Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Hitchcock Project-William Fay Part Five: I'll Take Care of You [4.23]

 by Jack Seabrook

A businessman learns that his duty to care for those around him can have unexpected consequences in George Johnson's short story, "'I'll Take Care of You,'" first published in the November 1958 issue of Bestseller Mystery Magazine and soon adapted by William Fay for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

The story opens as used car dealer John Forbes is angry at having been pushed by his wife to spend $1000 on their daughter's wedding reception. His assistant, a 68-year old man who helps out around the lot, goes out to get hamburgers and returns to find that three college boys visited the lot, looking for an old car that they could use at a school carnival, where they will charge a quarter to let patrons hit the vehicle with a sledge hammer. The next day, John is out to lunch when his wife, Dorothy, drives up to the lot. When he returns, they argue over her desire to take an expensive trip around the world.

"'I'll Take Care of  You'"
was first published here

Forbes cheers up later that day when he makes a good deal to buy a 1951 convertible from another dealer. He and Dad, as he calls his assistant, go to pick up the car and John goes home, leaving Dad to wait until the car is ready and then drive it to his boss's home. When Dad arrives at the Forbes house, he sees evidence of an argument and learns that Mrs. Forbes stormed out and drove off in her husband's car. Dad reminds Forbes that his car is almost out of gas, so John takes the convertible and drives off to find his wife. He returns later that evening and says that he had an accident and hit someone walking along the dark road. He looked but could not find an injured person and, when he couldn't find his wife, either, he came home.

Dad takes the convertible back to the lot and notices that the right headlight is broken. He has trouble sleeping due to worries about losing his job if Forbes is arrested. The next morning, police come to the lot and the old man learns that Mrs. Forbes is dead and realizes that her husband must have hit her with the car. When the police ask Dad where he was the night before, he says that he was at Forbes's house all evening with his boss. When Dad sees a story in the newspaper about the accident, he realizes that Forbes killed his wife on purpose.

Ralph Meeker as John Forbes

Dad calls the college and tells the boys to come pick up their car, then sells the convertible for $50. When the old man tells Forbes what he has done, Forbes gives him a $5 commission and the rest of the day off. That evening, Dad and his wife Kitty go to the carnival and watch customers smash the convertible with a sledge hammer. Forbes is watching, too, and when he tells Kitty that he feels like "'chucking everything'" because his wife is dead, she begins to cry, worried that her husband will lose his job. Dad comments that he took the headlights off of the car and threw one away. Forbes reassures the old couple that he'll take care of them.

The next morning, Forbes asks Dad if he kept the broken headlight. The police arrive and ask Forbes what made him suspect the old man of running down his wife. He admits that it was seeing the convertible at the fair with its headlight gone. The police tell Dad that they found the headlight hidden in his attic and he accuses Forbes of causing the accident, but the police remind Dad that he said Forbes never left his home that evening. Despite his insistence on Forbes being guilty, the police arrest the old man and, as he is being taken away, Forbes promises to take care of Kitty.

Russell Collins as Dad

"'I'll Take Care of You'" is a well-plotted short story with an unexpected twist at the end. The twist is made more surprising because the story is narrated in the first person by Dad, who relates past events without ever letting on that he was unjustly arrested for his boss's crime. In William Fay's adaptation of the story for television, Dad is no longer the narrator, and subtle changes make the story more enjoyable and effective, though the ending comes across as somewhat muddled. "I'll Take Care of You" (without the story's quotation marks) aired on CBS on Sunday, March 15, 1959.

Fay removes any reference to Forbes having children, and the used car dealer starts out angry at having spent $1000 on a wedding anniversary party rather than a wedding reception. In the short story, Forbes dotes on his daughter Lily, who just got married, and his business is named Ray's Auto Sales in honor of his son, who was killed in the war. In the TV show, his business is simply Forbe's Motors, Inc., and no children are mentioned. Instead of having the visit by the trio of college boys be something that Forbes relates to Dad, we get to see the college boys come to the lot in an entertaining scene. There is Lester, the handsome, outgoing leader; Harry, the smart, gum-chewing joker; and a third young man, who wears a hat and never says an intelligible word.

Elisabeth Fraser as Dorothy

Ralph Meeker plays Forbes as keyed-up and angry, while Russell Collins plays Dad as dissolute, his watery blue eyes suggesting a problem with alcohol. Forbes assures Dad that "'I'll take care of you,'" reassuring him that his job is secure, and Kitty makes her first appearance as she brings her husband a bag lunch and Forbes comments that she and Dad have been married for 47 years. Dad tells Forbes that "'Kitty ain't so bright these days. Gettin' old, you know,'" which sets up the show's last scene. When Dorothy pulls up to the lot the next day, she disdainfully asks Dad if he always calls her husband "'John,'" suggesting that this level of familiarity is inappropriate between employee and employer.

The story's "trip around the world" has become "'a trip to New Zealand to see your cousin Nan.'" Fay adds a scene where John and Dorothy argue at home and John remarks, "'I'm a meatball married to a dime store queen.'" She runs out and takes his car because it's blocking hers in the driveway. Dad arrives to see her leaving and understands that they have been arguing, rather than arriving after she has left and seeing the house in disarray, as he does in the story.

Ida Moore as Kitty

Fay then adds another scene to show Forbes out driving at night, searching for Dorothy. He sees her standing by his car and drives past her, then turns the car around and runs over her. We don't see it but we do hear the car hit her and her scream. When Forbes gets home, he tells Dad that he and the old man were together all evening, watching TV. John shows Dad the broken headlight and tells him to replace it: "'You take care of this, Dad, and I'll take care of you.'" This is a much more direct approach than the one taken in the short story, where Dad gradually figures out what has happened. In the story, it appears that Forbes feels remorse about what he has done (he feels like "'chucking everything'"), while in the TV version he sets up his alibi and there is no question of his guilt. In the TV version, Dad is seen reading a newspaper at the used car lot the next day, and Dorothy's death is front page news, so he already knows what has happened and is complicit in covering up the crime before the police come, unlike the story, where Dad learns of the death from the police and realizes what happened.

In the TV show, there is a quid pro quo as Dad knows what Forbes did and helps him in order to ensure his own security. In the story, Forbes pressures Dad to support him after the police have interrogated Forbes, and Dad tells the reader: "I guess then's when I stopped fooling myself."

Arthur Batanides
as the detective

Another subtle change has to do with the return of the college boys. In the story, Dad telephones them and asks them to come pick up the car. In the TV show, they arrive on their own and that spurs Dad's idea to sell them the convertible. Suspense is created by cutting back and forth between shots of the detective interrogating Forbes inside his office and shots of the college boys having trouble starting the car engine outside. In a classic Hitchcockian transference of guilt, the viewer worries that Forbes will be caught and roots for the car to start so that it can be removed from view. Suspense is heightened by having a second detective walking around the lot, inspecting cars, moving nearer to the convertible as the college boy struggles to get it started.

The detectives then question Dad, who expounds on the time that he spent with Forbes the evening before, providing a detailed alibi for his boss and unknowingly setting up his own subsequent arrest. With Dorothy dead, fraternization between employee and employer becomes the key to Forbes's safety. After the detectives come, John again tells Dad, "'Don't worry, I'll take care of you,'" an example of Fay having characters repeat the title phrase several times to underline its importance. Forbes does not give Dad $5 after the car is sold; they merely exchange complicit smiles.

James Westmoreland as Lester

There is a dissolve to the carnival; Fay removes the scene in the story where Dad returns home and he and Kitty decide to use his $5 windfall to attend the carnival. Instead, we see Dad and Kitty walking through the crowd, where she remarks that Forbes told her that afternoon that Dad did not have to worry about his job. When did she see Forbes? We never learn the answer, but the addition of a conversation between Forbes and Kitty becomes important. She also reveals that Forbes gave her $10 and suggested that they attend the carnival. This replaces the story's $5 commission and suggests that Forbes set things in motion to end in Dad's arrest.

Richard Evans
as Harry
The lead college boy ballyhoos in front of a curtain depicting the "Death Car," a car rearing up with eyes and fangs as a cartoon figure holds up a sledge hammer. This is a good example of carnival trickery to attract paying customers; the car itself is revealed to be nothing more than the 1953 coupe, with no fangs at all and no reason to be known as the Death Car--at least no reason anyone but Forbes and Dad yet understands. As in the story, Dad and Kitty enjoy watching the car be demolished until Forbes summons Dad, who reminds Forbes (yet again) that he had better take care of him, in light of what Dad knows. The short story's conversation between Forbes, Dad, and Kitty is removed, as is any sense of remorse or despair on the part of Forbes.

The police suddenly appear on the scene and accuse Dad of running over Dorothy. The detective points out that Dad sold the car cheaply and had a broken headlight hidden in his house. Dad is taken away, calling for Kitty. The short story ends there, but the TV show adds an additional scene. Kitty emerges from behind the Death Car curtain and thanks Forbes for the $10. She tells him that she never asked Dad why he hid the headlight that Forbes had asked her about earlier that day, adding more details to their interaction. "'I get so nervous at night when I can't find Dad. Will you take care of me?'" she asks, and the show ends on that uncertain note.

Richard Rust as Detective Charlie

This additional scene at the end of the show is somewhat confusing on first viewing. Kitty did not see her husband being taken away by the police and we know, from Dad's earlier comment, that she is easily confused. She gives no indication of being complicit in the plan to transfer guilt from Forbes to Dad and instead seems bewildered by her husband's sudden disappearance, turning to the only other man she recognizes to ask for help. Forbes must realize that she is confused and that she presents a danger to him: her knowledge of the hidden headlight and his visiting her and giving her money could cast suspicion on him. The purpose of this added twist at the end of the TV show appears to be to add a new duty of care to John Forbes's life: he has killed his wife and thus no longer has to keep up with her expensive tastes; he has seen to it that his assistant is arrested, so he no longer has to pay his salary; yet he now has to "take care" of Kitty, an old woman he barely knows who needs constant attention.

Watching this outstanding half hour of television makes one realizes that the phrase, "I'll Take Care of You," has two distinct meanings. The first is the clear, direct meaning, where Forbes promises to look after Dad and, later, seems to inherit the duty to look after his wife. The other meaning is more sinister: Forbes "takes care" of the problem of Dorothy's excessive spending by murdering her. "I'll Take Care of You" can be a promise or a threat, and in this story John Forbes has it both ways.

Richard Gering

The show is well-directed by Robert Stevens (1920-1989), whose skills have expanded during the 1950s from the static camera of his work on Suspense, which depended on tight close ups due to small TV screens and poor reception, to his work on the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, where he began to depend on trick shots that placed inanimate objects close to the camera to use forced perspective to emphasize their importance, to his later work on the series, in episodes like "I'll Take Care of You" that demonstrate a keen ability to tell the story in a dynamic, propulsive way while still using numerous close ups. Stevens worked in television from 1948 to 1987 and directed 44 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and five episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He won an Emmy for "The Glass Eye." He also directed 105 episodes of Suspense in the early 1950s.

Starring as John Forbes is Ralph Meeker (1920-1988), who was born Ralph Rathgeber and who served in the Navy in WWII. He started on Broadway after the war in 1946 and was on screen for thirty years, from 1950 to 1980, appearing both in film and on TV. Key roles include Kiss Me Deadly and Paths of Glory (1957), as well as the TV movie, The Night Stalker (1972). He appeared on The Outer Limits and in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Revenge."

The role of Dad is played by Russell Collins (1897-1865), a wonderful actor whose stage career began in the 1920s. He followed this with film roles starting in the 1930s and with TV roles starting in the early 1950s. Most of what we see of him today is from later in his career, such as his role on "Kick the Can" on The Twilight Zone and his ten appearances on the Hitchcock show, including Fredric Brown's "The Night the World Ended."

Elisabeth Fraser (1920-2005) plays Dorothy Forbes. Born Elisabeth Fraser Jonker, she was on Broadway from 1940 to 1962 and on screen from 1941 to 1980, including a part in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942). This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock TV series.

Fifteen years older than her onscreen husband, Ida Moore (1882-1964) portrays Kitty. She sang to accompany silent films and appeared in a few in 1925, then had a screen career from 1943 to 1959. This episode was the second of her two appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and represents her next to last credit overall.

As he often did, Arthur Batanides (1923-2000) plays the lead detective. His is a familiar face from classic TV and he appeared in countless episodes from 1951 to 1985, including roles on The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Star Trek. He was in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "The Jokester."

Lester, the handsome college boy who takes the lead in negotiations for the car and later ballyhoos at the carnival, is played by James Westmoreland (1935-2016), here billed as Rad Fulton, the name he used on screen from 1956 to 1963. After a split with his agent, he reverted to his real name and continued to appear on screen until 1987. This is one of his two roles on Alfred Hitchcock Presents; the other is in "Listen, Listen!"

The smart, gum-chewing college boy named Harry is played by Richard Evans (1935- ), whose screen career ran from 1958 to 2016, including a part on Star Trek. This was his only role on the Hitchcock TV show.

Richard Rust (1938-1994) plays the second detective, referred to as Charlie. He was on screen from 1955 to 1988 and this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock series.

Finally, the third college student--the silent one who wears a hat--is played by Richard Gering (1935-2003), whose brief screen career lasted from 1959 to 1962 and included one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

George Johnson (1929-2015), better known as George Clayton Johnson, wrote the short story on which this episode was based. This was the first TV show to be adapted from one of his stories, and he would go on to write seven episodes of The Twilight Zone, an episode of Star Trek, and (with William F. Nolan) the 1967 novel upon which the 1976 film, Logan's Run, was based. 

Read "'I'll Take Care of You'" for free online here or watch the TV version for free online here. The DVD is available here. Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here.


The FictionMags Index, 

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

"I'll Take Care of You." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 4, episode 23, CBS, 15 March. 1959. 


Johnson, George. "'I'll Take Care of You.'" Bestseller Mystery Magazine, Nov. 1958, pp. 121-130. 

Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central,

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 

In two weeks: The Avon Emeralds, starring Roger Moore and Hazel Court!

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Warren Report Issue 53: June 1974


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

The Spirit #2

"Heel Scalloppini"
Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti
(Originally Appeared 2/23/47)

"Powder Pouf"
Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti
(Originally Appeared 1/4/48)

"The Fallen Sparrow"
Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti
(Originally Appeared 1/11/48)

"The Tragedy of Merry Andrew"
Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti
(Originally Appeared 2/15/48)

"Wanted: Mortimer J. Titmouse"
Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti
(Originally Appeared 7/6/47)

"The O'Dolan"
Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti
(Originally Appeared 4/18/48)

Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti
(Originally Appeared 9/28/47)

"Silken Floss, MD"
Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti
(Originally Appeared 3/9/47)

Jack-Issue number two of The Spirit is even better than issue number one! It features a beautiful, new cover by Eisner that illustrates themes from the story "Powder Pouf" without actually illustrating a particular scene. The letters page includes praise from Alex Toth, Wally Wood, Neal Adams, and Robert Bloch! Quite a lineup. There is a one-page interview with Eisner in which he reveals that he passed on the original "Superman" when it was submitted to his shop.

The first three stories are superb. "Heel Scalloppini" is a timely political story of an elected official who won't crack down on the violent people who got him elected until the Spirit helps him have an epiphany and re-discover his conscience. "Powder Pouf" (a title not actually displayed on the stunning splash page) features a gorgeous woman who is vicious and violent; a mild mannered ex-con named Bleak seems aimless at first but ends up helping the Spirit capture Powder. "The Fallen Sparrow," originally published the week after "Powder Pouf," continues the story and follows heroic Bleak and his girl Sparrow, who was jailed for a crime she didn't commit and who had the unfortunate luck to end up sharing a cell with Powder Pouf. These three stories can stand with the best of any comic stories I've ever read and demonstrate why The Spirit section was a comic aimed at the adults reading Sunday papers.

Comics for adults. ("The Fallen Sparrow")

One other story in this issue hits the heights: "The O'Dolan," which features plenty of the always-welcome Ellen Dolan, the Commissioner's beautiful daughter who is hopelessly in love with the Spirit. This tale includes Irish humor and another ghost (like last issue) who really is a ghost and not a trick. In a number of the stories in this issue, Eisner (and Grandenetti, whom the GCD credits as co-artist on every story and who probably did backgrounds and/or inks) makes great use of a technique where he draws a character looking straight at the reader, a look of surprise or shock on his or her face, which is lit in high contrast.

"The O'Dolan"

"Silken Floss, M.D."

Less successful (but still great) is "Silken Floss," with the beautiful doctor of the title; the closest things to clunkers this time out are "The Tragedy of Merry Andrew," told in verse like "Casey at the Bat" with images that contradict the high-minded captions, and "UFO," a weak satire of Orson Welles with a real man from Mars. "Wanted: Mortimer J. Titmouse" is this issue's color section and it features a quick appearance by the Octopus's purple gloves, grasping at the formula for the atom bomb. Even the lesser Eisner Spirit stories are worth reading!

Peter-I may come off as a dolt admitting this (though I've never been shy of my doltery in the past), but my favorite Spirit stories are those without complex plots and lots of annoying words. Eisner was a great storyteller, yes, but I think his greatest achievement was being a storyteller who didn't lean on the word as much as the visuals. "Heel Scalloppini" is way too wordy for my Spirit palette and it's hard to follow as well. Not so the pair of "Powder Pouf" tales, which are a lot of fun and display a good sampling of the subtle Eisner humor. The rest of the contents are equally enjoyable (man, "The O'Dolan" has a killer splash), but if I had to pick one from the batch it would be "Wanted: Mortimer J. Titmouse," and not just because it's the color section this time out. I love the cameo of the Octopus (okay, so it's just his hands) and the open-ended climax. There's no silly wrap-up, just a big question mark. Interestingly enough, the face of the Octopus was never shown during Eisner's newspaper run of the strip, and it would not be until 1966 (and the second issue of Harvey's short-lived The Spirit comic book) that we'd get an origin tale. 

Vampirella #34

"The Carnival of Death!" ★1/2
Story by Mike Butterworth (as Flaxman Loew)
Art by Jose Gonzalez

"Miranda" ★1/2
Story by Fred Ott
Art by Felix Mas

"Fleur: From the Spain of Legend!" 
Story by John Jacobson
Art by Ramon Torrents

"Black and White Vacuum to Blues" 
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Esteban Maroto

Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Jose Bea

"Cold Cuts" ★1/2
Story by Bernie Wrightson
Art by Jeff Jones

Vampirella and Pendragon are in Venice, performing at a party on the yacht of Hollywood mogul Zymer Z. Sull, a man of particularly vile taste and rude habits. Meanwhile, Count Umberto and his daughter are pining for the days when they threw huge galas. They invite several of their old friends to their castle for a party but, alas, all their friends are long since dead. What to do? The Count decides to invite Sull and his hangers-on, since the yacht is parked not far from the castle. Vampi and Pen tag along with the arrogant Sull, since Pen insists they're being paid for the privilege.

Once they all get there, Sull's friend, singer Sammy Bleecher, takes over by talking the Count's daughter into doing a striptease atop the piano. When the Count objects, Bleecher decks him. Suddenly, the butler enters and announces the arrival of the "old friends" Umberto had invited. Bleecher hits on the masked Principessa Di Pozzi, asking for a dance, but insists on unveiling her beauty. To his surprise, beneath the mask is a skull. The shock drives Bleecher mad, but Sull pulls a pistol and threatens the Count unless he 'fesses up that the whole thing is a charade. Vampi, having seen quite enough from the bloated Sull, sinks her teeth into the man's neck and sucks him dry. The party continues on, with the Count trotting out the rotten corpse of his own dead wife. Vampi and Pen throw up their hands and sigh, "When in Venice..."

"Carnival of Death" is one really dumb, meandering mess. We've seen the Sull and Bleecher type-characters one too many times in this series and there's no real explanation for the revival of the corpses. Is the Count some kind of miracle worker? A landline to the other side? Vampi is resigned to stand in the background, uttering awful dialogue like "I'm going to stop the degradation of that poor, stupid woman!" and biding her time until the obligatory "When Vampi gets frazzled, she gets thirsty!" Who the heck would hire a third-rate Vaudeville act for a floating orgy and how much is Sull paying? Vampirella has certainly been a good series to check your brain at the door, but "Carnival of Death" is the one where you should halt before you enter and turn around.

Eccentric billionaire Howard Albert Black has come a long way to see Mrs. Jenkins's niece, "Miranda." You see, Black has a thing for marrying "special" women, like those with only one arm or one leg or no temper. Miranda is very special indeed; she's half praying mantis! Though Black offers Mrs. Jenkins one million dollars for the honor of her niece's hand in marriage, the old woman scoffs and tells him he knows not of what he wishes but she'll let him have an audience with Miranda if he'll leave immediately thereafter. 

Black meets the gorgeous girl, gets an eyeful of her raptorial legs, and talks Miranda into leaving with him. When Mrs. Jenkins discovers her niece has fled the nest, she scurries to Black's house, only to discover Miranda having her new husband for dinner. Well, thank you, Captain Obvious. How can a climax such as this be a surprise if you shout the clues all through the running time? I'll dispense with my usual "misogynistic comic book writers of the mid-1970s" lecture, as this tripe really isn't so much "regrettable" as just plain stupid.

Fleur the witch teams up with Richard, Earl of Parlan, when both are arrested and condemned as witches by Chelidonius, the Witchfinder General. Through witchery and skill with a dagger, the pair escape, but Richard has a surprise for Fleur as they flee the dungeon. There's nothing original going on in "Fleur: From the Spain of Legend," but it sure looks good. In the same way fifty unrelated paintings in a gallery look good. Ramon Torrents can dole out the posed nekkid chicks all right, but there's not a lot of cohesion from panel to panel. It all just melts together into a near-incomprehensible goop. But a pretty goop. "Fleur" will return a few more times over the next half-decade.

Say what?
"Black and White Vacuum to Blues" continues the disturbing trend of Warren editors giving the nod to pretentious pap filled with silly-ass one-liners (Helter-skelter, hectic legs joggle-bog the clownie down the stone stairwell! Drac-flak hard to hack?) and random incidents. Sometime in the near future, TV shows featuring violence and comedy are acted out on our television sets for the entertainment of the stupid masses. We've gotten that message before, Doug. I know, I know, even after your last diatribe, Adam-12 and The Waltons retained their massive audiences. Got some news for you, buddy: John Q. is gonna watch what they like no matter what you or Harlan have to say, so can you whip us up a story about a vampire whose neighbor is a werewolf? Incidentally, I would never have guessed the art was by Maroto; only goes to show that Esteban is Muy Especial in black-and-white.

Fed up with her nowhere marriage, a woman throws her lazy husband down an open elevator shaft but is then cursed with dreams of a murderous hunchback and a fall from a high cliff. After cashing the life insurance check, the woman heads out for a drive in her sports car but meets with disaster on a cliff road after seeing the hunchback of her dreams and taking the high dive to the rocks below. I must be completely dense, because I can see no point to the plot of "Recurrence!" other than that murder is a bad thing. Steve can't even seem to tie the loose ends up; who is this hunchback? Is he the dead man's State Farm policy writer? A road worker who wandered away from his job site to grab a quick jog? Skeates ends his bewildering tale with the equally bewildering message: "Life is a series of connected and similar events... a cycle... a wildly spinning cycle!" Where's the proof?  Deja Vu All Over Again Department: Jose Bea reboots his classic final panel of "The Blood-Colored Motorbike" (Creepy #61) for the climactic car crash of "Recurrence!"

Gunned down by his best friend during a blizzard, a (dead?) man carries an elk back to his wife, starving in their cabin. In the meantime, his best friend heads back to the cabin and, upon arrival, decides the woman looks good enough to eat. My synopsis might be sketchy but so is this script. If you had said to me Wrightson/Jeff Jones, I'd have said "Sold, no matter the quality!" hence my fairly-high rating despite not knowing what the hell is going on in "Cold Cuts." Pretty much the description for most of the stories this issue.-Peter

Jack-There's not a single story in this dreadful issue that I can recommend. "The Carnival of Death!" is decent but Vampi and Pendy are essentially playing the roles of Statler and Waldorf as they stand in the wings, watching and commenting on events. Vampirella eventually puts the bite on a bad guy, but there's no conflict or danger and it's over in two panels. "Cold Cuts" is written by Wrightson and illustrated by Jones, so it has star names, but it's a confusing six pages that are beautifully rendered.

"Miranda" starts out looking like another story that continues the unfortunate Warren fascination with amputees but goes nowhere surprising, though the final panel is gruesomely effective. The other three stories are truly from hunger. "From the Spain of Legend!" reads as if Jacobson was handed ten pages and told to make up words to go along with the pictures, "Recurrence!" has Bea's always-spooky art and not much else, and "Black and White..." is a complete disaster, entirely due to Moench's utterly horrible script. Maroto's art is great but the words are a mess. DuBay's color is vivid but can't rival Corben's and looks like standard comic book coloring on good quality paper. This is an issue to forget!

Eerie #57

"Stridespider Sponge-Rot"★1/2
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Esteban Maroto

Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Paul Neary

"Hide from the Hacker!"★1/2
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Tom Sutton

Story by Greg Potter
Art by Richard Corben

"The Terror of Foley Mansion!"★1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jose Gual

"A Switch in Time..."★1/2
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Isidro Mones

A dead African-American man known only as the Spook is told that a Creole woman is using voodoo to raise an army of ex-slave zombies to kill white slavers. The Spook finds the woman, busy with her naked ritual dance with a big serpent, and wipes out numerous zombies before ending the whole thing by knocking the naked woman into a fire.

Terribly over-written as only Doug Moench can, the oddly-titled "Stridespider Sponge-Rot" is as rotten as its moniker. The endless captions are filled with prose such as: "Expectancy hovers in the air like a darkling cloud gathering the fury of storm. The Creole woman makes a slight, impatient gesture... and the drums intensify in response!" Maroto's art is sketchy and his inability to tell a coherent story is amplified by Moench's nonsensical words. I'm sorry to say this is just the first entry in a new series!

Hunter sets the nuclear missile to go off in an hour and blow up his part of the world. The Blood Princess leads him to Ofphal's chamber in the castle, and Hunter confronts his father. The Blood Princess shows Schreck where his weapons are kept and Schreck dons Hunter's outfit to go demon hunting. As the hour counts down, Hunter tells his father that they all are about to die, but the missile fizzles. Ofphal kills Hunter and Schreck kills Ofphal. The series ends with Schreck and the Blood Princess walking out into a newly demon-free world.

The final, untitled installment of the Hunter series may be its best yet, though it's only tangentially a horror story. Neary's art seems more in line with hero comics and the narrative followed predictable but entertaining comic book tropes. Still, the eight-page package is enjoyable and the end is satisfying; I'm impressed that DuBay chose to kill off his hero and let the minor characters survive.

Just another great Sutton character!
A duo of Scotland Yard detectives investigate the case of a fellow policeman whose head is lopped off and delivered to his wife in a box. It reminds them of a similar case years ago, when a madman cut off pieces of his victims' bodies and delivered them in nice packages. They caught that killer and hanged him, so is this a copycat? The detectives locate the son of the man who was hanged and arrest him, but they have to let him go when another beheading occurs while the suspect is in custody.

"Hide from the Hacker!" is as good as it is due to the talents of Tom Sutton, an artist we really need to see more of in these mid-'70s Warren mags. He knows how to tell a story in an entertaining way through pictures, and his gruesome panels don't shy away from violence but don't glorify it either. He just seems to know how to present horror without making it offensive.

When Dr. Barton Clervel's wife dies and he is left alone and without a "Child," he decides to make one out of spare parts. He stitches together a boy and brings it to life and, after some initial revulsion, becomes a loving father and raises the boy. The child shows his strength and propensity to violence when two crooks try to rob his father; this ability resurfaces when his father's landlord kills him to get the house, which sits over an oil deposit. The child kills the landlord, hangs his body from the swing set in the yard, and sets out to see more of the world.

Greg Potter writes a moving story that avoids needless sensation, and Corben does a great job bringing it to life in pictures. Contrast his color scheme with that used by DuBay in this month's Vampirella and see why Corben was considered such a master.

A crook known as Graak and some friends break into the old Foley place looking for treasure and have to reckon with "The Terror of Foley Mansion!" Yes, "It" is back again, sensing something is wrong at the homestead and digging its way out of its grave to shamble over to go on a killing spree. It kills one after another until they're all dead, then shambles back to the warm grave. When the rightful owners arrive at the house, there is quite a mess to clean up.

Another It story by Carl Wessler follows the pattern of those before it: little explanation or motivation, lots of purple prose and people getting killed. I have to compliment Jose Gual, though--his art is terrific. He really knows how to draw a shambling, bony corpse. I thought it was a little much when It plucked out the eyes of one of the crooks, but I guess you have to take the gross with the disgusting when reading horror comics.

Dr. Archaeus murders Sir Robert Cawling-Byrd IV in the street and Detective Miles Sanford thinks he's worked out a pattern to the murders: they follow the song about the twelve days of Christmas! He resigns after his boss scoffs. Archaeus makes a mask of Sir Robert's facial features, then kidnaps Morgan Grenville (another juror) and murders his lady friend at the opera. Archaeus puts the Sir Robert mask on Grenville's body and makes "A Switch in Time...," substituting it for Sir Robert's at the funeral, after setting off the bomb as a distraction. No one, including Sanford, realizes that Grenville was buried alive.

The Dr. Archaeus series continues to be fun, though this entry is a bit convoluted. I had to read it twice before I understood what happened. The ending is subtle, which is not a word I often use to describe Warren horror comics, and the art by Mones fits the narrative--it's nothing special, but it's good enough. This issue of Eerie is much better than this month's issue of Vampirella.-Jack

Peter-Never one to shy away from pretension, Doug Moench clobbers us over the head with a lame title (but so evocative of those world-saving "authors" of mid-'70s' superhero comics) and more Moenchian bon-bons (Somewhere nearby, a toad grates the silence with its obscene mating call...), but neglects to give us even the bare skeleton of a story. I won't cast aspersions on Moench's later assertions that he had no idea "spook" was a derogatory term when he jumped headfirst into a series about an African-American voodoo man. Well, I might be just a little suspicious. Anyway, Maroto's art is way too sharp for this mediocre script; it's like having Alan Parsons produce The Carpenters. The title could have simply been shortened to "Rot" and that would be perfect.

I liked this issue's "Hunter," despite the confusing finale (due, I think, to Neary's very-small, action-packed panels) and the silly countdown in each caption; that timing doesn't really make sense if you pay attention to it. Neary's art is fabulous and DuBay manages to weave his way through each potentially pretentious hallway (imagine if this series were written by Moench or McGregor), giving us the closest Warren will get to cloning the Marvel sci-fi series. As most of you know, this is not the last we'll see of Hunter. "Hide from the Hacker" is easily this issue's apex, thanks mostly (as Jack stated) to the incredible talent of Tom Sutton, but let's give credit to Steve Skeates as well. Skeates manages to drum up that ol' 1880s London vibe to perfection and leaves us wanting more. We'll get more soon but, alas, minus Tom Sutton.

"Child" is a rare misfire for Corben, but that's due to Greg Potter's script, a patchwork of every Frankenstein film ever made. Why doesn't the scientist ever think to name the child? And the visual of the big little galoot actually made me laugh rather than gasp. "The Terror of Foley Mansion" is a poor follow-up to "It!" (from Creepy #53), but it makes no sense to make what is clearly a one-off into a series. Jose Gual is a competent penciler but he ain't no Sutton, and neither is Wessler. I really wanted a few more panels showing us how this rotting skeleton digs his way back into his grave. Did he leave the lid open? The fourth Dr. Archaeus installment shows that the good doctor still has a little steam in his stride. I have to say I didn't think Boudreau could keep my interest in a series that might have grown samey in the hands of a lesser writer, but Gerry manages to find ways to inject lots of humor into a grim subject.-Peter

Next Week...
Nuff Said

Monday, February 15, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 21: September 1981

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


DC Special Series #27
Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk

"The Monster and the Madman"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez & Dick Giordano

Robert Bruce Banner has been working incognito for Wayne Enterprises, hoping he could get his hands on a Gamma-Gun (to fix his big green problem, I suppose), when a strange gas permeates the lab he's working in and everyone starts laughing uncontrollably. With the highest IQ in the room, Banner grabs a gas mask and waits to see what happens. Enter the Joker, who is working for some off-stage sinister who wants that Gamma-Gun really bad. As Banner heads for the exit to get help, he's eyeballed and attacked by Joker's henchmen. Bad idea.

Whenever Bruce Banner knows fear or tension or something that raises his blood pressure (the 1980 Presidential Election, perhaps?), he becomes the Incredible Hulk! The Green Goliath grabs the Gamma-Gun and sets to destroying it until the Joker calms him down. It's at this point that Batman shows up. He confides to Hulk that, just this one time, the Clown Prince of Mayhem is on the money. Don't destroy that gizmo! Taking advantage of the confusion, Joker convinces Hulk that Bats is the real enemy in the room and should be pulverized. The green lug grabs ahold of Bats, with an eye to cracking his spine, while Joker eggs him on. The Dark Knight reaches into his utility belt and cracks open a sleeping gas pellet, which knocks the big guy out. Joker and his men have exited stage left with the Gamma-Gun, leaving Bats empty handed.

Two transformations ensue: Hulk becomes Banner and Bats becomes Wayne. Bruce approaches the scantily-clad egghead with a proposition: would Banner be interested in building a replica of the G-G for Wayne Enterprises? Banner quickly agrees. Meanwhile, the identity of the baddie pulling Joker's strings is revealed as the Shaper of Worlds, a giant cyborg created by the Skrulls (first appearance: Incredible Hulk #155, September 1972), who has the power of making dreams come true. The Shaper has enlisted Joker's aid in restoring his diminished powers. Joker blasts the giant with the G-G, but the energy is still not enough. This cat needs more!

Meanwhile, Bruce Banner is working on the G-GII on an aircraft carrier somewhere in the Atlantic when a helicopter full of soldiers lands and takes Bruce into custody. Alfred, having been placed on the carrier to babysit, steps in to voice his outrage and is summarily smacked in the head for his troubles. Banner Hulks out, but the Colonel wishes up a beast even bigger than our green hero, and voila! a giant blob-thing (think giant, yellow Golem) appears and captures the Hulk. The copter flies away with its emerald cargo.

Commissioner Gordon arrives (who called him is anyone's guess) on the ship, followed closely by Batman, and he puts in a call to Marvel General Thunderbolt Ross, only to discover the Army has not sent any men out to retrieve the Hulk. Batman wisely deduces that the crew was hired by Joker. The smiling sadist has taken Hulk back to their base with an eye to having Banner activate the G-G for the Shaper, but when our green hero learns that Banner might be invited to dinner, he freaks out and tears his blob-thing captor to pieces. He and the Shaper have a bit of a showdown before Hulk leaps his way to freedom. Joker apologizes to his boss for allowing the monster to escape, but the giant explains that his powers have been amped up and he thinks it has something to do with Hulk's anger. Shaper sends Joker out to recapture the brute.

The Clown Prince of Funny Business is smarter than he appears and he somehow dupes the Dark Knight into tracking down the Hulk and then talking the big guy into visiting the Shaper, who uses the Hulk's intense radioactivity to bulk up on power. The Shaper then grants Joker's wish to become "king of the world" and the villain flies off to enjoy his newfound fortune. But the fact that he can do anything he wants drives the Joker insane and Batman carts him off to Arkham as, in the distance, the Shaper fires up his spaceship and blasts off into space. 

Peter: Never had the pleasure of reading this one back when it first arrived on the stands, as I'd already moved on from funny books to funny girls, but this was a well-constructed, nicely-drawn, albeit very long epic that benefited greatly from Len Wein's familiarity with both heroes. Obviously the second mega-crossover of the DC-Marvel conglomerates, following Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man back in '76, BvH has the same problem as the first: how to match up a hero with super-duper-powers with one who's a little more down to earth? I woulda thunk Hulk v Superman might have made more sense. To me, though, the real dilemma comes whenever Batman says "Oh, yep, I've heard of this Hulk character. He's supposed to be really strong!" and I just think, "How is that possible? Does that mean The Fly or Fatman also loom somewhere just outside Gotham, awaiting their spotlight?"

A few nits to pick: Joker's motive for helping the Shaper is never really explained other than a silly "If everyone in the universe is exposed to his dream power, I won't be the craziest man anymore!" outburst. Seems a lot of trouble to go to just to ensure you're loonier than the guy next door. And the psycho-babble nonsense of the climax went straight over my head. And I can't remember if we covered this over at Marvel University when we discussed the Shaper of Worlds, but how is it that Ideal never sued Marvel and/or Archie Goodwin, creator of Shaper, for ripping off the design of the Zeroids toys? Can't argue with the quality of the art, though. Both companies come off well thanks to the Gil Kane-infested vibe of Garcia-Lopez and Giordano. Overall, a fun read.

Separated at birth?

Jack: I have never read this before, either, and I really enjoyed it! I liked the treasury-sized comics back in the '70s, though my favorites were the DC Golden Age reprints. I guess Peter is right that this was only the second DC/Marvel crossover, but there sure were a heck of a lot of treasury editions back then, both at DC and Marvel. Superman v. Muhammad Ali, The Wizard of Oz, etc., spring to mind. In this issue, there's a neat feature on the inside cover with capsule origins of both heroes, and on the inside back cover there's a very cool overview of how the cover was developed. I remember reading about how hard it was to get both companies to agree on the Superman/Spider-Man cover and to get both heroes to be the same size and have similar visual prominence.

The art inside is outstanding, though Garcia-Lopez draws Wayne & Batman better than Banner & Hulk, surely because he had so much DC experience. The Joker is easily the strongest character in the story, as is so often the case, and I enjoyed the dream sequence near the end where a bunch of super-villains show up, though I don't know why Killer Moth was included!

Buckler & Giordano

Batman #339

"A Sweet Kiss of Poison..."
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Irv Novick & Steve Mitchell

Keeping up with Wayne Foundation business by day and prowling the streets of Gotham by night is taking its toll on Batman, who nearly misses landing on his own roof and has to enlist Alfred's aid to avoid oversleeping. At lunch with a mayoral candidate, Wayne is suddenly kissed by a beautiful woman who apologizes for mistaking him for someone else. It turns out she's Poison Ivy in disguise, and she's been giving all of the members of the Wayne Foundation "A Sweet Kiss of Poison..."! The villainess wears hypnotic lipstick and her smooches cause the men to be helpless when she has them sign over the money and power to her. Unfortunately for Batman, she also gives a hypnotic order not to divulge the truth, so the Dark Knight can't even tell Commissioner Gordon!
Not hot enough
for Peter

 I don't know if it's because Dick Giordano has taken over as editor, but I found this story more entertaining than any in Batman in recent memory. It has a go-go 1960s' vibe to it, from the return of Poison Ivy and her hypnotic lipstick, to Batman's use of an item from his utility belt (defoliant to kill the ivy that is choking him), to a view of a couple of the trophies in the Batcave (the big Joker playing card and the dinosaur). It may not be the dark, violent Batman of the O'Neil/Adams days or the Frank Miller era, but it is the Batman that reflected the camp TV show and I like it. I also dig the "Look Out" at the top of the cover, which is another '60s-era touch.

One other point: having Bruce Wayne/Batman show signs of fatigue from his lifestyle is the sort of humanizing touch we're not used to in a DC hero comic. Did it take Marvel writer Gerry Conway to humanize Bruce Wayne?

Peter: "A Sweet Kiss of Poison" is the very definition of a generic, dopey, badly-illustrated funny book strip. It's lifeless, uninteresting, and not easy on the eye. I think Jack mentioned last time out that there seem to have been two Gerry Conways writing the Bat-titles in 1981. The guy on Detective was crafting intelligent and exciting adventures while this Gerry Conway is aiming at the lowest common denominator. But I think the art has a lot to do with it as well. There's a Hostess Twinkie ad on page 13 that literally blends right in to the action on either side of it and this might be the most unattractive Poison Ivy I've yet seen.

"Yeserday's (sic) Heroes!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Irv Novick & Bruce Patterson

With Cleveland Brand injured, Dick Grayson is now the star aerialist of the Hill Circus. As he performs his triple flip, he thinks back on his origin and how he came to be here. He misses the bar but executes an unexpected, life-saving bit of showmanship.

Jack: Despite the unfortunate (and incredibly rare at DC, unlike Warren) misspelling of the story's title as "Yeserday's Heroes," this is a strong recap of Robin's origin, one that makes this issue seem like the start of something new. I love seeing the replacement Deadman, even if he doesn't do anything, and Novick and Patterson draw a convincing portrait of Dick at the circus. I'm looking forward to seeing where this comic goes under Giordano's guiding hand.

Peter: When the title of your story is misspelled, you know you're in trouble; I assume deadline trouble is what Gerry had just before turning in his manuscript for "Yeserday's Heroes!" How else to explain a story that is 30% flashback to last issue's events and 68% the umpteenth retelling of the origin of Robin? Since the Robin strip is absent next issue and then returns with a completely different storyline the following month, I'm not sure where Gerry was going with the inclusion of Deadman's brother, but at least that might have been interesting.

Buckler & Giordano
The Brave and the Bold #178

Story by Alan Brennert
Art by Jim Aparo

Ten citizens of Gotham City have been murdered by a serial killer who leaves paper dolls strewn across the victim's chest. TV personality Dr. Clayton Wetley attributes the crimes to the moral decay rampant in American society, but Batman and the Creeper discover that the killer is a monster made out of paper and the monster springs from the tortured subconscious of Dr. Wetley. Once the Moral Majority crusader is confronted with his complicity in the crimes, he realizes what's going on and the monster flames away to nothingness, but will society spawn more such creatures?

Homage to Ditko
Jack: "Paperchase" is an entertaining mix of superhero action and social commentary, with a bit of paranormal activity thrown in for good measure. Dedicated to Steve Ditko, who drew the Creeper series, the story is extremely well drawn by Jim Aparo, who even includes one character, Hugo Marlies, who is rendered in the Ditko style, complete with bow tie. Like this month's Batman story, this is a lot of fun and I found myself turning pages quickly. Unlike the Batman tale, this one was topical in the Reagan era and, unfortunately, remains so today.

Peter: Alan Brennert's take on bigotry and intolerance is timely (and, sadly, probably always will be), but the Mr. Bill jokes were dated mere months after this issue hit the stands. Like a lot of these B+B co-stars, the Creeper is an unknown commodity to me. I know it's a Ditko creation (and not just because Brennert mentions Steve on the splash, smarty pants) but that's all the intel I have. Though "Paperchase" was entertaining, it didn't make me want to hunt down Creeper back issues.

"The Bitter Choice!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

Nemesis appears to make "The Bitter Choice!" and says he agrees to help Samuel Solomon eliminate his rivals, but as soon as he is untied from a chair, Nemesis lashes out. Solomon holds the upper hand, though, having strapped a device to the chest of our hero that will make his heart race fatally fast at the push of a button. Nemesis is sent off in care of a goon but manages to make a temporary escape by jumping out of a plane and activating his mini-parachute.

Jack: More nonsense from Nemesis, who seems to be making a habit out of jumping out of flying conveyances. I don't know why Solomon thinks Nemesis will ever work on his behalf, but at least it keeps the plot moving forward. Valerie is once again relegated to the role of hanging around her apartment, worrying about Nemesis.

Peter: Actually a decent tale this time out. The art is still miles away from a professional level (fer instance, in the final panel on page 4, Nemesis seems to be doing an upside down jig for Solomon) but at least I can make it through the words without rolling my eyes or falling asleep. The "coming next issue" blurb informs us that, due to next issue's extra-long team-up with the Legion of Super-Heroes, we'll have to wait two issues for the conclusion to "The Bitter Choice!" Legion of Super-Heroes? Be still my beating heart.

Buckler & Giordano

Detective Comics #506

"Who Dies for the Manikin?"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Steve Mitchell

The Batman comes across a crash scene and pulls a young woman from the wreckage. She is badly burned but alive. Flash forward ten months and Gotham has witnessed a string of brutal murders; the victims all were fashion designers. While nightclubbing, Bruce Wayne witnesses the latest killing, perpetrated by a young, slim, but startlingly strong woman. Attempting to intervene, Bruce is taken aback by the woman's iron grip.

Once the woman makes her getaway, Wayne changes into something a little more spandex and gives chase. She cleans his clock but before she makes another hasty departure, she disrobes and reveals her true self... she's a gold manikin! Taking the clothing to Selina Kyle for identification, Batman is confident the Manikin has left a clue as to her next victim... stuffy designer Hoston. While Bats is at Hoston's business office, warning the elite snob of danger, the Manikin attacks, torching the building. The Dark Knight is able to smash his way through to Hoston's showroom but discovers the golden minx has locked the exits. No way out! As the smoke thickens, a figure emerges and tells Batman she really doesn't want to kill the hero. Just leave the designer and get out. But Batman can be stubborn and the Manikin gives him the right upper cut, knocking him into tomorrow. As Hoston cringes in fear, the Manikin approaches.

I'm all in on the story of the Manikin. Lots of intrigue and questions (like, is this really the disfigured woman from the wreck or some radio-controlled automaton?) and good old-fashioned mystery in "Who Dies for the Manikin?" Gerry shows off those wonderful, cliff-hanging chops he perfected over at Marvel, dragging out the story to two installments but keeping the narrative gripping. While maybe not on a par with Chuck Connors's creations in Tourist Trap (1979), the Manikin is a very creepy concoction of Gerry's. A little out of character though, don't you think, that Batman lets out a "choke" upon gazing at the poor crash victim? The background noise is still interesting as well, the political nonsense and the Bruce/Selina-Bats/Cats lovers' spat is oodles more fun than Lucius and his drug addicted kid.

Jack: I thought Mitchell's inks were a little shaky this time out and didn't do Newton's pencils any favors. Reading the Batman titles this month, I had to wonder how Batman could hold his own in a one on one fight with the Incredible Hulk but was in danger of being bested by the Manikin! I've never seen the word spelled that way before and Google tells me that this particular spelling denotes a dummy used for medical staging rather than one used for clothing display. I'm not sure why Conway chose to spell it this way, but maybe next issue will reveal something. The story is definitely more adult than what we saw in Batman, as usual.

"Farewell, My Lovely"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

Turns out the hunchback killer who battled Batgirl last year isn't really a hunchback after all. He's a simple tunesmith driven to insanity by writer's block. The poor guy is convinced he has to offer up a sacrifice to his muse for the melodies to flow again. Meanwhile, Batgirl has done some good old fashioned detective work and tracked the looney quasi-Quasimodo to his lair (a seedy apartment in the Bronx). The two tussle and the results are the same: the Dark Knightrix ends up tied to a chair while her hunchbacked captor tickles the ivories. Believing he's finally hit the tune he was looking for, the killer raises his knife and plunges it... into himself. 

Peter: For a back-up, "Farewell, My Lovely" is not bad; it's readable at the very least but it's also anti-climactic. As rendered by Delbo & Giella, the hunchbacked killer is no more terrifying than a Sesame Street puppet. Poor Babs finally gets out on a date with dreamy Jim (a sizzling evening at the Met, no less) and work calls. One of these days, she's going to get lucky. Let's just hope it happens before that fateful day when she opens the front door to the Joker.

Jack: Well, at least that's over. Part one of this story was bizarre and part two was a disappointment. I never figured out why the musician had to put on a goofy hunchback costume and lope around killing people, and the ending--where he kills himself--makes no dramatic sense whatsoever. So far, the Batgirl backup isn't very impressive.

Next Week...
Could this be the most
politically incorrect hero of all time?