Monday, November 30, 2020

Batman in the 1980s Issue 16: April 1981

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

The Brave and the Bold #173

"One of Us is Not One of Us!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Jim Aparo

One of the Guardians of Oa approaches Batman with an unusual request. He says that, among his people, "One of Us is Not One of Us!" and he needs the Dark Knight Detective's skills to help him root out the impostor. For some reason, none of the Green Lantern Corps have returned his calls, so he sought out the "B" team. Before the Guardian arrived, Batman had been heading to a ship to investigate some stolen jewels; the Guardian kindly accompanies Batman and helps him defeat the thugs on board the vessel with some well-placed power rays.

Batman and the Guardian then head west to the Ferris Aircraft Co., where they confront Green Lantern in his secret identity of Hal Jordan, test pilot. Hal at first doesn't recognize either of them, but when the Guardian transforms Hal into Green Lantern, he suddenly remembers that his memory was blocked by his arch-enemy, Sinestro! GL gives Batman a primer on Sinestro's background and the trio head off to the Guardian's home world to try to figure out what's going on.

Jack: I always liked those little blue guys, ever since they set off to find the real America in the O'Neil/Adams run on Green Lantern. This is a fun story with terrific art by Aparo, who turns out to be quite adept at drawing the Guardian. True, there is a lot of back story to fill in, but it's all done in such breezy fashion that I didn't mind. Of course, this sets up next issue's Bat-partner as Green Lantern, and I'm looking forward to the story's conclusion.

Peter: I grew up a Marvel Zombie, so most of the back story to "One of Us..." is lost on me. I'd have liked a Stan Lee-esque (*see Green Lantern #7 for the whole story) notation to let me in on whether this Sinestro story is new to B&B #173 or a tidbit dropped years before. It's this type of story (as opposed to "Robin Takes a Wife") that makes me want to take a deep dive into some of those "lesser" titles like JLA and Green Lantern. I do have to wonder why Sgt. Blue Head would beg the Bats for his help rather than Supes or Wonder Woman. Is good detective work really going to save the day in outer space? Looking forward to the conclusion!

"Knight's Gambit!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

In Jolly Olde England, Nemesis watches as Council member and chess grandmaster Noel Chesterton wins a chess match. Out in the street, Nemesis witnesses the attempted kidnapping of Sir Robert Greene and foils the plot; Chesterton later receives a phone call warning him about Nemesis, but he argues that his current plot is too important to give up. At Chesterton's home, Nemesis fails to stop another kidnap attempt and finds himself under arrest for helping to abduct the man.

Jack: For a Nemesis entry, "Knight's Gambit" isn't half bad. Spiegle seems to have tried a little harder this time out to make his art look professional, and the story moves along at a decent clip. There's a needless interlude where Nemesis wonders what Valerie is up to after he forbade her to accompany him, but for the most part this is an enjoyable backup story.

Peter: Well, it's no Queen's Gambit but it'll pass ten minutes well enough. I'm not as keen on Spiegle's Colorforms graphics (Dan's foregrounds are just as bad as his backgrounds) as you are, Jack; there's not much in the way of storytelling, just a lot of talking heads. 

Detective Comics #501

"The Man Who Killed Mlle. Marie!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Dan Adkins

Mysterious telegrams summon Alfred Pennyworth and Lucius Fox to Paris. An intrigued Bruce Wayne/Batman follows them there (instead of, you know, just asking the guys what's up) and is immediately caught up in a web of intrigue. A French inspector explains to Batman that Fox and Pennyworth were both helping the freedom fighters during WWII, and both may have intimately known the legendary Mademoiselle Marie. 

The Inspector further explains that Marie was murdered during the waning hours of the war by a traitor, but her body was never found. Rumors of a daughter, possibly fathered by one of Marie's aides, have circulated throughout France. Batman meets up with Lucius and Alfred at the meeting point addressed in the telegram just before a trio of machine-gun-toting Parisians enter the room. As Batman is overpowered and knocked unconscious, the group's leader, a brunette named Julia, points a gun at Alfred and lets him know she knows how to use it.

Peter: I'm a sucker for DC war crossovers (and I already know Jack is waving his Mlle. Marie flag below) so I was up for this adventure-thriller but... not much happens here. Perhaps the second part will bring an answer to so many questions. Inherent in a "deep dive" like "The Man Who Killed Mlle. Marie" is the head-scratching time & space continuum problem. We know that Batman (and Robin) took part in WWII stories cuz we've read them, so why is it here the Caped Crusader admits he knows just about nothing about the Freedom Fighters, other than the fact that Alfred fought in the Resistance thirty years before? It's hard not to scrunch up your face and think, "Hey, wait a minute, if Alfred was sixty-plus years old in those old 1940s' Batman stories, how was he in France gunning down Ratzis and making sweet music with Marie at the same time? Yes, I know it further makes no sense for me to dwell on it. "Just get over it," I hear you typing. OK, I will, provided we get a solid conclusion next issue.

Jack: I feel like we heard about Alfred's past as a resistance fighter in WWII not too long ago, but I can't help picturing the tubby Alfred Pennyworth from the Golden Age comics! I'm happy to see Mlle. Marie again but sad to think she was killed at the end of the war; I don't know what's coming next, so I assume she really is dead, even though her body was never found. It's a real shock to see Alfred brain Batman but I can assure everyone that the butler did not kill the freedom fighter. No way, Jose!

"The Five-Fold Revenge of Dr. Voodoo!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

Dr. Voodoo is back in town and he's red-hot angry at Batgirl for foiling his diamond exchange robberies (way back in 'tec #496) so he's going to get at the "lady of the bats" through the people she loves and cares for. First, Voodoo rigs a bomb in the Batcycle and then uses his mental powers to influence mechanic Jeff Cotton to take her for a ride (the cycle, not Batgirl!). Jeff goes boom! Babs feels terrible about Jeff's dire prognosis (critical condition) and looks to office hunk Jim Dover for compassion. But, alas, Jim is under the mental powers of Dr. Voodoo and rudely rebuffs Barbara's whining. At wit's end, Batgirl takes to the skies and it's there that Dr. Voodoo finds her. Knocking Batgirl unconscious, Voodoo injects her with a formula specially prepared to heighten her "painful emotions!"

Peter: Say what you will about Dr. Voodoo. Sure, he's a cad and a diamond thief, a brute, possibly a murderer but... he had the good manners to simmer while Batgirl/Barbara Gordon tended to her legal problems before concocting a new plan for vengeance. Not all baddies would be that polite. But, as to that plan, I'm not really sure why he bothered. He blows up Jeff (and, good job that, surviving a bomb blast to the crotch) and then aims a little lower by forcing Jim to be rude over the phone, only to jump Babs while she's swinging around. I get it, V's trying to get Batgirl's nerve-endings fried, but why not just kill her when he has a chance? Throw her off the building, maybe? Like Jack below, I was impressed with the Delbo-Giella work this issue; obviously the pair were practicing in their off-hours as their work has improved tenfold in just the last several issues. As dumb as this story was, I was still entertained and that's the goal, right?

Jack: Dr. Voodoo was a lame villain back in issue #496; so lame, in fact, that I had forgotten all about him. This story gets off to a good start with a very impressive splash page, picturing a Batgirl voodoo doll being hanged by the neck, but then it meanders around a bit before getting good again at the end. Delbo and Giella draw a nice Batgirl and, overall, Detective is winning the art competition among Bat titles hands down.

Batman #334

"The Lazarus Affair, Chapter Three:
Infinity Island!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin

Batman awakens and is immediately set upon by a crowd of lunatics. He is strapped to a chair and given a choice: join the followers of his mysterious captor and live a life of luxury, or join the lunatics and be consigned to an underground mine.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, Robin and Catwoman quickly escape their captors, find and free King Faraday, and all three take a speedboat to a location in the Indian Ocean. They are captured by giant bubbles and taken to the mine right next door to Batman, who witnesses their arrival and elects to join them. Outside the mine, Talia races around, zapping mutates with a ray gun.

The Bat quartet manage to escape the mine and find Talia, who is suddenly aging before their eyes. She runs to join their mysterious captor, who promises her eternal youth. Batman is not surprised when they all come face to face with Ra's al Ghul!

Jack: Novick and McLaughlin do their best to keep up with Wolfman's speedy plot twists and turns, and actually come up with some decent panels this time out, such as the one reproduced here. Still, there seems to be an awful lot of running from here to there, but to what end? We all knew it was going to be Ra's eventually. So far, Marv has given us 51 pages of "epic" story, with 25 more promised for next issue, but for the life of me I don't know what the point is. Peter?

Peter: You got me, Jack. If you wanted Ra's to come in as your "super-secret villain," try not including his daughter in the "epic" and, for gosh sake's, don't title it "The Lazarus Anything!" Scheduling four issues on this dreck makes no sense to me but, possibly, it might have been more enjoyable if Marv had spilled the beans at the climax of part one. Then we could get to the meat of what's happening on this island. As it stands, there's probably going to be a boatload of exposition next issue. This chapter is especially egregious, with its "air of mystery." If I was Batman when Robin was beseeching him to reveal the mastermind behind the plot, I'd have turned to him and said, "Really? And you want to be my partner?"

"...From the Ashes!"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Dan Spiegle

Susan Talley hires Jason Bard to find out who torched her boarding house, since the mean old insurance man is convinced that she did it and so he won't pay up. While he visits the scene of the crime, Bard is knocked out; when he awakens, he finds a piece of cloth snagged on a piece of wood and deduces that the firebug was none other than Susan's ex-husband. Bard locates the creep trying to burn down his own trailer, but ex-hubby ends up French toast and Bard makes sure Susan will get the insurance money.

Jack: It's depressing to turn the page and see more art by Dan Spiegle. I guess someone out there must love him (there are Frank Robbins fans, don't forget), but I think his art is strictly from hunger. And why bring back Jason Bard? His backup series in the early '70s was nothing special. Really, all he has to distinguish him from any other private eye is a cane and a limp. That's not much to base a series on.

Peter: You're depressed by the art but the script is equally bad. For giggles, though, you can't beat the sequence where Bard explains that there's not time to break down the door so he risks severing an artery or blindness by swinging through a plate glass window. I guess there's plenty of time to stanch the bleeding while the bad guys are beating you up, eh? Spiegle's work is so blah and lifeless, you can't tell which character is which. Bard takes turns looking like the Hulk and a Saturday Night Fever devotee.

Next Week...
A Very Creepy Christmas!

Monday, November 23, 2020

The Warren Report Issue 47: November-December 1973


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

Eerie #52 (November 1973)

"Ghoulish Encounter"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Jaime Brocal

"Darkling Revelation"
Story by Al Milgrom
Art by Martin Salvador

"The Hunter"★1/2
Story by Rich Margopoulos
Art by Paul Neary

"The Beheaded"
Story by John Jacobson
Art by Aldoma Puig

"The Golden Kris of Hadji Mohammed"
Story by George Henderson (adapted from a story by Frederick Moore)
Art by Isidro Mones

"Death Rides This Night!"★1/2
Story by Esteban Maroto and Al Milgrom
Art by Esteban Maroto

"Ghoulish Encounter"
Realizing that he needs to find a place to hide his human body until he can locate the amulet that will allow him to transfer his consciousness back to his unwrapped form, the mummy stashes the body in a crypt in the local cemetery. He does not realize that his act was observed by a young woman, who recently lost her mind and turned into a ghoul when forced to eat her deceased husband because they were both trapped in a locked basement.

Licking her chops, the ghoulish gal heads for the crypt while the mummy tracks down and kills the men responsible for the theft of the amulet. The prize itself has disappeared, and the mummy deduces that it must be around the neck of a woman who often accompanied the thieves. He returns to the crypt and sees that there has been a "Ghoulish Encounter" between the woman and a tasty corpse; he kills her and is relieved to discover that her choice of repast was another body. Elsewhere, the woman wearing the amulet boards a coach to leave for parts unknown!

"Darkling Revelation"
I have to hand it to Steve Skeates for creating real suspense with this ridiculous situation. I was convinced that the ghoul gal was munching on the mummy's human body all the while, and I was wondering what he would do if, say, an arm was missing. The revelation that she mistakenly ate a different body surprised and pleased me. I was not so pleased by the gratuitous violence that took up most of the rest of the story. It seems like all the mummy does is shamble around and murder people in graphic ways. If this series is going to improve, we need to be able to have a character with whom we can identify. We don't have that yet.

Arthur Lemming staggers through the woods until he collapses. He is found and taken in by a band of gypsies and soon falls in love with pretty Ophelia. Meanwhile, in town, his wife Angela is convicted of witchcraft and sentenced to death. Arthurs asks old Mother Eva to tell his fortune, but right in the middle of the process the full moon rises. He turns into a werewolf and kills lots of gypsies; when he kills Ophelia, Mother Eva curses him with the memory of what he has done. 

Gleaming helmet, furry
boots, and Zip-A-Tone!
"Darkling Revelation" is average across the board. Al Milgrom's story doesn't really go anywhere interesting until the very end--it may be worthwhile to see Arthur as a werewolf have to deal with the memory of his crimes. Like the Mummy series, the Werewolf series is cursed with the need to have a sequence where the main character goes wild and kills lots of people. This is predictable every issue and means that most of the new characters who are introduced won't be around long. Hopefully, the series will start to go in a more interesting direction soon. Martin Salvador's art in this story is particularly uninspired.

In the 21st century, after atomic destruction, a man called "Hunter" makes his way through the snowy wasteland that used to be the Rocky Mountains, ending up at a monastery where the monks worship a giant computer. They think that there are no more demons, but Hunter knows better. He encounters three mutant demons that enter the monastery and he manages to destroy them all. He then reveals to the monks that he is half-human and half-demon.

Not a bad introduction to a new series character! The best feature of "Hunter" is the art by Paul Neary, which (and I think I may have said this before) reminds me an awful lot of what John Byrne and perhaps Mike Zeck would soon be doing much more famously. There's plenty of Zip-A-Tone on display and lots of gleaming helmets and furry boots. It's not always entirely clear what's going on, and I chalk that up to Neary's inexperience as a storyteller, but his graphics are above-average. For a Warren science fiction story, this is bearable.

"The Befuddled Beheaded"
Dean and Maggie rent a haunted house and immediately meet "The Beheaded" ghost of Bianca Eden. Dean insists he's there to help her get reunited with her head, so the ghost shows him the events that led to its being removed. He's actually after Bianca's hidden treasure and convinces the ghost to lead him to it after telling her he knows where to find her head but needs cash to make the trip. Once Bianca realizes Dean's real goal, she beheads Maggie and ends up causing Dean's demise. Maggie seems to end up with her head back on, happily living in Bianca's home and explaining to a cop that she is the ghost's descendant.

At least, I think that's what happened at the end of this story. It was all somewhat confusing. Early on, Dean blithely tells Maggie that ghosts can't harm the living, but later on, Bianca grabs a sword and lops off Maggie's head. So much for Dean's belief. The final pages, with heads being stuck on bodies, is hard to follow, and Aldoma's art isn't very impressive.

"The Golden Kris..."
An old Arab tells a sailor a story in a San Francisco dockside bar in exchange for a drink. "The Golden Kris of Hadji Muhammed" was a dagger that belonged to a sultan. On the dagger was a saying about all women being unfaithful. When a beautiful woman is brought to be one of the sultan's brides, she insists that he renounce the saying and then she is spirited away by another man. The old Arab was sent to track her down, which he did. She had killed the man who kidnapped her and she wants to be returned to the sultan. Soon after she returns, she kills the sultan with the dagger and the old Arab tells the sailor that she became his wife.

As we so often complain, the biggest problem with Warren stories is the writing. This tale is based on a short story by Frederick Ferdinand Moore that was first published in the May 1912 issue of The Blue Book Magazine. I don't have the original to compare this adaptation to, but it is in keeping with the type of tale that was popular in those days--swashbuckling among the denizens of foreign lands. George Henderson does a good job of fitting it all into eight comic pages and Munes's art is dark and sensual. I like this story a lot.

Dax lies badly wounded among the corpses on the field of battle, so Death sends his sexy, female helper down to collect him. But Dax isn't quite dead yet and tries to use his considerable powers of persuasion to convince the fox to abandon her master and return to life with Dax. Persuaded, she kisses him and turns into a slug-like monster as punishment for betraying Death. The Grim Reaper then has a chat with Dax and admits he's been after him for some time. Dax says no thanks, I'll keep living, and Death relents, but Dax discovers to his dismay that his spine is broken and he lies paralyzed on the bloody ground.

Dax gets a gander at what his latest
conquest looks like in the morning.
"Death Rides This Night!" features the usual, lush art by Maroto and the usual progression of events, in which Dax finds a hot woman who turns out to be some sort of supernatural creature. I read that this was the story where Dax finally dies, but that's not clear from the last panel, so time (and next issue) will tell. Poor Al Milgrom does his best to make some sense of Maroto's flowery panels.-Jack

Peter- Neither the Mummy Walks nor the Curse of the Werewolf series is brain food. Once you get past that, these are bearable stories. Hindered, it would seem, by a format that never changes. The Mummy is Richard Kimble in bandages, visiting weird European villages that all happen to be haunted by their own beasties. It's never clear why the poor unfortunate girl who gets trapped in the basement with her husband (and we're never told how they got trapped either) and has to resort to cannibalism suddenly decides human meat is preferable to a Whopper with Cheese, other than the fact that it advances the plot. The climax is hilarious ("Oops, I didn't have to kill her after all!") but nothing has been resolved. We're still at Point A.

The same could be said for the Werewolf, who exists only to slaughter those he loves, but I find this series to be much more enjoyable despite, or maybe because of, its sameness. Lemming is one cursed guy, never getting a break, and the best is yet to come. Martin Salvador's art is coming around; his werewolf is still more a teddy bear than a Howling monster. Having Lemming's memory restored pushes the series down an interesting road next issue. Of all the early Warren serials, "Hunter" was the most intriguing and showed the most potential. Whether it ever achieved that potential is another story altogether. But it was certainly ground-breaking. (SPOILERS!) If I recall correctly, this was the first major character to be killed off and certainly had its share of copycats down the road (including two spin-off series). I may regret saying this now, not having read the series in over a decade, but it was the best SF series Warren published. Go ahead, name another. To enjoy the opening chapter, however, you really have to look past RichMargo's obvious adoration of Moench&McG. Their presence is felt right from the splash (The environment: Bad! The individual: Equally Bad!) but, after a few pages, RichMargo settles down and simply lets the tale unfold.

Of the two non-series stories this issue, I really liked "Golden Kris," due mostly to the primitive but atmospheric Mones artwork. Amazing that just a few posts ago, I was checklisting Mones's weaknesses and now he's evolving into a mid-'70s Jerry Grandenetti. "The Beheaded" is dreary nonsense; really very hard to keep my eyes open during its duration. I can picture this being adapted into a 1980s' romcom/horror starring Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner. For the most part, "Death Rides This Night!" is just another Dax installment, but what saves it is its strong climax and the fact that it's the finale. The idea that this unconquerable barbarian will die a slow death, amidst the carnage he helped create, is a powerful one.

Enrich Torres
Vampirella #29 (November 1973)

"Vampirella and the Undead of the Deep!" 
Story by Flaxman Loew
Art by Jose Gonzalez

"The Evil Eye" 
Story by W. Eaton
Art by Ramon Torrents

"Stairway to Heaven!" 
Story and Art by Fernando Fernandez

"Last Lunch for Rats!" 
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Auraleon

"The Vampires are Coming, the Vampires are Coming!" ★1/2
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Isidro Mones

In the conclusion to last issue's thriller, Alastair MacDaemon, last Laird of the MacDaemon clan, is buried in the deeps of Loch Eerie with Vampi and Pendy as onlookers. Vampi is visited in her dreams by spirts that night, ghosts that beg her to bring Alastair back home for a proper burial. Believing this is the right thing to do, Vampi dives down to the bottom of the Loch, where she happens upon a sunken luxury liner populated by the undead. The corpses dance to the ragtime band that plays in the ballroom while Vampirella's long-lost love, Tristan, saunters on down the staircase.

Elated, Vampi accompanies Tristan outside the ship for a little kissing and petting but, to our Drakulonian heroine's horror, Tristan's outer shell dissolves and standing before her is the Monster of the Loch! Realizing she's losing energy, Vampi attacks and drains all the dancing copses of their blood and then heads for the surface, dragging Alastair's body and head along with her. The script for "Vampirella and the Undead of the Deep" is just as disjointed and blurry as any that preceded it; as Monday morning quarterbacks, we know that's not going to change. The reasoning behind Alastair's burial in the Loch and Vampi's subsequent urge to "unbury" him is skewed. I assume it's all tied into the Loch Monster's desire for vengeance, but the details are sketchy. What's more fanciful than a Titanic full of zombies is the fact that Vampi can speak, dance, and change into a bat (and fly!) underwater. Jose, however, seems to hone his skills every issue. There are several pin-up-worthy panels of Vampi in various stages of undress. 

"The Evil Eye"
W. Eaton's choppy "The Evil Eye" concerns a witch's curse plaguing ten generations of the Lanier family. The curse involves a metal box that is handed down through the generations; when the owner of the box opens the lid, they lose that which they most cherish (great-great-great grampa Ezekiel Lanier loses his eyes, great grampa Craig Lanier loses his pecker, etc.). Now the box belongs to vain Larry Lanier, so you can just guess what he's going to be void of by story's end. No real surprises here, but Torrents's art has definitely improved over the last few months (although one foxy lady seems to put in an appearance in two different time frames). I'll give it a thumbs-sideways as this has been a real weak month and I'm jonesing to like something.

After an automobile accident, Farley Foster lies dying on an operating table, his life flashing before his eyes. The light approaches even as the surgeon tries his hardest to keep Farley alive but, in the end, Farley chooses the light. I'm not 100% sure what Fernando was trying to say in "Stairway to Heaven!" but the story and protagonist touched me in a way very few Creepy stories have. The tale never approaches pretension the way a McGregor or Moench piece would have, given the same plot; the prose is tight and to the point. Of course, that long hallway to "wherever" and the light that approaches have been a part of literature for many a moon, so "Stairway" does not perform miracles with the trope. It's just a good, sentimental story with a great Led Zeppelin song title.

The very definition of
"swift justice" in the '70s
The boys in the gang always picked on poor runt, Harold, but killing his pet rats was just a lousy thing to do. Harold swore to his only friend, Albert, that he'd get those guys; it was only a matter of time. Then, when Al and Harold go swimming down at the lake, they run into the four bullies and Harold is subjected to more harassment. When Bully #1, Max Robbins, proposes a breath-holding contest, Harold agrees but, long after the other boys have surfaced, he never surfaces. 

Twenty years later, all the boys (including Al) have grown up to be powerful businessmen and co-owners of the Apex Chemical Company. When three of the men turn up dead, all drowned in brutal fashion, suspicious eyes fall on Al and he's convicted of first-degree murder. The judge turns out to be Max Robbins, co-owner of Apex, and the only surviving member of the four rats. As Al is hauled from court, he warns Max that Apex has been dumping chemicals into the lake Harold drowned in, and Max is next on the murder list. Soon after, Max is poisoned by bad water and Al's cell is broken into. Al disappears and, it seems, Harold's revenge is complete.

At least I can't level accusations of pretension at "Last Lunch for Rats!" This is one dumb story, with a whole lot of empty-headed plot twists. Doug starts us down a path of Willard-style vengeance, teasing us with visions of rodent-chewed bully guts, but then dumps the whole "Harold has become psychotic" angle and swerves into the water-based kills. I'm thinking the writer just couldn't decide which would be cooler, so he opted for both. Having your partner in the business also be the judge that sentences you to the electric chair is one bad break. And how about the swift trials they had back in the early '70s? No jury and quick justice. One more quick, dim-witted question: once dead Harold broke Al out of the pokey, what was the plan? Was the odd couple going to live down by the polluted river? I may be the dopey one, giving this a full two stars as a reward to Doug for skipping the whole "Bullying: a man-child contest borne of a father's backhand" nonsense, but it's worth it.

Foiled by the deadly drumsticks
During the Revolutionary War, drummer boy Chad Bowman watches as a Redcoat rises from the battlefield and drinks the blood of the corpses around it. Chad flees, comes across a regiment of Patriots, and tries to convince them that he’s seen the devil. But, of course, no one will listen to a foolhardy young boy until the men come face to face with the vampire themselves. By then, it’s too late and "The Vampires are Coming, the Vampires are Coming!" Not a bad story at all, with Doug Moench managing to work up quite a bit of suspense, marred only by a really dumb climax (the vampire is felled by drumsticks!). One of Isidro Mones’s better contributions thus far. One question though: what happened to all the girly strips? Wasn't the initial idea behind the launch of Vampi to spotlight women in horror (and, yes, I realize there's nothing feminist about a zine like Vampirella)? Not a whole lot of that going on this issue.-Peter

Jack-Not only the strips with ladies are missing, but where's the color story in the middle? This month's Eerie has 76 pages while this month's Vampirella only has 68. In the letters column, the editor writes that they wanted to see how readers reacted to an issue without color inside. I am skeptical! He promises color will return next issue.

My ratings for the stories in this issue were in line with yours, Peter. I liked "Stairway to Heaven!" best and found it unusual and interesting. The writer creates real intrigue about what's going on and the artist mixes styles to good effect. How about that--they're the same person! It's more philosophy than horror, but it works. The Vampi story came in next for me, completely due to the art by Gonzalez. I was thinking that this is one really big loch until it became clear (sort of) that much of what was going on was in our heroine's mind, though I can't imagine why the loch monster just disappeared from the story all of a sudden. How did it know Vampi was in trouble? And hadn't it been eating human sacrifices for centuries? Now it's just an evil shrink?

"The Evil Eye" is another well-illustrated tale, but it boasts no surprises. That leaves the two Moench stories. "Last Lunch for Rats!" made me wonder where Tom Sutton disappeared to, since he's much better at drawing stories with kids than Auraleon is. "The Vampires Are Coming" is just weird, with a Revolutionary War setting and a fatal drumstick. I thought drumsticks had rounded ends.

Not what we would want to see our
14-year old daughter doing...

Creepy #58 (December 1973)

"Change... Into Something Comfortable" 
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Richard Corben

"An Excuse for Violence" 
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Adolfo Abellan

"Shriek Well Before Dying!" 
Story by W. Eaton
Art by Jose Bea

"Soul and Shadow"★1/2
Story by Gardner Fox
Art by Reed Crandall

"The Waking Nightmare!" ★1/2
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Isidro Mones

The Wolfman, escaped from Grimstone's Carnival of Freaks, enjoys a bloody jaunt through the city on Halloween night. Ripping to shreds many young boys and girls but soon tiring of the easy game, the lycanthrope breaks into a mansion full of celebrants. But the young, happy faces disguise the truth beneath: these are the vampires and ghouls of Grimstone's Carnival of Freaks masquerading as, of course, humans. Grimstone emerges from the shadows to explain to the Wolfman that, because the creature is a human during the day, he and his "employees" no longer can trust him, and they tear him to pieces.

Moench-isms abound in "Change... Into Something Comfortable," starting with Doug's annoying habit of defining his caption boxes (Night: a time to die... abruptly, fiercely, terribly... with unmitigated terror a choking of sour bile searing a shrieking throat...) and peaking with a script that makes little to no sense. Why has this werewolf suddenly decided to dine on the townsfolk and, most curious of all, why does Grimstone suddenly decide that a werewolf is a big risk to have around all his creepy-crawlies? Wouldn't the fact that a werewolf becomes a man half the day have occurred to him at the onset? I would have liked to have sat through Grimstone's job interview process. The Corben art is great but this werewolf is no Lycanklutz; this one is a big furry bear in clothing, nowhere near as frightening as the earlier creature. More frightening, in fact, are the breasts on the female ghoul. How that cloth maintains its hold on those basketballs is anyone's guess.

Two black girls are murdered on the already racially-tense campus of Harrison State. It's up to guidance counsellor Ken Corrado to track down the killer (because, after all, that is listed in the job description of a college counsellor), with the help of "associate" Ron Gray. Both girls were drained of blood, but that's immaterial to the protestors, who turn violent when their outrage is ignored. In the end, it's discovered that the killer is LeRoy Holmes, an African-American janitor, who was bitten by a white female vampiress and who becomes a white blood-sucker now and then. LeRoy is beaten to death by a white cop and the terror comes to an end.

What a freakin' mess. How can anyone read the ten pages of utter crap known as "An Excuse for Violence" and not roll their eyes and throw the damn zine in the pool? Don McGregor once again shows us how much he wants to unite the people, since we're all the same on the inside. So, then, why give LeRoy Holmes such a cliched name? Don hammers home just what an important script this is by using the "N" word. Why does Count LeRoy target black girls? Other than to forward Don's thesis on racism, there is no reason. A big deal is made of the white vampiress/black man union, but then we get almost unintelligible art by Abellan that makes distinction impossible. How is the panel of LeRoy changing into a bat supposed to signify a transformation of races when all we see is a big bat? My patience for these political diatribes is wearing thin.

"Farm equipment salesman" Floyd Crampus knows a good thing when he sees it and that choice piece of real estate right now belongs to Josh Silar and his daughter, the mousy but attractive Ada. Floyd worms his way into Ada's heart when he discovers that the family has a bank account stuffed full of 28,000 dollar bills. Once he gets Ada wrangled, he starts to work on Mr. Silar, who's immediately wise to the young whippersnapper's game. The senior Silar has a pair of fatal heart attacks and Floyd wastes no time in convincing Ada that they should become Mr. and Mrs. 

Josh Silar might be buried deep, but that never stopped an angry father; Floyd and Ada watch in horror as Josh rises from the grave while Ada is paying her respects. Floyd grabs his new bride and tosses her in the VW, hightailing it, but Mr. Silar convinces his neighbors to rise from their earthly resting places and join him in a little vengeful fun. The corpses run Floyd and Ada off the road and Floyd is burned to death. Ada goes back to her farm, Pop in tow, and adjusts to life without Floyd.

If it ain't eco/racial/feminist awakenings, then there's always the EC rip-off to fall back on, and that's precisely what "Shriek Well Before Dying!" (one of the dopiest titles ever) offers up. Writer Eaton takes the standard "money motivation" plotline and does absolutely nothing original with it. 28,000 bucks sure seems like a piddling amount to settle for when you're going to so much trouble (although, to be fair, my inflation calculator tells me that $28,000 in 1973 is tantamount to $164,000 today), but what's more giggle-worthy to me is Floyd's blasé reaction to his dead father-in-law rising from the dead (nice casket, too, with a sunroof yet) and, somehow, catching up to the speeding auto. The gravedigger's reaction is even funnier. Jose Bea's art is adequate but rushed. There's a panel of Ada and Floyd canoodling next to a haystack that I had to look at a couple dozen times before I could decipher whose limbs belonged to who.

A warrior enters the temple of Shalimar to seek a legendary jewel but discovers a beautiful princess named Karalina sleeping on a stone altar. The woman awakens when the barbarian takes the jewel and explains that she's been trapped in the temple and wants to escape but could only leave when the jewel was stolen. The pair leave the temple, unaware that the warrior has lost his shadow. Later, that shadow attacks them, killing the barbarian and reducing him to bones. Karalina takes the jewel back to her temple and slips back into her sleep.

"Soul and Shadow" is an odd one. It's got Reed Crandall and Gardner Fox written all over it; this late in their careers, fantasy and sword-and-sorcery were just about the only genres they contributed to. But damned if the story didn't work for me and I can't really say why. It's very familiar (the general plot was explored in an earlier tale in, I think, Eerie), and Fox's prose is as purple as ever before, but it's also got a bit of an edge to it. Call me an art idiot, but it's the best from Crandall we've seen around here in years; his Karalina is eye candy. "Soul and Shadow" would be a Warren swan song for both Fox and Crandall. Very shortly after this appearance, Crandall quit art, became a janitor for Pizza Hut (according to my Wikipedia sources), and died in 1982. A really shitty ending for one of the EC masters. 

A strange virus overtakes Houston, transforming peaceful, law-abiding citizens into murderous madmen. Can science overcome this epidemic and return Houston to the AFL Championship game? Writer Don McGregor lets us know right up front that "The Waking Nightmare!" isn't just a reimagining of Night of the Living Dead but a serious treatise on drug addiction and the government's failure to help those afflicted, by signing his opus "Donald Francis McGregor." Unfortunately, Donald Francis McGregor's wordy novel is disjointed and boring, a lethargic jumbling of (one assumes) best intentions and lazy plotting. Don can't help but interject his opinions on solving drug addiction, but the problem is that he does it in a way that slows the pace. The quasi-happy ending is anti-climactic and preachy. I continue to be unimpressed with Mones's art; it's muddy and impenetrable at times (I defy you to make sense of the page where a man throws himself off a building and lands in front of Mason's car) and just adequate for the remainder.-Peter

Sometimes a haystack is just a haystack...
Jack-The letters page in this issue has two items of interest. The first is a letter from the great Fred Hembeck, whose career would end up being longer and more successful than those of many Warren creators; the second is a note from the editor who, in answer to a question about what ever happened to Billy Graham, replies that he was swallowed up by "Monstrous Marvelosaurus." The two highlights for me in a mediocre issue are the Corben art on "Change," a story that displays one of the biggest gulfs in quality between writing and art I can remember, and "Soul and Shadow," an unexpectedly entertaining bit of sword and sorcery from two old masters whose best days were behind them.

The two McGregor stories are dreadful. The sheer number of words overwhelm the art, which isn't very good either. The Eaton/Bea story had two memorable panels. The first is on page 27, where the young lovers get it on behind a ridiculously phallic haystack, and the second is the last panel, with a decaying Dad you just have to like. Like Vampirella, this issue of Creepy is 68 pages long and has no color story, making me wonder if the longer issues with color were summer specials.

Next Week...
Batman teams with the
Guardians of the Galaxy!
Wait... What?

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Hitchcock Project-Alfred Hayes Part Three: The Paragon [8.20]

 by Jack Seabrook

After adapting a story by Sir V.S. Pritchett for the small screen ("Bonfire"), Alfred Hayes next adapted a story by Dame Rebecca West, continuing the trend of the producers of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour to seek out works by prestigious authors.

The episode titled "The Paragon," which was broadcast on CBS on February 8, 1963, was adapted from a story called "The Salt of the Earth" that was published in two parts in the March and April 1934 issues of Woman's Home Companion. It was collected in a 1935 volume by West titled The Harsh Voice: Four Short Novels, and it had been adapted for television four times before it aired on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. The first four TV versions were:

  • Actor's Studio, May 12, 1949, teleplay by Elizabeth Hart
  • The Revlon Mirror Theater, June 30, 1953
  • Encounter, January 4, 1955, teleplay by Elizabeth Hart
  • Playdate, November 29, 1961, teleplay by Elizabeth Hart
Part one of "The Salt of the Earth"
was published here
As the story opens, Alice Pemberton accepts a young man's offer to drive her home after she has spent time convalescing at her mother's house. Her mother seems relieved to see Alice leave, and the 40-year-old daughter wonders why her mother has not "valued her properly," despite all that Alice has done for her. She returns home to Camelheath, near London, and is greeted by her servants; she inspects each room and finds everything clean and in order, until she discovers a framed photograph of herself that has been torn in half and clumsily repaired. While inspecting her husband Jimmy's suits, she finds a small tube partially filled with white powder that tastes bitter when she examines it.

Alice walks across the fields to visit her sister, Madge, whom she has spent a lifetime "telling her all the things she had done wrong." Madge seems anxious to get rid of Alice, who next proceeds to the home of her brother, Leo. His wife lies and says that he is not home, even though Alice can hear him coughing in another room. Alice returns home and berates the cook for the food she plans to serve for dinner; when her husband arrives, she laments the poor treatment that she has received from everyone since she got back.

Alice tells Jimmy, "'you'd never have any civilization at all if you didn't have the people who knew best teaching all the others what to do.'" Jimmy asks her to leave her siblings' families alone for a while. He and Alice host an older man named Mr. Norman for dinner, but the guest leaves early, and Alice refuses to recognize that her behavior drove him away. Getting ready for bed that evening, Alice suggests that her sister needs a vacation, but Jimmy explains that Madge and her husband cannot afford it, due to his bad investments. Jimmy compares Alice to a fairy-tale princess who cannot stop herself from doing the one forbidden thing that causes her downfall. He calls her "'the salt of the earth'" but cautions that "'nobody likes having salt rubbed into their wounds...'" Jimmy tells Alice that she hurts people, using her brother as an example, and that her family resents and avoids her.

Part two was published here
Alice feels unfairly treated and Jimmy again begs her to leave her siblings alone. Alice tells him about her nightmares, where she is in her bedroom and "'something awful comes nearer and nearer to me, circling round me, drawing in on me, and I know that in the end it's going to destroy me utterly.'" She mentions the torn picture in the frame and asks about the vial of medicine she found in Jimmy's pocket. He say that it is "'just something that sends people to sleep,'" and rolls it back and forth in his hand, looking at it. She pours a glass of her bedtime hot chocolate and Jimmy asks her why the cook is down the hall, causing Alice to go out of the bedroom to check. She returns and he tells her to drink her chocolate, then he takes the glass and washes it out. Alice begins to sweat and Jimmy carries her to the bed, saying "'Poor little Alice'" as he pulls the covers up around her, and "'her mouth was full of a haunting bitterness.'"

"The Salt of the Earth" is the story of a woman whose husband murders her because he is tired of her cruelty to those around her. He attempts to show her the error of her ways, but she is so convinced of her own righteousness that he decides to end her life. By doing so, he may also put a stop to the misery she spreads. In retrospect, it seems likely that the stomach ailment that sent Alice to her mother's to recuperate was a first attempt by her husband to poison her. The story never specifies what is in the vial, but the fact that it tastes bitter when Alice examines it suggests cyanide.

Joan Fontaine as Alice Pemberton
In 1935, Edith Walton, reviewing the story in The New York Times, called it "a curiously fascinating yarn, which... makes its heroine so obnoxious that one gleefully assents to murder." Read today, the story is rather dull and seems an odd choice to adapt for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Alfred Hayes was assigned the job of writing the teleplay, and he succeeds in remaining quite faithful to West's story while inserting some elements that fit the conventional methods of creating suspense on television.

The show opens with a close-up of Alice in bed, experiencing a nightmare in which she sees the curtains of her bedroom blowing and a large shadow approaching and overtaking her. Hayes has taken the nightmare that Alice relates to her husband in the story and placed it at the beginning of the episode in order to create an instant feeling of suspense. The show then follows the story faithfully, other than moving the setting from England to America and updating it from the 1930s to the 1960s. Jimmy has been renamed John and, before Alice finds the vial in his jacket pocket, we see him put on the jacket and take the vial out himself to inspect it. There is a close-up of the bottle's warning label and we see that the drug is called Hexitone; this is more commonly known as methohexitone, a barbiturate that came into use in the late 1950s as an anesthetic for surgical patients.

Hayes is careful to show the bottle of medicine early and to return to it a few times throughout the hour to make sure the viewer does not forget about it. When Alice finds the vial, there is another close-up of the warning label. Later on, when John asks Alice to promise to leave her sister alone, Hayes adds a bit of dialogue that foreshadows the ending when John smiles and says, "'I might do something violent if you don't [leave them alone]... [I might] murder you.'" It appears to be said in jest, and Alice takes it that way, but the viewer--conditioned by the repeated shots of the medicine bottle and warned by the opening sequence with the nightmare--knows better.

Gary Merrill as John Pemberton
After the scene where John compares Alice to a fairy princess who brings on her own destruction, Hayes adds a short scene in which John visits the public library and looks up Hexitone in a medical book. A close-up of the page in question tells the viewer that the medication is a barbiturate that, when given in overdose, can cause coma and death. As in the story, we never actually see John poison Alice's drink; he looks at the cup and then there is a cut to Alice in the hall. She returns and drinks the fatal cup of cocoa. The camera follows the cup in close-up, recalling for Hitchcock fans the glass of milk in Suspicion, but this time the danger is real. Once again, the viewer knows more than the victim and is thus complicit with John in the murder of his wife.

Alice sinks back into her pillows as John washes out the cup. He sits across the room and lights a cigarette, watching her as she falls asleep. She has the same nightmare that she did at the start of the show and it becomes clear that this time, it is no dream: her nightmare in the opening scene predicted her death in the closing scene. In the end, one is left thinking that murder is an extreme way to deal with a difficult person, and that the show, while somewhat dull overall, is most notable for the strong performances of its two leads.

Joan Fontaine (1917-2013) plays Alice as a strong-willed woman, a far cry from her timid roles in Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941). Born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland to British parents living in Tokyo, her film career lasted from 1935 to 1966 and her TV career spanned the years from 1953 to 1994. She also appeared in Fritz Lang's noir classic Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956), won an Oscar for Suspicion, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Her autobiography is No Bed of Roses (1978). This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock TV show.

Her husband John is played by Gary Merrill (1915-1990), who holds his own on the small screen with Fontaine. He was on film from 1943 to 1977 and on TV from 1953 to 1980, appearing in Otto Preminger's Where the Sidewalk Ends and the classic, All About Eve, both in 1950. He was on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits and "The Paragon" was one of seven episodes of the Hitchcock TV show in which he was featured.

In smaller roles:
  • Virginia Vincent (1918-2013) plays Madge Fletcher, Alice's sister whom she finds lying on the couch in the dark. She was seen mainly on TV from 1952 to 1988 and this was her only role on the Hitchcock show. She was born Virginia Vincent Grohosky and also made an appearance on Night Gallery.
Virginia Vincent
  • Linda Leighton (1917-2005) plays Evie Wales, Alice's sister-in-law. Born Bertie Mae Johnson, she was on screen from 1940 to 1977 but did not appear in any other Hitchcock shows.
Linda Leighton
  • June Walker (1899-1966) makes the most of her short scene as Alice's mother. She had a long career on Broadway from 1918 to 1958 and was the first actress to play Lorelei Lee when Gentleman Prefer Blondes opened in 1926. She was seen in a handful of films and started turning up on TV in 1949. She appeared on Thriller as well as three episodes of the Hitchcock show; "Return of Verge Likens" was her last credit.
June Walker
  • Irene Tedrow (1907-1995) is a familiar face to fans of classic TV. Here, she plays Alice's maid. She started out on radio in 1929, was in films from 1940 to 1981, and was seen on countless TV shows from 1949 to 1989. She was on The Twilight Zone twice and she was also in "Don't Come Back Alive," one of the first episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Irene Tedrow
  • Susan Gordon (1949-2011) plays Betty, Madge's daughter. The daughter of filmmaker Bert I. Gordon, she had a brief career on screen from 1958 to 1967 and appeared on The Twilight Zone and the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "Summer Shade."
Susan Gordon
  • Richard Carlyle (1914-2009) plays Leo Wales, Alice's coughing brother. He was on screen from 1950 to 1994, appeared in one episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and was seen on Star Trek.
Richard Carlyle
  • William Sargent (1930- ) plays Madge's husband, Walter. On screen from 1960 to 1997, he was on The Twilight Zone twice and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour three times, including "The Thirty-First of February." He was also on Star Trek. He was born Wolf Jakubowicz in Berlin and his family fled the Nazis in the early 1930s.
William Sargent
  • Jesslyn Fax (1893-1975) plays Mrs. Bates, Alice's cook. She was on screen from 1950 to 1969 and had small parts in Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954) and North By Northwest (1959), as well as on five episodes of the Hitchcock TV show, including "Coming. Mama" She was also on Batman.
Jesslyn Fax
  • Willis Bouchey (1907-1977) plays the dinner guest, Mr. Norton. He was the voice of Captain Midnight on radio and played numerous character roles in a screen career that spanned the years from 1951 to 1972. He was in Fritz Lang's The Big Heat (1953) and John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), and his many TV roles included episodes of The Twilight Zone, Thriller, and thee Hitchcock hours, including "I Saw the Whole Thing."
Willis Bouchey
  • Lester Maxwell plays Colin, the teenager with the big glasses. He had a brief screen career from 1959 to 1962 and this episode was his last credit.
Lester Maxwell
  • Donald Elson (1923- ) plays the mailman. He was on screen from 1953 to 2008, appeared on Thriller and Batman, and was also seen in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "Mother, May I Go Out to Swim?"
Donald Elson

"The Paragon" is directed by Jack Smight (1925-2003), who directed for television from 1949 to 1986 and for film from 1964 to 1989. Among his many films were Harper (1966) and Midway (1976); he also directed four episodes of The Twilight Zone and four of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "What Really Happened." He won an Emmy for directing in 1959.

Finally, Rebecca West (1892-1983) was born Cicily Isabel Fairfield in London. She took the pen name Rebecca West from a character in an Ibsen play and had a son by H.G. Wells. A prominent feminist and progressive writer, she was respected as a novelist, a literary critic, and a journalist. She covered the Nuremberg trials for The New Yorker and her major works included Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1949). She was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1959.

"The Paragon" is available for free viewing online here.


Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.


"The Paragon." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 8, episode 20, CBS, 8 Feb. 1963.

Walton, Edith. "Four Stories by Rebecca West." New York Times, 3 Feb. 1935,

West, Rebecca. "The Salt of the Earth." Rebecca West: A Celebration, Viking Press, 1977, pp. 69–111.

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 

In two weeks: Beyond the Sea of Death, starring Mildred Dunnock and Diana Hyland!