Monday, September 30, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 165: October 1975

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 42

"Old Soldiers Never Die"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ernie Chan & Ricardo Villamonte

"Twice Dead"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Frank Redondo

"The Year 700 After the Bomb!" [Part One]
Story by Sheldon Mayer
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Peter: An Army captain interrupts the war to call upon Satan to grant him eternal life. The devil promises that no enemy will kill the Captain and that he will never grow a day older (pay particular attention to the italics, students) if he follows one simple command: kill the company priest. Without hesitation, the captain heads back out into battle and drills the padre when no one's looking. Immediately following, the world's stupidest man learns that Satan always gets his man. "Old Soldiers Never Die" is dreary and predictable (just how many times does Oleck have to stress no enemy will kill you before it becomes a banner flown high across every page?), as if no one cared anymore. Ernie Chan's art looks like it's best suited to a superhero strip.

"Twice Dead"
A World War II pilot is convinced his father, a pilot in WWI, is helping him clear the skies of Ratzis. "Twice Dead" suffers from a Ripley's Believe It or Not premise and a lame climax but gets points for Redondo's sharp art.

A visitor from "The Year 700 After the Bomb!" wanders into Lacy's department store and causes quite a scene with his Robin Hood-inspired garb, so it's only a matter of time before "Barry of Bleeker Street" is hauled up to security and spills his story. It's not a story worth repeating and worse... it's only the first half! The most intriguing aspect of this boring and overlong experiment in fantasy (which has not one iota of War within its eight pages) is that (according to the GCD) it was originally constructed as the third chapter of the Adventurers' Club back-up, set to run in Adventure Comics #430 before being replaced by another strip under the AC banner. The Adventurers' Club was nothing more than fantasy tales "hosted" by an eye-patched he-man by the name of Colonel Nelson Strong. The series never caught on and only three installments saw publication (in Adventure #426, 427 and 430). It's a shame when Alfredo Alcala is given nothing but talking heads to work with (and some of the panels look like they may have had some other hands working them). Can't say I'm looking forward to Part Two but then, lately, I'm not looking forward to anything between the WWT covers.

"The Year 700 After the Bomb!"
Jack: I think this is a solid, enjoyable issue of Weird War Tales. I had to laugh when the 35-year-old captain in "Old Soldiers Never Die" said he wanted his youth back; ah, to be 35 again! The story is well done, especially the art, despite the predictable ending. I guess I like Chan's superhero style! "Twice Dead" is an enjoyable four-pager with good art and no surprises. What does surprise me is that you didn't like the Alcala story. I was proud to see that an emperor from New Jersey succeeded in conquering Manhattan in the future and I found the story entertaining and intriguing. I'm looking forward to part two! The art certainly doesn't hurt. I remember those Adventure issues where they got away from superheroes--they were fun.

G.I. Combat 183

"6 Stallions to Hell--and Back!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Triple Booby Trap"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: While the boys are enjoying a rare break from combat, the ghostly General Jeb Smith pops up to give another cryptic warning to his descendant, Jeb Smith, commander of the Jeb Smith: take care of the six white stallions even now approaching over the rise. Just as the spirit dissipates, a Stuka screams out of the sky, attempting to blast the horses into dog food. The Haunted Tank does what it does best and the Stuka is soon lying on the ground in flames, its pilot a smoldering pile of ashes. Turns out the steeds are the "world-famous Lipizaners from the stables of Prince Schwarzenberg of Austria," and Hitler will do anything he can to lay his grubby German talons on the stallions. Suddenly, the men of the Jeb Stuart have to play babysitter to the Lipizaners and their jockeys. Despite insurmountable odds, our heroes manage to fool the simpletons on the other side and deliver the horses to the promised land with very few casualties (well, the leader of the riding crew is gunned down and has quite the maudlin death scene) and gain a healthy respect for animals.

"Nope... no one will see us!"
Well, no, I'm not going to harp about the dull and boring script attached to "6 Stallions to Hell--and Back!," nor the unintentionally funny scene where Jeb recommends they camouflage the horses (with berry juice) and the men (with civvies) but follows close behind in the Haunted Tank as if the Nazis are not only stupid but blind, nor even the Kanigher-recycled bad dialogue ("Let em eat... the hot stuff!"). Believe me, it's going to be a lot easier coming up with something to say about this series if it ever surprises me and delivers anything but a turkey.

American  and Japanese subs exchange torpedoes and sink to the bottom. While both crews work on damage, the respective sub commanders send out frogmen to set charges on their enemy. As the American fish heads back to his vessel, he watches in horror as it explodes, leaving him stranded in the middle of an unfriendly ocean. I thought the tale might end a bit edgy when our sub goes blooey and, in an interesting twist, the Japanese frogman finds and disarms the bomb on his ship. A secondary charge blows the sub to hell and our sole survivor rises to the surface to hitch a ride on a passing PT boat. "Triple Booby Trap" rehashes Big Bob's tired "dual-screen" story; we literally see each side go through the same motions (and utter the same lame dialogue) throughout. Our boy has obviously contracted PTSD since he surfaces with a smile on his face, joking that he has a date with a dame back in Pearl, the multitude of dead comrades below already forgotten!

"Triple Booby Trap"

Jack: A dreadful issue from start to finish. I thought we were off to a good start when they put a helpful banner on the first page of the Haunted Tank story, identifying the members of the crew as Jeb, Slim, Rich, and Gus, but it was all downhill from there. I never can remember who's who in the Haunted Tank. The ghostly general pops up on page one as well but to no real purpose; why should he care if the stallions are saved? I get that he led Confederate horse charges, but that doesn't seem equivalent. Kanigher is coasting along and Glanzman's art does nothing to tell the story in pictures--he just draws what Kanigher writes and there's no excitement to it. "Triple Booby Trap" finds Kanigher using his old trick of parallel stories and I think Kubert or Heath could've made something of this, but Estrada's art is limp.

Our Army at War 285

"Bring Him Back"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Doug Wildey

"Royal Flush"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: North of Salerno, Rock sees in the war news an item that Private Pete Falco is to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. After a brief, violent interlude in which the men of Easy Co. blow up a Nazi tank, Rock recalls his interaction with Falco, who did not do very well under Rock's tutelage in training camp. The C.O. shipped the private to a rear echelon company and Rock did not hear about him again till he read of his award in the paper.

Called back to H.Q., Rock is told that he must take Falco safely to the embarkation port so he can return to the states to record "Rock Me, Amadeus" lead a bond drive. On the way, Rock's jeep encounters enemy mortar and he must drive onto thin ice. The surface cracks and Rock and Falco manage to fight off Nazis and escape with their lives. Back at H.Q., Rock visits Falco in the hospital, where the private tries to give Rock his Medal of Honor. Rock refuses to accept it, lecturing Falco about its importance before heading back to his company.

"Just one more thing, Sgt. Rock ..."
Kanigher's writing is so much better here than in the Haunted Tank series; I suspect he had more respect for and understanding of the Army soldiers and their sergeant than the tank crew. Doug Wildey does a very good job of telling the story and his gritty art reminds me a bit of Mort Drucker's work. The story does make me wonder why Rock and co. don't get the Medal of Honor every issue, since they seem to destroy at least one tank per story! Kubert's cover is terrific; he draws all five covers this month, and they're impressive.

"Royal Flush"
Charlie dreams he draws a "Royal Flush" in an ongoing poker game with Ben, but his dream is shattered when Kamikaze planes attack the aircraft carrier on which both men are stationed. While defending the ship against the planes, Charlie insists that he'll get a real royal flush some day, but Ben reminds Charlie that he already owes Ben around $800K. On a break, the pals go below deck to continue their game; unfortunately, another Kamikaze attack leaves them trapped and they die before they can be rescued. Charlie's corpse finally holds a royal flush.

Kanigher saves his grimmer stories for the Gallery of War series in the back of Our Army at War and this one is no exception; it would work better with another artist. Estrada's style is too cheerful for a story like this, though I do like some of his bold lettering.

Peter: The Rock saga this issue is exceptionally maudlin and the Wildey art very rough (his Falco is obviously inspired by Peter Falk and Rock looks nothing like the Rock we've become accustomed to). It's not horrible but it's not very good. Actually, it's superb compared to the dim-witted "Royal Flush," which brings out all of Big Bob's bad habits within its brief page count. The ending's supposed to be ironic but it's just dumb.

Our Fighting Forces 160

Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby & Mike Royer

Jack: Among the Russians who collaborated with the Nazis was "Ivan," a tubby young man who enjoyed machine gunning helpless civilians lined up against a wall. He does not know that the Losers are masquerading as Nazi officers and staying in his home, where his stout mother delights in feeding them terrible food.

Ivan has a side job, which involves hiding Russians in his basement, taking all of their possessions, and promising to help them escape the country; what they don't know is that he also alerts Nazi soldiers to the presence of his guests. When the Nazis arrive to collect the helpless Russians, the Losers shoot the enemy soldiers in the back, free the Russians from the basement, and knock Ivan out cold, leaving him for the Nazis to find.

The next day, Ivan is against the wall with other Russians, facing the firing squad for supposedly killing the Nazi soldiers found dead in his house.

Another horrible story by the King! The art is bad enough, but now we have our heroes shooting a group of enemy soldiers in the back. I'm sure Kirby would tell us, "That's war, buster!" I don't like it. Happily, the letters column makes it clear that Kirby's time on the strip is nearly over.

Our "heroes"

Peter: The irony is that by 1975 all of Jack's continuing characters were "undercover," since there was no continuity from panel to panel. Ivan's mom is a Russian Panama Fatty and the Losers are just big blocks of flesh. Jack should have been wise enough to bring Ona back; at least we'd have been able to tell her from the rest of the pack. Aside from my usual quibbles (the dialogue is still dreck), I have to admit that this is the first Kirby Losers I actually enjoyed. It's massively dark, which isn't usual for "The King." Of course, it all ends predictably but, for a few pages anyway, the script actually held my interest. The writing's on the wall, though, and Jack's tenure on this title is coming to an end. The first sign is that his cover art chores have been pulled.

Star Spangled War Stories 192

Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Something to Kill For"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Frank Redondo

Peter: On the way to delivering the infamous Unknown Soldier into Nazi hands, Lt. Strada has his driver pull over in a deserted forest and then orders the man to drive away. Strada explains to US that he's not going to trust his superiors with the task of cleansing the Earth of the man who killed his mentor (Father Memmoli); he's going to do it himself. Quick thinking allows the Soldier to escape but Strada reminds our hero that he'll be out of a job if he doesn't come back to rescue his magical make-up kit. As US ponders his next move, a pack of wolves attacks him and the only thing that saves him is... Prada! Wolves would never do, he tells the Allied secret-weapon, but idle chit-chat, it would seem, is the consistent downfall of evil Nazi masterminds and Strada is no exception. Using a ploy that's usually found in a silly buddy-cop movie, US once again gains the upper hand and Strada finds himself hanging over a cliff. The Soldier tries to talk sense into the young Nazi but when Strada considers a world without Father Memmoli, he lets go of the branch and his "Vendetta!" at the same time.

The Talaoc art is aces as usual but Michelinie's script this time out is a bit jumbled; some good, some not so. There's a brilliantly choreographed flashback sequence that takes place in the minds of both protagonists, but that's the highlight. As I sarcastically noted already, Strada takes the road traveled by way too many James Bond villains, explaining things a tad too much while the hero prepares the sand at his feet or, inexplicably, the branch above Strada's gun hand. Then there's the uncharacteristically (for Michelinie, at least) maudlin finale where Strada sees the error of his ways and kills himself. A weak conclusion to what was a very strong arc.

Jack Oleck's "Something To Kill For" masquerades as something more thought-provoking than it is. A squad of Germans meets a squad of Brits in a snowy field near the end of World War I and the leader on each side decides to call a cease-fire and walk away. Things go well until a pink box is spotted in the snow and both sides open fire. Of course, the battle leaves only two standing: kapitan and lieutenant. The two men blow themselves away and, in the end, we discover they were all killed over a box of Red Cross rations. Oh, how ironic! How heavy-handed as well. The art, by Frank Redondo, gets a thumbs-up.

"Something to Kill For"

Jack: I love Gerry Talaoc's work on the Unknown Soldier; characters' legs are lanky and everyone looks as if they're in a horror strip! I thought "Vendetta" was a nice wrap-up to the four-issue arc, despite the gun-jump and coincidences. The maudlin finish did not bother me. Is the character name Rico Strada a sly nod to artist Ric Estrada? Even better was the five-page "Something to Kill For," with excellent art by Redondo and a finale that was both unexpected and satisfying.

This month's crop of DC War Comics was particularly good, I thought, especially due to five superb covers by Joe Kubert.

Next Week...
We'll search under six more rocks in hopes
of finding something good.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-Bill S. Ballinger Part One: Dry Run [5.7]

by Jack Seabrook

Bill S. Ballinger (1912-1980) began his writing career penning ad copy and radio plays in the 1940s before breaking into television, where he wrote teleplays from 1949 to 1975. A handful of films were based on some of the 30 novels he wrote between 1948 and 1975. In addition to episodes of The Outer Limits and Kolchak: The Night Stalker, he wrote seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The FictionMags Index lists only eight short stories by Ballinger, who concentrated mostly on writing novels and teleplays. None of the scripts he wrote for Alfred Hitchcock Presents were based on his own work. In the late 1970s, he taught writing at California State University. There is a very good website devoted to his work here.
*   *   *   *   *

The first episode written by Ballinger was "Dry Run," based on a short story of the same title by Norman Struber that was published in the April 1956 issue of Manhunt.

A young hood with the nickname Pretty walks through a run-down neighborhood near midnight and reaches a dingy brownstone, where he climbs to the second floor. Small in stature, Pretty is an aspiring gunman sent by Vito, a gangster, to "pull a clean job" and pass a "dry run before being put on the regular payroll." Proud at being asked to earn Vito's trust, Pretty knocks on an apartment door and is admitted by Moran, who points a gun at his visitor.

Pretty delivers $1500 in an envelope to Moran as payment for a murder and Moran offers his young guest a drink. The older gunsel begins to talk to Pretty about how Vito has got him "'snowed like all the rest of them'" and suggests that Pretty kill Vito, offering to pay for the job and to make Pretty his right-hand man after Vito is dead and Moran takes over his outfit.

Dick Shelton's illustration from Manhunt
Nervously, Pretty insists on being paid $1500 for the job and agrees to kill Vito. The young man is heading for the apartment door when Moran pulls out his gun and tells Pretty that he failed the test. Pretty pulls out his own gun and tries to shoot Moran but the weapon has no bullets; he begs for his life as Moran pulls the trigger.

"Dry Run" is a two-character story in which the background to the events is established through narrative as Pretty approaches Moran's apartment. The story then plays out in dialogue between the novice and the experienced killer. Set in a city, the Irish killer (Moran) seeks to replace the Sicilian mobster (Vito), whom he refers to with such ethnic slurs as "'little wop'" and "'greasy Sicilian.'" The nickname Pretty is ironic, since the young man is described as having a "'bony acne-scarred face'" and the nickname leads Moran to remark that Vito has a "'sense of humor.'"

Robert Vaughn as Art
Norman Struber, the author of "Dry Run," has 44 mystery short stories listed in the FictionMags Index, all published between 1955 and 1962. A genealogy website suggests that he may have lived from 1924 to 1988 and been a resident of Huntington, New York.

The April 1956 issue of Manhunt is a good one, including "Line of Duty," the condensed version of Fredric Brown's novel, The Lenient Beast, as well as short stories by J.W. Aaron, Richard Deming ("The Better Bargain," also adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents), Gil Brewer, and Bryce Walton.

The televised version aired on CBS on Sunday, November 8, 1959. The show opens in a large office, where three men look closely at piranhas in an enormous fish tank as ominous music plays on the soundtrack. Barbarosa, the boss, laughs and says that he likes piranhas because they're dependable. Prentiss, a middle-aged accountant, is confident enough to say that he's afraid of them. Art, a young sycophant, agrees with the boss. A large wall of windows looks out on distant mountains as Barbarosa gives a speech about teamwork and loyalty. He makes it clear that dependability is the quality he values most. Art tries to appear confident but his nervousness is betrayed by his habit of fidgeting with his cigarette lighter. Barbarosa gives Art an assignment to deliver money to Moran at the Old Valley Winery, upstate, and he also takes Art's gun and gives him another one that has "'never been used.'" "'Give him the money first if you have to, but make sure you get him,'" Barbarosa instructs Art.

Walter Matthau as Moran
The relationships between the characters are outlined quickly in the first scene of Ballinger's teleplay, which takes the short story's narrative passage where Pretty recalls prior events and dramatizes it with dialogue, serving to present the story in a straight, chronological fashion. The first scene ends as it began, with a closeup of the piranhas, which are meant to represent the vicious criminals in the story.

There is a fade out followed by a fade in where we see that it is now later that night, as Art drives into the Old Valley Winery. He parks and enters by walking through the Aging Vault Entrance. Inside, it is dark and shadowy, the stone steps and walls giving the impression of an old castle where Moran has fortified himself. Art goes in deeper until Moran flips on an overhead light and we see that he is pointing a gun at his young visitor.

While the story takes place entirely at night and in a run-down neighborhood of a city, the TV version opens in a spacious office lighted from outside by bright sunlight, then transitions to a night scene, though the winery is much different than the apartment building where Moran lives in the short story. Still, the setting is dark and Art must pass through many shadows; director John Brahm shoots the scenes either in near-darkness or in high-contrast noir style.

David White as Barbarosa
As so often happens on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, an unattractive character in a story is played by an attractive actor. Here, Robert Vaughn plays Art, and the nickname Pretty has been removed, as have any references to his unpleasant facial characteristics. Inflation has hit the mob, and the $1500 payment has risen to $10,000. There is no attempt to convey Art's inner thoughts, as Norman Struber does in his short story; instead, Robert Vaughn must attempt to convey what Art is thinking by means of facial expressions and gestures. Dialogue replaces interior monologue.

In the first scene, Barbarosa is less obviously ethnically Italian than the Vito of the short story and, when Moran is speaking to Art, the ethnic slurs are absent from the teleplay. The scene between Moran and Art follows the story very closely and the tension between the two men is well-portrayed. Walter Matthau is especially good as Moran; in a nice bit of business, he pulls his pants pocket inside-out to show Art that he has offered him all his money to kill Barbarosa.

Once Art reaches Moran's lair, the story plays out as it does on the page and ends the same way. John Brahm's direction is taut and he uses many closeups to ratchet up the suspense. "Dry Run" is an excellent adaptation of a very good short story, with nary a false note in its twenty-five minutes.

Born Hans Brahm in Germany, John Brahm (1893-1982) was an actor-turned-director who left his home country when the Nazis came to power and made his way to the United States, where he directed films from 1936 to 1967 and TV shows from 1952 to 1967. Among his films were The Lodger (1944), the remake of Hitchcock's silent film of the same name, and Hangover Square (1945). He directed ten episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Touche," five episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, twelve episodes of Thriller, another twelve of The Twilight Zone, two of The Outer Limits, and eight of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which starred Robert Vaughn.

Walter Matthau (1920-2000) receives top billing as Moran. Born Walter Matthow, he served in the Air Force in WWII and had a long screen career from 1950 to 2000. He won two Tony Awards and one Academy Award, and his many films included The Odd Couple (1968) and Grumpy Old Men (1993). He appeared in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Cop for a Day."

Nervous young Art is portrayed by Robert Vaughn (1932-2016), whose screen career spanned the years from 1955 to 2016. He won an Emmy and was in many TV shows and films, including The Magnificent Seven (1960), an episode of Thriller, the TV series The Protectors (1972-1974), and his most famous role, as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968). This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

David White (1916-1990) plays Barbarosa. He was a Marine in WWII and appeared on Broadway starting in 1949. He was on screen from 1949 to 1989 and appeared in many television shows. He was in four episodes of the Hitchcock series and two of The Twilight Zone, but he is best remembered for his supporting role as Larry Tate on Bewitched (1964-1972).

Tyler McVey
Finally, Tyler McVey (1912-2003) has a small part as Prentiss in the show's first scene. His long career began in the 1930s on the radio and he was on screen from 1950 to 1986. He can be seen in eight episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "Human Interest Story," and he was the president of AFTRA from 1965 to 1967.

"Dry Run" was one of the 26 episodes selected for the PBS series, The Best of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which ran in 1981-1982.

This episode is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here. The Internet Archive currently has links to watch every episode of all ten seasons!

If anyone knows where the winery scenes were filmed, please comment! They look like a real California winery and not a studio set.

“Dry Run.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 5, episode 7, CBS, 8 Nov. 1959.
The FictionMags Index,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Struber, Norman. “Dry Run.” Manhunt, Apr. 1956, pp. 112–119.

In two weeks: "Road Hog," starring Raymond Massey!

Listen to the Good Evening podcast discussion of the episode, "None Are So Blind," here!

Monday, September 23, 2019

The Warren Report Issue 17: July-October 1968

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

Barry Rockwell
Eerie #16 (July 1968)

"Dracula's Guest" 
Story by Bram Stoker
Adapted by E. Nelson Bridwell
Art by Frank Bolle
(Reprinted from Christopher Lee's Treasury of Terror)

"Big-Time Operator!" ★1/2
Story by E. Nelson Bridwell
Art by Ric Estrada

"Sara's Forest" ★1/2
Story by Roger Brand
Art by Tony Tallarico

"Evil Spirits!" 
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Johnny Craig

"The Monument"
(Reprinted from Eerie #3)

"Ahead of the Game!"
(Reprinted from Eerie #2)

"Dracula's Guest"
An Englishman traveling by horse-drawn carriage in Germany finds that the driver will go no further when the carriage reaches a certain crossroads. It is Walpurgis Nacht and the cry of a wolf is heard in the distance. The Englishman decides to walk the rest of the way to a village that the carriage driver calls unholy; perambulating through the woods alone, the Englishman comes upon a graveyard and finds a tomb that contains the vibrant, sleeping body of a beautiful woman.

The Englishman passes out and is awakened by a wolf lapping at his throat. Soldiers arrive, chase away the wolf, and take the Englishman back to a safe hotel. He reads a telegram from Dracula, who had urged the soldiers to set out in search of the Englishman.

Supposedly a chapter excised from Stoker's novel, "Dracula's Guest" is more like a fragment of a story than a story itself, starting in the middle of something and ending in the middle of something else. Frank Bolle's art is competent if not remarkable, and the writing is overly wordy. It seemed much longer than the seven pages it takes up in this issue of Eerie.

One very chill Minotaur from
"Big-Time Operator!"
After a plane crashes on a small island, the eight survivors find themselves patients of the mad Dr. Felix Warner, a surgeon who is bitter because he was kicked out of medical school. He uses his special skills with a scalpel to transform each person into the image of a creature from Greek mythology and then takes them to a carnival where he puts them on display. This "Big-Time Operator!" makes a fatal mistake when he lets one of the passengers, a female surgeon, observe his technique, for the next victim is the doctor himself, whose head is grafted onto the body of a Manticore!

This story is NUTS! Ric Estrada's art is like Jerry Grandenetti on steroids, and the idea that a disgraced medical student would go to all the trouble of operating on all of these people and turning them into creatures from Greek mythology only to exhibit them at a carnival is unusual, to say the least. Yet, for some reason, the story worked for me and reminded me of the sort of thing we'd read at EC, perhaps illustrated by Jack Davis. In fact, I wouldn't mind seeing this very story drawn by Davis!

How annoying!
("Sara's Forest")
Beautiful young Sara has lived alone in the forest for years, ever since her parents died. When Joseph and his wife Ingrid come hiking along, Sara is excited to welcome them, but soon Joseph gets the hots for the young gal and murders his wife, telling Sara that Ingrid left him and fled to the big city. All is fine for awhile, until Joseph tires of the young babe fawning over him and tells her he's splitting. Not so fast, says Sara, and "Sara's Forest" takes over, as a tree reaches down its branches to grab Joseph and bury him deep in the ground. Sara drops an acorn in with him, looking forward to the day he'll grow to be a mighty oak, just like the last man who passed through four years ago.

The best thing I can say about this story is that it makes sense, though one wonders about Sara's choice of companion when she spends much of her time talking to a lizard. For someone who murders his wife to be with a young hottie, Joseph tires of Sara mighty quick--but then, who wouldn't get sick of a gorgeous young gal in a bikini feeding him fruit all the time as he lazed in his hammock?

Jack's lament
("Evil Spirits!")
On a dark and story night, Cynthia Brent drives alone to the mansion of her lover, Peter. She has to build a fire, since the power is out, and soon she finds herself asleep and having nightmares of Peter and his wife Magda. Awakening to strange sounds, she rushes up the tower stairs, grabs an ax, and attacks the figure coming up behind her. The next day, the cops interview Peter about how his girlfriend and wife murdered each other the previous night. It's no problem, says he, as he saunters into the mansion with his new girlfriend, unaware that the "Evil Spirits" of Cynthia and Magda lurk within the bloody walls.

Archie Goodwin is credited with writing this, and it's awful. No noun can escape an adjective or two: it's not a mansion door, it's the huge door of a hulking, deserted mansion. When she goes through the door, it's a high, overhanging arch with a rusting old lock and a creaking mass of wood--you get the picture. Johnny Craig is a great artist, but these ten pages are so plodding that even his work seems uninspired. I'm sorry to say the three new stories in this issue did not wow me.

The Toth reprint is a winner but the Grandenetti reprint is dreadful. Creepy and Eerie could be such a mixed bag, even before Goodwin's departure.-Jack

"Evil Spirits!"
Peter-There can be no argument. The only quality tale this issue is Archie Goodwin's "Evil Spirits," the premise of which I thought would lead to a predictable climax. That's how little I know. That final panel, of Cynthia and Magda, weapons in hand, is a corker. Though Archie seemed to be tiring of his assignment, we sure are missing his presence. "Dracula's Guest" proves that editors, even in the 19th century, provided an important service to readers. The captions are dry, the dialogue stilted ("Those who were left fled away to other places. Where the living lived, and the dead were dead and not--not something else. Get in! Walpurgis Nacht!" almost begs to be set to music and placed in a Tim Burton flick), and the art uninvolving. All three traits could be leveled at "Sara's Forest" and "Big-Time Operator!" as well, but at least "Big-Time Operator!" is fun cheese. How incredibly lucky was it that nut job surgeon Dr. Stern had a jumbo jet full of appropriate models for his myth-farm crash right on his doorstep? Perhaps more interesting is the fact that this millionaire still desires to take a freak-show out on the road. Goofy gold!

Creepy #22 (August 1968)

"Home is Where .." 
Story by Ron Parker
Art by Pat Boyette

"Monster Rally!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #4)

"'No Fair!'" ★1/2
Story by Bill Parente
Art by Tom Sutton

"Strange Expedition" 
Story by Bill Parente
Art by Ernie Colon

"The Judge's House!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #5)

"Perfect Match" 
Story by Ron Parker
Art by Sal Trapani

"Home is Where.."
Two inept thieves break into a curio shop, hoping to nab a few priceless knickknacks. Once in the back room, they fall through a trap door that leads them to a basement full of doors. Behind each one is a different horror: snakes, crocodiles, vampires, and even ghouls! The police find the dopey duo wandering the street, completely mad.

Yep, that's the whole story and not much to like aside from the Boyette art; the burglars might as well be Abbott and Costello, there's no explanation for the curio shop's deadly occupants (that final panel might be insinuating that Uncle Creepy owns the shop, but the reference is vague), and we're reminded that the Warren office is so threadbare that there's no one to check for typos anymore ("See where door goes!"). "Home is Where.." is, at least, better than the awful fare we've been ladled the last handful of issues but, stacked up against "the early days," this is poor indeed.

When caretaker Silas Croft runs four young boys out of his cemetery, they cry "'No Fair!'" and vow to get even. Following Silas into a crypt late one night, the boys discover that the old man is doing a vampire's bidding. After consulting their teacher, they decide that the best action is to take out Silas and kill the bloodsucker so, armed with a wooden stake and kerosene, they invade the crypt that night. Silas proves to be an easy target and the boys take him out with a shovel to the noggin. The vampire wakes up and is given a stake to the heart. The boys set fire to the crypt and watch their handiwork from the safety of the cemetery while they munch on a recently-inhumed corpse.

"'No Fair!'"
Yep, the four juveniles are ghouls! Wah-wah! Never saw that one coming, did you? Through most of the running time of "'No Fair!'" I was thinking this is a decent script, as if Bradbury had traded notes with HPL, but that EC-inspired cop-out is just too dumb. Who cares, though? Ignore the tiny text and soak in Tom Sutton's other-worldly visuals. I've probably said this a time or three already throughout the years but, outside of Alfredo Alcala, no one could push my buzzer more frequently and more effectively than Sutton. I swear, before the century ends, I'll talk Jack into doing a blog devoted to Sutton's Charlton work. Just check out that splash! It screams dread.

"'No Fair!'"
The men of a moon expedition are stranded and there's only enough oxygen to last for a couple days. But that's not the worst of it... there's some kind of beast stalking and killing the men one by one. Turns out one of the crew brushed up against some wolfsbane and became a lycanthrope! Oh boy, does Bill Parente need to atone for this hunk of junk. Why in the world would Parente treat the werewolf as some kind of mystery? Better to introduce the menace early and whip up another twist at the climax. "Strange Expedition" has the added disadvantage of being the most dialogue-stuffed story we've seen so far; some of the the action is squeezed almost completely off-panel a la the old days of EC. Might not be so bad if the dialogue wasn't so banal and amateurish; in the final panel, the werewolf explains to his final victim that "Something no one thought of, up here on the moon--a werewolf only strikes when there's a full Earth!" as if monsters are something NASA might have contingency plans for!! Future Marvel and DC mainstay Ernie Colon only adds to the cartoonish atmosphere.

"Strange Expedition"
Arthur Henderson is looking for the "Perfect Match," so he goes to one of those new-fangled computer dating services, unaware that its proprietor, Miss Barnes, is a charlatan attempting to bilk Henderson out of his fortune. Once a few "matches" don't work, Barnes will lower the boom and reveal that she's the perfect match for our hapless bachelor! Unfortunately, for the would-be con-woman, Henderson scores with the first match, the lovely Gayle, and Barnes is horrified when the couple come to her office to thank her and announce their upcoming nuptials. In a rage, Miss Barnes explains that Henderson should have read the fine print; in event of a marriage, she is to be paid ten thousand dollars. A bit miffed, Henderson reveals that both he and Gayle are vampires and they attack the lecherous gold-digger.

"Strange Expedition"
Yep, you're right, that does sound even worse than "Strange Expedition." That's some computer, able to match up blood suckers and, what a coincidence to find a female vampire that quick! Couldn't Henderson have just flown around at night and hoped Gayle was on the prowl at the same time? Like Ernie Colon, Sal Trapani would go on to become something of a "name" at Marvel but, also like Colon at this time in his career, Trapani's art could never be construed as... um, art. It's simply there to fill the pages, lacking any style or interesting angles like we've found in (I can't believe I'm typing this) Jerry Grandenetti's recent work. The stuff Jim Warren is popping in his illustrated magazines to fill space is just that... filler. -Peter

"Perfect Match"

Jack-Peter, I couldn't disagree more. This issue is as good as almost any issue from the Archie Goodwin era. Pat Boyette's art helps make "Home is Where.." bearable, despite the goofy story that just ends without a climax. Boyette always makes me think of Charlton, so that blog you suggest may someday come to pass. "Monster Rally!" may be a reprint, but it was my favorite overall story from 1964 to 1967, so I'm happy to see it again. "'No Fair!'" is a classic with an ending I did not expect. Script and art get four stars and the trope of kids in a graveyard would launch countless DC Horror comic covers.

I liked Ernie Colon's art on "Strange Expedition" and thought the story was intriguing; the dumb ending reminded me of something they'd do at EC. "The Judge's House" is another reprint, with a dull story but gorgeous Crandall art. Finally, "Perfect Match" shows how little things have changed in the last 50 years, with a scam computer dating service. The art is clunky but the narrative kept my interest till the end, where we (yet again) learn that the characters were vampires. How many times will we be subjected to this twist? The cover is a beaut, and this issue is well worth 40 cents.

Eerie #17 (September 1968)

"The Final Solution"
Story by Raymond Marais
Art by Bill Fraccio & Tony Tallarico

"The Mummy Stalks!"
(Reprinted from Eerie #5)

"To Save Face"★1/2
Story by Bill Parente
Art by Ernie Colon

"Dressed to Kill"
Story by Bill Parente
Art by Tom Sutton

"Demon Sword!"
(Reprinted from Eerie #8)

"The Death of Halpin Frayser"1/2
Story by Ambrose Bierce
Adapted by Craig Tennis
Art by Frank Bolle
(Reprinted from Christopher Lee's Treasury of Terror)

"The Final Solution"
Korgen of Broon City uses futuristic weapons to rid the world of vampires and other dark creatures. The forces of darkness hire Vaido to kill Korgen, but Korgen offers Vaido amnesty to lead him to the lair of the evil creatures. Vaido accepts the deal and takes Korgen to the hideaway of the monsters, but just then the bad guys set off every nuclear reactor in the world and usher in a dark age of chaos. They tricked Korgen into being busy looking for them while they carried out their mission of sabotage and now they'll drink his blood!

Another nice cover by Tom Sutton got my hopes up, but they were immediately dashed by "The Final Solution," a terrible story with a tasteless title. We are thrust into a futuristic world with no explanation of where or when; all we know is that the art is poor and the writing worse. Once again, vampires are overused.

It's a little soon to reprint "The Mummy Stalks!," which ran just two years before in Eerie, but here it is, with a mediocre story, a dumb ending, and gorgeous Reed Crandall art.

The Fan Fare page features a bio of Tom Sutton and a short text piece by Peter's favorite Marvel writer, Bill Mantlo.

A Colan-esque page
from "To Save Face"
Movie star Sylvia Morehead's beauty is starting to fade, so she visits Dr. Reiner, buys some of his experimental youth-restoring serum in an attempt "To Save Face," and soon her beauty and fame have returned. Sylvia keeps getting refills from the doc, who warns her about the consequences of an overdose. When he tells her he can give her no more, she kills him and takes the serum, setting fire to his home. Too bad the serum was made from tropical snake extract and Sylvia's skin suddenly sheds at a big awards show!

Like his work on "Strange Expedition" in last month's Creepy, new addition Ernie Colon entertains us with an art style that is clean and crisp, mixing a hint of Alex Toth's draftsmanship with Gene Colan's page design. The story is nothing new but the twist ending is fun.

Archaeologist Kurt Sheffler is thrilled when he discovers the lost burial chamber of Khamuas, a magician from Ancient Egypt, but when he ignores a curse and removes the statute's gem eyes, the statute falls on his partner Quinn, killing him. Kurt thinks the curse is nonsense, but his other partner, Diana, is troubled by it. Back home in the states, Kurt is awakened one night by a telephone call that summons him to the morgue, where Diana lies dead. It seems she had been found in a museum's Egyptian Room, practically torn to bits.

Kurt has a nightmare (not his first!) and decides he needs to recover and replace those gem eyes. He tracks down Dexter, the rich old man who purchased them, but Kurt's request to buy them back is rebuffed. Kurt returns that night and murders Dexter in order to get the gems and hopefully stop his nightmares. The doorbell rings and he is shocked to see three monsters approaching! He is so shocked, in fact, that he falls off the balcony of the high rise apartment to his death. The kids in the monster masks wonder why Kurt was so afraid of Halloween trick-or-treaters!

"Dressed to Kill"
Tom Sutton does it again! The script plows familiar ground but the art elevates it to something special. This is the second issue in a row where kids have played a role in a story drawn by Sutton, and I wonder once again if this influenced Joe Orlando over at DC to commission so many covers for the horror comics featuring kids. The end is a little dicey--all I can figure is that Kurt went home after killing Dexter, since Dexter lived in a house at ground level, not in a high-rise apartment. Also, it seems awfully light out for 11 p.m. on Halloween night. Never mind--"Dressed to Kill" is another sign of good things to come!

Editor Bill Parente pushes the reprint envelope by running "Demon Sword!" again, just a year and a half since it first appeared; happily, it's a classic, one of the best Ditko stories Warren published.

Lost in the woods while hunting, Halpin Frayser awakens and speaks the name Catherine Larue, a woman he knows not. Returning to sleep, he dreams that he takes an evil road, finds a pool of blood, and writes a poem with the red liquid, though he is not a poet in his waking life. He sees the image of his mother in the woods, the poem unfinished.
I guess "The Death of Halpin Frayser"
is kind of eerie, if you insist!

In his youth he had loved Katy, who showed him a book of poems by his ancestor, Myron Bayne. Halpin had to travel to California, where he was shanghaied and made to spend six years at sea. After being freed in a shipwreck, he went to St. Helena to hunt and await news from home. In the woods, he had the dream and then was strangled by the image of his mother. Two men passing through the woods find Frayser's corpse and read the poem he wrote in blood; nearby, they find the gravestone of Catherine Larue, and I really have no idea what it all means!

"The Death of Halpin Frayser" is yet another reprint from the Treasury of Terror book, making me wonder how many more of these we'll have to read. Frank Bolle's art is not bad, and I love Ambrose Bierce's short stories, but this one is so hard to follow that I can only assume it was considerably abridged from the original. Can anyone explain to me what happened at the end?-Jack

Peter-The premise for "The Final Solution" is good clean pulpy fun but the delivery is clumsy, the climax makes no sense (history's stupidest vampires destroy the human race and then wonder what they'll have to feed on?), and the art is abysmal. Let's have a bit of fun while we're in the "Dark Age" and keep track of how many times "Williamsune" uses that same ugly head on the right of the panel reproduced up above. This is Marais's second and final script for Warren; he's heading off to do work for DC's war titles. "To Save Face" is another Parente lift (pun intended), this time from August Derleth's "A Wig for Miss Devore" (filmed in '62 for Boris Karloff's Thriller), and it gets the art it deserves. Neither the cover nor the interior art for "Dressed to Kill" (a really dumb title) could be short-listed for a Best of Tom Sutton, but then giant statues and lots of talking faces are not his strong suit, are they. Poor Diana, "practically torn to bits" but looking pretty good on her morgue slab! "Halpin Frayser" is yet another of the boring adaptations leased by Warren from Pyramid, featuring milquetoast art suitable for the 1960s' funny pages.

On the letters page, future comic book... script seller... Tony Isabella congratulates the editor and publisher of Creepy and Eerie for returning to all-new material. Um...  And on the brand-new Eerie Fan Fare page, we get dollops of talent from future superstar Michael Whelan.

Creepy #23 (October 1968)

"Way Out!" 
Story by James Hagenmiller
Art by Norman Nodel

(Reprinted from Creepy #6)

"Jack Knifed" ★1/2
Story by Bill Parente
Art by Barry Rockwell

"Quick Change!" 
Story by Bill Parente
Art by Tom Sutton

"Rude Awakening"
(Reprinted from Creepy #7)

Story by Bill Parente
Art by Bill Fraccio & Tony Tallarico

"Way Out!"
Frustrated artist Benny can't find his muse for a project he's working on, a painting depicting the very embodiment of evil, so he buys a load of LSD and takes a trip. His fun-filled drug vacation lands him in Hell, where he finds the perfect model. "Way Out!" is a perfect example of what fresh-out-of-college comic book writers thought the public was interested in (and perhaps they were right, but...): societal problems, hippies doing drugs (trippin' out, man), and problems with the Man. It worked for Peter Fonda and (at times) Neal Adams but it sure doesn't work here, thanks to a ludicrous script by Hagenmiller (who will write only six stories for Warren, none of them classics) that seems only to throw Satan in at the last second to justify publication in a Warren zine. Nodel's typically awful art exists only to illustrate exactly what action Hagenmiller is conveying in his captions. I've moaned about the proofreading in these comics before but I think this particular strip grabs First Prize.

"Jack Knifed"
Biology teacher Arthur Tuttle begins to think his preoccupation with young girls and those pesky blackouts may add up to a second personality. And that alter ego may be... Jack the Ripper! In the (utterly predictable) end, though, it turns out that "Jack" is Arthur's over-protective sister, Agnes. "Jack Knifed" is yet another contrived tale from editor/chief scribe Parente, who seems to be mining just about every riff EC ever published. Barry Rockwell had a very distinguished style, one that almost takes your mind off yet another bad day at the proofreader's (please, someone tell me what a "prologe" is), and it's a shame that the artist only stuck around long enough to draw two stories for Warren.

"Quick Change!"
Dr. Hans Stowasser has a secret... he's the werewolf that's been terrorizing his little mountain village. When the townsfolk have had enough of the marauding lycanthrope, they visit old witch Trinka for a solution. The sorceress gifts her neighbors with a voodoo doll and instructions to stab the little critter with a silver pin during the next full moon. The doc knows he must do something fast, so he begins injecting silver nitrate into his own veins to develop an immunity to silver. Comes the next full moon and Stowasser is confident that the villagers can do their worst and he'll survive, but the doc is not as smart as he thinks he is. An unnecessarily complicated climax sinks "Quick Change!," but at least we've got Tom Sutton's stellar art to keep us afloat.

A dismal issue comes to an end with the fatuous "Cat-Nipped," a hunk of detritus similar to Parente's previous script. This one sees big-game hunter John Vautrin heading to Africa to hunt the fabled "white panther." Once there, his guide is killed by the beast and Vautrin swears vengeance. Slashing through the woods, Vautrin comes across the skulls of previous hunters and is captured by a tribe ruled by a beautiful white goddess. The woman transforms into the "white panther" before John's very eyes and forecasts his painful death. Vautrin escapes the village but the goddess stalks and corners him, closing in for the kill. The hunter draws bow and fires, explaining to the dying were-panther that he used silver from the teeth of the goddess's victims to fashion a killing arrow. Tony Williamsune is actually the partnership of penciller Tony Tallarico and inker Bill Fraccio, and we'll be seeing quite a bit of the pair for the next few years. The visuals are bad, barely legible, and remind me very much of the chicken scratchings of Jack Sparling or Jerry Grandenetti on a bad day. I don't think I'll ever warm up to Williamsune/Tallarico/Fraccio like I have to Jerry G, but who knows. Stranger things have happened.

In the end, the best thing about this issue is the cover. Sure, it doesn't make much sense architecturally, but Sutton's nightmarish vibe leaks right off the page. There's a contribution from future Warren star Frank Brunner on the "Creepy Fan Club!" page. -Peter

Jack-I gave exactly the same ratings to each story that you did, Peter, though I gave "Cat-Nipped" an extra star for some reason. "Way Out!" should never have seen the light of day and even the first reprint, "Gargoyle," is only so-so. Rockwell's art on "Jack Knifed" reminds me a bit of Robert Crumb's, especially in the shading, but it wore on me by the end of the story. "Quick Change!" is the issue's highlight, though the story is weak and I did not like Sutton's art as much as I did in the other stories we read by him for this post. That cover is great, though--the best in quite a while. "Cat-Nipped" is yet another dumb werewolf tale with yet another silly twist on silver.

Next Week...