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!


Quiddity99 said...

Great to see Jeff Jones making his Warren debut here and sad to see the final material from Ditko, another artist like Angelo Torres who will never return to Warren. Will have a few more joining them soon (although in the case of Orlando you may not find that a bad thing). Overall a mediocre pair of issues for me although I look forward to checking out House of Fiends again.

Speaking of long careers, that shall not be the case for Mastroserio, who will die a few months after this issue.

Jack Seabrook said...

I did not know that about Rocco! Sad to hear that.

Peter Enfantino said...

There will be a mention of Rocco's death in my comments for Eerie #15, which featured his last Warren work.