Monday, August 31, 2020

The Warren Report Issue 41: March/April 1973

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

Eerie 46 (March 1973)

"And An Immortal Died"1/2
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Bill DuBay & Tom Sutton

"The Things in the Dark"
Story by Fred Ott
Art by Jimmy Janes

Story by Bill Warren
Art by Paul Neary

"The Root of Evil"★1/2
Story by Mike Jennings
Art by Martin Salvador

"Planet of the Werewolves!"★1/2
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Reed Crandall

"The Giant"
Story by Esteban Maroto and Steve Englehart
Art by Esteban Maroto

After a recap of the recent events concerning Dracula in Vampirella, the Conjuress drops Drac off on the Barbary Coast in the early 1900s. After the vampire drinks some blood from a couple of would-be tough guys on the docks, he sets his eyes on boarding a ship that will return him to his home in Europe. Meanwhile, a beautiful hooker named Josephine lures a sailor to his doom down a dark alley, where an old witch bashes him over the head before tearing out his heart to eat it raw in a ritual to keep her alive.

An undignified end for the Conjuress
Dracula hypnotizes two men to procure him a comfy coffin for the long voyage and soon meets Josephine, but before she can lure him to the same fate that befell the unfortunate sailor, he goes for her jugular. The Conjuress picks the wrong time to show up and is bonked in the head by the old witch! The Conjuress dies and Dracula turns to the old witch to exact vengeance, but the death of the goddess brings on the big San Francisco earthquake of 1906! Drac grabs Josephine and the witch and manages to board the ship of his choice before everything falls to pieces. He kills the witch and bites Josephine just as the ship sets sail.

I assume that "And an Immortal Died" is the start of a new series, and I have to hand it to Tom Sutton for his terrific art! It may not be as smooth as the work of Jose Gonzalez on the Vampirella series, but it's pretty impressive in its own right. Getting rid of the Conjuress must have been thought to be important to free the story to go its own way, but having her hit over the head with an old witch's stick is a sad end to a goddess. I had no idea that Dracula was involved in the famous earthquake or that the demise of the Conjuress is what brought it on, but I learn something new every day. I'm looking forward to this series, if this first entry is any indication of quality to come!

Did Sutton help out with the smaller man's face?
After little Billy disappears without a trace one night in a spooky graveyard, famous psychic researcher Prof. von Metz visits the cemetery's caretaker, Withers, and announces that he's going to get to the bottom of things. And get to the bottom he does, since "The Things in the Dark" are actually giant worms that feed on corpses. von Metz goes underground with a pistol but quickly discovers that Withers is fond of the critters and is burying von Metz in order to give them a midnight snack.

The start of the story, with the kids in the graveyard, cries out for Tom Sutton, but instead we get Jimmy Janes, who seems to be copying photographs for much of the character work in this story. The tale itself is somewhat Lovecraftian, what with the giant worms eating corpses, but the execution is pedestrian and there are some humorous moments where von Metz acts in unexpected ways. For instance, when Withers suggests that they get out of there, von Metz pulls a gun and insists that he'll investigate whether Withers likes it or not! The panel reproduced here is the highlight of the story and reminds me of something we'd see in one of Peter's Atlas horror comics.

Japanese fisherman are shocked by the sudden appearance of "Garganza!" The dinosaur-like creature was spawned by the A-bomb and goes on a rampage, wiping out much of the Far East and laying eggs that spawn more little monsters. Mankind is wiped out and dinosaurs rule the world. Over time, man is reborn, civilization returns, another atomic bomb is deployed and, to paraphrase Sting, many miles away something stirs at the bottom of a Japanese lake.

Paul Neary's likable art is all but wasted in this mashup of Godzilla and Planet of the Apes. Why did Bill Warren think anyone wanted to read a nearly note for note reboot of Godzilla, followed by yet another warning about the cyclical nature of events? I kept waiting for a surprise--any surprise--but it never came.

Martin Salvador sprinkles a few of these evocative panels
among the pages of "The Root of All Evil" to suggest the
passage of time as the tree-creature grows.
A wino named Abe Rosengarten answers an ad looking for a helper in a plant nursery and agrees to be a guinea pig for an experiment conducted by Prof. T. Thumb and his comely assistant, Miss Mumm. As the days pass, Abe finds himself hitting the bottle less and less, but soon he discovers that a plant is growing to resemble him and he is growing to look like a plant. It's all part of Prof. Thumb's plan for world domination and a date with Miss Mumm; a giant tree creature that looks a bit like Abe briefly menaces New York City until Miss Mumm plunges her garden shears into the real Abe's chest and severs "The Root of All Evil."

Fortunately, there is a profile of writer Mike Jennings in this issue, to prevent me from speculating on the age and experience level of the author of this surprisingly fun little story. Jennings is 40ish and new to writing comics, having worked in publishing and as a radio broadcaster. "The Root of Evil" is heavy on words but, for a change, I preferred the writing to the art. Sure, it's all a bit silly, but the plant-based character names and the puns made me smile. I also liked that the menace was never very menacing.

Ah, Reed, is this what it's come to?
After a system malfunction, Starship 7 crash-lands on the "Planet of the Werewolves!" A ragged Earthman who has been stranded on the planet explains to the crew that werewolves are on the prowl and, before you know it, the hairy creatures make their way onto the ship and kill the lone female crew member. The ship is repaired and takes off, but the crew is shocked to learn that the Earthman they have picked up is really a vampire, anxious to reach a new planet with plenty of potential victims.

It hurts me to say it, but the Reed Crandall story is the worst (so far) in what has been shaping up to be a fairly good issue of Eerie. Gerry Boudreau's script is awful, from the meandering plot to the always groan-worthy twist of introducing a vampire, and Crandall's art is but a shadow of what he was doing less than a decade before.

The only person prettier than the women in
Maroto's stories is Dax himself.
Held captive in the cave of a cyclops known as "The Giant," a topless beauty named Woona escapes and is chased by monsters until Dax comes to her rescue. She takes up with the blond warrior but is killed when a bat-like creature swoops down on her; Dax takes her to be buried and meets an old man who looks like a wizard. The wizard asks Dax to replace him as master of monsters but Dax isn't interested, so the wizard has the cyclops attack Dax. Dax uses his wits to defeat the giant creature and the wizard disappears.

An uncredited Steve Englehart attempts to write a coherent script for Maroto's latest exercise in drawing pretty pictures, but it's a fool's errand trying to make Esteban's work follow an interesting plot. Here, the wizard reminds me of the Sorcerer Tim from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and I continue to wonder why Dax spends so much of his time wandering around, as well as what shampoo and conditioner he uses.-Jack

"The Things in the Dark"
Peter-Years ago, I did a dissection of all the continuing series to appear in Eerie (not something I'd ever do again voluntarily... oh, wait...), and my summation of the three-chapter "Dracula" series was a resounding "meh." Perhaps I was too hard on the opus since, on a second read, I thought this opening chapter was a hoot. Sutton's clearly off the rails, making everything a dripping delight, and DuBay seems to be finally finding his voice as a writer. The highlight, of course, is the Conjuress taking a knock on the noggin and setting off the 1906 earthquake! The Conjuress was clearly made up of flimsier material than most Warren goddesses.  Fred Ott's "The Things in the Dark" is supremely lame; the whole script is a cheat and the reveal is inane. Why would the dopey caretaker call a professor, who doubtless let on to people he'd be coming down to this cemetery, rather than kill some local streetwalker? Jimmy Janes looks like he was similarly puzzled by Ott's words. Have a look at the panels I've reprinted here and tell me why von Metz is pointing his gun at Withers and, further, why does von Metz say "Look out, Withers! Behind you!" when he's aiming at a completely different spot? Never mind. It's just dumb.

"I am... Groot!"
Looks like Bill Warren (in his final work for Warren Publishing) gave as much thought to the creation of "Garganza" as he did to his other Warren stories. Are we to assume that Garganza's kids are the result of a massive immaculate conception, since there is no proof of Mr. Garganza at any point of the narrative? And why would she give birth to different species of dinosaurs? As perplexing as the script is, I thought Neary's work was aces. Now get Paul someone who can write. "The Root of Evil" contains this month's best line of dialogue, spoken by Professor Tom Thumb: "I won't mince words. I'm a scientist, you're a bum." Damn... now I can't get "Opportunities" by the Pet Shop Boys out of my head. "Let's make lots of money!" Mike Jennings's script is obviously bark-in-cheek, with some genuinely funny one-liners and dialogue, in addition to the aforementioned "Quote of the Week" (Professor: What do you know about ecology? Abe: Not much. You got some you need painted, or unloaded, or raked, or what?") Other random thoughts: I've never, in my life, met a hunchback, but then I also have never met any mad scientists. Oh, and Groot!

Oh, Gerry Boudreau, please don't tell me you're going there. It's not the werewolves we have to worry about, it's the vampires! Bad script, bad art. Reed Crandall is an artist best suited to the Victorian era, not a space opera. His werewolves are just about the least scary lycanthropes we've ever seen. This is Boudreau's first work for Warren and, over the next decade, he'll contribute dozens more scripts. My cheat sheet shows me that Gerry has at least two classics on tap, so it's obvious he won't rely on EC cliches forever. Jack wants to know what conditioner Dax uses; I want to know how his tired one-liners and smelly arm-pits charm the girls with the big boobs. The end of "The Giant" is a tad abrupt, but I think it's the most readable entry yet.

From Eerie #46

Creepy 52 (April 1973)

"A Most Private Terror" 
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Esteban Maroto

"The Last Hero!" ★1/2
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Ramon Torrents

"Halve Your Cake and Eat It Two" 
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Adolfo Abellan

"Them Thar Flyin' Things!" 
Story by Greg Potter
Art by Jose Bea

"The Man with the Brain of Gold" 
Story by Alphonse Daudet
Adapted by George Henderson
Art by Reed Crandall

"The Killer" ★1/2
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Felix Mas

"A Most Private Terror"
Hunter Briley Culmen sits freezing in front of his fire, the Canadian snow deep all around him, and ponders the creatures of the dark. Briley remembers a woman he loved, a strange, exotic beauty who, unfortunately, happens to be a werewolf. Briley finds this out when the creature attacks him and he runs it through with his sword. Dead, the monster reverts back to its gorgeous, naked, human identity. Now, years later, Briley is convinced a similar creature is stalking him through the wilderness but, after a long chase and a deadly fall to the bottom of a chasm, the hunter discovers his stalker is a mere bunny rabbit.

There's not much of substance to the script for "A Most Private Terror," but Maroto does his job well enough (some truly amazing work here). This story, again, brings to mind the Marvel Way, with Doug's captions doing little more than describing the action that's going on in the panels, throwing to the side anything deep. Are we to believe this little bunny is the frightening menace that stalks Culmen across the miles? Or should we, instead, assume that the guy is nuts and the rabbit shows up at the last second? Not really sure which to believe.

Too much Moench and Skeates will do this to ya
In the distant future, machines do everything for man, but a radical group known as the Baldies cause mayhem in order to throw a monkey wrench into what they believe is a broken system. But one man, who is perfectly happy doing nothing but studying mysticism and music, fights back, dressed as a superhero named "Freeman." Unfortunately, the Baldies outnumber "The Last Hero!" and, after a certain 1970s drug is administered, "Freeman" is brainwashed into the Baldies' culture. What a mess this is; there's no real reason for our unnamed protagonist to don a Zorro mask (especially when you have the only samurai 'stache in the city) and his fantastic powers (including some kind of ray beam that he emits, I think, from his eyes, but who can tell from the Torrents art) are never quite explained. I'm officially tired of the Warren "computers take over" sub-genre.

Roger wakes up to find he might be the only man left alive after nuclear devastation. He wanders the streets, looking for food and companionship, finally stumbling into a scrawny dog, which he names Caliph. The duo take to the road and, very soon, they find a pretty girl in a ditch. Roger gives her mouth-to-mouth and she awakens, falling in love with her savior immediately. Roger, Brenda, and Caliph live in relative happiness until their food supply begins to dwindle. That, and an attack by some form of mutant-human, have the couple on edge.

Roger drives to a local town for food, leaving Brenda with Caliph, but the car runs out of gas and it takes him three days (!) to walk back. When he gets back to their cave, there's no Brenda or Caliph, and he's set upon by a mutant. He kills the thing, surmising that it murdered and ate Brenda and the dog. Starving, he cooks and eats the mutant (as anyone would) but, very soon, a change takes place and Roger becomes a mutant himself. It's then that he realizes he cooked and ate Brenda. I absolutely hated everything about "Halve Your Cake and Eat It Two": the script, the art, the semicolons, everything. Doug Moench's special brand of sermonizing and way with an adjective (a desperate arm, strength fiercely surging through its vein-corded length, bludgeons the repulsive monstrosity in a spraying wash of scarlet (as opposed to green, I guess) blood and murky putrescence...) are well-documented and mocked in this blog so I'll just sum up... yeccch.

Sheriff Rip Diggerman and his deputy, Sam Dream, can't wait to get over ta Rip's Ma's place; she's cookin' up her famous apple pie. When the boys get there, Rip notices his sister Betty-Ann ain't around, and Ma tells him the girl is off lookin' for a man. The girl can't wait ta get herself hitched. Meanwhile, down at the crick, Betty-Ann has latched onto a new man, a stranger named Ronald who seems to be more interested in latchin' onta a fish than makin' whoop with Betty-Ann. Back at Ma's, deputy Fife tells Andy that they should be goin'; he heard tell there was another sightin' of a UFO out yonder near that crick where Betty-Ann is courtin'. The boys hop in their patrol car and head out of Dodge. Betty-Ann has had enough of Ronald's plum ignorin' her and she heads off through the woods, where she stumbles on four bald, antennae'd aliens exiting their spacecraft.

She hightails it back to Ronald, who is, understandably, skeptical, but he agrees to investigate the girl's claims. A while later, Rip and Sam come upon Roger fishing at the crick and ask him about Betty-Ann. The man sarcastically replies that, in his opinion, "she got kidnapped by one of them thar flyin' things... she got kidnapped by spacemen and they used her bones in their atomic generators like a truck diver (sic) uses a can of gasoline!" Rip pops him one and the sheriff and deputy march off to find Betty-Ann. In the brush lies the skeleton of Betty-Ann and Ronald confesses to himself that he sure was sorry he had to kill Betty-Ann and use her bones for rocket fuel but no one on Earth must know that his friends have landed.

Ah, thank you, Greg Potter, for this bright ray of sunshine in an otherwise dismally dark issue. Jose Bea's pencils are perfect and Potter's script is hilarious and, in the climax, pretty darn dark. Poor Betty-Ann just wanted a man and she had to go pester a Martian.

Roger is "The Man with the Brain of Gold," a unique attribute that becomes both gift and curse. Ever since he was young, all Roger had to do was pull a nugget or two from his head (ostensibly by unzipping the back of his neck?) and all those around him would profit. Then Roger meets the love of his life, a woman who has very expensive tastes, and his joy knows no measure. Alas, the girl dies and Roger goes to pieces, buying one last small treasure, a pair of shoes his wife would have loved, on the way home from her funeral. When Roger goes to the counter to pay, all that comes out in his hand is clotted blood.

Dribs and drabs of a
meandering mess
A very odd, very creepy little story based on a 19th century French tale by Alphonse Daudet (how George Henderson happened upon this little-known tale would make for interesting reading). "The Man With the Brain of Gold" holds a special place in my heart as one of those that gave me more than a few nightmares, thanks to that final panel of the titular character leaned over a display case, blood running from his hands and his head sickeningly sinking in. Big time credit must go to Reed Crandall for the disconcerting graphics. Hopefully, this marks a comeback for Crandall, whose art lately has not been up to his usual standards. Roger is a truly tragic character; he's not a Scrooge, nor a penny-pincher, nor a cold-hearted beast, as are so many of the funny book characters who earn their nasty demise. He's just a freak of nature who tries to make the best of it.

In the finale, "The Killer," Arthur finds a gorgeous girl, marries her, watches as the marriage collapses under the weight of his boring lifestyle, and then wakes up next to her naked, gorgeous corpse. Did Arthur stab his wife to death for stepping out on him? Why can't he remember the time leading up to her death? Did Steve Skeates change the script on Felix Mas after the art came in (the wife is described as "fat-cheeked and far from beautiful" in the captions but Mas presents us with Twiggy's twin sister)? Is there a message to be gleaned from all the psychoanalytical baloney served up? Not one that I recognize.-Peter

Jack-Creepy 52 is an average issue across the board. "The Killer" wins best story by a hair because I like the crime theme and the art by Felix Mas is decent, though I had to wonder if he read the script that called the girl fat and far from beautiful. Skeates also contributes "The Last Hero," which features warmed-over sci-fi mixed with counter-cultural cliches. The story is heavy-handed and obvious but, again, the art is pretty good. I agree with you, Peter, about "A Most Private Terror"--it reads as if Maroto drew it and then it was handed to Moench to write captions to explain what's going on. Maroto's method of telling a story seems to me to be to put on paper a series of impressions rather than a linear narrative. Unfortunately, this one is boring and the end is absurd.

Moench's other contribution, "Halve Your Cake and Eat it Two," seems at first like "Time Enough at Last" done Creepy-style, with horny hippies. Doug's determination to toss in random rock song titles in his stories is annoying, and Abellan's scratchy art recalls that of Jack Sparling in a few places. The story meanders along but the ending isn't bad. Greg Potter and Jose Bea's "Them Thar Flyin' Things!" has that usual weird feeling I get from everything Bea touches but, again, the art doesn't seem to match the script, since Ronald surmises that the aliens used Betty Ann's bones for rocket fuel but we see that her bones are all that's left of her! Finally, "The Man with the Brain of Gold" is an adaptation of a French story from circa 1865; Crandall's work here is a bit better than that of his story in last month's Eerie, but the effect is still flat.

Vampirella 23 (April 1973)

"The Blood Queen of Bayou Parish!"★1/2
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Jose Gonzalez

"Cobra Queen"
Story by Don Glut
Art by Esteban Maroto

"Call It Companionship!"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Ramon Torrents

"The Accursed!"
Story by Kevin Pagan
Art by Jose Bea

"The Witch's Promise"★1/2
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Rafael Auraleon

"Won't Eddie Ever Learn"
Story by Jim Stenstrum
Art by Felix Mas

Vampi & Co.'s ski vacation in Maine (which gives Jose Gonzalez an excuse to draw our bikini-clad heroine on skis) is interrupted when van Helsing's review of diaries from Father Jonas's church reveals that there is a second base of Darkling Disciples in New Orleans. Meanwhile, in Bayou Parish, a jerk named Gary smacks around and dumps his girlfriend Sally Sue, who fatally stabs herself. A Darkling Disciple approaches her dead body, which lies prone in the swamp water, and declares that she is now "The Blood Queen of Bayou Parish!" Arriving in the Big Easy, Conrad van Helsing introduces his comrades to an old friend, and Pendragon quickly retires to a nearby tavern, where he picks up none other than the late Sally Sue, who is looking amazingly hale and hearty.

After Pendragon and Sally Sue head off to do some bar-hopping, Vampirella realizes that each of her friends saw Sally Sue with a different appearance, so there must be magic at work. The sexy vampiress tracks down Pendragon but, when she challenges Sally Sue, the former country gal summons the power of water, and the next thing we know, Vampirella and Pendragon are strapped to a couple of tables. Gloating over them are the revived Father Jonas, the revived Sally Sue, and Gary, who stands nearby in a zombie-like daze. Father Jonas has a master plan but Adam van Helsing appears on the scene. Father Jonas reveals that he now has big spidery-claw legs and knocks down Adam with ease, but Gary (like most readers) focuses on Vampirella's hotness and approaches her.

Sally Sue becomes jealous and, for some reason, Gary is able to see her as the rotting corpse she really is. He attacks her, Father Jonas sets him on fire, and he falls on Vampi, melting her bonds and setting her free. Father Jonas's fire power and Sally Sue's water power cancel each other out and the good guys make their escape.

I am rather proud of myself for being able to make some sense of this mess of a story. I am surprised that Steve Englehart wrote something so weak, though Jose Gonzalez, being my favorite Warren artist at this point, can salvage just about anything that pops out of a typewriter. The splash page, of Vampirella on skis, is both alluring and ridiculous--at least she has traded in her high-heeled boots for snow boots! The rest of the story is a disaster, with some good ideas thrown into a pot and stirred to make something that jumps from incident to incident and ends up wholly unsatisfying.

"Cobra Queen!"
A trio of British explorers search the jungles of India for the lost Temple of the Cobra and the "Cobra Queen"! After witnessing a giant cobra kill a huge tiger, one of the men is killed by the poisonous bite of a snake, leaving the other two to make their way to the temple and confront the queen herself. She turns into a giant cobra and menaces them, but one of the explorers turns into a giant cobra himself! Now the Cobra Queen finally has a Cobra King, and their first shared meal will be the third explorer.

Surprisingly, the team of Glut and Maroto turn out an entertaining, exciting story with an ending that both surprised me and made me groan. Unlike the other Maroto efforts we've discussed in this post, this one seems to have been written first by Glut, since it actually follows a narrative and is not just a series of pretty pictures. This is a good time to mention the dynamite cover by Sanjulian, which is even more eye-catching than Maroto's work on the interior. All three of Sanjulian's covers this time out are stunning.

"Call it Companionship!"
When a beautiful woman named Cheryl spies a dead rat on her breakfast plate, she is horrified, but then she digs in and takes a big bite. She has just stabbed her lover to death, and thinks back to her recent purchase of a cat at a pet shop. Why did she want a feline? "Call it Companionship!" When her boyfriend Les pushes her for sex, she resists, but soon she finds that she is tearing up the sofa cushions, begging Les for intercourse, and licking her own shoulder. Les notices a change in her behavior and visits her apartment to get rid of the cat, but Cheryl goes wild and stabs him to death. Now she and her furry best pal can be together.

When a story is only six pages long, and the first page and a half lead to a three-page flashback that ends with us right back where we started, you know you're in trouble. This tale of a cat-lover really goes nowhere fast and doesn't end with a surprise twist, since we've just seen Cheryl murder Les a few pages before. The art by Raymond Torrents is adequate, but no more.

"The Accursed!"
Joseph Trask enters a graveyard at night, determined to dig up Grey Arkham's grave! He fights off a werewolf and vampire bats, recalling a priest's words a day before, when the man of God said that Arkham's burial in the town cemetery meant that anyone else buried there would be "The Accursed!" Trask digs up Arkham's grave and is set upon by rats, but eventually he opens the coffin and destroys the dead body. With his dying breath, Joseph Trask crawls to a nearby grave marker and tells his recently-buried father that he may now rest in peace.

I liked this story the first time through, but I was confused by the ending. On the second go-round, it became clear that Joseph had to destroy the corpse of Arkham to ensure that his dead father would know peace in the same graveyard. Jose Bea gives the proceedings just the right amount of "yuck" and the parade of creatures that confront Trask are not too overdone, so the story works well.

Happens every day--
("The Witch's Promise")
In 17th-century Germany, Helga Starknein is hanged as a witch, leaving her daughter Mircalla to fend for herself. This being a Warren comic, she grows up to be a super-hottie, living in the Black Forest alone and cavorting in the nude until a cad named Wilhelm Brandt happens by. They spend the night together and she falls in love, but the army captain scorns her and she makes "The Witch's Promise" that, one day, he'll regret his actions. Sure enough, the next time he's in the Black Forest, his coach, horse, and companions are wiped out and he is killed by the limbs of a living tree as Mircalla observes with glee.

Much as I love Jose Gonzalez and his work on the Vampirella series, if he is ever unable to continue, I nominate Rafael Auraleon for the job. Every time I come across one of the stories he has illustrated I marvel at his work. I don't think anyone else at Warren is doing such detailed, beautiful art or can tell a story quite as cleanly. And, of course, he can draw gorgeous women!

Eddie Kelch is a drifter and a thief, wanted in five states and looking to steal a truck to drive to his next destination. Eddie comes upon a farm where he meets a pretty, blind girl named Mary. Her father doesn't have any work for Eddie but invites him to stay for dinner, and Eddie sees that the old man has a wad of cash stashed in a heavy box with some cigars. That night, Eddie climbs in a window and is caught in the act; he bashes Dad over the head with the money box and kills him, but when Eddie hears Mary coming he sits the old man's corpse up in his favorite chair. Mary is none the wiser but Eddie, dope that he is, trips and falls out of a window, landing right in the pig trough. Next morning, Mary feeds the pigs, who begin to feast on poor Eddie.

"Won't Eddie Ever Learn"

A tale well told, though the ending is slightly confusing: is Eddie dead? Or just so knocked out that he doesn't wake up when the piggies begin to gnaw on him? Either way, this is a decent way to end a pretty good issue of Vampirella. For a change, the back-up stories outshine the main feature.-Jack

Peter-Though "The Blood Queen..." seemed unfocused and rambling, I did like several aspects and it's certainly more entertaining than the TCB entries (or is that my Stainless bias coming through?). The "Queen" appearing as different lust objects to each of the cast was a brilliant move, but why didn't we get a spotlight on who Vampi saw while looking at the witch? "Of course, with her brown hair..." was the only tantalizing clue we got as to whether our Drakulonian darling swings both ways. I also liked the Cthulhuian appearance of the defrocked Father Jonas (even if the giant claw never seems to exhibit an unsightly bulge in his robe at other times). But I want some backstory on this evil Dark Ducklings coven real quick; the last super duper evil cult fell by the wayside before we got much 411.

"Whatcha Gonna Do When She Says Goodbye?"

Unlike Jack, I didn't find much substance in "Cobra Queen," aside from Maroto's (insert synonym for "fabulous" here) graphics. It neither entertained nor excited me, but I did groan. The only surprise to me, was a Glut script that didn't call for more boobies. Even worse, though, is "Call It Companionship," an inexplicable mess from panel one. The only plus I can pull out of this one is that, to me, this is the best Torrents work we've seen. Yes, even that panel where Les suddenly becomes a member of Pablo Cruise and tries to kill the cat (above). Stunning work, and Cheryl is very sexy, even if she is only a cartoon. My favorite part is where Les whines on a bar stool, after getting the sack time he's been begging for, about Cheryl's cat and her messy apartment. "Yesterday... she tried to lick her own shoulder!"

"The Accursed" is a fun-filled monster story and I enjoyed the heck out of it, especially Arkham's rise from his coffin. As did Jack, I had to re-read the final panels to "get" the ending. It's not a twist, but Trask's motives are effective. There's not much sense to "The Witch's Promise," unless I'm missing something. It's pretty to look at, sure, but the script meanders and Mircalla doesn't really avenge her mother, does she? Is she striking a blow for Women's Lib? The opening reminded me of "The Third Night of Mourning." On the other hand, we get the best story this issue, the simple but unnerving "Won't Eddie Ever Learn." I thought Jim Stenstrum was taking us down that boring path of telekinesis when pretty Mary answers Eddie's thought when they first meet. But, glory be, Jim takes us down a different road altogether. My guess, Jack, is that Eddie is already dead from the blow to his head. Felix Mas's art is stark and brilliant. A great way to end an otherwise mediocre issue of Vampi.

Next Week...
The return absolutely
no one clamored for...
Sterling Silversmith!

Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Hitchcock Project-Harold Swanton Part Six: Museum Piece [6.25]

by Jack Seabrook

"Museum Piece" is a tale of a father's revenge, the evidence of his crime hidden in plain sight for years, and two murders committed by a seemingly reasonable man. In the end, four men are dead: one by accident, one from despair, and two due to careful planning.

The show opens with a close up of a skull that has a large hole in its cranium. We hear the voice of a museum tour guide discussing the artifact, and the camera pulls back to see the man speaking to a tour group in a museum as they observe an entire skeleton on display. The guide then leads the group to another skeleton hanging nearby, that of a modern male Caucasian, a "'present-day American, very much like you and I.'" Soon, the group leaves and the guide closes the doors of the museum for the day. He discovers that one man has remained inside, examining a series of primitive, Obsidian knives displayed atop a glass display case. Like Chekhov's gun, the focus on knives at this early point ensures that one of these knives will be used later in the episode!

Larry Gates as Hollister
The visitor identifies himself as Newton B. Clovis, an archaeo-psychologist who walks with a cane due to an old skiing injury. He opines about the men who fashioned the knives and suggests that one in particular was "'sensitive, an artist.'" Clovis examines the second skeleton and notes a break in the leg, comparing it to his own injury. The guide, whose name is Hollister, says that the skeleton is that of a man he knew who died many years ago. Hollister invites Clovis for a drink before dinner and the shot dissolves to the inside of Hollister's home, which is attached to the museum. The room is decorated with numerous objects, including a stuffed and mounted prairie falcon, a selection of Boy Scout merit badges, and a stuffed fox in a glass case. Hollister calls the fox "'Circe,'" the temptress, and tells Clovis that all of the items in the room on display belonged to his son.

Myron McCormick as Clovis
Hollister than narrates his son's story and we see the events portrayed in flashback. Young Ben Hollister is seen tracking a fox outdoors with a rifle. After several days of tracking, he discovered that the fox's den was in a barn. Ignoring a "Keep Out!" sign, Ben climbs over a fence and follows the fox into the barn, unaware that a young man and woman are in the midst of a passionate embrace up in the hayloft. Ben shoots and kills the fox inside the barn, and Tim McCaffrey descends from the hayloft and recognizes the hunter, deriding him as "'Nature Boy Hollister.'" Tim confronts Ben as a trespasser and the young woman accuses him of "'stealing pigeons'"; Tim calls Ben a coward and Ben asks him to step outside before turning to walk away. Tim picks up a pitchfork and hurls it at Ben, who ducks. His rifle goes off and Tim is shot through the eye and killed. The woman in the hayloft calls Ben a murderer!

Bert Convy as Ben Hollister
After a fade out, the camera fades in on Hollister in the office of District Attorney Henshaw, pleading with the D.A. to spare his son. A newspaper story has accused Ben of killing Tim McCaffrey "'on purpose, like he killed a specimen for his collection.'" Hollister blames Henshaw for the news story and asserts that the negative publicity will ensure a guilty verdict at trial. He accuses the D.A. of targeting Ben because Tim's father's support put Henshaw in office. We then witness Ben's trial, at which Henshaw explains to the jury that Ben shot animals in the eye to preserve them as specimens and claims that Ben planned Tim's murder in the same manner. Ben's outbursts in the courtroom protesting his own innocence are for naught. For some reason, the young woman in the hayloft, who witnessed the incident, is nowhere to be seen. Henshaw's argument that an accidental shot in the eye is nearly impossible is convincing and, although the D.A. asks for the death penalty, Ben is sentenced to life in prison.

Edward Platt as D.A. Henshaw
In prison, Hollister visits his son to announce that he has bought an old ranch and plans to turn it into a private museum. He asks Ben to design it to house his collection, attempting to engage the young man, but Ben is listless and uninterested. After Ben goes back to his cell, a prison guard tells Hollister that his son does not belong there and is refusing to eat. Hollister again visits D.A. Henshaw to beg for Ben to be paroled, insisting that Ben will die inside of a year if left in prison, but Henshaw ignores Hollister's entreaties.

There is another dissolve and we are back in the present, as Hollister tells Clovis that Ben died two months later. He again comments that the events took place "'years ago,'" and we can see that Hollister has aged: his hair, grey in the flashbacks, is now white. His story done, Hollister leaves the room to finish locking up. Clovis returns to the museum and examines the contemporary skeleton closely, paying special attention to its teeth. Hollister returns to find him there, and Clovis reveals that he is not really an archaeo psychologist--he's from the office of the District Attorney. Hollister remarks that it "'took almost a year to put him there,'" referring to the skeleton, and he mentions a manhunt.

Tom Gilleran as Tim McCaffrey
Behind his back, Hollister picks up one of the Obsidian knives and approaches Clovis. He admits that he carried out the "'execution'" of D.A. Henshaw, whose skeleton now hangs in the museum, and calls him "'the man who murdered my son.'" Clovis asks how it was done and turns to face the skeleton, at which point Hollister stabs him in the back. Clovis falls to the floor, dead. There is another dissolve, and we see Hollister leading another tour group through the museum, but this time there is a third skeleton on display: that of Newton B. Clovis.

Harold Swanton's teleplay for "Museum Piece" is well-structured, with parallel scenes at the beginning and end. The acting is good, too, especially the performance of Larry Gates as Hollister, the anguished father. Yet the story seems too complicated for a 21-minute film, with too many things happening for the viewer to be able to follow clearly. One assumes that the skeleton in the museum is that of Ben, and the revelation at the end that it is Henshaw's is unexpected and confusing, though a careful review demonstrates that Hollister never says directly that the skeleton is that of his son. It is hard to imagine how Hollister manages to get away with murder twice--the unseen killing of D.A. Henshaw and the onscreen killing of Clovis--not to mention stripping the bodies down to their skeletons and boldly displaying those skeletons in a museum off the highway.

Charles Meredith as the judge
Although Hollister says that the events concerning his son Ben occurred many years ago, the flashback scenes seem contemporary, with clothing and hairstyles indistinguishable from those in the scenes set in the present. The events in the barn, with Tim throwing a pitchfork at Ben, Ben's rifle discharging, and a bullet going through Tim's eye, are also hard to fathom, and when Henshaw argues to the jury that the sequence of events makes no sense, his claim is believable. Finally, Hollister as a double murderer seems implausible, since his sincere concern for his son and his reasoned approach don't seem to jibe with his role as a cold-blooded killer.

The onscreen credit states that Swanton's teleplay is based on a story by William C. Morrison, but to date I have been unable to determine which story that is. IMDb lists "Museum Piece" as the only TV or film adaptation of a Morrison story, and the FictionMags Index lists 101 stories published under his name and three more published under a pseudonym.

Darlene Tompkins as the girl in the hayloft
William C. Morrison was the pseudonym of Joseph Samachson (1906-1980), who worked as a research chemist until 1938, when he quit to try his hand at freelance writing. He wrote short stories for pulps and digests from 1941 to 1958, as well as some non-fiction and many comic book stories for DC Comics. He is credited with creating the character of J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter, for DC. He also worked as a teacher in California and as a camp counselor. In the 1950s, he appeared on the TV show, You Bet Your Life, as a contestant being grilled by Groucho Marx. His obituary says that he wrote scripts for TV's Captain Video, but IMDb does not list any credits for that show.

The majority of Morrison's short stories were in the science fiction genre and, using online sources, I have been able to examine and eliminate all but 22 of the 101 stories listed in the FictionMags Index as the source of "Museum Piece." Of those 22, four are science fiction, two are (presumably) general fiction (published in 1954 issues of Family Circle), and three are western, leaving the probable source story one of 13 published in detective magazines; 12 of them between 1941 and 1944 and one more in 1953. The 13 possible stories are:

"Santa Claus Ain’t Tough" (Thrilling Detective, March 1941)
"The Birds Tell Everything" (Thrilling Detective, April 1941)
"G-Boy" (G-Men Detective, September 1941)
"Money from Heaven" (G-Men Detective, March 1942)
"Happy Birthday, Dear Warden" (Exciting Detective, Summer 1942)
"You Got Me Hypnotized" (The Masked Detective, Summer 1942)
"Death Takes Wings" (G-Men Detective, July 1942)
"Murder Takes Nerve" (Thrilling Mystery, November 1942)
"Don’t Tell the Police" (Popular Detective, February 1943)
"Flight to Death" (Popular Detective, June 1943)
"They Picked a Sucker" (Thrilling Mystery, Summer 1944)
"No Medal for Murdock" (G-Men Detective, Fall 1944)
"Killer on the Run" (Fifteen Detective Stories, August 1953)

"Museum Piece" was first broadcast on NBC on Tuesday, April 4, 1961.

Clovis's skeleton has been added to the display
Director Paul Henreid (1908-1992) was born in Austria-Hungary and made his name as an actor, first appearing on screen in 1932. His two most famous roles came in 1942, in Now, Voyager and Casablanca. He also worked as a director from 1948 to 1971, mostly on television, and he directed 29 episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Landlady." He also directed two episodes of Thriller.

Larry Gates (1915-1996), who stars as Hollister, served in the Army in World War Two and appeared on screen from 1952 to 1994. He had an important role in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), as Dr. Kauffman, and he was a regular from 1983 to 1996 on the soap opera, The Guiding Light. He was in one episode of The Twilight Zone and this was his only role on the Hitchcock series.

Receiving second billing is Myron McCormick (1908-1962), as Newton B. Clovis. He was on Broadway from 1932 to 1957 and he had a supporting role in South Pacific from 1949 to 1954, winning a Tony Award in 1950. He was also on Old Time Radio, and he began appearing on film in 1936 and on TV in 1948. He had a role in The Hustler (1961) and returned to Broadway for a two-year run of No Time for Sergeants (1955-57). He was in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Bert Convy (1933-1991) plays Ben Hollister. Convy played minor league baseball in 1951-52 and began acting on TV in 1951. His first film was in 1958, and he continued to appear onscreen until 1990. He was seen in Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood (1959) and on Night Gallery; this is his only part on the Hitchcock series. Convy became best known as a game show participant and host from 1968-90, hosting Super Password from 1984-89.

District Attorney Henshaw is portrayed by Edward Platt (1916-1974). After serving in the Army during World War Two, Platt had a two-decade career on screen, from 1954 to 1974, appearing in such films as Rebel without a Cause (1955), House of Numbers (1957), and North By Northwest (1959). He was a familiar face on TV, appearing on Thriller, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and The Odd Couple, but he will always be remembered for his role as the Chief on Get Smart (1965-1970). "Museum Piece" was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

In smaller roles:
  • Tom Gilleran (1936- ) as Tim McCaffrey; he had a few roles on TV between 1960 and 1984, including an appearance on The Twilight Zone and parts in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Gloating Place."
  • Charles Meredith (1894-1964) as the judge; he was an actor in silent film from 1919-24 who took a break to act on the stage until returning to the screen from 1947-64; he played a judge in Strangers on a Train (1951) and he was a regular on the TV show, Rocky Jones, Space Ranger (1954). He was in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Kind Waitress."
  • Darlene Tompkins (1940-2019) as the girl in the hayloft; she was an actress on screen from 1960-67 and a TV stunt woman from 1975-78; this was her only part on the Hitchcock show.
Watch "Museum Piece" for free online here or order the DVD here. Please leave a comment if you have any information about the short story that served as the source for this episode.

The FictionMags Index,
Galactic Central,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
“Museum Piece.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 6, episode 25, NBC, 4 Apr. 1961.
SFE: The Science Fiction Encyclopedia,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: Bang! You're Dead, starring Billy Mumy!

Monday, August 24, 2020

Batman in the 1980s Issue 9: September 1980

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

José Luis García-López/
Dick Giordano
The Untold Legend of the Batman #3

"The Man Behind the Mask!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Jim Aparo

After the explosion in the Batcave that totaled the Batmobile, Batman is on the warpath, determined to discover the identity of the man (or ghost) who wants him dead. His journey takes him to see his connections on the street, but they are no help; Commissioner Gordon can only offer up a "good luck" and ponder his first meetings with his friend; Lucius Fox, who similarly recalls his rise in Bruce Wayne's business; and, finally, his Pop, who turns up at the old mansion to remind him of the good he's doing for the folks of Gotham.

Actually, that last is a cheat since it turns out it's actually Dick (in his Robin suit under the vintage Batman suit!), who's figured out the big twist here and is trying to snap his partner back into reality. Yep, it's Batman himself, a bit dazed after a warehouse explosion left him with "temporary schizophrenia with paranoid delusion," who's been behind all the shenanigans. Brought back to reality, the Dark Knight thanks his "old chum" and hits the rooftops to ponder his future in crime fighting.

Peter: The wrap-up (and accompanying exposition) is ludicrous but, unfortunately, predictable. I had a feeling it would end up being someone like Alfred or Dick trying to remind Bruce why he's a crime fighter in the first place. The idea that the Caped Crusader would blow up the Batmobile (and nearly put an end to Robin's career as well) is darn right silly but is par for the course when it comes to Len's scripting at this time. The highlights, to me, were Gordon's flashback (where his hair turns from black to grey literally overnight) and Jim Aparo's stunning art. Say what you will (and I will) about the quality of scripts, at least Joe Orlando keeps the visuals at a high level. It's also good to see some acknowledgement of outside help, as in the reveal of stunt man/car crafter Jack Edison. So, to sum up the three issues of Untold Legend of the Batman, I would utter a profound "Meh."

Jack:  Once again, Aparo's art uses a mix of sharpness and shadow to good effect. The first meeting of Batman and Commissioner Gordon is certainly memorable, as is the origin of Batgirl, but the first meeting of Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox doesn't quite seem in the same category. The big finale, where it's revealed that it was Batman behind everything all along, reminds me of the story arc that led up to Detective 1000. And who knew that Batman had a guy to build Batmobiles on demand?

Batman #327

"Asylum Sinister!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin

Batman has infiltrated Arkham Asylum in the guise of criminal Shank Taylor, and he quickly wiggles out of his strait-jacket and picks the lock on his cell door. After some quick snooping among the other inmates, he returns to his cell and is taken to see Professor Milo, who now runs the place. Milo reveals that he has replaced the real director and now runs a scheme whereby the inmates are let out to commit crimes. Batman/Shank plays crazy and refuses to comply, unaware that Milo knows full well who he is.

Sneaking into the cell of the supposedly-dead Joker, Batman dons a Batsuit that fits perfectly, but he quickly passes out from what turns out to have been poison on the handle of a cup of tea that Professor Milo served to him. Batman is put in a strait-jacket again and taken to Milo's office, where the other inmates of Arkham and Milo do their best to convince the Dark Knight that he has gone insane. Figuring out that he has been drugged, Batman fights back, knocks out a couple of orderlies, and gets a woman who thinks she's Joan of Arc to cut him loose from his strait-jacket. The Caped Crusader chases down Milo, who tries to gas him but who is soon set upon by the other inmates. When they let him up, he is hopelessly insane--done in by the very gas he wanted to use to drive Batman crazy.

Jack: As predicted, Shanks is Batman in disguise. After trying to make it a big secret last issue, it's revealed right away this time. Unfortunately, the main story in this issue cannot hold a candle to that gorgeous cover by Joe Kubert. Batman's ability to come and go while inside Arkham Asylum seems absurd, and Professor Milo never seems like a very dangerous adversary. There is also an odd page where Alfred keeps the real Shanks Taylor sedated in the Batcave. Novick's art is about what we've come to expect, but the last page is impressive.

Peter: One gigantic load of forgettable hooey. There are just so many coincidences and inanities the human mind can absorb at one point and I think Len has just exploded my brain. Please tell me that I didn't imagine that Arkham not only keeps Joker's cell open for him when he's readmitted but that they let the Clown Prince of Whatever keep a life-size dummy of Batbrain to "take shots at!" How brilliant! That's definitely late-20th-century psychology at its finest!

"Express to Nowhere"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Dick Giordano & Steve Mitchell

Bruce Wayne is there at the station to meet Dick Grayson when he takes the train home during a break from college. Bruce says hello to John Taggart, VP of the train company, who complains that the recession is hurting business. Bruce notices a couple of crooks board the train, which suddenly departs the station early. Donning their costumes, Batman and Robin hop on top of the train as it gathers speed and soon they are inside, battling the crooks. It seems a government stool pigeon is on board and was their target. The crooks are defeated and the stool pigeon saved by some heroics from the Teen Wonder; back at the station, Taggart is revealed to be behind the attempt to stop the stool pigeon: he took money to try to save his train line and engineered the whole scheme.

Jack: Not a bad little back-up story--"Express to Nowhere" contains no real surprises but features decent pencils by Giordano and uneven inks by Mitchell. It's nice to see Batman and Robin work together, but when Robin saves the stool pigeon it stretches credibility; the man falls out the window of a moving train and Robin manages to keep him from landing on the ground. I was not convinced by the way the Teen Wonder pulled it off and think the crook would really have gone splat.

Peter: Not bad; a fairly entertaining adventure. I had a big laugh at that save by Robin as well, but how about when Bats watches as one of the thugs falls (from a speeding train) and theorizes that the guy will be okay cuz it was "a short fall!"? A short fall from an out-of-control train is no big deal? I'm going to test this theory and will be back next week to give my findings.

The Brave and the Bold #166

"Requiem for 4 Canaries!"
Story by Michael Fleisher
Art by Dick Giordano & Terry Austin

There's been a jailbreak at Gotham Penitentiary! Batman helps round up the escapees, but one prisoner--inmate #23147, a/k/a the Penguin--is gone. Batman knows that the arch-criminal will make his way to Star City to find and eliminate his four henchmen who turned state's evidence and put him in the slammer.

The Penguin promptly takes over a gang in Star City and, the next evening, he kills the first of the four stoolies by means of poison gas hidden in a sugar shaker. He does not know that Dinah Lance, a/k/a the Black Canary, is at the same club where the man is killed; she changes into her costume and gives chase. Batman comes to her rescue after she is knocked out, and the Penguin escapes.

Getting info from an informant, Black Canary locates the other stool pigeons, but the Penguin eliminates one with a bomb before the heroes can get to him. That leaves two, and Batman and Black Canary decide to take one each. The Penguin sends a fake Black Canary to try to distract Batman, but the Dark Knight is on to her ruse and tracks down the Penguin in his hideout, where he has Black Canary tied up. Batman makes short work of the fowl fiend and his henchmen, with a bit of aid from the nearly naked Black Canary and, before you know it, Star City is safe and the Canary is planting a big smooch on the Bat's kisser.

Jack: "Requiem for 4 Canaries!" packs a lot of fun into its 17 pages and manages to avoid the worst cliche of the team-up books, that of the misunderstanding and brief fight between the heroes. Instead, we get plenty of gorgeous drawings of Black Canary--in and out of costume--and some hijinks by the Penguin, who dons a couple of disguises along the way. One question, though: if the goal of Batman and Black Canary is to find and protect the "4 Canaries" whose testimony put the Penguin behind bars, isn't this mission something of a failure? The Penguin manages to kill either two or three of the informants (it's not clear exactly how many)! And one more thing: what does Black Canary do to keep her blonde wig on? The Penguin, for some unknown reason, strips her down to her undies and ties her to a chair, but the wig stays put? How does that work? And Terry Austin's inks over Dick Giordano's pencils look much better than Steve Mitchell's in this month's Batman backup story.

Peter: And how is it again that Black Canary keeps a secret identity? She's a gorgeous dame who dresses as a gorgeous dame in tights. No mask. No hoodie. Almost as perplexing is the Penguin's disguise at the nightclub and pawn shop. Why bother when you can't cover up that schnozz? Award for most complete Rolodex in the world goes to Max for his card on Blinky, including the info that the Blink owns a "fencing operation out of a small antiques shop over on Pearl Street!" Nothing like a little discretion. My biggest chuckle this issue was Batman's assertion that what tipped him off about the bogus Canary was that the phony had blonde roots. So would the real Canary have pulled the whole "Oh, Batman, you're so strong and I'm so scared. Hold me!" routine in the middle of a dangerous adventure? On the plus side, you get some great PG-13 cheesecake and a nastier Penguin than the Burgess Meredith model.

Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

Thomas Tresser sends a small statute of the scales of justice to the widow of murdered lawman Ben Marshall, promising to avenge her husband's death. In the guise of "Nemesis," Tresser impersonates a bum to track down a hit man named George Peal, but his disguise is uncovered and he barely escapes with his life. When crime boss J.R. Ogden assigns Peal the job of killing businessman Sidney Shelton, a bug that Nemesis placed on Peal's body leads to Ogden being caught and arrested for attempted murder. Enraged, Ogden shoots and kills Peal, ensuring that he'll go to jail. With Ogden in prison and Peal dead, Nemesis is satisfied that the men responsible for Ben Marshall's death have been punished.

Jack: "Nemesis" reminds me of one of those backup stories in a mid-'70s Charlton comic (like E-Man), where Steve Ditko or someone like him would create a new hero who would disappear after an issue or two. There's nothing special about Nemesis and the story is set up and ends quickly, with mediocre art to match. How long will this hero last? Keep watching this space.

Peter: There's a bit of intrigue to go with the hokeyness of Nemesis. Why a guy who hides in the shadows or goes the Mrs. Doubtfire route needs a uniform (with a scale on the chest, no less) is beyond me. I'd say he has just as many marbles loose as Ogden, but that may be the message... if there is even a message here. I liked that scripter Burkett didn't hold back when it came to the homicide but it would have been sweeter if we knew that was the plan of Nemesis to begin with. The Spiegle art is about average for one of these back-ups, static figures with bland faces.

Detective Comics #494

"The Crime Doctor Calls at Midnight!"
Story by Michael Fleisher
Art by Don Newton & Bob Smith

Where do thieves and heisters go if they want the perfect crime planned? Who ya gonna call if your jewelry store break-in has gone pear-shaped? Never fear, "The Crime Doctor Calls at Midnight!" Dr. Bradford Thorne, respected physician and (coincidentally) call-out for Batman's personal doc is, when duty calls, the Crime Doctor! Commissioner Gordon gets intel that someone is supplying criminals with really good plans and asks Batman to look into it. At that very second, word comes in that there's a robbery down at the docks and someone dressed as a physician may be on scene. The Dark Knight heads down to the docks. The Crime Doctor has already left the scene, but Bats puts the kibosh on the robbery. His shoulder is injured in the fisticuffs and, the next morning, Alfred sends Bruce for medical assistance.

Bruce meets Thorne, who patches the billionaire up, and the two make chit-chat. Thorne is well known for giving piles of dough to charity and Bruce has invited the doc to the next Wayne Foundation benefit. While the ball is on, the Bat-signal appears in the sky and Thorne gets a buzz from a gang he planned a job for. Both make hasty exits. Thorne interrupts the shady trio at the Monarch Drug Company while they're preparing to lift a very expensive drug called Interferon. Thorne reminds the burglars that the idea was to crack the safe at Monarch, but their leader explains that things change. The Dark Knight arrives and a battle royale ensues. The Crime Doctor tries to put a scalpel into our hero but only manages to graze his shoulder. Yep, that shoulder. While a shocked Thorne exclaims that he was the one that put that bandage on that bicep, Bats drops his guard long enough for one of the goons to bash in his skull. The thugs exit, but the brains of the outfit has a surprise for his two companions: he sets off a bomb and the Monarch Drug Company explodes.

Peter: If you can set aside the ludicrosity of a villain who writes out prescriptions for his victims (it helps when you remember the other villain who uses umbrellas as a weapon) and the silly coincidences, you'll enjoy the heck out of "The Crime Doctor Calls at Midnight!" Someone must have told Mike Fleisher that they wanted him to tone down the splatter for this title. No one gets chainsawed or gutted; in fact, the violence is kept to a minimum. Mike takes the Batman mythology and gives it a spin. Thorne is a rich guy who gives lots of money to his favorite charity and has an elaborate underground lair where he invents tech-gizmos that help his alter ego stay ahead of the game. Sound familiar? Sure, he's a "villain," but he's got a heart. He stays behind to tend to an injured Caped Crusader at great risk to his well-being. I smell a team-up in the air. I like the art a lot; Don Newton is just aces. And I'm really pleased we get a two-parter for once.

Jack: The crime doctor is an intriguing character, mixing medical ethics, philanthropy, and thrill-seeking behavior. There's a nice bit of parallel action when both Bruce Wayne and the crime doctor are called at the same time. The story is exciting and very well illustrated and I'm looking forward to part two.

"(Untitled) Tales of Gotham City"
Story by Jack C. Harris
Art by Dan Spiegle

Flip is a pinball wizard (he's got such a supple wrist!), but he's also a drug runner for Artie, arcade owner/drug tycoon, and a package needs to go out pronto. But Flip ain't got no distractions and just wants to watch those digit counters fall, so one of his minions, little Juan, volunteers to run the parcel over to Regelski's joint while Flip scores three trillion more. Later, Artie receives a call from a source who says his runner is gonna get hit before he gets to Regelski's joint. Flip puts his crazy flipper fingers right through the glass and heads out the door. He finds little Juan, about to be ventilated by Rooster and Huggy Bear, and saves the little runt's life, earning a bullet in the bargain. As he is dying, Flip hands Juan a metal ball, thus crowning a new Bally table king.

Peter: How these things ever got past the editorial desk is a wonder unto itself. Jack Harris, obviously still falling asleep to Starsky and Hutch reruns, mines every cliche known to Caucasian crime fiction and then hands over his five-minute script to the equally inept Dan Spiegle. Flip treats this little kid like crap until... he doesn't. There's a complete 180 right out of the blue that seems as realistic as Artie's hideous tie. When Spiegle's pencils aren't scratchy and ugly (as in the Shaggy-esque Flip), they're bland and lifeless (as in the Hostess Twinkie ad version of ghetto child Juan). There has yet to be a Tale of Gotham City that has floored me (most are average or slightly entertaining), but this is just the pits. A maudlin mess full of stereotypes and nonentities.

Jack: While the story is well-told and suspenseful, Dan Spiegle's art continues to disappoint me and there are more unfortunate examples in this tale of Black characters sporting flamboyant clothes and using ghetto language. That doesn't age well.

"The Lesser Evil!!!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo & Frank Chiaramonte

Gordon tells Batgirl he's convinced that the fire in the apartment building (last issue) was started by men hired by Boss Vance. But he can't get the proof! Babs tells her pop she'll look into it, but first a stop at Jeff's Garage, where Batgirl keeps her Batcycle, and then off to see a little girl who's having issues. Since that poor little girl was rescued from the apartment fire (also last issue), her mind won't allow her to walk and Babs believes it's all psychological and the toddler needs a friend. As she leaves the girl's apartment, the precocious kid tells her Dad she would really like a friend like Babs. Dad, with a strange look in his eyes, concurs. On her way back to the office, Barbara Gordon passes the protestors in front of the condemned Winston Theatre and gets some intel from one of the sign-wavers. They're being paid by a shady character on the periphery of the panel.

Barbara follows the man back to the home of Ray Beeler, chief rival of Boss Vance. The picture is becoming a bit clearer, but Batgirl decides to break into Vance's mansion to pore through his files. The papers uncover some decidedly shady deals going down, but her perusal is interrupted by Vance, who holds a shotgun on our gorgeous gal. In one of those lovely expositions we're getting so used to, Vance spills the beans about everything including his part in the apartment fire. Batgirl disarms the Mafia goon and makes her way back to City Hall, where she urges the City Council to vote for the original proposal and keep the Winston open. Later that day, Ray Beeler gets a note from Batgirl: "You're next!"

Peter: I think Gordon must have a list on the little refrigerator in his office that tells him which incredible assignments to give to Batgirl or Batman (are there some liquor store robberies he hands over to Robin when he's in town?). What would happen if the Dark Knight popped into Gordon's office and said "I think I'm going to investigate the stuff that's going on with Boss Vance!"? Would Gordon sputter out, "Uh erm, I gave that one to Babs!" A lousy script and barely-professional art. I should have that line on speed-paste. The plot is needlessly complicated; sometimes that's a good ploy for distracting us from the fact that there really is no plot, but here it just becomes frustrating. The only aspect of Burkett's script I liked was the visit to Jeff's Garage; it's a keen little bit of trivial backstory that (like a similar scene in this month's Untold) fills in some of the gaps and makes Batgirl just that much more... real.

Jack: It's at about this point in every one of these giant issues of Detective that things start to go downhill. The art by Delbo and Chiaramonte is acceptable--like Don Heck's work, but smoother-- and the story is fairly good, but the villains Batgirl faces never seem very dangerous and thus it's hard to get too invested in her stories.

"The Hazing Homicide!"
Story by Jack C. Harris
Art by Charles Nicholas & Vince Colletta

During some downtime at a local swimming hole, Dick Grayson and his gorgeous squeeze, Jennifer, happen upon the body of a classmate floating in the water. The cops think it's a routine drowning but Dick knows better; the dead kid is the captain of the University's swim team. He can't drown! Robin uncovers the real facts: the murderer is Biff Braddock, hazing victim. Biff also confesses to Robin that the vic was out to steal his girl. The police haul Biff away and shake their heads that anyone could hang a name like that on their kid.

Peter: Just another day at the office for Messrs. Harris, Nicholas, and Colletta. This is what you get when you've scraped the bottom of the barrel and there's nothing left. I did snicker at the thought of Dick Grayson having sex in his van or Jennifer suspecting such. The rest of it is best skipped.

Jack: Once again the low point of the issue, the Robin story is just plain disappointing. The van Dick Grayson drives around campus is hilarious and makes me wonder if real vans ever looked like that. Fraternities were a big deal in the years following Animal House and the movie is even referenced in this story, but the killer and his motive ("'He stole my girl!'") are strictly from hunger.

"Explosion of the Soul!"
Story by J.M. DeMatteis
Art by Gerald Forton

Black Lightning tries to put an end to the career of the new vigilante on the street, the Slime Killer (no, seriously!), a costumed psycho who's offing any criminal he can get his hands on. Matters become complicated when Lightning discovers the Slimer is, in reality, the father of his prize student, Jon Davis. When the obligatory showdown occurs, it's not Black Lightning that ends the short (but colorful) career of the Slime Killer but the Killer's son.

Peter: Hats off to J. M. DeMatteis for a script that avoids the usual stereotypes (outside of the obligatory street slang) and presents a well-meaning, well-told story. The Slime Killer might be one of the stupidest monikers in DC history (and how did that costume not elicit letters from Marvel's legal crew?) but he's the real deal. He doesn't maim the crackheads, he cracks their heads. I kept waiting for the Hallmark Movie of the Week mush to arrive but, thankfully, it never arrived. One of the best back-ups we've seen so far.

Jack: I really enjoyed this story! I like the ghetto setting and the nearly all-Black cast--the only white characters turn up in the next-to-last panel, and one is a policeman--of course. Things get very interesting when we see Black Lightning in his secret identity as a school principal trying to help a troubled young man, and the story takes a fascinating turn when that bullied kid's father turns out to be a costumed vigilante. Black Lightning may not have super powers anymore but he's becoming quite a fascinating character, and the stories are done without the sort of ghetto theatrics we see in this month's "Tales of Gotham City."

Next Week...
Now in his own series...