Thursday, January 28, 2021

The Hitchcock Project-William Fay Part Three: Safety for the Witness [4.8]

 by Jack Seabrook

"Safety for the Witness," which premiered on CBS on Sunday, November 23, 1958, was the third episode in a month of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to air with a teleplay by William Fay, and it was based on the short story of the same name by John De Meyer that had been published in the March 1955 issue of The Saint Detective Magazine and then collected in Best Detective Stories of the Year, 1956.

The story concerns Cyril Jones, a fearful man who works as a custom gunsmith, unconcerned with the ethics or actions of some of his customers. On his way home one evening, he has the misfortune to witness the gangland slaying of Henry Custer, who had identified a killer. The murderers are Big Sam Foley and Tony Frachetti, and when Big Sam sees that Jones observed their violent act, he turns his gun on Cyril. The gunsmith awakens in a hospital bed, badgered by policemen who want him to identify Custer's killer. He pretends to have lost the power of speech, and his doctors and nurses go along with his scheme until he finally tells the police, "'I don't know.'" Jones reasons that the police can't protect him if he identifies the killers, so he begins to ponder how he can guarantee his own safety. He decides that the only solution is to kill Big Sam and Tony Frachetti.

"Safety for the Witness"
was first published here

One night, Cyril leaves the hospital and returns to his shop, where he prepares a rifle with a telescopic sight. In the morning, he rents a room in a hotel overlooking a restaurant frequented by mobsters and, as soon as his targets appear, he shoots them dead. The next day, consumed by guilt, Cyril visits the police station, where he confesses to the murders. The police are dubious, partly because Cyril did such a good job of covering his tracks. When the police chief reports Cyril's story to the district attorney, the D.A. points out that no jury would convict the gunsmith for protecting himself by murdering two "'vicious killers.'" The police would be embarrassed by their inability to protect witnesses as well. In the end, Cyril is set free and decides to find the kind nurse who cared for him in the hospital.

A light tone marks this story, where crime runs rampant in the city streets and four people are shot, three fatally. The city is never identified, but it is referred to as a "sprawling, roaring place" and a subway and waterfront are mentioned, so it could be New York, Boston, Chicago, or Philadelphia. The time period is also vague, though the atom bomb is noted as something that makes Cyril shudder, so the events must take place between 1945 and 1955.

Art Carney as Cyril Jones

The story's author, John De Meyer (1909-1966), was born in Massachusetts and wrote novels and short stories from the mid-1930s to the late 1950s. He also worked for the Milton Bradley Company. His novels included Bailey's Daughters (1935) and A Sentimental Yankee (1941); the FictionMags Index lists 17 short stories by De Meyer that were published between 1953 and 1959, 14 of them in The Saturday Evening Post. "Safety for the Witness" was his only story to be published in a crime digest, a fact pointed out by the editor of The Saint Detective Magazine in the introduction to this tale: "John De Meyer's stories usually appear only in the highest paying magazines in the land, and they are usually concerned with matters a little tamer than murder."

Robert Bray as Lt. Flannery

William Fay's adaptation of De Meyer's short story focuses on dramatizing the events and, to its detriment, leaves out much of the narrative that makes the story succeed. The very first shot sets the time period as being decades before that of the story; a title card reading, "A Big City, 1927" is superimposed over stock footage of four men in hats and coats loading guns on an outdoor staircase. The scene then dissolves to show a well-dressed woman in Jones's gun shop, examining a rifle with a telescopic sight. She chats about her last safari, when her husband mistook a herd of zebras for a striped awning, and she asks Jones to ship the gun to her in California. On the way out of the shop, the toe of her shoe gets caught in the teeth of a bearskin rug, setting the stage for an attempt at broad comedy.

James Westerfield as
Commissioner Cummings

Art Carney, as Jones, was well-known to TV audiences in 1958 as a comic actor, so it's not surprising to see the show take this approach to telling the story. Lieutenant Flannery enters the shop and questions Jones about a hoodlum named Dan Foley, establishing that the gunsmith's customers include both rich wives and mobsters. Flannery mentions the need to protect a witness to a gangland killing and Jones suggests that the police do not have a good track record when it comes to protecting witnesses.

Flannery leaves and Jones opens a newspaper while eating lunch in his shop. He sees a photograph of Henry Grimes, the witness in question, a smiling man in a straw hat. There is a dissolve to a shot of the same man walking along a city sidewalk at night, with Jones following not far behind. Two mobsters shoot the witness to death right in front of Cyril, who greets them by name as Mr. Foley and Mr. Felix. Foley apologizes and they shoot Jones before jumping in a black car that speeds away. A shot of the two victims lying on the sidewalk dissolves to one of Lt. Flannery and Police Commissioner Cummings slowly entering Jones's hospital room. He has been there for 20 days and does not respond to Flannery's inquiry about who killed the witness.

Mary Scott as Nurse Copeland

Nurse Copeland enters and aggressively stands up to the policemen in defense of Jones's right to rest undisturbed; after the men leave, the nurse tells him that she heard him talking in his sleep about Foley and Felix. She asks what he plans to do and we see him pondering that question. Cyril checks out of the hospital in the middle of the night; after he leaves, the nurse at the front desk remarks, "'I bet you eight to five he doesn't live till Tuesday.'"

The best sequence in the episode follows, as Jones walks back along the street where he was shot, alone now in the dark, and thinks he hears voices calling his name, followed by a gunshot. He rushes into his shop, where the phone rings but the caller hangs up when Jones answers. He prepares the rifle and checks into the hotel, where he looks out of the window and across the street to a luncheonette, in front of which Foley and Felix stand, making small talk. Cyril shoots both men and they collapse onto the sidewalk.

Karl Davis as Dan Foley

Jones then appears at the police station, where he confesses to double murder. When the desk sergeant realizes that he is the man who refused to identify the killers of Henry Grimes, Cyril is sent to be interrogated by the police commissioner, who is resistant to believing his story. Lt. Flannery joins them and suggests that Jones is honest but delusional, pointing out that the gunsmith can't prove what he says because there are no witnesses. Jones is locked up and the commissioner visits the D.A., who insists that no jury would convict Cyril and the police department would be embarrassed when its inability to protect witnesses was highlighted.

Jones, calmly reading a book in his prison cell, is released by Lt. Flannery, who has to throw the man out of prison to get him to leave. The show ends with a shot of Cyril looking into the jail from the outside, locked out of the place where he thinks he should be.

George Greico as the district attorney

"Safety for the Witness" doesn't work as a comedy, despite a host of talented people attempting to translate it from the page to the small screen. Humorous music cues throughout the show defeat any attempt at setting a mood of suspense, and the show's pacing is problematic. Whereas the short story works because of the narrative style that lets the reader in on Jones's thoughts and because of skillful character description, these techniques are not utilized in the TV show and, stripped of its depth, the plot is not strong enough to be compelling.

This episode is directed by Norman Lloyd (1914- ), who had joined the TV series the year before as associate producer. Born Norman Perlmutter, Lloyd began performing on stage as a child and was active in theater in New York City in the 1930s. He was a charter member of the Mercury Theatre with Orson Welles and began acting on radio in the late 1930s and on film in 1939. He appeared in Hitchcock's Saboteur (1942) and Spellbound (1945) and he acted on television from 1956 to 2010, including appearances in five episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He also appeared on Night Gallery and was a regular on the series, St. Elsewhere (1982-88). As associate producer or producer, he worked on both Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour from 1957 to 1965, and as director, he helmed many TV episodes from 1951 to 1984, including 19 installments of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and three of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

James Flavin as the desk sergeant

Art Carney (1918-2003) stars as Cyril Jones. Carney began his show business career as a comic singer on the radio in the 1930s. He then served in the Army in WWII and was wounded at Normandy. Back in the States, he was a regular on TV on The Morey Amsterdam Show (1948-50) and began working with Jackie Gleason in 1950. He would go on to fame as Ed Norton, neighbor to Gleason's Ralph Kramden, in a long-running series of TV shows and skits about The Honeymooners that included the oft-rerun 39 episodes that aired in the 1955-56 season. Carney won six Emmy Awards in his career. He also appeared on Broadway, including originating the role of Felix Unger in The Odd Couple, and on film, where he won an Oscar for his starring role in Harry and Tonto (1974). He was also seen on The Twilight Zone and Batman. Carney acted on screen until 1993 and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

Doris Lloyd

Playing Lieutenant Flannery is Robert Bray (1917-1983), who was a Marine in WWII and who followed his service with a screen career that lasted from 1946 to 1968. He played Mike Hammer in My Gun is Quick (1957), was a regular on Stagecoach West (1960-61), appeared on The Twilight Zone, and was seen in five episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "Not the Running Type." He is best-known for his role as a regular on Lassie from 1964-68.

Police Commissioner Cummings is played by James Westerfield (1913-1971), a busy character actor who was onscreen from 1940 to 1973. He was seen in another episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents ("Cell 227") and he was also on Thriller and The Twilight Zone.

Playing the role of Nurse Copeland is Mary Scott (1921-2009). Born in Los Angeles, she appeared in movies beginning in 1942 and on TV beginning in 1951. She is best remembered today for her roles in eight episodes of the Hitchcock TV show, including "The Diplomatic Corpse." In the late 1940s, she was on Broadway in a production of Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra when she met the English actor Cedric Hardwicke; she got pregnant and he divorced his wife. Hardwicke and Scott wed in 1950, when he was 57 years old and she was only 29. She later wrote an autobiography called Nobody Ever Accused Me of Being a 'Lady' and there is an interesting obituary here.

Dorothea Lord

Dan Foley, one of the men who shoots Cyril and is shot in return, is portrayed by Karl Davis (1908-1977), a pro wrestler and actor who sometimes went by the nickname, "Killer." He participated in wrestling matches from at least 1925 to 1957 and eventually parlayed his size and acting skill into a career in film and on TV from 1949 to 1961. Among his roles were that of a strongman in Mighty Joe Young (1949) and that of a wrestler in Rod Serling's TV play, "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (1956); "Safety for the Witness" was the only time he appeared on the Hitchcock TV show.

George Greico (1915-1982) plays the district attorney; this was his first credit and he had a short career on TV until 1965.

James Flavin (1905-1976) plays the desk sergeant at the police station. He had character parts in nearly 400 movies and 100 TV episodes from 1932 to 1976 and was in four episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "Touche." He also played a sailor in King Kong (1933).

David Fresco

The rich woman in the first scene buying the rifle is played by Doris Lloyd (1891-1968), an English actress who was on screen from 1920 to 1967. She appeared in Phantom Lady (1944), four episodes of Thriller, and nine episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Dip in the Pool."

Dorothea Lord (1920-2000) has a brief scene as the nurse at the front desk who doesn't think Cyril Jones will survive long outside the hospital; her TV career lasted only four years, from 1958 to 1962, but during that time she was in seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "A True Account."

Finally, David Fresco (1909-1997) plays the hotel desk clerk. A familiar face, he was on screen from 1946 to 1997 and appeared on The Twilight Zone, Batman, and twelve episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Day of the Bullet."

Order the DVD of "Safety for the Witness" here or watch it for free online here. Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the short story!


De Meyer, John. “Safety for the Witness.” The Saint Detective Magazine, Mar. 1955, pp. 72–89.

The FictionMags Index,

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


“John De Meyer Correspondence.”, 

Saalbach, Axel. - The World's Largest Wrestling Database, 

“Safety for the Witness.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 4, episode 8, CBS, 23 Nov. 1958. 

Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central, 

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 

In two weeks: The Last Dark Step, starring Robert Horton and Fay Spain!

Monday, January 25, 2021

The Warren Report Issue 51: April 1974


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

Basil Gogos
The Spirit #1

"The Last Trolley"
Story by Will Eisner
Art by John Spranger, Bob Palmer, & Will Eisner
(Originally appeared on 3/24/46)

Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti
(Originally appeared on 4/13/47)

"Li'l Adam"
Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner, Jules Feiffer, & Jerry Grandenetti
(Originally appeared on 7/20/47)

"The Criminal"
Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti
(Originally appeared on 11/2/47)

"El Spirito"
Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti
(Originally appeared on 2/1/48)

"The Last Trolley"
"The Killer"
Story by Will Eisner
Art by John Spranger, Bob Palmer, 
& Will Eisner
(Originally appeared on 12/8/46)

"A Granule of Time"
Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti
(Originally appeared on 3/2/47)

"The Partner"
Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti
(Originally appeared on 1/26/47)

Jack-Rather than summarize each Spirit story, Peter and I decided to write more generally about what is surely one of the greatest comics of all time! Of course, these stories weren't originally in comic books, they were published as color comic sections in Sunday newspapers in the forties and fifties. Instead of covers, they featured incredible splash pages that served the function of covers. The Spirit stories were reprinted in Quality Comics in the forties and then on and off up till 1974, when Warren brought out this wonderful magazine to reprint the best of the post-war Spirit tales.

"El Spirito"
The first issue is marvelous and leads off, oddly enough, with a cover by Basil Gogos rather than Will Eisner! Inside are eight stories, seven pages each, that show the brilliance of Eisner and his occasional ghost artists. In "The Last Trolley," a bank robber and near-killer practically goes mad while trapped on a trolley with what appear to be the Spirit and some dangerous criminals. The Grand Comics Database tells us that, while Eisner wrote every story, he had help with the art--this time, John Spranger and Bob Palmer lent a hand.

"Escape" tells of a jail break and what happens to some of the escaped convicts. It shows Eisner's incredible sense of movement within the panels and we see our first bad girl, who sports an impossible figure. We also meet Ebony, a young Black character who certainly presents a problem in 2020 with his exaggerated lips and dialect speech. 

"The Killer"

"L'il Adam" has some help from the great Jules Feiffer and backgrounds by Jerry Grandenetti; this spoof of popular newspaper comic strips of the day and their creators loses something over 70 years later unless the reader is very familiar with the Sunday funnies being satirized. "The Criminal" has a complex narrative structure that at first seems to be a lesson for some poor kids about idolizing criminals but quickly turns into the Spirit tracking down a dangerous criminal. One thing that becomes clear very quickly in these stories is that characters--including the hero--get beat up, shot, and sometimes die.

"El Spirito" is a triumph of noirish coloring by Richard Corben and includes our first sighting of the Octopus, the Spirit's nemesis whose face is never seen. We also get a Spanish ghost (who is real--not a trick) and another beautiful bad girl. "The Killer" is another complex moral tale of a loser who was a wartime hero but who comes back home to find himself a loser all over again. Eisner's clever use of point of view stands out here as we see some of the events from inside the character's head, framed by his eye sockets.

"The Partner"
Finally, "A Granule of Time" introduces Dr. Silken Floss, a beautiful female scientist who wears glasses and has medium-length hair, while "The Partner" wraps up the issue with another story where the Spirit is seemingly killed.

I remember being an 11-year-old kid in 1974 when these magazines started appearing at Ted's Smoke Shop, one of the places I bought funny books, and they blew my mind. I was lucky enough to see Will Eisner give a slide presentation at the New York Comic Con one year around that time and I have never forgotten it. I am really looking forward to rereading this series!

As Jack noted, we're doing something completely different with The Spirit. After all, how do you summarize the plots of these vignettes? "The Spirit gets in a jam and must punch his way out of odd situations with really weird but fascinating guest stars?" The first thing you notice (duh!) is the insanely imaginative splash pages, a then-unique facet of Eisner's story-telling that was borrowed down through the ages by a myriad of other "storytellers," notably Jim Steranko. Doesn't it seem as though Eisner's splash imagery actually moves while you gaze? And how about the fact that the star is usually the support act? The Spirit hardly even makes an appearance in "Escape!" If I had to pick a favorite from the eight stories in this debut, the nod would have to go to "El Spirito" for the Corben color, but then there's the goofy Mad Magazine-esque parody of fellow comic strips in "L'il Adam" and the bizarre POV panels of "The Killer" and... it's a buffet, is what it is. The only negative, to me, is that there's nary a trace of the classic Wally Wood run over the magazine's 16-issue life span. You'll have to dip into the Kitchen Sink years to get a look at those.

Vampirella #32

"The Running Red" ★1/2
Story by Mike Butterworth (as Flaxman Loew)
Art by Jose Gonzalez

"Black on White"★1/2
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Rafael Auraleon

"Harry" ★1/2
"Dead Run" ★1/2
Story and Art by Jeff Jones

"The Man Whose Soul Was Spoiling!"
Story and Art by Fernando Fernandez

"Just Like Old Times!" ★1/2
Story by Rich Margopoulos
Art by Ramon Torrents

After watching wheelchair-bound evil arms dealer Jabez Kruger ruin a man (and drive that man to suicide) at the roulette wheel, Vampirella sets a goal of bringing Kruger down. The next night, at the Village Rouge et Noir, Vampi meets a strange and attractive man known only as "The Traveller" and the two swiftly fall in love (as is our vampiress's wont in life). Vampi lets on that she has a yen to watch Kruger fail and "The Traveller" insists he will grant her this wish.

Turns out the stranger has made a "bargain" (it's never really clear whether this deal is with Satan or not, but let's assume...), several years prior, for his soul, and he's been given the gift of always winning at gambling. "The Traveller" sits down at the table and the cocky Kruger quickly challenges him to a game of "Red Against Black." Ten games later and Kruger has lost his entire fortune. He offers up his gorgeous assistant, Droga, in a last-ditch attempt to recoup his losses but, again, the stranger wins. As Vampi and her new beau leave the table, the angry weapons magnate orders his thugs to kill both of them and the hoods ambush the couple in an alley. Vampi drains them dry but not before "The Traveller" has been fatally stabbed. 

Droga, being a very high-strung woman, steers Kruger's wheelchair to a nearby spiked gate and officially ends their relationship. As he is dying, "The Traveller" explains to Vampi that his bargain did not include winning for "other than self-indulgence" and since he made it personal, the deal is done. He begins to age and begs his lover to drag him to his yacht. Vampirella sighs, pouts, and maybe sheds some tears as the man sets fire to his ship and goes up in flames. I can't stress this enough to those of you out there who would just love to get to know Vampirella better: not a good idea. This is issue 32, which means Vampi has probably had 32 "great loves," and most of them have been reduced to ashes. I really enjoyed this goofy adventure, despite some plot holes (where did Pen disappear to halfway through the story?) and the fact that nothing really happens. Like last issue's installment, "The Running Red" is all just purple prose and entertainment; nothing too strenuous. I also want to point out, yet again, how much Gonzalez's supporting cast look as though they were ghost-penciled by Mort Drucker.

A young man is convinced the stripper he's become obsessed with can change into a panther. And he's right. But, despite being warned off, the man continues investigating and soon ends up like similar interested parties: torn to shreds and lying dead in a festering suckhole of a city. Meanwhile, Pantha keeps changing back and forth, losing her clothes now and then, until she finally decides that it's a good idea to keep your clothes in a bus depot locker if you're going to transform into a killer panther. 

This is just so much dumb rolled into one ball. I almost feel like recently-crowned "All-Around Best Writer of the Year," Steve Skeates, wants to put Pantha on a "Year of the Feminist" poster and show what a hip dude he is. Problem is, while he's giving us a strong, independent woman (who likes to rip the throats out of anyone who shows interest), he's also playing the other side as well: A woman... no, more a girl... eighteen or nineteen... a piece of over-obvious beauty who had had just enough to drink so that her top-heaviness was getting the best of her... But put aside the hazy politics, "Black on White" is a chore to wade through. There's no obvious direction (Surprise! from the writer of Werewolf, Mummy, and Were-Mummy!) and the climax, where the unnamed pursuer imagines himself an African warrior (then you prepare for the fight, just as you have prepared for similar fights for century upon century...) and meets his obligatory end, would be comical if it wasn't borderline racist. The bread crumbs Skeates dropped in the previous chapter must have been eaten up by the slovenly rats that dwell within the cesspool of the city because they lead us nowhere in "Black on White." 

A pair of color quickies, both written and drawn by Jeff Jones, give a perfect example of why Jones was considered one of the masters of comic art (and later, paperback cover art) in the 1970s. "Harry" is the stuffed rabbit toy that a small girl lugs around with her through a forest. The girl delivers a monologue about bad parenting and winding up in a garbage can, with the aforementioned parents evidently burned to a crisp inside their home. The little girl jumps off a cliff, becomes a vulture ( I think), and then another little girl comes along to pick up "Harry." The protagonist of "Dead Run" races through a forest with an air hose attached to his face. In the final panel, we discover he's actually a space pilot, drifting, just before his air gives out.

Though the story in "Harry" is beyond my brain capacity and "Dead Run" has a climax we've seen before, both contain some stunning art. It's obvious why Jones didn't stick around comics very long. He (and later she) probably spent way too much time on craft to meet deadlines. Our loss. It says something about Warren's capacity to spot a real one of a kind talent that the color section was given over to two stories this issue by the same artist. I would assume Jones turned in the six-page "Harry" and was told to come up with a couple more pages to fill the eight-page slot, thus the much-too-short "Dead Run."

When all his men around him begin to complain of a really bad stench, mobster hit man Dino Armani realizes he's become "The Man Whose Soul Was Spoiling!" So, what to do when you're a powerful killing machine straight out of a Fernando Di Leo flick, but you smell like last week's socks that were left out in the rain and then pooped on by your neighbor's cat? Of course, you spend the remainder of your twelve pages of space rubbing out everyone who insults you, then kill yourself. Once again, Fernando Fernandez proves what a master craftsman he is as far as the art goes. The layout on some of the pages (the splash to the left, for instance) is astonishing, absolutely glorious. And then... there's his scripting. The plot is almost laughable, considering the hook of an assassin whose soul takes on a physical odor, but then FF has to throw in the pretentious nonsense in the final panels about how the smells all around him, of the corruption, the garbage, the futility of any but the bleakest of futures, become too much for a guy who's blown his girlfriend away for perceived adultery. And how come the other mafia goons don't reek? 

Doug comes home early from a business trip and finds his best friend Ritchie's car in his driveway. Jumping to the conclusion that Ritchie is not helping Doug's wife, Susan, bake a cake, Doug decides to kill both adulterers. He stabs his wife and buries her in the garden, then lures Ritchie to the Pine Barrens with a story of weird happenings. Unfortunately for Doug, the scary stuff going on is the work of an ancient demon known as Ta-Ra-Ka, who resides in the Barrens and is just itching for human sacrifices to get him back in the spirit of things. Ritchie's murder fills that need and Ta-Ra-Ka rises, claiming Doug as his latest victim. "Just Like Old Times!" is an apt title for a Margo script that's meandering and silly. Why plot an elaborate murder/disposal for Ritchie and then stab Susan to death in the kitchen, with a hasty burial under the tomatoes and green beans? Why not dump both out in the vast wasteland of the Barrens? Yet again, we're graced with lots of pretty pitchers with no energy left for the story.-Peter

Jack-In a weak issue of Vampirella, the Jones stories stand out as the best, almost entirely due to the art and the colors, which look to me like watercolors. In "The Running Red," Vampirella again falls hard for a handsome guy at first sight. What is with her? First there was Alastair, then the Sun God, and now this. She needs to be more discerning. And since when does her blood-lust break out in times of extreme stress? Flaxman Loew is changing the rules as it suits him and it's not welcome.

The Pantha series is yet another waste of space by Skeates, much like the Werewolf and Mummy series. The only thing worthwhile about it is the gorgeous art by Auraleon, who not only draws Pantha beautifully but also draws very funny faces for his background characters. It's almost a mix of naturalism and caricature. The story has almost no plot but at least Pantha leaves her clothes in a convenient place when she changes.

Fernando Fernandez makes "The Man Whose Soul Was Spoiling!" go on too long, and the story is one-note, more impressive to look at than easy to follow. This is the problem with a number of the Warren artists--they can draw nice pictures and interesting pages but their ability to tell a story in images is sometimes lacking. Finally, "Just Like Old Times!" is wretched; I wonder if Margopoulos was given the pages already illustrated and had to make up words that fit. I don't think he succeeded.

Eerie #56

"...There Was a Were-Mummy"★1/2
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Martin Salvador

Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Paul Neary

"Wizard Wagstaff"★1/2
Story by Jack Butterworth
Art by Richard Corben

"It Returns!"★1/2
Story  by Carl Wessler
Art by Enrique Badia Romero

"The Night of the Red Death"
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Isidro Mones

Those ears are kind of cute.

Arthur Lemming's mind is now in a mummy's body, so he carries his human form over his shoulder and makes his way to America, where a group of men attack him and take his unconscious human body to an old wizard, who plans to transfer his own consciousness into the much-younger form. Perhaps he did not realize that "...There Was a Were-Mummy" on the loose, because said were-mummy interferes with the process just as the moon grows full and little furry ears pop out from under his wrappings. In all the confusion, it is not the wizard's consciousness that ends up in Arthur's body, but rather the consciousness of the wizard's hunchbacked servant, Throgmore, who taunts the mummy before riding away on horseback.

After two pages of recap, Skeates seems to suggest that the Mummy series and the Werewolf series are going to merge, but then he drops the thread of the other Mummy series and proceeds to make the Werewolf series even more ridiculous. It's not easy to keep up with all of the body and mind transferences here, but I'll try. The problem with every mummy story and movie has always been that mummies are slow and shambling and thus easy to outrun. How will the Mummy catch up with Throgmore? We will have to wait and see.

Hunter is wandering around, hoping to find his father and kill him, when he comes upon a castle. While investigating the dungeon, a demon stabs him with an infected spear and he awakens in a cell with a talkative old man and a couple of corpses. The old man reveals that there are not many demons left, Hunter's father is on the premises, and there is a ghost there by the name of the Blood Princess. Oh, and the old man's identity? He's the legendary demon hunter known as Schreck! A demon is killed outside the cell, the door opens, and Hunter and Schreck discover the Blood Princess and a nuclear missile!

Get outta here!

It's rare that a Warren story is better than its art, but that's the case in this installment of Hunter. Neary is aces at drawing backgrounds and at depicting Hunter with his space helmet on but not so hot at drawing human faces. No matter, the revelation that the old man is Schreck knocked my socks off! The discovery of the castle and its dungeon was intriguing and I'm looking forward to the next installment, though I wish Warren writers would quit relying on nuclear bombs so often.

Albert Tusk's dreams of becoming a rich dog food magnate are crushed when he is bitten by a were-poodle and turns into a big were-dog. He seeks a cure from "Wizard Wagstaff," who succeeds in turning him human again with a potion. Better still, Tusk discovered that were-dogs love his brand of dog food!

I wonder how much of this story was Jack Butterworth's script and how much was Richard Corben's fancy. The art is the usual goofy fun and the color is vivid, though the reproduction is not the best. In all, it's entertaining, but it seems a bit like Butterworth was trying to write like Corben but didn't quite have the same sense of humor.

Chet Keller appears at the home of his pretty cousin, Jan Foley, intent on marrying her and inheriting the fortune of her late Aunt Nora. He gets too pushy and she knees him in the groin. Just then "It Returns!" It is a walking corpse that appears whenever Jan is threatened. Chet is back the next evening; he knocks Jan out and whisks her off to a ship docked nearby, pursued by It. The corrupt captain performs a shipboard wedding ceremony and Chet tosses Jan in the drink before returning to her house. Soon, there is a knock at the door, and It brings Jan back alive, a little wet but otherwise okay. It drags Chet to the cemetery and he is dead by the time It returns to its grave. It was Jan's cousin Timothy and It is determined to protect her.

Everything is relative, and for a Carl Wessler story, this is not bad. Romero's art is above average and keeps coming close to matching the style of one of the EC masters. My only concern is that the big surprise at the end falls flat, since the fact that It is Jan's cousin doesn't mean much. Still, the shambling corpse is well-drawn and welcome in these pages.

Richard Longmire, another of the jurors who convicted Dr. Archaeus, is a shabby character who likes to participate in illegal cockfights. Archaeus gets careless when he is watching Longmire in a pub and Inspector Sanford figures out his next target, but when the evil doctor is determined to get his victim, there's no stopping him! This time, the murder method involves a gift of flowers poisoned with drops of cholera. Sanford may not have saved Longmire, but he thinks he's discerned a pattern to the killings.

The Dr. Archaeus series is fun! I like Mones's photo-realistic art and I enjoy the different methods of killing off the jurors in each issue.

What I would really like to read is a discussion/history of the Warren mail order business, since I can't resist looking at the pages and pages of ads for books, posters, etc. in every issue. Does anyone know if there has ever been a detailed article about that?-Jack

Peter- "My mind can't take much more of this. It's too much like an endless maze with pitfalls and double-starts everywhere...!" Brotha, I feel ya. The problem with the Werewolf/Mummy/Were-Mummy series is that it's become so ludicrous and laughable that the genuine bits of clever humor are lost in the detritus (after his human body is stolen, Lemming-Mummy muses, "Well. Well... they're heading in the same direction I was going... alright! Let them carry the damned thing for a while!"). What are the chances that someone out there just happens to be looking for a body to transfer his (whatever) into and along comes a mummy carrying a body he hopes to transfer his (whatever) into? Extra half-star credit to Skeates for stealing the plot of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man, complete with werewolf and hunchback, and making it just as lucid as that Universal feature.

This issue's Hunter is not bad but I question the Marvel-style Schreck cross-over. Isn't there enough confusion going on in this series? "Wizard Wagstaff" doesn't measure up to the previous Corben Creature Comedies but that's probably due to the fact that Rich didn't write this one. The humor is strained and the one-liners are groan-worthy but the art is Corben and Warren seems to have worked out the color problems for now. "It Returns!," an unnecessary sequel to Tom Sutton's classic "It!" (from Creepy #53), is missing both Sutton's humor and his art. Badia Romero's splash is fine and dandy but the rest of the strip looks as though it was ghosted by Jack Sparling. The latest Doctor Archaeus is slow-paced but still entertaining. Since there are only four more installments to be published (and nine jurors to kill), either the Doc will have to start dispatching his victims a little more rapidly or the series will leave us hanging. Stay tuned.

Next Week...
This ain't no Arthur Lemming!

Monday, January 18, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 19: July 1981

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

Batman #337

"Where Walks a Snowman"
Story by Gerry Conway & Roy Thomas
Art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez & Steve Mitchell

One winter's evening in Gotham City, police are engaged in a standoff with a heavily-armed thief who has barricaded himself inside a sporting goods store. Batman appears and disarms the man, who is petrified that he will end up like his partner, Jackie, who was frozen to death like a human icicle. The thief explains that he and Jackie were robbing the store when they came upon a human snowman who was doing the same thing and who did not appreciate their interference.

Batman races back to Bruce Wayne's penthouse, where a party is in progress. One of the guests is a famous skier named Klaus Kristin. The next day, the snowman breaks into a jewelry store and steals precious jewels. Meanwhile, Batman investigates Kristin's apartment and finds his diary. Back at home, Bruce Wayne reads the book and learns that Kristin's mother was lost in the Himalayas in 1954 and ended up spending a passionate night with a Yeti. Bruce deduces that Kristin is headed for an Austrian ski resort, so the Dark Knight flies to Europe and leaves a note for Kristin in his room telling him to meet Batman at midnight on the slopes.

Recalling Rogers's work
At the stroke of midnight, Batman waits atop the slope on skis and the snowman attacks! While chasing Batman, the snowman explains that he steals because he needs money to travel most of the time in order to stay in cold climates. Batman causes the snowman to fall to his death (?) from a cliff and wonders if Kristin wanted to die.

Jack: I can only imagine what Peter will say, but I enjoyed this story. The art by Garcia-Lopez and Mitchell is superb and in spots reminded me of the great work Marshall Rogers did several years before on this strip. Of course it's silly that the abominable snowman has to go around robbing stores to get money to fly to chilly climes but, for some reason, I got pulled into the tale of Kristin's mother getting busy with the Yeti and Batman battling her monstrous son on the slopes.

Peter: "Where Walks a Snowman" is one dumb comic book story. Coincidence department: Bruce Wayne just happens to be playing host to the guy who just happens to be the newest super-villain in town. That would never happen, right? Batman stumbles across a frozen corpse and slushy footprints and mutters "Dear lord in heaven, what new form of villainy am I dealing with?" How come Mr. Freeze doesn't come to mind? And Gordon exclaiming that he's seen a lot of gruesome stuff in his career, but the human Popsicle takes the cake? This guy has led a sheltered career. But the biggest howler (literally) would have to be Kristin's mother's confession that she made whoopee with a Yeti and never knew the difference. How does that happen? Best dialogue of the issue is Krazy Kristin's exclamation to Bats: "Call me by my father's name! Call me snowman!" Never fear, Yeti followers, as Snowman will return in Detective #522.

"Murder on the Midway"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Larry Mahlstedt

Robin has traveled to Florida, where the Hills Circus is spending the winter, and after less than a day in the Sunshine State he has to investigate "Murder on the Midway"! He recalls arriving that morning, looking for a position as an aerialist, reconnecting with his friend Waldo the Clown, and meeting the other members of the circus. Among those performers is Cleveland Brand, who replaced his brother Boston as Deadman when the original performer was killed. While Dick is practicing on the trapeze, another clown, Jo-Jo Jones is shot and killed. Waldo is arrested on suspicion of murder, but Robin lurks at night and catches Lourna Hill, the circus owner, who may be guilty of murder!

Jack: Larry Mahlstedt, a new arrival at DC, gives a different look to Don Newton's pencils, one that I think works better on some pages than on others. The story itself is a tad confusing, and I had to go back over it a couple of times to try to figure out what Robin was doing at the circus. That said, stories where the Boy Wonder is at the big top and gets near a trapeze tend to be good ones; I read a fairly recent arc last year in the Wal-Mart 100-pagers where Nightwing got involved with a circus, and it was terrific. It's too bad this story had to be cut in half, but I'm looking forward to part two!

Peter: It's been a long, long time since I liked a back-up over the lead and I think I can tell you without checking my notes that's never happened in the case of the Robin strip. But put a competent team in charge of even the worst tripe and the material can become mighty tasty. Gerry manages to keep my interest and pique my curiosity. No way kindly Waldo pulled the trigger. That noir splash of Robin is poster-worthy, compliments of the fine talents of Messrs. Newton and Mahlstedt. 

The Brave and the Bold #176

"The Delta Connection!"
Story by Martin Pasko
Art by Jim Aparo

When a safecracker named Albert Cowper is murdered, Batman is called to the scene and notices a strange mark on the dead man's chin: a triangle in a circle. Batman returns home and changes out of his cape and cowl to welcome a visit from Selina Kyle, who asks Bruce Wayne to get a message to Batman that Selina's sister, Felicia, is in a Louisiana prison. Selina heard that a hired killer is going to pose as a guard to murder Felicia!

Meanwhile, in the Louisiana bayou, a local man and his elderly mother take in a stranger on a rainy night. The local prison has had a jailbreak and Felicia Kyle is one of the escaped cons. She stopped by the man's home and stole some clothes earlier in the day. The two men head out to look for her, rifles in hand, and they witness her burying her prison uniform and running off. She trips and falls right next to the Swamp Thing, who was depressed and trying to take root, so when the men come after her, Swampy tries to protect her.

Batman happens to fly over in the Whirly-bat, but a stray shot from one of the men's rifles damages a blade and the Caped Crusader plummets into the mire. Swamp Thing saves Felicia but gets knocked out by the falling Whirly-bat; while he's out cold, he recalls his origin and the death of his wife, Linda. Batman pries the machine off of Swamp Thing and finds Felicia, who is dead from a broken neck. Swamp Thing wakes up confused, thinks Felicia is Linda, and he and Batman fight until the muck man comes to his senses. Swampy wanders off and sees Felicia's ghost, who gives him a clue: the word "Delta." What is "The Delta Connection"? Batman and Swamp Thing track the murderer to a houseboat and make quick work of the villain inside: the Gotham crime boss who killed Felicia because she knew where he had hidden stolen jewels in the bayou. The delta was his fraternity ring, which left a mark on Cowper's chin when the boss punched him.

Jack: It's a good thing Jim Aparo drew this story; in lesser hands, it would be a mess. There are too many coincidences and it's not clear why Batman is so interested in solving the murder of a safecracker. He just happens to fly over the right part of the bayou when Felicia is running from the killer and the brief fight between the Dark Knight and Swamp Thing is one of those mistaken identity situations that were so prevalent in Marvel Team-Up--just an excuse to see two heroes fight. Still, Swamp Thing is an improvement over last issue's partner, Lois Lane. An interesting note from editor Paul Levitz on the letters page: he writes that DC considers Batman stories before Julie Schwartz took over in 1964 to be adventures of the Earth-2 Batman. I always thought Earth-2 stories ended when the new Flash debuted in 1956. I think Levitz may be off here--if what he says is correct, the first years of the JLA featured the Earth-Two Batman.

Peter: There's a whole lot of boring expository in the last couple pages but at least we get some Swamp Thing, a character I've always liked, teamed up with the Dark Knight. Martin Pasko would become the initial writer of the rebooted Swamp Thing book, Saga of the... in mid-1982, before Alan Moore took over the following year and turned the title into a comic book institution. At this point in his career, between Wrightson and Moore, poor Swampy was meandering through the muck. Oddly enough, this is the first and only appearance of Felicia Kyle, Selina's sister. Gorgeous Kaluta cover, by the way.

Sadly, not the real
Queen Elizabeth!
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

Nemesis and Inspector Boches of Scotland Yard enlist the aid of Shakespearean actor Lionel Burbage to prevent the Queen of England from being kidnapped. The crime appears to take place but it turns out the queen was really Nemesis's gal-pal Valerie in a disguise supplied by Nemesis.

Jack: I was glad to see Valerie get some action after she followed Nemesis all the way to England. It had seemed like she just sat around the hotel room all day waiting for him to take her to a show after he spent the daylight hours fighting crime. 

Peter: If you're thinking the title, "Endgame," could be the bearing of good news, forget it. This series has a loooooooong way to go and there's no use masking my disdain for both script and art. It never gets any better. Yes, I swear I read the thing, but I can find no more useful synonyms for sleep-inducing.


Detective Comics #504

"The Joker's Rumpus Room Revenge!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Dan Adkins

The Joker has escaped (yet again) from Arkham and the first stop on his "Welcome Back" tour is the toymaker who's devised lots of cunning little tricks for the lunatic's latest escapade. Toys in hand, the Master of Mirth ventilates poor Papetto and hoofs it, leaving a trail of mud for his old nemesis, the Dark Knight, to easily follow. With a hostile mayoral candidate spotlighting every move Batman makes, the need to capture the Joker becomes even more urgent.

With a little bit of detective work (after all, the Joker wants our hero to find him), the Caped Crusader tracks the Joker to an abandoned ice cream factory on the outskirts of Gotham. There, the Batman walks unwittingly into his arch-enemy's new "rumpus room," filled with deadly toys with only one aim: kill the Batman! So this is the master plan! But the coolest hero who ever walked the Earth scratches his noggin and comes up with a solution: turn the toys against each other. With his weapons disarmed, the Joker is helpless against a torrential downpour of rocky road ice cream, engineered by the Dark Knight.

The Joker escapes from Arkham and no one thinks to call Gordon?! That has to be the most unbelievable element in an entertaining (but disposable) adventure. Like a lot of Gerry Conway's scripts lately, "The Joker's Rumpus Room Revenge!" feels heavily influenced by the 1960s TV show. Lots of outlandish props (toys that seem to be able to zero in on our hero despite being nothing but... toys) and locations (an ice cream factory that looks like an amusement park and, magically, still has a lot of ice cream stored in one of its vats!), along with cringing one-liners that would have felt very comfortable coming from the lips of Cesar Romero. The only hint that the Joker is a certified dangerous loon is the murder of the toymaker in the opening. Even the Batman has a smile or two in the finale.

Jack: Following another stellar Starlin cover, "The Joker's Rumpus Room Revenge!" is thoroughly enjoyable and will be one of my best stories of the year. The opening sequence, where we don't see the Joker's face, is well done, but I was wondering where the stripes went that are usually on the Joker's pants! I like the little in-jokes (Levitz Town, Finger Alley) and the fact that the henchmen are named Mickey and Donald, and the big finish, with Batman battling the deadly toys, is quite satisfying. The art looks like the work of Neal Adams in spots (a good thing) and the finish, where Joker is covered in ice cream, is perfect.

"A Day in the Life of a Cop"
Story by Paul Kupperberg
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

Commissioner Gordon suspects that one of his cops, Dave Larsen, whom he's known all his life, may be on the payroll of a notorious drug dealer in Gotham named "Sunshine." When both Larsen and Gordon are nabbed and threatened with death by Sunshine, Gordon manages to escape but the bent cop goes up in smoke.

One gargantuan cliche from page one to nine, this interminably long and boring "Tale of Gotham City" wears out its welcome by the second panel, when we're introduced to the obligatory jive-talkin', mo-fo black drug dealer, Sunshine. Paul Kupperberg was obviously dining on a steady feed of Starsky and Hutch and Baretta reruns rather than getting out and drawing inspiration from the city around him. How in the heck did Larsen escape suspicion living in a ritzy apartment (and dressing in lounge wear that Bruce Wayne would be proud to don), especially if Gordon was so close to this second-generation cop? The only event in this mess that elicits surprise in this reader was the fact that Larsen went out as a coward, rather than changing 180 degrees in one panel and laying down on the bomb to save lives. If Gotham City's untold stories involve many more like "A Day in the Life of a Cop," I'd say it's not an odyssey worth exploring.

Jack: A straightforward backup feature; nothing special. The black characters are stereotypical, demonstrating that--even in 1981, after Black Panther and Black Lightning--comics had a long way to go in their depiction of minorities. The artwork is more Giella than Delbo and looks very much like something from a 1960s' DC comic.

Andru & Giordano
The Best of DC #14

"This One'll Kill You, Batman!"
(Reprinted from Batman #260, February 1975)

"Half an Evil"
(Reprinted from Batman #234, August 1971)

"The Malay Penguin!"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #473, November 1977)

"Riddler on the Move!"
(Reprinted from Batman #263, May 1975)

"The Curious Case of the Catwoman's Coincidences!"
(Reprinted from Batman #266, August 1975)

A special reprinting of five "classic" tales of the Rogues' Gallery, all presented in teensy-weensy digest format.

Jack: The size of the digest may be small, but the contents are mighty! Five above-average stories feature the Joker, Two Face, the Penguin, the Riddler, and the Catwoman. Looking back at my reviews of the stories when they first appeared, I see that I liked the Penguin story the best, surely due to the team of Englehart, Rogers, and Austin. The Two Face story had great Adams and Giordano art, and the other three were by Novick (two) and Chua (one). The constant is Dick Giordano, who inked four out of five selections. That's fitting, since he's taking over the job of editing the Bat titles we read each month.

The Andru/Giordano cover is eye-catching, but what I liked best about this digest was the new material: five, one-page origin stories of the five villains, all drawn by Denys Cowan and Giordano. Cowan was new at DC but will figure in the Batman saga later on. The quickie origins are neat, especially the one for Catwoman, which we've reproduced here.

Next Week!