Monday, May 3, 2021

The Warren Report Issue 58: December 1974 + The Best of 1973-74

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

The Spirit #5

"The Return"
Story & Art by Will Eisner
(Originally appeared 8/14/49)

"The Spirit Now Deputy"
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner
(Originally appeared 4/24/49)

"The Hunted"
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner
(Originally appeared 5/1/49)

"The Prediction"
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner
(Originally appeared 6/19/49)

"The Deadly Comic Book"
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner
(Originally appeared 2/27/49)

"Death, Taxes and... The Spirit"
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner
(Originally appeared 3/13/49)

"Hamid Jebru"
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner
(Originally appeared 5/8/49)

Story & Art by Will Eisner
(Originally appeared 1/2/49)

Jack-A beautiful new Eisner cover introduces another 56 pages of sheer genius, this time all from the year 1949. The highlight is "The Deadly Comic Book," with gorgeous color and a plot that reminds us that comics were being burned by gleeful citizens years before EC horror gathered steam. Three of the stories in this issue appeared in sequence, though only two are printed right after each other; in "The Spirit Now Deputy," he leaves Wildwood Cemetery and moves to the city, having become an official member of Dolan's police department. Of course, the Spirit bristles under rules and authority and is soon a wanted man once again. "The Hunted" follows, and it's nice to see Dolan working undercover for a change. Later in this issue, "Hamid Jebru" comes right after "The Hunted" chronologically and finds the Spirit in the clear and heading to Egypt to track a criminal.

Jules Feiffer is credited in the GCD as co-writer on six of this issue's stories. In "The Return," credited to Eisner alone, the Spirit is shot once again and Sammy saves the day. "The Prediction" is a light entry with a very dedicated weatherman, while "Death, Taxes and...The Spirit" has more ghostly doings, as a dead man's phantom worries that his tax return won't get mailed on time. There is an ironic and satisfying ending to this one. The last story, "Ice, is the weakest, saved only by a humorous finale in which the Spirit accidentally proposes marriage to Ellen Dolan. The art throughout the issue is top-notch.

Peter-The letters page becomes volatile again, when repeat correspondent William Williams of New York, New York, reiterates his feelings on Ebony and Will Eisner's racism (WW said that, not me!). It's basically the same letter that saw print back in #4 and Dube (or Eisner or whoever was writing the letter replies) reiterates exactly what they said last issue: Ebony is not a creation of racism the same way Ricky Ricardo and Archie Bunker aren't racist. Huh? Exactly. As for Spirit tales this issue, my favorite would have to be "The Spirit Now Deputy." I laughed out loud at Spirit's frustration with red tape and the lack of action in his new day-to-day life. A very close second is "The Deadly Comic Book," which kinda sorta predicts the Wertham mess to come and fully takes advantage of color. Like Mike Coan of Eugene, Oregon, I wish this whole magazine could have been presented in vivid color.

Creepy #67

"Excerpts From Year Five!" 
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Jose Ortiz

"The Haunted Abbey" ★1/2
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Vicente Alcazar

"The Happy Undertaker" ★1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Martin Salvador

"Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Raven'" 
Story by Edgar Allan Poe
Adapted by Rich Margopoulos
Art by Rich Corben

"Holy War" ★1/2
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Adolfo Abellan

"Oil of Dog!" 
Story by Ambrose Bierce
Adapted by Jack Butterworth
Art by Isidro Mones

Five years after the electricity runs out and millions die, Ben and his love, Pat, attempt to make their way through freezing winters (or are all the seasons freezing?), cannibals, and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. There's more to it than just that but I think "Excerpts From Year Five!" is a perfect title for a story filled with vignettes and random thoughts. The story, for me, was like being on a see-saw; I can't deny some images were harrowing (a young child hung upside down and slit up the middle as playtime for a group of Satan worshippers comes immediately to mind), but I also couldn't get past the fact that so much of Budd Lewis's writing came across as self-important, and yet nothing more than mere descriptions of what's going on in the panel below. This is an old story, but these Warren writers couldn't get out of their own way when trying to craft their next "masterpiece." 

But enough of the bottomless pit of despair this man has fallen into shines through that I have to give a thumbs-up despite my eye-rolling (which extended to the fact that, doomsday or no, Pat looked like she'd just had her hair and nails done). I probably complain way too much and I should be thankful Doug Moench didn't get his hands on this one (the child would be quoting John Lennon's "Mother" as its little tummy met the knife). "Excerpts" is a chilling look at an entirely-possible future with an added layer of grunge thanks to Jose Ortiz. 

While on a vacation in Spain, Rick and his beautiful young wife find themselves lost, and happen upon an old abbey in the woods. They ask the monk who answers their knock if they can stay the night and he shows them to a room, informing them that they must not wander the halls. He also refuses their request to take pictures of the abbey. Of course, once the monk leaves, Rick suggests they explore the place regardless of their stern warning. As they get further into the caverns of the vast building, Rick becomes more and more obsessed with getting pics of the monks and their home. 

The couple hear voices and hide in the shadows as the monks enter the room with a young girl. One of the monks explains that the girl is a witch and needs to be punished, and the American couple watch in horror as the girl is bricked up behind a solid wall. Once the monks leave, Rick attempts to break through the wall, but discovers it's solid as if it's been set for years. Finally breaking through, they are horrified to discover a rotting skeleton. They race up to the top level to discover "The Haunted Abbey" to be in ruins. A goofy hodgepodge of lame American tourist assholes (you know, the ones that don't do what they're told because they're... um... American?)  and stunning art, Jarringly, halfway through the story, we're suddenly told that Rick was a photographer in 'Nam and he always gets his pic no matter what, so that explains his sudden change in demeanor. How did a Gold Key Ripley's Believe It or Not story end up at Warren? 

As an aside, while doing some research, I noticed that the minute Warren folded up camp and stopped answering phones in the early 1980s, Budd Lewis's career was over. That must have been a bitter pill to swallow for a writer who, just based on the little proof I've had so far, was a competent and sometimes very good writer (one who would drop a couple of classics during his Warren career). The sad story of what happened to Budd post-Warren can be read here. Lewis died in 2014

Bill Wyman takes a wife
Felix Stark is "The Happy Undertaker!" And what's not to be gleeful about? He handles all the dead bodies in town, more business than he can handle sometimes, and then robs the corpses of their gold fillings. Lining his pockets with the ill-gotten gains, Stark is getting fat and greedy. One night, Stark notices an extra coffin and a slumbering teenage girl named Madeleine. He awakens her and listens to her tearful story of poverty and homelessness. As if struck by an epiphany, Stark offers the girl a job: she'll extract the gold from his "victims" for room and board. The girl quickly agrees and becomes the undertaker's hardest worker.

Stark then asks Madeleine if she has any friends looking for a place to stay; very quickly, fellow street urchins Lionel and Laura become full-time Stark Undertaking employees. But Felix Stark has taught the children too well and they turn the tables on their boss, informing him of their decision to strike out on their own just before embalming him and taking his gold fillings. Haven't we read "The Happy Undertaker!" before? Maybe several times, actually? Credit to Carl Wessler for not falling back on the "Oh my God, they're vampires/ghouls!" trope he usually settles on (Wessler even winks at his audience at the climax when Stark screeches at his tormentors: "I should have known... sleeping in coffins...! You're vampires... ghouls... or... or some kind of monsters...!) and presenting his creepy kids as just creepy kids. Martin Salvador continues to be simply a middle of the road artist at Warren, not as dynamic and stylish as Ortiz but not as scratchy and uncomfortable as Abellan. Competent, nothing more.

Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Raven'" is an exquisitely-presented reimagining of the famous poem but, since the darn thing is so well-known, the only surprise we get is that Lenore was such a babe. I would hasten to add that Poe's vision of Lenore probably wouldn't match up to Corben's. Adapter Margopoulos adds some clunky dialogue to the bits of Poe's original that are used; I'm surprised he didn't go all out and make it rhyme. By the way, I can't look at that panel of the bird on the bust without thinking of MAD Magazine's much more faithful adaptation.

William returns from a long journey to report to his father, Lord Theadon, that, indeed, the mountain kingdom does contain some unseen treasure and the men who live in its village, Gladarum, are cattle to be slaughtered. Needing capital to fund their upcoming "Holy War" against Rome, Theadon and his troops march into Gladarum and slaughter the entire population. When they enter the temple, home of the vast riches, they discover only the cross on which Jesus was crucified and a sign that reads: "Peace through love for all mankind."

Right from the beginning of "Holy War," my smartass brain was devising ways of utilizing the punchline of "One Tin Soldier" by Coven, and then Budd goes and screws up my vision by using it himself! It's beyond obvious where Lewis found his inspiration for the story, but beyond that it's just not very interesting. It's like a low-budget 1960s sword-and-sandal flick with ponderous dialogue and gory battle scenes. Budd does manage to slide a few zingers in (at one point, Lord Theadon quips that "As much money as I've given to the church I should be able to call the pope 'baldy'...") but, overall, this one's a slog.

Finally, Ambrose Bierce's grim and satirical take on business practices of the 19th century, "Oil of Dog," gets the Warren treatment. There's not much of a story, since the original source material is only 1500 words long (and you can read it here); Butterworth's only contribution might be the exclamation point found at the end of the title. A boy narrates the story of his parents, an abortionist and an oil manufacturer, who live in simple harmony until they discover that baby bones make for better oil. They reap the benefits until the neighbors complain. With no income, they turn their eyes on each other for ingredients. Fabulously transcendent Isidro Mones art that feels like it was produced in the 1880s.-Peter

Jack-Not a bad issue of Creepy, with 31 pages written by Budd Lewis. I thought "The Haunted Abbey" was spooky and enjoyable, with a narrative that kept me guessing, despite the lack of originality. I am not familiar with the song, "One Tin Soldier," so I was completely surprised by the climax of "Holy War" and gave the story an extra star for avoiding the standard Warren trope of "they were all vampires!" or "the treasure is a tentacled monster that eats people!" "Oil of Dog!" was the best of the bunch, both for its black humor and the very fitting art by Mones. The story reminded me of the legend of Sweeney Todd, as well.

Corben's art and the color are the clear highlights of "The Raven," though Margopoulos's dialogue is awful. "The Happy Undertaker!" is more sub-par work from Wessler, with mediocre art as usual by Salvador. I did not like "Excerpts From Year Five!" at all, due to the extreme violence and the lack of cohesion between art and story. I'm tired of dystopian future stories, perhaps because I'm currently plodding through Jonathan Lethem's disappointing new novel, The Arrest. The cover, table of contents page, and end of "The Happy Undertaker" all promise a story called "Bowser," but it was replaced by "The Raven." On the letters page of Creepy 69, the editor says it was an error at the bindery. "Bowser" won't turn up till Vampirella 54, dated September 1976.



Best Script: Bruce Jones, "Jenifer" (Creepy #63)
Best Art: Bernie Wrightson, "The Black Cat" (Creepy #62)
Best All-Around Story: Jones/Wrightson, "Jenifer"
Best Cover: Sanjulian, Vampirella #35 > 
Worst Story: T. Casey Brennan/Felix Mas, "The Climbers of the Tower" (Creepy #50)

The Ten Best Stories

1 "Jenifer"
2 "Lycanklutz" (Creepy #56)
3 "Nightfall" (Eerie #60)
"The Black Cat" 
5 "Terror Tomb" (Creepy #61)
6 "Bless Us, Father" (Creepy #59)
7 "The Hero Within" (Creepy #60)
8 "Spawn of the Dread-Thing" (Eerie #53)
9 "Hide From the Hacker" (Eerie #57)
10 "It!" (Creepy #53)

Best Continuing Series: Dr. Archaeus


Best Script: Tom Sutton, "It"
Best Art: Tom Sutton, "It"
Best All-Around Story: "It"
Best Cover: Sanjulian, Creepy 50>
Worst Story: Doug Moench/Vicente Alcazar, "Bright Eyes!" (Eerie 54)

The Ten Best Stories

1 "Hell From On High" (Vampirella 22)
2 "It"
3 "Lycanklutz"
4 "The Bloodlock Museum" (Creepy 57)
5 "As Though They Were Living" (Vampirella 30)
6 "Jenifer"
7 "The Pepper Lake Monster" (Eerie 58)
8 "Nightfall"
9 "The Witch's Promise" (Vampirella 23)
10 "Terror Tomb"

Best Continuing Series: Dr. Archaeus

Next Week...
A Crossover Epic Starring...
Doctor Death!!!


Quiddity99 said...

Strong cover from Ken Kelly this time, one of my personal favorites of his. Although it does highlight one of Warren's bigger production embarrassments as "Bowser" doesn't even appear in this issue! "The Raven" is a strong replacement though, one of Corben's best looking stories in my eyes. I got to presume it was originally intended for one of the two all Edgar Allen Poe adaption issues coming up. "Excerpts from the Year Five" is a decent story, with high quality Ortiz art and some good moments (particularly when they find the kid with the long dead mother). Tad overrated though; the story was awarded best story of 1974 for the Warren awards and "Rendezvous" or "Jenifer" were more deserving of that title in my eyes. Great art from Vicente Alcazar on "The Haunted Abbey", on a story that is itself just average. "The Happy Undertaker" like much of Wessler's stories comes off totally as one that could have fit in an EC comic; as you said, credit to him for not making the kids vampires which is what I was expecting to happen. "Holy War" is a so-so story with a good ending, but much like with Abellan's story last issue goes on for a bit longer than it should. I am not familiar with the song it was originally based on. The highlight of the issue is "Oil of Dog", have never read the original story but it is a good one with Mones showing he can get a bit of dark humor into his artwork.

Peter, you posted the wrong cover of Vampi, #35 instead of #36 (or wrote up the wrong one). Here's my personal highlights and lowlights of 1973/1974:

Best Stories:
1. Rendezvous (Vampirella #35)
2. The Other Side of Heaven (Vampirella #28)
3. Jenifer (Creepy #63)
4. A Scream in the Forest (Creepy #53)
5. The Pepper Lake Monster (Eerie #58)
6. Top to Bottom (Vampirella #33)
7. Stairway to Heaven (Vampirella #29)
8. On Little Cat Feet! (Vampirella #38)
9. Minra (Vampirella #22)
10. Twisted Medicine (Creepy #61)

Best Series:
1. Dr. Archeus
2. Dax
3. Hunter

Best Covers:
1. Vampirella #35
2. Creepy #64
3. Creepy #67
4. Vampirella #30
5. Creepy #62
6. Eerie #50
7. Vampirella #28
8. Eerie #52
9. Vampirella #29
10. Creepy #52

Worst Stories:
1. Side-Show (Creepy #50)
2. The Clone! (Creepy #63)
3. Planet of the Werewolves! (Eerie #46)
4. The Climbers of the Tower (Creepy #50)
5. Middle-Am! (Vampirella #24)
6. A Touch of Terror (Creepy #63)
7. Freedom's Just Another Word (Creepy #53)
8. Sword Play (Vampirella #36)
For #9 and #10, take your pick of one of many of the Mummy and Werewolf series stories...

Overall the years of 1973 and 1974 are a big upswing for Warren with the Spanish artists I love so much dominating the magazines, Corben providing a lot of strong color stories and the arrival of Bernie Wrightson. You also have the emergence of the continuing series in Eerie. The writing is fairly strong, but personally I think it gets even better as we head into 1975 and eventually see Bruce Jones become a prolific writer a year or two after.

Peter Enfantino said...

Thanks for pointing out my error. Fixed! And, yep, I think 1975 and 76 only get better. It's after that we start to have problems again.

andydecker said...

I love Corben's "The Raven". I first encountered it in "Comix International" #2. His Poe adaptions from Warren are terrific works. Much better as his later adaptions of much of the same material over at Dark Horse.

I have already forgotten a lot of the stories of that year. Except of course "Jenifer" and "The Black Cat". So I would tend mostly to Peter's list.

As for best cover, I would have a hard time to name one. So many classics. Maybe one by Enrich? Or Sanjulian?

As for worst story, there are so many bad ones. Probably one by Dubay or Skeates.

For best series a "no vote" from me. While "Dr. Archeus" is without a doubt the most competently written one and didn't became the train-wreck of "The Mummy" or "Dax", I always thought it much too tame. I still think it would have worked better as a prose novel.

Glowworm said...

Ah, this was the last "Creepy" issue I read online before taking a break. Perhaps I'll get back to it some point.
"Bowser" feels like the biggest goof ever in a comic book. It's supposed to be the cover story and is hinted at throughout the issue--but whoops! No "Bowser!"
I am familiar with the song "One Tin Soldier" and by the time the ending hit in "Holy War" I knew exactly what this story was lifted from. Until the twist, it's rather dull anyway--no magic, no zombies, nothing really exciting.

Anonymous said...

Hey, remember a few weeks ago, when we were discussing EERIE #60, and someone brought up the possibility that ‘The Manhunters’ might have originally been written by Wally Wood as well as being drawn by him? And that Editor Bill Dubay might have assigned Gerry Boudreau to re-script it, for whatever reason? Well, a few weeks ago, someone posted a scan of the original art for the title page at a Tumblr called ‘Inky Curves’ (devoted to Good Girl Art, some of which is definitely NSFW). And the story title is ‘Space Search Seven’, and the captions and dialogue are (slightly) different, and the lettering looks like it might have been done by Wood himself. So that all does seem to suggest it was written by Woody himself. I’m hoping the rest of the originals show up online so we can compare the two versions.

Oh, and I completely agree that all three of the main Warren mags had a remarkably excellent run of issues from late ‘75 through late ‘76.


Grant said...

I'm sure most people would consider this a bad thing (as in, too heavy-handed), but it's interesting how "Holy War" takes "One Tin Soldier" and adds a lot of hypocrisy to the story. After all, William tells his father how decently the village treated him, THEN tells him how easy it will be to attack the place.