Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Hitchcock Project-Harold Swanton Part Four: An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge [5.13]

by Jack Seabrook

On Sunday, December 20, 1959, CBS broadcast the Alfred Hitchcock Presents adaptation of Ambrose Bierce's famous short story, "An Occurrence at Own Creek Bridge." In the decades that followed, this short film has been eclipsed by a French adaptation that aired in 1964 on The Twilight Zone. This is unfortunate, because the version shown on Alfred Hitchcock Presents is outstanding and deserves more attention.

The short story, which was first published in the newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner, on July 13, 1890, begins as Peyton Farquhar stands upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, about to be hanged by Federal Army soldiers during the American Civil War. A slave owner devoted to the southern cause, he had been visited by a Federal spy and enticed into an attempt to burn down the Owl Creek Bridge, an important railroad structure that marked the furthest point of advance of Federal troops. A sergeant steps off the other end of the plank and Farquhar falls between two railroad ties, but suddenly the rope breaks and he plunges into the river below. Swimming for his life, the planter succeeds in avoiding rifle and cannon fire and reaches the bank further down the river. He spends a day making his way through a forest until, his tongue swollen with thirst, he approaches the gate of his home. Just as he is about to embrace his wife, he feels a blow upon his neck--and he hangs, dead, swinging "gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge."

Ronald Howard as Peyton Farquhar
Bierce opens with a detailed description of the scene of the impending hanging, providing enough details to make the situation clear to the reader. All is formal, from the "well-fitting frock coat" of the condemned man to the careful, step-by-step preparations of the soldiers. Even the ticking of Farquhar's watch sounds to him like "the stroke of a blacksmith's hammer." Just before he drops, he thinks of how he could escape by swimming in the stream, taking to the woods, and making his way home to his family.

Bierce then shifts gears and provides details of Farquhar's background and how he was tricked by a Federal scout masquerading as a Confederate soldier into planning to set the bridge on fire. The writer then returns to the execution, leaving out any description of what Farquhar actually did to land his neck in a noose. The physical sensation of being hanged is described, even to the man swinging "like a vast pendulum."

Juano Hernandez as Josh
Then, suddenly, he falls into the river and, miraculously, is able to free his hands from their bonds and escape, despite being shot at by rifle and cannon. Once again, details are exquisite: he hears gnats humming, dragon-flies' wings beating, and water-spiders swimming. He is a hero, at least in his own mind, able to make an almost invisible escape.

Thrown onto a river bank, he walks all day through a forest that "seemed interminable," finally locating a road by nightfall. In the course of his day's journey from bridge to river to forest, he never sees another human being. Near the end, his neck is in pain, his eyes are congested, his tongue is swollen, and he cannot "feel the roadway beneath his feet." Bierce is describing a man suffocating in a noose, even though Farquhar does not appreciate that fact. He arrives home "in the morning sunshine," approaches his wife, and "all is darkness and silence."

The last paragraph is a single sentence, brutal in its simplicity: "Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek Bridge." Bierce's brilliant description of the dream of a man in the moments before his death is both a mystery and an adventure story, packed with clues along the way that, when viewed in retrospect, signal the truth of the "occurrence."

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) was born in Ohio and began working at a newspaper at age 15. He enlisted in the Union Army at the start of the Civil War and, despite being injured in battle, served until 1865. By the 1880s, he had become a prominent journalist in San Francisco. He is remembered today for his many short stories, most of which were written between 1888 and 1891, and which often dealt with the Civil War or horror themes. He disappeared in Mexico in 1914. Many films, television programs, and radio shows have been adapted from his works, and "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" has been filmed several times; Kurt Vonnegut once called it the "greatest American short story."

Harold Swanton adapted Bierce's tale for the small screen, adding new elements that increase its haunting quality. The show begins with voiceover narration by Farquhar, who sets the date as 1862. We see a hat flowing down a creek with the current until it disappears among the timbers supporting a bridge. There is a cut to soldiers setting a plank in place; it juts out from the bridge and over the creek. Another soldier ties a rope into a hangman's noose. This scene is beautifully shot from slightly below, the camera looks up at the soldiers framed by the early morning sky. An officer deferentially addresses the prisoner as Mr. Farquhar and apologizes for the delay, suggesting that the prisoner's social station is higher than that of his executioners.

The screen dissolves to a flashback, twelve hours before, at Farquhar's palatial Southern mansion. Hattie, a doting, older, house slave serves him dinner by candlelight. He is alone and seems downcast; master and slave share their sorrow at being widowed. Of course, this scene (and others in the show) depict an idealized relationship between master and slave of the sort popularized in Gone with the Wind. Farquhar looks across the room at a harp and hears music in his head, recalling his late wife, whose portrait hangs over a side table.

A soldier rides up and Farquhar goes outside to draw water from a well and give him a drink. Farquhar mentions that his leg was injured at Shiloh (a bloody battle in Tennessee on April 6, 1862) and he thinks he's "'home for keeps.'" The soldier elicits information about the location of Confederate troops and plants the seed in Farquhar's mind about the strategic importance of Owl Creek Bridge when he comments that the Union Army is on its way to Vicksburg (a chronological error--this would not happen until the next year), warning Farquhar that anyone caught near the bridge will be "'hanged on the spot.'"

James Coburn as the spy
After the soldier leaves, Farquhar speaks with Hattie and confirms that an old, hidden trail still leads to that particular bridge. He then visits the tent of Jeff, a friend and officer in the Confederate Army, who angrily warns him against trying to burn down Owl Creek Bridge. Jeff's tirade ends when Farquhar reveals that his wife and baby died a week ago, setting him up as a man with nothing to lose. Jeff accuses him of having a death wish, and perhaps this is true.

After night has fallen, Farquhar approaches the bridge from the brush below but is caught and shot in the arm before he can set fire to the structure. In another possible chronological error, he holds a can of "Short's Solidified Greek Fire"; historically, Levi Short invented this device in 1863, updating a type of incendiary device that had been known since ancient times. We then return to the present and the extended flashback concludes with Farquhar once again on the verge of being hanged. In the short story, the flashback or memory sequence is much shorter and has significant differences from what Swanton puts in his teleplay. There is no slave, and Farquhar's wife is very much alive-- the couple are sitting on the porch together when the soldier arrives, and Mrs. Farquhar gives him a drink of water. In the TV show, Swanton creates sympathy for Farquhar by having him report that his wife recently died, presumably in childbirth, and adds the character of Hattie, who shares his sorrow and whose late husband will play an important role in the second half of the show. There is also no visit to the Confederate officer's tent in the short story; Swanton adds this to allow Farquhar to explain what happened to his wife and to suggest that he may have a death wish and provide a reason why.

Ruby Goodwin as Hattie
Up on Owl Creek Bridge, Farquhar sees the worn, frayed rope and hopes that it will break. He falls and the sky grows hazy; suddenly, we see him in the creek, removing the noose from around his neck and avoiding heavy gunfire from the bridge. Suspense is created by having the soldiers give chase and by cutting back and forth between them and Farquhar making his escape. Soon he is alone, and two short paragraphs in the story are replaced by a long, haunting sequence in Swanton's teleplay. Farquhar wanders through a forest and hears dogs barking ahead of him. Suddenly, he hears a man singing and comes upon Josh, Hattie's husband, whom we know to be dead from her comments earlier in the show.

Farquhar begs the slave to hide him from the soldiers and they walk off together, Josh singing the prison work song, "Po Lazarus" (later featured in the opening scene of the film, O Brother, Where Art Thou), as they follow an unfamiliar trail that Josh promises will "'get you home safe and sound.'" The home to which Josh refers, however, may not be the home Farquhar expects. At one point in their journey on foot, Josh walks off to speak to two Union Soldiers on horseback and Farquhar is suddenly set upon by the same spy who visited him at his home the day before; they wrestle and Farquhar appears to kill the spy with his bare hands. He walks off once again with Josh and they come upon more Union troops sitting around a campfire, yet Josh reassures Farquhar and they walk past the soldiers, who do not even notice. It is at this point that the viewer's sense that something is not right begins to get stronger and, in retrospect, it appears that the characters in the second half of the show are all ghosts: Josh, the Union soldiers, and perhaps even the man with whom Farquhar wrestles, since the plantation owner seems to have little trouble besting him in hand to hand combat, despite being exhausted from nearly being hanged and from being on the run all day.

Kenneth Tobey as Jeff
This dreamlike sequence in which Farquhar travels with Josh is hauntingly beautiful, and it is highlighted by the mournful singing of Juano Hernandez as Josh. As Josh nears the end of his song, singing about Lazarus going home to stay at last, Farquhar stops, exhausted, on the side of a hill. Josh keeps walking and singing and disappears over the crest of the hill. Farquhar climbs to the top and sees his home. His wife (whom we know is dead) emerges from the house and comes toward him; as he gazes lovingly at her, we suddenly see his neck snap in the noose, and the film flashes to negative and back to positive. We see him hanging from the bridge and we hear the sound of military drums and the creaking of the rope as his body gently swings back and forth. The Union officer gives the order to cut him down and the screen fades to black.

Harold Swanton's teleplay for "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" expands a short story and changes its focus brilliantly, turning it from a tale with a sudden, shocking ending into a mournful lament where the mind of a man about to die is filled with ghosts. In the first scene, he talks with Hattie about their respective, dead spouses and, when he is hanging from Owl Creek Bridge, he imagines that both of those beloved people have returned to life. In a way, the Alfred Hitchcock Presents version of Bierce's story is more hopeful than the original, since Farquhar in the story is yanked out of a brief reverie, while Farquhar in the TV show spends a long, leisurely time making his way home and encounters two loved ones who have died. One may even imagine that the happy scene continues even after we see his body swinging from the bridge, since in his mind he had already, albeit unknowingly, joined the ranks of the dead.

Douglas Kennedy
Great acting, a great script, and great direction highlight this episode. Small details help to deepen the story and the addition of the character of Josh adds to it immeasurably; Farquhar's journey with him is like a dream, as if an experienced ghost is guiding a newly-arrived ghost toward an acceptance of death. This idealized relationship between master and slave is appealing, whitewashing the reality of the Old South and replacing it with a comforting, familiar fantasy. Swanton solves the problem of a short story that is too brief to support a 25-minute film by adding new characters, some of whom turn out to be spirits.

Robert Stevenson (1905-1986), the director, worked in film from 1932 to 1976 and on TV from 1952 to 1982. Much of his output in the last decades of his career was for Disney, but he also directed seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Long Shot." For some reason, six of the episodes he directed were during the show's first season and he returned in the fifth season to direct just this one episode.

Brad Weston
Starring as Peyton Farquhar is Ronald Howard (1918-1996), son of British actor Leslie Howard (Gone with the Wind). Born in London, he was on screen from 1936 to 1975 and starred as Sherlock Holmes on a TV series that ran in the 1954-55 season. He was on Thriller three times and Alfred Hitchcock Presents twice.

Juano Hernandez (1896-1970) is a standout as Josh. Born in Puerto Rico, he was a circus performer, boxer, and actor on radio, in minstrel shows, and on Broadway. He was on screen from 1914 to 1970, at first in race films, made for a Black audience, and later in mainstream films and TV shows. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock series.

In smaller roles:
  • Kenneth Tobey (1917-2002) as Jeff, the Confederate officer who tries to dissuade Farquhar from his plan to destroy the bridge; Tobey served in the Air Force in WWII, acted on Broadway, and had a long screen career from 1945 to 2005. He starred in a TV series called Whirlybirds (1957-60) and appeared in the science fiction films, The Thing from Another World (1951), The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), and It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955). He was also on Night Gallery. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.
  • Douglas Kennedy (1915-1973) as the Union officer in charge of Farquhar's execution; he served in the Army in WWII and was on screen from 1952 to 1973. In addition to a role on The Outer Limits, he was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents three times, including "A Little Sleep."
  • James Coburn (1928-2002) as the Union spy who visits Farquhar at home; he was a major star whose screen career lasted from 1953 to 2002. He was in films such as The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), and Our Man Flint (1966), and he appeared on The Twilight Zone. He was in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "The Jokester." A website is devoted to him here.
  • Brad Weston (1928-1999) is the Union corporal who ties the noose; on screen from 1958 to 1977, he appeared on Star Trek and on three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Road Hog."
  • Ruby Goodwin (1903-1961) as Hattie, the house slave; she had a brief career on screen from 1955 to 1961 and did not appear in any other episodes of the Hitchcock series. She wrote at least two books: From My Kitchen Window (a 1942 book of poetry) and It's Good to Be Black (a 1953 autobiography).
Read "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" for free online here. Watch the TV show here or order the DVD here. Read the Genre Snaps take on this episode here.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Season 5, episode 13, CBS, 20 Dec. 1959.
Bierce, Ambrose. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” Ghost and Horror Stories of Ambrose Bierce.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Swain, Craig. “Greek Fire Shells at Charleston: Horrific Incendiary or ‘Humbug’?” To the Sound of the Guns, 16 Dec. 2013,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: Summer Shade, starring Julie Adams and James Franciscus!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma's podcast on "Back for Christmas" here!

Monday, July 27, 2020

Batman in the 1980s Issue 7: July 1980

The Dark Knight in the 1980s
by Jack Seabrook &
Peter Enfantino

Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
The Untold Legend of the Batman #1

"In the Beginning"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Byrne & Jim Aparo

Batman is calmly opening the last of his mail in the Batcave when he opens a very large parcel containing... the tattered remnants of his father's original Bat-Man suit! Yep, turns out that Dr. Wayne was at a costume party when a batch of mobster Lew Moxon's men broke in and kidnapped Wayne to bring him back to the boss's pad. Moxon had been shot and needed first aid but Wayne knew that, once he fixed up the goon, he'd be a goner. He took on the lot of them with nothing but loaded fists and the police, led by a young Lt. Jim Gordon, arrived to haul them away.

Moxon vowed to get even with Wayne and, years later, hired Joe Chill to off the Doc and his Mrs. in the famous alleyway, leaving young Bruce as an "alibi" that Moxon didn't commit the murder. Batman eventually caught up with Chill and the murderer was ventilated by his fellow thugs. Bruce Wayne assumes that's the closing of the Wayne Murder Case but... a year later, while he and Dick Grayson are doing some dusting in the attic, Bruce finds a film canister featuring home movies, including that of the party the night his father was kidnapped, in his Pop's desk. A diary found in the same drawer maps out exactly who the real villain was... Lew Moxon!

Putting two and two together like the great detective he is, Batman deduces that Chill was actually an assassin sent by Moxon to get even for Wayne's testimony. Batman makes a citizen's arrest of Moxon, whom he finds working at a "blimp advertising" business, but the thug passes a lie detector test, convincing the police that, for the first time, Batman is wrong. Turns out Moxon had a very bad accident "right after Wayne Sr. was murdered," and his brain was wiped clean of all wrongdoing. He can't remember ordering Doc Wayne's death! The Dark Knight decides to confront Moxon (yet again) to see if his memory will come back and Robin goads Batman into wearing his Dad's bat-costume. That does the trick; Moxon flies into a panic and steps in front of a speeding truck. The Wayne Murder Case is finally closed. Well, um, until Batman gets his father's suit in the mail. So, who sent it?

Peter: What a confusing, confounding bit of claptrap. This comic should have been called The Rebooted Legend of the Batman. Of course, we know that nothing is sacred and "the new talent" feels the need to make the character their own every twenty years or so, but this script doesn't just rewrite the Caped Crusader's history; it juggles it. It skews it. It dumbs it down. Why bother showing that classic scene of Batman receiving inspiration from a bat flying in the window when we know now that it was a party suit his Pa wore that really put the twinkle in his eye? But the most perplexing twist Len Wein perpetrates is having young Bruce dress in a proto-Robin costume in order to impress a local detective. I'm sure by now some later generation has made Moxon the pawn of an even higher muckety-muck in the mob.

Now, I'm the first to admit I have not read every Batman comic book from 1939 through 1969, but has this bombshell ever been dropped before? In the middle of a narrative about young Bruce's training, it's more than a bit confusing. John Byrne's art is okay, other than the fact that his older characters all look alike (I had to re-read the thing a couple times to figure out that Chill wasn't actually supposed to be the same guy as Bruce's college law professor); his Bats is a cross between Neal Adams and Jim Aparo (which is probably not a coincidence as Aparo is inker here). Jim Aparo will take over as regular artist next issue. After one issue in the books, I can say that ULOTB is no worse nor better than the regular titles.

Jack: My first question relates to the Batcave: when did Batman stop acquiring big, weird souvenirs? The giant penny and the dinosaur have been showing up for decades, but did he run out of room? Did Alfred complain about having to dust it all? Did Bruce Wayne marry Selina Kyle and get told to stop accumulating junk?

I like the back story of the Wayne killing that makes it something other than a random event, though in the back of my mind I feel like there was a story somewhere that had the Joker involved. It certainly took guts for Wein to try to synthesize 40 years of mythology and add something new, but there are a few too many coincidences and I, like you, was not happy to see Batman in a Robin getup. I'm interested to see what next issue brings, since the coming attractions promise more origins.

Batman #325

"Death--Twenty Stories High"
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Irv Novick & Steve Mitchell

There's trouble in Gotham City when Commissioner Gordon receives a death threat targeting Batman! Gordon is up for re-election as police commissioner and a crime wave is spreading across the city. A sniper takes a shot at Batman while the Dark Knight talks to Gordon on a rooftop, but the bullet misses him and smashes the glass of the Bat Signal. Batman chases and catches the sniper, who reveals that he was hired by a crook named Sweet Lou Milligan.

As the Bat Signal is repaired, Gordon debates with Bob Brand, his opponent in the election, whose campaign manager Tom complains that Gordon lets Batman run Gotham City. Gunmen crash the debate, targeting Gordon, and Batman again saves his life. Batman tracks down Sweet Lou Milligan, who tells him that Bob Brand is the one who ordered the hit on Gordon. The Caped Crusader rushes to Brand's office, only to find the candidate dead; campaign manager Tom admits he's responsible. Brand deduced that Tom was behind the crime wave and threatened to expose him, so Tom did away with Brand.

But that's not all: Tom tells Batman that the Dark Knight is about to cause Gordon's death himself! Tom accidentally falls out of a window to his death and Batman races to Gordon's side after realizing that repairs to the Bat Signal included placing a bomb inside of it. In saving Gordon from the bomb, Batman knocks him off the roof, but our hero manages to catch the commissioner a moment before he hits the ground. Good thing, too, because Gordon is re-elected!

Jack: The romance between Bruce and Selina is interrupted by a fill-in story this issue, penned by Roger McKenzie. Gone are Len Wein's super villains and elaborate death traps, and in their place we have what could be a story from any issue in the 1970s. It features a straightforward plot with a villain who is not hard to guess. There's nothing wrong with the story; it's just rather bland. The moment when Tom trips over the dead body of Brand and falls out of a window to his death is ridiculous, but if he had just bounced off the glass it wouldn't have been very dramatic. The art by Novick and Mitchell is as bland as the story.

Peter: This could very well be the worst story of 1980, with a deadly dumb script and sloppy art. So many eye-rolling moments. The aforementioned "trip out the window" is more of a leap, when you think about it. The Dark Knight is the world's greatest detective but his deduction that the villain claiming Bats would be the death of Gordon short-cutting into his (brilliant) guess that there's a bomb in the Bat-Signal is positively Poirot-ian. About the only highlight I can point to is the photographer who's snapping Brand's pic. Coincidence, or is Roger borrowing a friend from the competition? Oh, and you gotta love those DC stamps (see far below). What a novel idea!

Jonah will sure be pissed when he finds out Parker is moonlighting in Gotham...

The Brave and the Bold #164

"The Mystery of the Mobile Museum!"
Story by J. M. DeMatteis
Art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

Two statues dubbed "The Mysterious Ones" were discovered in the desert and are being transported from the Gotham Metropolitan to the Midway City Museum. Batman and Hawkman are helping with the transport, since the statues have created a sensation. Batman's mind is attacked and suddenly the entire museum takes flight!

"The Mystery of the Mobile Museum!" requires both heroes to turn their attention to the floating building. Batman enters it but Hawkman is blocked by a force field; his wife Shiera is inside, having been knocked unconscious. Batman is attacked by two empty suits of armor, while Hawkman flies to his starship to grab a gizmo to try to breach the force field around the museum.

Hawkman enters the building and he and Batman fight off a dinosaur skeleton and a mummy, both of which have suddenly been brought to life. Shiera wakes up and, in a trance, grabs the Mysterious Ones and floats out of the building into mid-air. Despite Batman's attempts to stop him, Hawkman pursues his wife, who returns safely to Earth with the statues. Suddenly, a telepathic voice explains that the statues are gods that were lost from a distant world; an energy being has come to retrieve them but needs a physical being to help take them home. Batman and Hawkman volunteer and manage to survive a trip through a warp in space to return the gods before making it home safely.

Jack: The opening pages of this story made it seem like it would be a simple heist tale, with Hawkman taking fake statues to the museum while Batman had charge of the real ones. The narrative then goes off in a completely different direction and is reasonably entertaining. I have always liked Hawkman and this issue demonstrates how stories featuring the Winged Wonder can veer into a science fiction territory we don't usually see when we read about the Dark Knight. Garcia-Lopez and Mitchell render the pages beautifully with some of the nicest Bat art I've seen in awhile--and that's saying something in a comic usually drawn by Jim Aparo. All in all, this is an above-average issue of The Brave and the Bold.

Peter: I think I'm with the cops in the final panel, who say something along the lines of "What just happened?" As with you, Jack, I found the story entertaining enough, but it reminded me of those goofy, nonsensical DC superhero/sci-fi tales of the 1960s where the writer would cart out mind-reading gorillas or talking zebras and wrap the whole thing up at the end with an equally goofy, nonsensical explanation. The brief fight/misunderstanding between Bats and Hawks is obviously an "homage" to Marvel Team-Up. I'd give this one a solid "Meh."

Detective Comics #492

"Vengeance Trail"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Don Newton & Dan Adkins

"At War With General Scarr"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Don Newton & Bob Smith

Bruce Wayne's much-needed sleep is disturbed by his butler, Alfred, who rouses Wayne with the morning paper and condolences on his loss. "Batgirl Slain by Assassin," screams the headline! Pissed off beyond belief, Bruce throws back the covers and, for some reason, feels he has to put on his uniform before calling Commissioner Gordon to give him his heartfelts and promise that the guilty party will be apprehended by the end of business that night. Gordon calmly tells Bats to swing his way over to the Commish's place as he's got something he needs to talk to him about. "Hmmmm" thinks the Dark Knight, "Jim sure was calm. I wonder..."

Sure enough, when the Caped Crusader arrives at Gordon's place, there's Batgirl reclining on the couch, arm in a sling. She explains in very complicated (and yet, at the same time, very simple) detail how she managed to elude most of Cormorant's gunfire (last issue). It's very silly, so just take my word that it's not imperative for you to know how she did it. Batman tells Babs (in his way) how glad he is to see her and says let's go get that bad guy who ventilated your arm.

Batgirl sighs and tells her mentor that she's officially retired. She can't work up the enthusiasm every night like she used to and she's tired of these bad guys fighting back! When Batman scoffs, Babs emphatically vows that Batgirl will never fly again and slams the door in his face. Gordon allows how he doesn't blame his daughter for her feelings, but then subtly tells Barbara that all good people must make sacrifices or there will be nothing but bad in the world.

Meanwhile, Batman tracks General Scarr back to his hidey-hole and has himself caught on purpose (the reasoning behind this move is never satisfactorily explained--for some reason Bats arrives at the conclusion that he's got the advantage if he's in chains). Scarr rounds up his assassins and announces that Batman will be executed as a prisoner of war. At that very moment, on a nearby rooftop...

Having decided that 20 minutes was enough of a retirement, Batgirl uses her photographic memory to deduce the exact same lair where Bats is being held and swoops in to save the day. Only momentarily does she lose her nerve, as she stares at the back of the man who tried to assassinate her, but then, when she regains her composure, she has a laugh when the assassin falls to his knees and begs for mercy. She shoves the coward's head into a wall and announces that "Batgirl is Back!" Batman, for his part, shucks his chains and the two round up General Scarr and turn him over to the police.

Peter: A superior two-parter, with lots of fun twists and turns and fabulous art (thank God we don't have Delbo and Giella to deal with this time 'round). Sure, the over-hyped "Death" and "End" of Batgirl lasts just about as long as we expected, but that's the nature of this beast, isn't it? Whoever decided that the Cormorant might look more sinister without his Dudley Do-Right mountie's hat should be elevated to Editor. Did I mention the graphics? Holy cow, this is some very effective art we're graced with in this two-parter (with only the inkwell changing hands) and I'd be a very happy man to see this team tackling all the Bat-titles. Won't happen, but I can dream.

There's also some very strong writing going on here, especially the dialogue between Jim and Barbara. She's going through a mental hiccup and looking for guidance from a cop, who also happens to be her Dad. There's no doubt Jim's monologue about his feelings toward the Batman and what he does for Gotham came into play when Christopher and Jonathan Nolan were writing that Gordon speech in the finale of The Dark Knight.

Jack: I agree that the art is terrific, though I thought Dan Adkins did a better job inking Don Newton's pencils than did Bob Smith. I like the light touch on the amount of text in certain sections of the story, since it lets the art shine through. I really can't blame Batgirl for wanting out and the whole situation made me think of her injury at the hands of the Joker decades later. When Gordon is wondering what motivates Batman, I wanted to tell him to pick up a copy of this month's Untold Legend--all his questions would be answered! There's a very good sequence in part one where Batman is beating up crooks while Gordon is talking to Batgirl elsewhere; the dialogue and pictures complement each other even though they are occurring in two different places. Part two is mostly fighting, but I like the whole 25-page package.

"Fifty Million Tons of Soul!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Bob Oksner & Bob Smith

In this issue's installment of "Tales of Gotham City," we meet Rusty Krebs, the guy responsible for coating the bridge in anti-rust paint. Just as Rusty is musing how everything is beautiful in its own way, he spots a kid getting ready to jump. The boy, named David, tells him he has girl problems and Rusty tells him no dame is worth the five-hundred-foot drop. Just as the two are continuing their dialogue, a car full of bank robbers tries to make it across the bridge, despite the presence of Gotham's finest. Linda, who broke our prospective jumper's heart, shows up to try to talk David down; she's nabbed by the bad guys, who use her as a shield against the cops.

Rusty manages to grab the kid and swing down to put the kibosh on the bank robbers. Linda doesn't exactly say she'll reconsider David as a future beau but at least David isn't in the drink... for now. Stay tuned for the sequel, where David climbs to the top of the bridge on Rusty's day off.

Peter: I thought "Fifty Million Tons of Soul!" was cooking pretty well until Haney (our old war comic pal) had to throw in the sub-plot of the thugs. Rusty seemed an interesting character and his dialogue with David stayed far off the maudlin road. A pity we needed that action stuff to interfere. I was upset that Haney decided to handle the scene of Rusty scooping up David and dropping the bucket down on the bad guys' car off-panel. That would have been an interesting explanation. The art by Oksner and Smith is typical third-tier graphics, falling in line with the tepid visuals we get from the artists assigned to these back-up features.

Jack: The story is enjoyable but corny. Take a look at the closeup of David on page three and of the cop on page four. Do you think Don Heck stopped by the drawing board to help out? Those faces sure look like Heck. Wait, that did not come out right.

"We Are Experiencing a Slight Delay..."
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Romeo Tanghal & Vince Colletta

Man-Bat arrives home after a grueling day at work but wife, Francine, and daughter, 'Becca, aren't there. Seems they were at the house of Francine's friend and took the subway home but... the train was hijacked and never left the tunnel. Man-Bat flies down into the subway system and takes out the young hoods, but notices that one of the cars is badly damaged. How the heck did a bunch of kids do that? The answer arrives in the form of a giant rat, who puts a scare into the passengers until Man-Bat scares it off with fire.

Peter: A sub-par script that never really makes any kind of explanation for its fantastical elements. Oh, it's just a giant rat in New York! Nothing to see here, move long! I like the Man-Bat character, but he's a dark, tragic figure and shouldn't he be given scripts with a tad more... I don't know... sense? The Tanghal/Colletta art is hot/cold (as is much of what Colletta had a hand in); the Man-Bat panels are effective, but anything human looks cookie-cutter. Still, lousy script and iffy art notwithstanding, I'll take this any day over Black Lightning, Elongated Man, or Robin. Speaking of which...

Jack: Terrible writing, mediocre art. When did Man-Bat become a hero, popping pills to switch back and forth between human and bat form? I love that his little son yells "'Daddy!'" when he sees Man-Bat on the subway. Bob Rozakis's scripts are unimpressive to date.

"The First Bird"
Story by Jack C. Harris
Art by Charles Nicholas & Vince Colletta

Robin discovers that the Penguin is trying to steal the ultra-valuable "Kline Egg," the world's only surviving pterodactyl egg. He swings in to the museum to save the day only to discover that the Penguin's real plan was to trap Robin. Not so smart now, are we, Boy Blunder?

Peter: Not much to say about this one other than to echo my sentiments of the last installment: Yeccch! The art is nothing much more than Colorforms or Etch-A-Sketch. Penciller Charles Nicholas has a career that stretched from the 1930s into the 1980s, so he obviously filled some kind of gap. That gap being these below-par back-ups.

Jack: The art reminded me of those Hostess ads that always popped up in DC Comics around this time, though the GCD tells us that this issue's ad (with the Flash) is drawn by Curt Swan and Vince Colletta. Curt Swan was a great artist, but Charles Nicholas was not. I was thrilled to see the Penguin, but this story made me say "Wawwkk"!

Batman 325

Next Week...
Will we see a return to form
for Reed Crandall in time for
Uncle Creepy's 50th Celebration?

Monday, July 20, 2020

The Warren Report Issue 38: September - November 1972

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

Vampirella #19 (September 1972)

"Shadow of Dracula!" ★1/2
Story by T. Casey Brennan
Art by Jose Gonzalez

"To Kill a God!"
(Reprinted from Vampirella #12)

"Two Silver Bullets!"
(Reprinted from Vampirella #1)

"Fate's Cold Finger!"
(Reprinted from Vampirella #9)

"Jack the Ripper Strikes Again!"
(Reprinted from Vampirella #9)

"The Survivor"
(Reprinted from Vampirella #7)

"The Soft, Sweet Lips of Hell!"
(Reprinted from Vampirella #10)

"The Silver Thief and the Pharaoh's Daughter"
(Reprinted from Vampirella #13)

"Shadow of Dracula!"
When Adam Van Helsing finds a scrap of paper in a secret room in the Van Helsing mansion, there's hope that the Van Helsings of the 19th century were about to discover a cure for vampirism. In an effort to find out just what the heck those crazy vampire slaughterers had stumbled onto, Vampirella travels back to 1897 and disguises herself as luscious lab assistant, Ella Normandy. Once there, she is introduced to Jonathan and Mina Harker and Abraham Van Helsing (the first of the VHs to battle Count Dracula); immediately, the four hit the road to visit with Boris Van Helsing, who has a surprise for them. Count Dracula emerges from the house to the dismay of the Harkers, but the Count explains that the Dracula they had fought was an ancestor of his and all he wants to do is help.

Vampirella smells bad fish and confronts the Count later, when they are alone. Dracula confesses that, yep, it's really him, but that he was sent to 1897 from the present for the same reason Vampi was: to gain a cure. The next day, a coffin is wheeled into the castle and Boris proclaims that, for the merry band of truth-seekers, the only way to discover a cure for vampirism is to pull the stake out of Lucy Westenra's heart and bring her back from the undead.

"Shadow of Dracula!" is a confusing and meandering mess; some of this stuff just doesn't make sense. When Adam finds the incomplete proclamation, his pop exclaims, "No problem, we've got a spell we can cast that'll send you back into the 19th century and this will all be taken care of!" If that's the case, how come the boys don't simply set the way-back machine for centuries earlier and nip the Count in the bud before he kills hundreds? More snorters come when Drac claims the vampire-guy was his grandfather or uncle or somesuch and these dopes buy it. Did Drac have brothers or sisters or kids we never knew about? Then there's the contrived Conjuress storyline, which is the hardest part to decipher. And, please, tell me why Lucy has to be resurrected?

This was the first year Warren incorporated their Annuals (or "Fearbooks") within the regular numbering. As with last year's Vampirella Annual, this is the only title that presents new material. But this sure feels like it was an overlong story that was simply chopped in half and will continue next issue.-Peter

Jack-I thoroughly enjoyed the Vampirella story! It's cool to see Vampi and Drac back in the 1890s with the original cast of the novel, and I was relieved that Vampi quickly reverted to her usual outfit. I did have to laugh when she told Drac that they don't want to attract unwanted attention right before she climbed down the side of the building half-naked! T. Casey Brennan writes an entertaining story and the art by Gonzalez is gorgeous. Four stars from me!

I also love the cover, with a great drawing of our heroine standing in front of a selection of classic covers. The term "special issue" seems to mean "lots of reprints," but when they include art by Wood, Crandall, and Adams, I think it's easily worth a buck. There's also a good, two-page summary of Vampirella's origin and adventures to date that we've reproduced at the end of this post.

Eerie #42 (October 1972)

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

"The Blood Fruit!"
(Reprinted from Eerie #11)

"It That Lurks!"
(Reprinted from Eerie #7)

"Dark Rider!"
(Reprinted from Eerie #8)

"Life Species"
(Reprinted from Eerie #30)

"The Lighthouse!"
(Reprinted from Eerie #3)

"Ogre's Castle"
(Reprinted from Eerie #2)

"Room with a View!"
(Reprinted from Eerie #3)

"Voodoo Drum!"
(Reprinted from Eerie #10)

"I Am Dead, Egypt, Dead"
(Reprinted from Eerie #35)

Jack-Another nice package, 84 pages for a dollar, with a great cover by Luis Dominguez. Inside are ten stories with a heavy emphasis on EC veterans, including Reed Crandall, Johnny Craig, John Severin, Al Williamson, and Angelo Torres. Add stories by Steve Ditko and Neal Adams, then throw in a one-page history of Cousin Eerie (see far below), and it's money well spent. Readers who were new to Eerie might have been surprised to see all the reprints by the classic horror artists who filled the magazine's pages before the new wave of Spanish artists arrived!

Creepy #48 (October 1972)

"The Coffin of Dracula!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #8 & #9)

"The Castle on the Moor!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #9)

"Moon City"
(Reprinted from Creepy #4)

(Reprinted from Creepy #3)

"Thumbs Down"
(Reprinted from Creepy #6)

"The Cosmic All"
(Reprinted from Creepy #38)

"Drink Deep" 
(Reprinted from Creepy #7)

"The Adventure of the German Student"
(Reprinted from Creepy #15)

Jack-Another "special" issue, this time with eight reprint stories, again heavy on former EC artists: Reed Crandall, Johnny Craig, Angelo Torres, Al Williamson, Wally Wood, and John Severin are represented. The first story is actually two stories edited together. A one-page "bio" of Uncle Creepy (see far below) completes the fun!

Vampirella #20 (October 1972)

"When Wakes the Dead" ★1/2
Story by T. Casey Brennan
Art by Jose Gonzalez

"Gender Bender" 
Story and Art by Esteban Maroto

"Love is No Game"★1/2
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Luis Garcia

"Eye Opener!" 
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Rafael Auraleon

"Vengeance, Brother, Vengeance!" 
Story by Greg Potter
Art by Luis Dominguez

"When Wakes the Dead"
Boris and Abraham Van Helsing use the formula provided by Dracula (actually supplied by Vampirella but letting Drac take the credit so's not to give away her simple country bumpkin lab assistant guise) on the undead Lucy Westenra, bitten by Dracula and staked by Van Helsing, in the hopes of returning her to some semblance of "normalcy." The potion works and Lucy becomes human again. Dracula, believing the formula can make him human again as well, begs Vampi for a vial. Down to her last two doses, our Drakulon babe gives in and hands him the juice.

Unfortunately, the potion only works on legitimately undead vampires, not aliens from another world, so the vial is good only for 24 hours before Drac returns to his cravings. Unfortunately, that blood-madness happens as Mina Harker is crossing his path and he jumps the girl, biting her neck and sipping her life's fluids. Lucy comes across the scene and drops dead, ostensibly from heart failure, but that's not clear. Meanwhile, while rummaging for that aforementioned final dose of anti-vampire serum, Vampi gets butterfingers and drops the vial. Now there are two very hungry vampires on the loose. Since all of Drac and Vampi's plans have gone tits up, the Conjuress materializes, announces to Vampi she's wanted back in the 20th century, and tells Drac he's a failure but there will be "more tests" in the future. Back in the 20th century, Vampi gazes at her lover, Adam Van Helsing, and pines for a real man... Dracula.

"When Wakes the Dead"
You know you're in real trouble when the introductory "here's where we're at" is almost as confusing as the story itself. "When Wakes the Dead" literally makes no sense. As if TCB felt the whole 19th century trip was a bad idea and decided it was time to exit, stage left, pronto. The Lucy Westenra 90-minute resurrection segment is a waste of space and her latest death left me scratching my head. Does the potion leave you with a diminished nervous system? Adding in the mysterious Conjuress sub-plot does Brennan no favors either. This is that rarest of funny book strips: there's so much going on while nothing happens. As usual, I love Gonzalez's art but, more and more, I'm wondering if the Vampirella series is being handled the "Marvel way." Some of the gal's expressions don't go with her thought balloons.

Maroto's take on She Freak.

"Gender Bender" is another of the confounding "Tomb of the Gods" stories written by Esteban Maroto and, yet again, I can make neither heads nor tails of it. Usually, though, I can at least eke out some kind of half-assed synopsis; fake it, if I have to. This is the one time so far that I can't even come up with a couple of lines to describe what the hell this is all about. Again, the art is outstanding and perhaps Warren should have just run something akin to a Maroto portfolio rather than putting nonsensical words (I really haven't seen any of the innate hostility between the sexes the doctors predicted. Except my own! Well, I'll sublimate that, and just dance) to the pictures.

There's a man killing prostitutes in the city... meanwhile... Dorothy can't get John, the shy dreamboat who lives next door to acknowledge she's even alive. Her pal, Gwen, tells her to get John's attention, make him rush to Dorothy's aid, and soon he'll be eating right out of her hand. Dorothy tries the old "Hi, John, whoops! I slipped!" and, sure enough, the hunk runs to her aide and assists her back to her house. He does, however, refuse a sandwich or a nightcap, and hurries off. Dorothy sees him heading into the woods and follows him. Deep in the forest, she spies John carving her name in a tree and bursts out of the bush, cooing sweet love. John turns, tells Dorothy he always knew she was a whore like the rest, and knocks her unconscious. Dorothy comes to in time to watch John digging a big hole in front of her named tree. Two other trees, two other names, two other graves stand alongside. Barely a fragment of a story, "Love is No Game" is pretty darn confusing at first, with its shift in time and perspectives; it's also got dialogue straight out of Young Love Confessions.

"Love is a Battlefield"
Tuckered out and still a hundred miles from his destination, shoe salesman/male chauvinist pig Sol Plotkin stops at an old dark house by the side of the highway and inquires of the gorgeous, scantily-clad vixen who answers his knock as to whether she can "put him up for the night." The babe tells Sol her name is Wendy; come on in and she'll ask her grandma, a blind old goat who agrees to his request and remarks that Sol is a pretty good looking dude. Taken aback that a blind woman could remark on his handsomeness, Sol is further astonished when the old woman tells him she has the power of sight thanks to the eyeballs she keeps in a little black box on her lap. Wendy does the whirligigs around her ear and lets on to Sol that Grandma's elevator doesn't go to the top floor any more. When Grampa died, Grams kept his eyeballs as a souvenir. She shows Sol to his room.

"Eye Opener!"
Then Wendy shows Sol the other amenities that go with the room. The next morning, Sol is ready to go when Grandma verbally assaults him in the entryway. She tells the scoundrel that she knows he robbed Wendy of her virginity and that her eyeballs saw the whole thing. She then opens the black box to reveal... a couple of eyeballs! Sol is so flustered he races out of the house, hops in his car and runs right into an oncoming truck. Before he dies, he loses his eyes. But Grandma finds them.

Another really dumb script with really great art (sound familiar?), "Eye Opener!" makes little to no sense, but that's okay; what matters is that Doug lets us know once again he's there for 1970s women (the opening panels let us know that Sol has just dumped his wife and refuses to pay alimony, so he's obviously another one of those mangy men of the '70s who would stay out late at the bowling alley and expect a hot meal and warm bed when he finally got home). How Sol's eyeballs are keeping Gramps's peepers company is beyond me.

"Vengeance, Brother, Vengeance!"
When Carlonia is invaded by the warrior Jenwral, Fein is able to escape, but witnesses the death of his brother Furlon at the hands of the evil invader. Years later, Fein returns to Carlonia to rescue his beloved Melandra, unaware that his brother has been enslaved and forced to be Jenwral's sorcerer. Fein slays both Jenwral and his sorcerer (unaware that the dead man is his brother) and rescues his scantily-clad lass. As Furlon dies, he utters his brother's name and Fein, believing it to be the spirit of Furlon thanking him for avenging his death, exclaims "No thanks necessary!" As a rule, I tend to avoid stories with unicorns (yes, Fein rides a unicorn) but, unlike most of the goofy fantasy/sword and sorcery tales offered up by Warren, this is an amiable read. It's got a nice sense of (dark) humor to it and Luis Dominguez does a great job of stepping in for Pat Boyette, who would usually do the honors on the dark fantasy entries. That last panel, where Fein tosses off a "No problem, Bro!" to what he thinks is the ghost of Furlon, unaware that he's just run said brother through with his sword, is laugh-out-loud funny. "Vengeance, Brother, Vengeance!" is pretty much the only reason to pick this issue up. -Peter

Jack-Even more fun than "Vengeance, Brother, Vengeance!" is writer Greg Potter's autobiography, where he admits that he still lives at home with Mom and Dad and is thrilled to share his creations with Warren's "hundreds of readers." I didn't think much of the story, partly because I was floored by Dominguez's cover and expected more of the same inside the book. The writer credit for Maroto's "Gender Bender" is again suspect and the pretentious prose seems more likely to be the work of a McGregor than Maroto. "Love is No Game" is not bad, with art (as usual) outdoing story, but Peter's point about "the Marvel method" may or may not be supported by the panel where the man pushes a lawnmower and the caption reads that he's raking the lawn. It made me wonder if the script was sent to the Spanish artist who was not entirely sure what "raking" meant.

"Eye Opener!" is yet another example of smarty-pants Doug Moench telling us that it's okay to use a cliche if you acknowledge that it's a cliche; the art is fabulous but the story falls apart at the end. That leaves the lead Vampi story, which I really liked. Gonzalez's art is stunning and Brennan seems to have conquered much of what annoyed us about his stories; too bad he won't continue.

Eerie #43 (November 1972)

Story by Rich Margopoulos
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Musical Chairs"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Tom Sutton

"Bright Eyes!"★1/2
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Richard Corben

"The Hunt"
Story by Rich Margopoulos
Art by Paul Neary

Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Jesus Suso Rego

"Let the Evil One Sleep"
Story and Art by Esteban Maroto

Peter reads his 500th DC War Comic.
Rebelling against the evil Xargon empire, Adram and Evah take the ultimate weapon and bury it on a backward planet, where it speeds up the evolution of the creatures that live there. Centuries in the future, explorers find the weapon and take it to a research lab for study. After determining that it is too dangerous to keep, they shoot it into space with Commander Doug McKeen, who will be blown up along with it. After "incalculable centuries of unending flight," the ship with the bomb ends up back at planet Xargon, where it is attacked by the sub-humans that are "remnants of the long-fallen empire." McKeen fights for his life but is overwhelmed by superior numbers and detonates the bomb, which wipes out the entire universe. Eventually, life sparks once again and a planet called Earth is born, where "Someday" a similar tale will play out.

Richard Margopoulos's first story for Warren is a dud, typical of a young writer whose enthusiasm is not matched by his originality. "Adram" and "Evah" start a new civilization and the plot is circular, as an empire grows too big for its britches and prefigures the history of Planet Earth. Jerry Grandenetti's art is not suited for science fiction at all and it's only the sheer predictability of the story that makes it worth reading through 12 pages. At least it's more lucid than "Gender Bender." Don't miss Margopoulos's far-out autobiography below!

Sentenced to death for committing murder, Raymond is strapped into the electric chair only to find himself suddenly and inexplicably transported to another world, where a wizard hails him as a hero. He pulls a sword from a stone and quickly becomes a great warrior, slaying all who oppose him. He sits on the throne and calls for dancing girls to perform, but just as they start to cavort, the lever is pulled and he's back in the electric chair, frying to death. Police observing the execution wonder what goes through a prisoner's mind in the last seconds and wonder why Raymond was smiling right up to the end.

Sutton at his most Kirbyesque

I'm happy to read a good story by Steve Skeates, since they've seemed few and far between. "Musical Chairs" got me with the surprise ending, which I did not see coming at all--though I guess I should have. Tom Sutton's art is an odd mix of Sutton and Kirby; I've reproduced a panel of battle here that could've been drawn by the King.

"Bright Eyes!"
After a long day of toiling in the Louisiana cotton fields, Joshua returns home to the mansion of "Bright Eyes!" a/k/a evil, greedy Master Farquand. A competitor named Hartman wants to take over the cotton business, so Farquand sends his zombies out to kill Hartman. Joshua's brother, George Bennett, arrives from Chicago, looking for his brother. Farquand sends him away but George finds Joshua living in sub-human conditions and beseeches him to leave. Farquand appears and informs George that his brother and the others are dead and he has raised them as zombies to work in the cotton fields. George and Farquand struggle and the plantation owner accidentally shoots and kills himself, at which point Joshua and the other zombies decompose before George's eyes.

Leave it to Richard Corben to bring the horror to an issue of Eerie! "Bright Eyes!" holds no surprises (other than a jarring use of the "N" word by Farquand), but Corben's art style brings out the best in Moench's story and the final panels are worth the journey.

A nuclear accident wipes out humanity. Fast forward to the year 14729, and a lone man runs through open land, trying to avoid becoming a victim of "The Hunt." He recalls having been a servant at a royal banquet until he was imprisoned for dropping a tray. He escaped and went on the run. Now he is injured and set upon by wild dogs that are only stopped by mounted humanoids with the faces of foxes.

Yes, that's the end. I really have no idea what it meant or what happened. Perhaps we're supposed to get that the protagonist was considered a slave because he was fully human, while the mutant fox-people were hunting him? This is Margopoulos's second story this issue, and it's slightly worse than his first. At least Paul Neary's art is pleasant to look at; it reminded me a bit of the work of Paul Gulacy in its slickness.

In a "Showdown" on a dusty street in the Old West, one gunslinger shoots another and then rides out of town. On the trail, he is shot in an ambush and pursues the man who shot him. He comes across the man he shot in town and shoots him again several times before concluding that he's hallucinating. Before long, he is shot dead by the man who ambushed him.

Steve Skeates is back to his usual sub-par scripts with this western, in which next to nothing happens. Fortunately, we have very sharp artwork by Jesus Suso Rogo to enjoy. On the first page, he is either influenced by or swiping the work of John Severin, and on the last page he draws a pretty fair imitation of Clint Eastwood as the Man With No Name. Whatever the source, I enjoyed the Western art; I only wish it had been in service of a better story.

Dax rides through the desert, desperate for water, and passes out, only to wake to a beautiful land where water is plentiful and a beautiful, nearly naked woman named Lilith insists on calling him Adam and prances around with him in her paradise. She shows him the Evil One, who lies dreaming on a stone slab; Dax impregnates her and rescues her from some skeletal monsters. He tries to kill the Evil One but finds himself stabbed and back in the dry wasteland, craving water.

More Dax
"Let the Evil One Sleep" makes more sense than "The Hunt," but that's not saying much. I'm already getting tired of Maroto's plot-free rambles through the pages of the Warren mags; all his girls look the same and the Dax stories seem to follow a pattern where someone tries to pull the warrior out of his brutal life but he ends up right back where he started. I'm also not a big fan of giant mushrooms--they remind me too much of the work of Vaughn Bode. In any case, this is not a very good issue of Eerie and, coming right after the special that reprints work by a series of great EC artists, the new material doesn't look so good.-Jack

Peter-"Someday," we'll get consistently good science fiction out of a Warren funny book, but right now is not that time. "Someday" is a meandering and confusing mess and it's adorned with mediocre Grandenetti. Margopoulos never even answers the golden question: how the heck did the "savages" manage to dig up and raise the multi-ton weapon when it was buried a mile below the surface? Steve Skeates sat in his cubicle at the Warren office and smiled, thinking "These bozos have never even heard of Ambrose Bierce!" and then typed up his homage to "Owl Creek Bridge" and handed it in for his paycheck.  Jim Warren, knowing a deadline when he saw one, shrugged and thought, "What the hell, most of these little creeps don't have issue #9 of Eerie!"
The only bright spot is "Bright Eyes!"

Rich Corben elevates "Bright Eyes!" above the adjective-riddled purple prose masquerading as a script (The oppressiveness of the swamp at dusk, as turgid waters ooze around your knees, inspires within you a foreboding of lurking danger... makes me wonder if Warren was paying by the word rather than by the page) but, call me a stickler, I sure would have liked to see this in color. It's standard zombie fare but Corben's art (especially in the darker panels) is magnificently evocative (or as Doug might have said: "superbly magnificent in its evocatively splendid splendor"). Though Rich has been around for a couple of years, I think you can point to "Bright Eyes!" as the true beginning of the Corben Era at Warren.

Rich Margopoulos eyes Steve Skeates over in his cubicle, retyping "Owl Creek," figures if ya can't beat 'em, join 'em, and rips-off Planet of the Apes. Well, he does use foxes. I do like the Neary art, though; you can almost see the genesis of his short stint on Marvel's Ka-Zar the Savage a decade later. Just as with all the stories this issue, "Showdown" has weak writing but gorgeous graphics. I love good western horror, but there's not much plot to this one and the climax is vague. Artist Suso is welcomed aboard on the Eerie letters page as "worthy of standing alongside the other Warren greats now making comics history: Gonzalez, Maroto, Auraleon, Mas, Crandall" but Suso will only contribute to two scripts during his time at Warren, after which he'll jump ship and head for Skywald. How was it that this guy was never snapped up by DC for Jonah Hex?

Suso's West
The Dax installment this issue is particularly baffling; the plot makes no sense and the dialogue is awful ("Oh God. Am I doomed to peace only through solitude? Will you not share my heart? Are my children to be born murderers, important to beauty?"). If I didn't know better, I'd say the script was written by our man in New York, Don McGregor. Slip your tongue around this bit of writing and tell me I'm crazy: Twin battles rage. One hideously physical, one a savage conflict of wills. Scars open and throb in Dax's frozen, agonized being. Madness invades, disperses fleeting sanity. Bestiality and hate overpower his rotting soul. Ugh. In any event, the series continues to meander through its non-entity of a storyline and excels purely on the gifts of Maroto the Illustrator.

Creepy #49 (November 1972)

"Buried Pleasure" ★1/2
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Esteban Maroto

"The Severed Hand" 
Story by Fred Ott
Art by Rafael Auraleon

"The Third Night of Mourning" 
Story by James Stenstrum
Art by Jaime Brocal

"The Accursed Flower" 
Story and Art by Jose Bea

"Wedding Knells" 
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Jose Gual

"Buried Pleasure"
A seemingly mesmerized young man named Curtin approaches the pirate ship of Captain Raven, requesting passage to Spain; he holds what appears to be a map and mumbles something about digging. The light bulb goes on over Raven's head and he smells treasure, untold wealth waiting at the end of the journey. The ship sails but, each night, more and more of the ship's men are found dead and accusations are made that the newcomer is behind the carnage.

After several nights of death, only Raven and his first mate, Snelling, are left alive, and it's at that time that Raven reveals he's the murderer, killing every person on board save Curtin so that he will not have to share in the riches Curtin is leading them to. Raven strangles Snelling, then calls to Curtin that they've reached the shores of Spain. The two men leave the ship and Curtin points to a spot right on the beach and tells Raven to dig. The pirate wastes no time and, very soon, hits something hard. His treasure chest! No, it's a coffin! Out pops a female vampire, who bites Raven and then gives Curtin what he's been waiting for... a kiss!

There's a hell of a lot that doesn't make sense in "Buried Pleasure!" not the least of which is Raven's immediate assumption that this guy's got a treasure map in his hand. Curtin looks mentally disturbed and we all know, in the Warren Universe, if it quacks like a duck... quite a leap of faith then on a pirate's part. And then to slaughter his entire seasoned crew on such a tenuous wish. Never mind how he overpowered five men at a time without waking anyone or raising suspicion. As usual it's Maroto to the rescue. Esteban similarly saved Doug Moench's fat in the vampire-themed "Cross of Blood," back in Creepy #46. I guess we should just be happy that Doug didn't stop the voyage to Spain long enough to deliver a monologue on how badly women were treated in the 17th century.

"The Severed Hand"
Speaking of Doug and "Cross of Blood," there's a hilarious missive on the Dear Uncle Creepy page, penned by Moench himself, wherein he extolls the virtues of that tale: "I must confess that I enjoyed "Cross of Blood" beyond the other stories gracing Creepy #46's pages." Now, I'm not one of those vicious "journalists" that would leave Doug's comments out of context, so I will say that the author goes on to praise Esteban's artwork, but I still believe writing in to praise your own work is highly questionable.

Dr. Otto Brunner is the biggest wig in all of late-19th century Germany. He's the most highly regarded surgeon, he's got a great house, and he's married to a really hot babe named Gisele. Into this perfect world comes upstart surgeon, Hans Sterne, a headstrong young and handsome young man who also happens to be a whiz with a scalpel. Immediately, Otto is yesterday's news to both his hospital and his wife. When  Brunner discovers that Hans and Gisele have taken their relationship to that next level and are prepping a getaway, Otto does what any 19th century surgeon would do: he consults the local witch, Frau Sarg, who lives in a shack on the outskirts of the village. The old crone accepts Otto's money and tells him to bring her a severed arm so that she might work her magic. Limb attained, Otto watches in amazement and horror as Frau Sarg brings the limb to life. She instructs the doc to find a way to attach the arm to Hans and calamity is in the bag.

"The Severed Hand"
After Otto monkeys with the axle of his carriage, Hans is mortally wounded and requires surgery. Guess what part of his body gets an upgrade? The new arm leads Hans to murder Gisele and attack Otto before hacking the offensive limb off. Otto is badly hurt in the attack and, while he's unconscious in the hospital, his mutilated arm is amputated and replaced with... you guessed it!... Hans's offending appendage ("Since Sterne's hand was available, Herr Doktor, I gave it to you while you were still unconscious!"). A goofy, check-your-brain-at-the-door horror story (think Poe by way of Lovecraft) that makes no apologies for just how dumb it is. I was laughing out loud at each new twist and turn. The "old witch" sub-plot is straight out of EC, and artist Auraleon seems to be having a ball conjuring up images of gory amputated limbs and decapitated Hammer models. I had a ball too.

"The Third Night of Mourning"
Jacques Aurenche is beheaded in 18th century France and his wife left stranded, unable to remove herself from the guillotine platform. Three nights after being executed (and framed, by the way), his headless corpse stalks the streets, seeking out his accuser. What is essentially a very serious version of The Thing That Wouldn’t Die (a 1958 Universal headless horror film that's also much better than it should be) somehow avoids the giggles that a two sentence synopsis might bring out, primarily due to Jaime Brocal’s stark panels and Jim Stenstrum’s straightforward script. When Jacques’s body rises from the guillotine where he has rotted in the sun for three days, he looks like something George Romero would have featured in one of his Living Dead films. But we never rooted for Romero’s zombies.

Jordi Valls has had enough of the seemingly unending work on his land: plow the fields, feed the animals, clean the machines and tools. This is no life! So Jordi decides to travel to the cave housing the Maneironera plant; legend has it that should one be fortunate enough to find the plant, sow its seeds, and wait 24 hours, the Maneiros will grow. The Maneiros are small creatures who love to work (but, as Jordi's friend warns, never run out of work for the little buggers or else!) and Jordi Valls is a man who would love to watch them work. The trip is a success, Jordi plants the seed and, sure enough, he awakens the next morning to find thousands of little Maneiros in his field, awaiting orders.

"The Accursed Flower"
At first, everything goes swimmingly; Jordi has dozens of projects for the mighty mites to complete but, alas, dozens is not enough. Once our poor farming dupe exhausts his to-do list and throws up his hands in exasperation, the Maneiros find another project to take up their idle time. Jose Bea continues his ascent to the top of the Warren creative heap with "The Accursed Flower," a delightful (and delightfully dark) fairy tale with imagination and creativity to spare. Sure, Bea's main protagonist looks like the guy who complained about a smelly head in the hat shop and got too drunk to answer the phone call from the crypt, but his backgrounds and gremlins are to die for. The story is a tale of two extremes; humor and horror. You can't help but chuckle at Bea's panels of the mini-Baryshnikovs turning on a dime and cutting a rug in the field and, on the other hand, feeling the hairs stand up on the back of your neck as their bat-eared leader questions, "What shall we do now?"

"Wedding Knells"
Honeymooners Gus and Nancy Heath vacation in a log cabin in the "remote Canadian woods" with their German Shepherd, Bruno. Nancy's obviously getting the short end of the attention stick and she chides Gus constantly for treating Bruno like a "human" (wink, wink). For his part, Gus just loves that big old dog and believes the feeling is mutual. A series of brutal murders in the nearby village have the townsfolk murmuring "Loup Garou" under their breath and staring in suspicion at the newcomer in their midst. When Gus comes home one day to discover a dead man on his porch and an inconsolable wife, he decides this monster business is for real and boards himself, his wife, and his trusty best friend in the house. When he starts putting two and two together, Gus believes Nancy must be the werewolf and fills her full of buckshot. Unfortunately, for Gus, Nancy wasn't the one who grows extra fur and Bruno smiles and advances on his master.

The reveal of "Wedding Knells" is not that bad; I'll give Moench the credit for pulling one out of his hat, but the build-up is a cure for insomnia and the visual payoff itself is a riot. Gus changes gears seemingly in the midst of a thought and buys into the whole werewolf theory hook, line, and sinker. The scene of Gus, on a whim, deciding his wife is a monster and emptying both barrels into her at close range, is laugh-out-loud stupid but is, incredibly, topped by the next panel where our lead dope looks at his dog and says, "Hang on, I never realized before how much a German Shepherd looks like a wolf!!!" Gus really screwed the pooch.-Peter

Jack-My favorite in this strong issue of Creepy is "The Third Night of Mourning," which features an excellent story by James Senstrum (whose profile is reproduced here) and gorgeous art by Jaime Brocal. The technique of moving back and forth between the present and the past is a bit confusing, so I docked a half-star from my rating, but the story is very well done overall. Tied for second are "The Severed Hand" and "The Accursed Flower." I love the setting and the art in "The Severed Hand" and it doesn't start out as a severed hand tale but takes a left turn down a familiar road partway through. It's very good overall, and the cutting off of a head and a hand are shown in brutal detail. Jose Bea is unique among the Warren artists and easily turns out the creepiest stories of them all, at least at this point. I was reminded of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" by the events in "The Accursed Flower."

"Buried Pleasure" did not float my pirate ship as much as it did yours, Peter; I thought it went on too long and that the "surprise! it's a vampire!" ending was a dud. Still, it's good to see a somewhat-cogent script rein in Maroto's tendency toward vagueness in his storytelling. Finally, there's "Wedding Knells," which drags an old story out to a silly finish. Is it surprising that the two weakest scripts in this issue were by Doug Moench, or that they both pulled out classic Warren cliche endings?

Next Week...
We'll discuss the merits of
John Byrne!