next Week...
Join us for a dissection of illustrated
terror and suspense!

From Our Army at War 280