Monday, November 4, 2019

The Warren Report Issue 20: September-November 1969

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

Vampirella #1 (September 1969)

"Vampirella of Draculon" ★1/2
Story by Forrest J. Ackerman
Art by Tom Sutton

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

"Two Silver Bullets!" 
Story by Don Glut
Art by Reed Crandall

"Goddess from the Sea" 
Story by Don Glut
Art by Neal Adams

"Last Act: October!" 
Story by Don Glut
Art by Mike Royer

"Spaced-Out Girls!" 
Story by Don Glut
Art by Tony Tallarico

"A Room Full of Changes" ★1/2
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by Ernie Colon

On the planet Draculon, blood flows like water, so it's only natural that its inhabitants would be vampires. Now, due to a catastrophe caused by Draculon's twin suns, the blood has dried up on the planet and its citizens are in a panic. One of its prettier inhabitants is gorgeous Vampirella, a winged babe who just loves to fly around with nothing on but a smile. When a spaceship from (ostensibly) Earth crash-lands on Draculon, Vampirella discovers that the rich "H2O" that helps her survive flows through the astronaut's veins. Could this mean salvation for Draculon?

It's hard to take this as much more than it is, which is soft-soft-core tit-illation (see, I can do that just as well as Forry) aimed at pre- and young teens who can't get up the nerve to steal the Playboy from their dads' nightstands. "Vampirella of Draculon" is stuffed full of the same kind of puns and one-liners ("Smorgasblood!") Forrest J. Ackerman would use in the pages of Famous Monsters. If you don't stop to think about how inane the concept is, you might just enjoy the ride. Tom Sutton could certainly pencil a fabulous behind when he wanted to but there's not much else in the layouts to look at. If nothing else, "Draculon" is interesting in a Monday-Morning-Quarterback way, in that the whole vibe of Vampirella would completely change after a few issues, from the cornball puns to a more serious tone. For the better? We'll see. Vampi's costume, by the way, was designed by future comics artist Trina Robbins but only makes an appearance on the cover (it'll make its feature-length debut next issue). The vampish vampiress skits about in leggings and a halter when she wears anything at all. Her initial costume actually resembles what Gene Colan will whip up for Marvel's Lilith, Daughter of Dracula, a few years later.

"Death Boat!"
The sinking of a luxury liner leaves a handful of survivors left to drift in the middle of the ocean. As if the blazing sun and circling sharks weren't bad enough, it turns out there's a vampire on board the "Death Boat!" One by one, the castaways turn on each other until only one (gorgeous, bikini-clad) woman is left standing. Knowing she's not the vampire, the girl suddenly comes to the realization that it is the lifeboat itself that is the bloodsucker. Billy Graham's captivating art almost carries this one all the way through, but Don Glut's frankly silly climax sinks (Ulp! There goes Forry again!) the tale. As the sexy Angela ponders the man she's just stabbed to death to avoid exsanguination, doubt suddenly clouds her mind and the idea pops in her head that vampires were shape-shifters. The boat becomes a giant bat. Don Glut was a jack-of-all-trades (still is, as a matter of fact) in the 1960s and 1970s, spitting out scripts for Warren and Gold Key (the fan favorite Occult Files of Doctor Spektor), directing low-budget horror films, authoring the New Adventures of Frankenstein novels, as well as a handful of non-fiction tomes. Glut's The Frankenstein Legend (Scarecrow, 1973), an exhaustive survey of the Monster in films, TV, comics, and fiction, is one of the most enjoyable genre books ever written.

"Two Silver Bullets!"
Maria lives in a cabin deep in the Canadian wilderness with her father. One day, the gorgeous gal is attacked by a wolf and her father plants two rifle bullets squarely between its eyes. Miraculously, the creature runs off and Maria's father takes her back to their cabin to dress her wounds. Pop puts two and two together very quickly and is convinced his Maria has been bitten by a werewolf, so he sees a local Padre, who hands him "Two Silver Bullets!" and bids the man do God's work. That night, Maria sheds her nightgown and heads out into the snow to find her lupine lover. Papa comes upon the two wolves in the forest and fills them full of silver. A very simple tale with not much of a surprise (especially since the reveal is given away in the title), "Two Silver Bullets!" is recommended only for Reed Crandall's nice artwork. Some of these images almost look lifted whole from Crandall's EC days (the panel reprinted here sure looks like something from Shock SuspenStories, doesn't it?) and the weird "Maria and Pop living alone together out in the wilderness--wink wink" angle doubles that vibe.

"Goddess from the Sea"
One day at his beach house, Jim Judson has a visit from Lalora, a scantily-clad "Goddess from the Sea," informing him that she has escaped from Atlantis and is being followed by several nasty Atlanteans. Determined to save this delectable piece of womanhood from claws other than his own, Jim fights the seven scourges of Atlantis but watches helplessly as Lalora is dragged screaming into the sea. Jim follows, swimming down, down... only to discover that Lalora has lured him to his doom. Anything Neal Adams draws is infinitely better-looking than just about anything surrounding it but, heaven knows, Neal would get some turkey scripts now and then. Glut's juvenile prose (three of the Atlantean brutes are named Namlooc, Namelttil, and Namgib-- how clever!), chauvinist fantasy (Jim shows Lalora who's boss by planting one on her mere moments after meeting her), and cliched climax would make for impossible reading were it not for the talents of Mr. Adams. I like the fact that Adams leaves the art with a raw, almost unfinished look to it.

"Last Act: October!"
Meg Clayton is burned at the stake as a witch but, as her skin sears, she curses her executioner, Squire Pilkington, and his descendants to horrible deaths in October. Centuries later, the (ostensibly) last of the Pilkingtons, matronly Hortense, arrives at her babysitting gig on Halloween night. Since all of her relatives have died, as per the curse, in October, Hortense is hoping to see November 1st this year. Her employers startle her as they open the door, dressed in their Halloween party costumes, but she soon calms down and reads little Teddy a bedtime story. The precocious tot finally says his prayers and is out like a light but noises around the house have Hortense... tense. A little while later, Hortense checks in on the tyke and finds him restless, complaining of a terrible nightmare. Hortense leans in for a kiss goodnight and Teddy bares his fangs and his true identity. He's a vampire! "Last Act: October!" is a really dumb horror story that seems to have been whipped up in mere moments. There's no real flow between the events; who are Teddy's parents and why is Hortense so damn calm? Every one of her relatives has died a violent death in October (the time frame for these deaths is hazy--how many years have elapsed since Meg's burning?) and yet here she is, having a walkabout on October 31st! I'd be at the nearest police precinct in a padded cell. Mike Royer's art is very comic booky but, to his credit, he does find a way to subtly include that one scantily-clad-female panel required for each Vampirella story.

("Spaced-Out Girls!")
Things only get worse with Glut's fifth and final wet dream of the issue, "Spaced-Out Girls!," about a dopey "lady-killer" who stumbles onto a flying saucer populated by Playboy bunnies. They've come to Earth in search of a stud to take back to mate with their queen and re-populate their barren planet. With dreams of Raquel Welch running through his head,  this ninny volunteers to take the trip but, upon arrival, discovers the pin-up girls are robots and the queen is your typical Tony Tallarico monster. Somewhere in all my reading, I swear I read that Jim Warren wanted to create a title that would attract followers of the Women's Lib movement that had taken the country by storm and so Vampirella was born. Either I'm imagining things or Jim was winking and aiming at the lowest common denominator: the twelve year-old who hides girly mags under his mattress. Don Glut's low-budget films have always had that sleazy exploitation feel to them and his Warren scripts are just as icky.

"A Room Full of Changes"
The finale, "A Room Full of Changes," is an incomprehensible mish-mash that seems to have lost a page or two on the way to the printer. Writer Edward Blaine has just purchased the old Keil house, where once a vicious murder occurred. Blaine discovers that the crime has perverted the room where the murder took place; its four walls feed off its occupants' desires and, we find later, punish the guilty. Ernie Colon's art is not bad but Nick Cuti's pacing is erratic and (as noted) seems to be missing a few pieces here and there. We jump from event to event without proper explanation and the final panels resemble one of those Corman-Poe flicks where the castle burns down and the protagonists stand outside holding each other, knowing everything will be all right. The typos are horrendous (Blaine tells us in the opening panel: "I brought house lost in the country..." huh?) and Cuti falls into the same game Glut was playing, with his main character cuddling up to a perfect stranger minutes after meeting her. Still, this mess is preferable to the two gawdawful tales that preceded it. Not a stellar line-up for a premiere issue but then we're still mired in the Dark Age and, at least, we don't have to worry about reprints. This title will get much better in the future. I hope-Peter

Jack-Never having read an issue of Vampirella before today, I didn't know what to expect. Was the title character in every story? What the heck was she all about? After reading this mag, I kind of get it. "Vampirella of Draculon" is Ackerman corn with Good Girl Art by Sutton, not so much a story as a character introduction. Vampi then serves as the Uncle Creepy or Cousin Eerie for the rest of the issue, introducing each story and wrapping them up. Each artist draws her differently, including her costume, and the stories range from pretty good ("Two Silver Bullets!") to pretty bad ("Last Act: October!"), mainly depending on the artist. Neal Adams once again can't be bothered to ink his pencils, but when you have a new story by one of the all-time greats, who cares? Crandall's tale wins best in issue and I'm happy, for once, to read a Warren mag devoid of reprints.  I'm sure that Frazetta cover didn't hurt sales any!

Eerie #24 (November 1969)

"Head for the Lighthouse!"★1/2
Story by Bill Parente
Art by Mike Royer

"Pursuit of the Vampire!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #1)

"The Immortality Seeker"★1/2
Story by James Haggenmiller
Art by Tom Sutton

Story by Ron Parker
Art by Bill Fraccio and Tony Tallarico

"Scavenger Hunt"
Story by Don Glut
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Dracula's Guest"
(Reprinted from Eerie #16)

"Wrong Tennant"★1/2
Story by Bill Parente
Art by Reed Crandall

"Head for the Lighthouse!"
Old Ely Hatcher has manned the lighthouse for 28 years and enjoys regaling the local boys with tales of pirates and buried treasure. Folks in town want to replace the old lamp with a new model, meaning Ely will need to take a break for the first time in decades. He agrees with a lack of enthusiasm but the kids protest the idea. Ely then disappears and strange accidents plague the attempts to replace the beacon. Two men from the town committee decide to spend the night up in the top of the lighthouse to look out for trouble, since there's no light, and the shambling corpse of Ely decides to "Head for the Lighthouse!" The boys climb up and find one of the men has gone insane and the other is dead, his eyeless corpse serving as a beacon, providing light from the empty sockets.

It is a real challenge to try to summarize a Bill Parente script, and this one is no exception. The events jump around with no clear flow to the action and it takes effort to figure out what's going on. As in prior issues, the twist ending makes little sense. Mike Royer's art is serviceable but that's all.

Tom "Wally Wood" Sutton
("The Immortality Seeker")
Who is the lone space pilot who travels to a far-off world and zaps the first monster he sees? Why, he's "The Immortality Seeker!" Convinced that the secret to immortality lies somewhere in space, he kills a man and cobbles together a second-hand spaceship to blast off to Pluto and the moon! No, actually it's a distant planet, where he finds a super computer that grants him what he desires--just not in the way he expected.

For the most part, when the Warren mags try to tackle science fiction, it's a mess. This story is no exception. Tom Sutton draws a fairly cool giant spider/crab of a monster but gets nowhere in his attempt to copy Wally Wood's space stylings, especially in a panel on page five where the spaceman's face is half out of the picture. Haggenmiller is a better writer than Parente in that he can tell a coherent story, but the space jargon ("he inserted an ammo-cylinder into his nucleo-pistol") would've elicited groans from a reader of sci-fi pulps in the 1930s.

Fraccio and Tallarico give Satan a really bad complexion.
One rainy night, Jerry Richardson visits the decaying mansion (or "manshion") of his friend Edward Vanton, where Vanton invites him to a game of chess with the "legendary" Devil's Chessmen. The pieces are ghouls, vampires, and so on, with the king being Satan. Ed announces "Checkmate" and tells Jerry that the loser is claimed by Satan. Next thing you know, Jerry finds himself on the chessboard, being menaced by the monster pieces!

Expectations are at rock bottom at this point, so this story does not seem as bad as it would if it were surrounded by others of quality. It's basically an excuse to let our favorite art duo draw ghouls, zombies, etc., and the end is no great shock.

A groovy party is in full swing until it's crashed by Peter Enfantino Borgo, a monster fanatic who likes to pop fake fangs in his mouth and show off his collection of monster memorabilia. The guests have a great idea for Borgo, who offers to recite some dialogue from the Conan books. Instead, the guests propose a "Scavenger Hunt" and give Borgo a list of things to find, such as a ghoul's fingernail. He gamely heads off into the night and the guests laugh after he's gone. An hour before dawn Borgo returns, having found everything on the list, but he's accompanied by the monsters, who want it all back!

"Scavenger Hunt"
Don Glut and Jerry Grandenetti have a bit of fun with the monster kids reading Eerie and throw in various references to things their readers love (or Warren sells), such as horror story collections or Conan books. Grandenetti's art is as usual, though the guests at the swinging party seem a tad long in the tooth. All in all, it's mediocre fun and certainly not the low point of this issue.

Finnius Wiggers and his assistant, Dr. Eric Gordon, are ghost hunters who have rid unfortunate homes of over fifty ghosts. They visit the old Van Weeper house, where Lady Van Weeper lives, and find that it has a specter that haunts her for no apparent reason. The ghost hunters set up shop until, one night, Dr. Gordon is frightened to death. Finnius soldiers on and confronts the ghost, killing it with a jolt of electricity that also leaves him numb. He then discovers why the house was haunted: Lady Van Weeper is a vampire, the ghost was one of her victims who sought revenge, and she now plans to feast on Finnius!

"Wrong Tennant" (sic)
Kudos to Bill Parente for telling a reasonably lucid tale from start to finish, though the twist ending, in which a character is revealed to be a vampire, has been used approximately one zillion times already in the Warren mags. The real star here is Reed Crandall, whose art is stunning. It's too bad Crandall came to such a sad end, since he was a great comic artist and could've contributed wonderful work to one of the bigger companies. Did I mention that Parente misspells a word in the story's title and then again in a word balloon? I can't explain it.-Jack

Peter-"Lighthouse" is just straight-up stupid, with no motivating factor behind Ely’s vengeful resurrection. These guys didn’t shoot Ely’s dog or rape his woman; they simply realized that technology made for a more effective and safer lighthouse. More and more, I know exactly what I’m going to run into by reading a Parente script. "Immortality" isn’t perfect but it is the best thing I’ve read in a Warren funny book in months. Tom Sutton is given that room to breathe I keep harping on and James Haggenmiller delivers a nicely ironic punch at tale’s end. Tallarico delivers the world’s least frightening chess pieces in "Checkmate" (that vampire bat looks suspiciously like an owl!), a story with a climax so confusing you’ll doubt your own sanity! "Scavenger Hunt" won’t show up on any "Best of the Year" lists but it’s easily the most enjoyable of the several Glut stories we’ve read this week. The author peppers the tale with tons of genre references and I’m a sucker for that kind of wink-wink. "Dracula’s Guest" is another yawner from the Pyramid collection, a paperback I wisely avoided as a youth. Imagine Reed Crandall, hoping for a script just a fraction as good as the foundations he received back in the EC days, sent the latest Bill Parente claptrap and shuffling, crestfallen, back to his drawing board. Reed, to his credit, still pumped out better-than-average graphics.

Bill Hughes
Creepy #30 (November 1969)

"The Mind of the Monster"  ★1/2
Story by R. Michael Rosen
Art by Ernie Colon

"Drop In!" ★1/2
Story by Don Glut
Art by Tom Sutton

"The Haunted Sky"
(Reprinted from Creepy #17)

"The River"
(Reprinted from Creepy #15)

"To Be or Not To Be a Witch" 
Story by Bill Parente
Art by Carlos Prunes

"Piece by Piece"
(Reprinted from Creepy #14)

"Dr. Jekyll's Jest" 
Story by R. Michael Rosen
Art by Mike Royer

"The Mind of the Monster"
Professor Timmons is tasked with finding a way to destroy the giant monster on Mars that keeps wiping out our astronauts. After spending weeks in his laboratory, Timmons hits on a solution: he creates a three-headed monster out of dead bodies and household appliances, sure to defeat the creature on Mars. Things don't go as planned, though, when he rolls his new invention out before Army brass and Timmons discovers what devious schemes are lurking within "The Mind of the Monster."

Harmless but enormously dumb on several levels. For one, if you send six crews of men to Mars and every one of them is wiped out, don't go to Mars! Two, how does Timmons's huge tri-domed hulk resemble anything the scientist dug up from the local cemetery (and that's a hoot as well--the professor who's given the most important assignment in America has to do his own grave-digging!)? Timmons in no way looks like your average sci-fi scientist, unless that egghead is Ed Asner. I do like Colon's creature design, despite its improbability factor, but his human characters always have some kind of acromegaly in their facial features. Timmons almost seems to have a weird smile on his face, as though he's enjoying the futility of the situation.

"As the mystics and statistics say it will!"
Los Angeles will slide into the sea, everybody knows, but psychic/author Paulivius Dittmeyer (think Uncle Creepy in a three-piece) has written a book predicting the very hour that the city of debauchery will make its descent. The hour arrives and the city is pert near barren but the few remaining spectators watch as the streets crack open and... Satan emerges! Random? Yes, but so is everything else about this script. A rock 'n' roll band is introduced at the onset and then just disappears. The paranoia seems to grow out of nowhere and then we're introduced to Dittmeyer who's, ostensibly, taken advantage of the situation to make money. Or has he? Does he have Satan's unlisted number? Did he really pick up psychic messages via "a peculiar smell of ectoplasm?" Or is it all just one big coincidence? Tom Sutton's supremely goofy art is the only reason to keep turning those pages.

Nathaniel Beck believes himself to be possessed by a demon, so he journeys to the home of a witch in order to be cured. Rebecca Sutter, rumored to be a witch, lives with her father in a remote cabin. When Nathaniel arrives and begs her for help, she and her father get to work. But, it turns out, 'Becca and her pop are charlatans, fooling the local populace for financial gain. They stretch Nathaniel on a rack and rob him of his gold but Beck prevails in the end when he reveals himself to be an actual demon!

"To Be or Not To Be a Witch"
Oh boy, "To Be or Not to Be a Witch" made my head hurt. I had to read it twice to make sense of the climax and that only made me mad at myself for wasting the effort. The reveal (Nathaniel is actually the devil going door-to-door to weed out actual witches) is head-scratching and just plain dumb. The devil comes off as such a weakling and dunderhead in these early Warren zines. Newcomer Carlos Prunes contributes a more-than-adequate job of penciling (though his demon is obviously ripped-off from Curse of the...), one of the first of the "Selecciones Illustradas" artists to contribute to Warren. This was Prunes's only American work but it definitely contains more than a hint of what was to come.

Tod is convinced that the genius, Dr. Sikh, is a brutal butcher who delights in administering pain so he goes to his best friend, Dr. Jekyll (nephew of the real deal), to help him get to the truth. Turns out Jekyll has perfected his uncle's formula and is Dr. Sikh. I hear you whispering, "So what?" Exactly. Uncle Creepy is kind enough to give away the big reveal of "Dr. Jekyll's Jest" in his opening monologue so there really is no reason to waste ten minutes with this tripe. In the time of awful issues, this is truly an awful issue.-Peter

Host Peter Enfantino was supposed to select a panel that perfectly
captured the feel of "Dr. Jekyll's Jest" but he fell asleep and the
bare*bones office custodian was kind enough to fill in

Jack-Thanks for clarifying the ending of "Dr. Jekyll's Jest," Peter. I really did not get it when I read it. That's become increasingly common as we slog through the Dark Age of Warren. "The Mind of the Monster" features a bad idea with confusing execution and the climax falls flat. It's R. Michael Rosen's first credit and he should've kept practicing. "Drop In!" has some unintentional humor with the groovy '60s band, but that's about it; Sutton's art is not up to his usual level. The art by Prunes in "To Be or Not To Be a Witch" is impressive and I wonder why he did not do any more work in the U.S. Parente's script is terrible, as usual--things just happen one after another with no reason.

Next Week...
So does a new team on The Losers
spell success?


Anonymous said...

Warren reprinted “Wrong Tennant” years later in one of those cost-saving “Super Summer Specials” (68 pages of reprints), CREEPY # 74, an All - Crandall Special. But curiously, “Wrong Tennant” is re-titled “The Beast On Bacon Street” and all the dialogue and captions are re- written by Budd Lewis. The tired “Nice Old Lady is actually a VAMPIRE!!!” ending is still there, but on the whole, the re-written version reads much better. It’s actually ... well ... kinda creepy.

In other news — I kinda dig those Vic Prezio covers. I know, he’s no Frazetta or Sanjulian, but still.


andydecker said...

I don't get it. Warren had two magazines on the stands he had to fill with reprints, so he did a third one?

I discovered Vampirella about issue 60 or so, when it was mostly Spanish artists. I was young and thought it edgy and sexy compared to prim and proper DC or Marvel. This was (or appeared to be) a true horror comic. I am still a fan of the art, but think a lot of the stories borderline unreadable today.

The early issues though are different. I guess 1969 this was kind of daring, but I can't imagine I would have been excited about the mostly dull stories and awful art. Maybe people bought it for covers. It is a testament of Archie Goodwin's skill that he managed to transfom this into a working concept.

Quiddity said...

Vampirella is here, and with it Warren finally starts to get out of its dark age (a start mind you, we still have some garbage to wade through first). I love the Frazetta cover, probably my favorite Vampi cover out of all of them. My recollection is that despite still trying to get himself financially back into a position where he didn't have to do multiple reprints every issue, Warren decided to swing for the fences with a new magazine and it was a rousing success; I think most would consider Vampirella the most well known aspect of the Warren publishing empire.

That said, as a character, Vampirella was never that interesting to me. The vast majority of her stories are wastes of time and it gets progressively worse and worse as we get towards the end of Warren's run and she comes off too much like a traditional superhero. There is tons of good artwork of her though; Jose Gonzalez and Gonzalo Mayo in particular do tons of gorgeous looking Vampirella stories, Enrich Torres does a ton of gorgeous cover paintings and we at least get occasional guest performances from artists like Jose Ortiz, Esteban Maroto, Zesar Lopez or Ramon Torrents trying their hand at a Vampi story. Sutton, the original artist I was just never much of a fan of for the character. He does an amazing job on stand alone horror/sci-fi stories but I just don't think Vampirella suits his style.

The big plus about Vampirella over the years is not so much her own stories, but rather the backup stories; by and large you tend to get the best artwork from Warren in this magazine. For whatever reason certain artists like Fernando Fernandez, Luis Garcia, Esteban Maroto, Ramon Torrents and others predominantly appear in her magazine rather than Creepy or Eerie. Some of the very best written stories also appear in her magazine including my top 2 Warren stories. When I was assembling my Warren collection it was largely Creepy and Eerie at first; I didn't pay much attention to Vampi until I had most of those issues already. I soon discovered I was missing a lot of great stuff!

Anyway, looking at this particular issue, its overall not that strong aside from the fact that its the first all new story issue from Warren in forever; Neal Adams' story is my favorite (although I always had a hard time telling what was going on in the final panel). Some good art from Crandall too. "Scavenger Hunt" would be the highlight of what we see in the Eerie/Creepy issues, and it was interesting to see the first Spanish artist do work for Warren, with Carlos Prunes. His work for Warren was before the deal with Warren and Josep Toutain for Selecciones Illustrada to do work for them, so it'll be another 10 or so issues before we start seeing a lot of the great Spanish artists arriving.

Anonymous: I fondly remember that all color redo of "Wrong Tenant"; that was one of the first Warren issues I ever owned. Around that time Budd Lewis did a lot of rewriting of older stories; in particular he went and redid almost the entire Dax the Warrior story in another all reprint issue.

Grant said...

I know the Warren magazines a little haphazardly, but I know that "all Dax" issue of Eerie well. It tried to make even more of an exact series out of the story by having that curse follow the character everywhere.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, everyone! I've been a bit under the weather but read and appreciate every comment.