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...

1 comment:

Quiddity said...

Warren's dark age continues! "Home is Where" reminds me of the EC story "When the Cat's Away" where 2 con artists get tricked into going into the Crypt Keeper's lair while he's away on vacation, where they find a variety of tunnels filled with different types of monsters and they leave his home completely insane at the end. Farewell to Johnny Craig with "Evil Spirits", his final Warren story and surely an inventory story they held onto for a little while.

Ernie Colon makes his Warren debut; while not as good as Tom Sutton he is one of the better artists of Warren's dark ages for me. He's got quite a cartoony style at times, but tends to do a good job at really weird, surrealistic type stuff.

Eerie #17 is an extreme rarity for me, one of the very few Warren horror magazines I don't own a copy of, or have even read for that matter. I think Creepy #29 is the only other one I've yet to read. Apparently there was a distribution change or something like that for this issue, which made it extremely rare and it is quite expensive on the second hand market. I never felt like going out and buying a Dark Horse reprint volume just to get the few new stories in this issue. Good to finally know what I'm missing from this issue.