Monday, October 4, 2021

The Warren Report Issue 69: December 1975



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

Vampirella #47

"Mother's Coming Home" 
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Gonzalo Mayo

"The Secret Legacy of Gaslight Lil!" 
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Luis Garcia Mozos

"Children of Wrath" 
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Ramon Torrents

"Gamal and the Cockatrice" 
Story by Bruce Bezaire
Art by Rafael Auraleon

"The January Man" ★1/2
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Luis Bermejo

While sheltering in a church and craving blood, Vampirella overhears a conversation between a priest and one of his troubled parishioners. Barbara is convinced that her mother, who has been dead exactly one year, will return to the land of the living to visit her daughter. The priest reminds the girl that her mother's body was never found and she might well be alive out there somewhere. 

Explaining that she must head home and await her mother's arrival, Barbara turns to go but the father insists he accompany her to her house. Upon arriving, the frazzled girl tells her priest she'll be fine and enters the house alone. It's then, while she's alone, that we learn that Barbara murdered her mother with a cleaver after the woman made disparaging remarks about a new beau. As the woman drifts off to sleep, a bat flies in and transforms into Vampirella. Our Drakulonian heroine theorizes to herself that this is a woman who does not deserve to live and drains Barbara of her blood. In the final panel, we see the corpse of Barbra's mother lying next to her dead daughter.

A nice, tidy eight pages, devoid of the usual Pendragon/Van Helsing BS. No, it's not a great story, but I'll take a one-off like "Mother's Coming Home" over the eighteen-page droning bores we've gotten used to (I assume by now that the writers have completely forgotten what threads they've left dangling and figured f**k it, the fanboys aren't paying attention to the words anyway). The last panel makes no sense unless the image is metaphorical. The previous handful of panels clearly shows that side of Barbara's bed empty but, voila!, there's mommy! Barbara might be living in a town that houses a caring and loving priest, but I wouldn't want to depend on their police department for anything. Ma's disappeared and the cops don't think to search Barbara's house? Hmmm. 

The art is nice; Mayo certainly knew his way around a lady (on paper, at least) and that's the number one aspect for 13-year-old fanboys. My favorite part of reading these things now is "spotting the steal," trying to spot inspirations for the artist's pencil. There's definitely some Caroline Munro on page 9, panel 3.

Gaslight Lil runs a cathouse out in the middle of nowhere, but the woman's real vocation is as a succubus. Lil drains the years off her lovers and stores them deep down inside for herself. Little does Lil know that one of her employees has learned how to use "the power" as well and, when two half-wits come to Lil's to use her services, the girl bewitches the pair and the trio go on a long robbery spree.

But small-time thefts become tiring for our pretty little succubus and very soon she's desiring a change of scenery and bigger scores. She and her two love-slaves head to San Francisco. "The Secret Legacy of Gaslight Lil!" is another long, boring, meandering Dube mess. Bill can't figure out which genre he wants to land in, so he veers back and forth. There are way too many words on way too many pages and the payoff is anticlimactic. Garcia's art is okay but, like Mayo's (and Maroto's and Bermejo's and...), it has a staged look to it. Several of the panels are obviously inspired by actor photos (Garcia doesn't even try to mask the fact that his traveling reverend is Paul Newman) and that can be extremely distracting at times. 

Successful businessman Danby Stockbridge chucks it all and joins a "Christian" group known as the Brothers of Brandon. For a cool million, Danby is promised the peace of mind he couldn't find in the big city. Unfortunately for Brandon, he's left behind one very pissed-off girlfriend and Elizabeth Bonner is one girl you don't want to make angry. Elizabeth packs a nasty dagger and heads for Brandon Abbey.

Elizabeth sneaks into the Abbey but is immediately caught and the true draw of the Brothers becomes clear to the harried miss: the Abbey is a bordello and women who wander onto its grounds are kidnapped and forced to serve the Brothers' every need. 

After being told Elizabeth has become one of the new attractions at BrandonLand, Danby decides he cannot have true peace of mind until he kills his former mate. He visits Elizabeth's cell, but before he can so much as mouth his intentions, the woman stabs him to death (bad security?). The other women, viewing Elizabeth's act of defiance, follow their savior up the staircase, where they liberate the Abbey of its male occupants. A few months later, Liz and the girls open Bonnerville, a getaway for bored female millionaires. 

"Children of Wrath" isn't an awful story, but it's not one I'd ever bother re-reading. The conceit, that a rich man would pay a fortune for some private sex, makes no sense to me since, ostensibly, with a little subterfuge, Danby could have saved some money and taken a mistress. Elizabeth is one of those extreme characters you really can't believe exists, while mentally remembering that crazy brunette you dated in high school. So, nothing in the way of story, but certainly some striking images courtesy of Mr. Torrents.

The Cockatrice is the most deadly of animals: a flying rooster-lizard-thing that spits venom and whose very hiss can bring death to those unfortunate enough to be near. Hoping for a huge reward, brave Gamal goes out into the desert to find and kill the Cockatrice and, months later, he returns triumphant. But there are certain members of the tribe of Sheikh Rahamid-Ul-Ifni who want proof that Gamal has slain the vicious beast before he is proclaimed Bravest in the Land.

Gamal then tells them the harrowing story of how he used his wit and cunning to kill the beast. Unfortunately, Gamal was infected with the venom of the Cockatrice and was forced to sever his hand. That, he claims, is his proof. When the scoffers amongst the men speak up, Gamal explains that his story is not finished. He had come across a second Cockatrice and successfully captured this one, bringing it back in a box lined with weasel pelts (everyone knows that the only animal immune to a Cockatrice attack is a weasel). How would his friends like a glance? The crowd disperses quickly and Gamal is handed his reward.

A nice change of pace, "Gamal and the Cockatrice" is like an Arabian Knights tale with a heaping helping of subtle humor. The art is gorgeous and Auraleon wisely keeps the creature mostly in shadow (the one clear shot of the Cockatrice brings to mind the flying turkey in The Giant Claw), focusing instead on his human protagonists. Bezaire tells us just enough for us to grasp what is going on, saving the overstuffed captions and flowery prose for another day. One of the best stories to appear in Vampirella in quite a while.

Twelve year-old Tommy Birkin and a handful of his friends follow "The January Man" into the magical "Land of the Seasons," where Tommy and the boys must battle the evil "Summer Guardians" for the fate of the world... or something similarly boring like that. It's never good when a fantasy tale has to stop every few pages to explain itself. It's like the medication commercials ("Side effects may include death, diarrhea, bad knees...") that pop up while a critical play is being reviewed in a Patriots game. Takes me completely out of the moment. And "The January Man" (roots borrowed from The Pied Piper and Bradbury's Mr. Dark) has several of those interludes before it grinds to a screeching halt and delivers nothing. The climactic battle is handled "off panel" and we get an "And so it was a happy ending for Tommy and his pals... until next time!" A couple years before, stories like "Gamal" and "The January Man," tales completely devoid of half-nekkid chicks, would never have been found in the pages of Vampirella.-Peter

Jack-As I read this issue, I thought it was not bad, but then I looked at my star reviews and saw that I gave every story either two or two and a half stars. Mayo gives us excellent Good Girl Art in "Mother's Coming Home" that isn't just one posed panel after another. The story is short at eight pages and the end comes too suddenly. I really like the photo-realistic art by Mozos in "Gaslight Lil" and I think his use of black on the pages looks great. The story is an effective blend of the horror and western genres, though (like other stories in this issue) it peters out before the end.

The art on "Children of Wrath" doesn't do the story any favors; I like the idea of the woman spurned who is out for revenge but Boudreau doesn't know where he's going with the end of the tale. I liked "Gamal" but I thought Auraleon's art was unusually muddy. In contrast, the Bermejo art on "The January Man" is clean but the story is confusing and the ending abrupt.

The Spirit #11

"Crime" (10/2/49)
Story & Art by Will Eisner

"The Torch" (4/25/48)
"The Fighting Machine" (11/16/47)
"Nazel B. Twitch" (10/17/48)
"The Fortune" (5/11/47)
Stories by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti

"The Crime of Passion" (5/15/49)
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner

"Plaster of Paris" (11/7/48)
Story & Art by Will Eisner

"Blackmail" (2/8/48)
Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti

Peter-My favorite story this issue would have to be "The Fortune," for its spooky old house framework and its eye-catching art. I'm no expert but is that charcoal that Eisner and Grandenetti dabble in on the splash before settling in to the usual pencil and ink visuals? Anyone wishing to see this one in color should seek out Kitchen Sink's The Spirit #17 (March 1986). Warren's black and white Spirit is good but Kitchen Sink's color is gooder. A close second to "The Fortune" would be the noir-ish "Plaster of Paris," an exquisitely atmospheric romp. I can hear you saying, "But Peter, my good man, every nook and cranny of every Spirit adventure is noir." Yep, I know but "Plaster" is NOIR! One more highlight for me this issue is "The Torch," Eisner's hilarious parody of the advertising industry and their evil grip on "art." Perfect climax when the Spirit breaks the fourth wall and refuses to be a clown in the name of commerce anymore. No color this issue? What a gyp!

The end of "Crime."

Jack-I really like the cover! "Crime" is my favorite story this time out, with irony, humor, murder, and the gorgeous Autumn Mews. I wasn't very impressed with the rest of the issue. I think the fake ads in "The Torch" have dated badly and Eisner relies on this joke too often. "The Fighting Machine" is uneven and the ending, where the trainer shoots and kills the defeated boxer, was harsh and unnecessary. I like "Nazel B. Twitch" mainly because he's another Eisner eccentric, the man who is devoted to his old jalopy. "The Fortune" is a weird story where I wasn't clear who the main woman was or what was happening for most of the story's length.

I had a hard time working up any interest in "The Crime of Passion" and I was disappointed in "Plaster of Paris," especially after the great cover featuring a scene from the tale. As for "Blackmail," I find it very hard to put up with Ebony in 2021, and he's the star of this story. 

Corben, Maroto
Comix International #3

"Mind of the Mass!"
(Reprinted from Eerie #58, July 1974)

"Childhood's End"
(Reprinted from Eerie #60, September 1974)

"Wizard Wagstaff"
(Reprinted from Eerie #56, April 1974)

"An Angel Shy of Hell!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #64, August 1974)

"Harry/Dead Run"
(Reprinted from Vampirella #32, April 1974)

"A Wonderful Morning!"
(Reprinted from Vampirella #36, September 1974)

(Reprinted from Eerie #41, August 1972)

"Black and White Vacuum to Blues"
(Reprinted from Vampirella #34, June 1974)

"Return Trip"
(Reprinted from Vampirella #27, September 1973)

"Wizard Wagstaff"
Jack-Another batch of color reprints, and a relatively weak group, judging from our reviews of the original publications. The first four stories are drawn by Corben and include the two "Child" tales and "Wizard Wagstaff," which is surely the best selection in the entire issue. The remainder include works illustrated by Jeff Jones, Fernandez, Bea, and Maroto. There is one oddity: Peter's table of contents, which is presumably taken from the GCD, lists "Return Trip" as the last story. The GCD notes that some editions omit that and have "Black and White Vacuum to Blues" as the last story. What they don't mention is that some editions have as the next to last story, "Mate," from Creepy 64 (August 1974). That's the version that's available to read online for free at a site I won't mention. Were these published to be sold in the U.S. and abroad? Is that why there is no price? The table of contents page says "1975" and "published quarterly," but gets no more specific than that. Can someone educate me? I've not read the Warren Companion, so this may be old news to everyone else.

The Spirit Special

Similar in format to Comix International, The Spirit Special reprinted stories that had already been published in Warren's The Spirit. David Horne notes in Gathering Horror that there was a very limited 2000-copy run and that it was attainable only through the mail. 500 copies were water-damaged, so only 1500 copies are out there in the wild. I somehow got my young paws on one from a stack of zines at Bob Sidebottom's shop in '76 or '77. There are currently about a half-dozen copies on eBay for as little as 40 bucks and a high of 600! This and the Comix Intl. projects proved how much Jim Warren loved to soak his customers, charging three bucks for twice reprinted material. By the way, Horne also targets summer 1975 as the on-sale date based on interior ads. I somehow missed those ads the first couple times out so here it lies.-Peter

Jack-Looking back at our reviews of the stories in this issue, we thought seven were great and three were not. What is odd is that this issue reprints the color stories from The Spirit 1 and 3-9, along with the stories from Eerie 54 & 55. What happened to the color story from issue #2 of The Spirit? How did Warren decide what to reprint? It seems random.

Next Week...
The Return of
Solomon Grundy!


Quiddity99 said...

Great art job by Mayo on the Vampi story; for those who want a more serialized Vampi storyline it has to be incredibly frustrating for Dubay to once again go for a one off, the third time he's done this since kicking off a new storyline back in issue 43. I don't mind it as much because the serialized Vampi stories just aren't that good! "Gaslight Lil" is notable in that its Luis Garcia's last story for Warren (and even then not an original story, but another reprint from his Chronicles of the Nameless series published in Europe). Terrific art job as usual. In the original story, the character swiped from Paul Newman at least had a mustache to cover it up a bit, for whatever reason this was removed in this Warren version. Also the whole succubus thing is clearly something not in the original story but added on by Dubay to give this western-themed story a more horror feel to it.

"Children of Wrath" perhaps better fits back in the 70s, I too just don't find it that realistic a premise these days; a guy of incredible wealth and power doesn't have to resort to living in a bordello the rest of his days to get what he wants on that matter. That said, if you can put suspension of belief aside I thought it was a fairly decent story and enjoyed Torrents' art job. "Gamal and the Cockatrice" is the clear standout of the issue, a story that is both entertaining and makes you think. I believe this popped up in the top 25 stories of all time in the Warren Companion. Luis Bermejo provides good art as usual for "The January Man, but I too am not a fan of the story. I wonder if this was a leftover story that they didn't have space to fit in the upcoming Creepy Christmas themed special.

On Comix International not having a price tag on it, my assumption is that these were primarily sold through the Captain Company ads included in each Warren magazine rather than in retail locations. Warren did this often for special publications, for example the Dracula publication that was heavily advertised in Warren mags back in 1973.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks! That make sense about Comix International. I wondered if the lack of a price was due to the "international" bit--maybe they wanted to sell it overseas and the prices would be in pounds or lira or whatever.