Monday, November 29, 2021

The Warren Report Issue 73: April 1976



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

Creepy #78

"The Horseman" ★1/2
Story by Bruce Bezaire
Art by Miguel Quesada

"Unreal" ★1/2
Story and Art by Alex Toth

Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by John Severin & Wally Wood

"Lord of Lazarus Castle" 
Story by Gerry Boudreau & Carl Wessler
Art by Jorge Moliterni

"The Nature of the Beast" 
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Martin Salvador

"God of Fear" 
Story by Jeff Rovin
Art by Vicente Alcazar

During World War I, a Canadian soldier named Springer is wounded and passes out in the forest. A centaur named Brear finds him and sees to his wounds. At first, the soldier is frightened of the magical creature, but then the two strike up something akin to a friendship. While Brear is out hunting for food one day, a group of German soldiers happen upon Springer and begin beating him. Brear returns to save the day and Springer heads back to the front, confident he can kill himself a bunch of Germans. Brear goes back to his long days of sunning himself in the field and hating regular horses for the worthless creatures they are.

Bruce Bezaire's "The Horseman" is a pretentious crock. I knew we were in for a sermon when Springer's opening monologue includes "Let me go back to the front... to learn to kill... to die!" It seems like readers in 1976 were inundated with messages from both sides and the best defense is to close your eyes and ears. Did we really need this much proselytizing in our fantasy funnies? Really, how serious can you take these things when they're packaged along with zombie comics? In the end, "The Horseman" does nothing but annoy.

One of Hollywood's biggest stars of the 1920s, "Baba" Boone somehow manages to pull off crazy stunts for the camera and always comes up ready for more. What's the man's secret? Well, it might be that he's not a man at all. Another of Alex Toth's "quickies" that doesn't have a script to speak of, "Unreal" is more of a clever punchline expanded to six pages. But, as with most of Toth's work, do we really care that much about the words when the graphics are so absorbing? That noir-esque splash is gorgeous.

Lester Finch has a phobia, a particularly crippling one for a man who lives in New York. Lester hates "Creeps." He sees them every day going to and from the office, in the subway, in the alleys, on the streets. When a skid row bum approaches Lester one night for a handout, Lester lashes out in rage and pushes the man in front of an oncoming car.

Shocked by the man's death at first but later overcome with a sense of satisfaction, Lester begins haunting those streets, subways, and alleyways, ridding society of its "Creeps." But when he recognizes his mother for the creep she is and guts her, Lester becomes a man on the run, hiding in the dives he once avoided. Chased by the police, Lester catches a glimpse of himself in a window glass, recognizes himself as the creep he's become, and performs his final service to mankind.

"Creeps" is surely an unsettling experience (witness Jack's reaction below), but then that's the point, isn't it? Though obviously taken to the extreme, Lester's feelings aren't all that hard to empathize with. Who here hasn't eyed that unemployed man standing at the off-ramp with the "I Need Help" sign and thought "Try working!"? As I say, Archie takes the unease and hatred Lester feels to the Nth (Goodwin could just as easily have titled his cautionary tale, Death Wish: OCD) but, to me anyway, Finch's freefall from displeasure to dismemberment is the very definition of Creepy. The art is fascinating; I see the Wood, I see the Severin, and I see some weird form of lovechild in there as well. Did John work from partials provided to him of Wally's roughs? Give me more!

Once a gorgeous castle on the cliffs of Newport, Lazarus Castle now sits decrepit and uncared for, reduced to a tourist trap by the present-day "Lord of Lazarus Castle," Geoffrey. But Geoffrey and his wife, Katrina, have found a profitable sideline to their paltry gift-shop allowance: shooting stray tourists and selling them to nasty ghoul, Malcolm Davies. But when summer arrives and the occasion for an easy kill does not arrive, Geoffrey has no fresh meat for Davies and the client refuses to go home on an empty stomach.

No need for credits on this one; the purple prose of Carl Wessler would broadcast itself loudly from a detergent ad. Once again, I'm left wondering about local police in these stories. No one wonders what happened to all these missing couples? Malcolm's "special diet" is chalked up to that old chestnut, forced cannibalism during wartime. Wessler even throws in the tidbit that, before Geoffrey and Katrina offered up their special services, Davies was grave-robbing. I gotta ask yet one more time: how long would a human being live after chomping on a corpse? Wouldn't your system shut down after eating diseased, rotting flesh? Do I worry too much about these nitpicks? You betcha. The Moliterni graphics look like the rushed, washed-out Dick Ayers junk we got in the Eerie Publication rags. "Lord of Lazarus Castle" is a predictable, ugly, hunk of crap.

Surely, and hopefully, the bottom of the barrel is in sight through the murky, dream-like existentialism of "The Nature of the Beast," an uber-pretentious stab at college term paper writing by Budd "Just Call Me Nietzsche" Lewis. A professor who looks, appropriately enough, like your typical Martin Salvador simian-human, looks back on his previous lives dating back to prehistoric times. At least that's what I think Budd is trying to get across. You know what? Forget it. Let's just say that, if I could, I'd rate this one the rare "zero" stars and move on to what I hope is a palate (and colon) cleanser.

Archaeologist Ed Harrison has stumbled upon the find of the century in the Adirondacks, Indian symbols that reveal the existence of Uturuncu, the "God of Fear." Once Ed translates the ancient Algonquin symbols and speaks the phrases out loud, he becomes... the Bigfoot from The Six Million Dollar Man! First up on Ed's to-do list as a giant demon is to kill his boss, a sumbitch who's been stealing Ed's limelight for years. After that predictable (if understandable) errand is out of the way, Ed's bucket list grows a little bit fuzzier when he decides he has to destroy the Washington Monument. Okay, Ed, whatever you say. After a long battle with the cops, Uturuncu heads back to Ed's place, where he transforms back into the "puny human" and awaits the next evening, when he can hit the streets and show the city another display of raw power.

Much criticism can be leveled at Jeff Rovin's unfocused and cliched script but, seriously, if you didn't have the words would you know what the hell was going on here? Alcazar's art is a mishmash of lines and blurry images. Ferinstance, when did Uturuncu exit the Washington Monument? He climbs to the top, throws some tourists to their death and, next thing we know, he's on the street fighting back troops. I can't discern any flow from one panel to the next. In the words of one of Rovin's troopers: "Holy hell! What in God's name is going on? Is this some sort of massacre?"-Peter

Jack-I knew we were in trouble when the issue began with a cover focused on a man's naked buttocks. "The Horseman" is an odd fantasy with no clear point but pleasant, harmless art. "Unreal" is a complete disappointment from Toth; a plotless series of incidents about a Harold Lloyd-like silent film star who turns out to be a robot. Things really go downhill fast, though, with "Creeps," which must be an unused file story by Archie Goodwin. It completely wastes the talent of two great artists on a story that is nothing short of disgusting. It is interesting to see how the panels go back and forth between Severin and Wood, though.

"Lord of Lazarus Castle" is even worse, with Gerry Boudreau undoubtedly rewriting Carl Wessler's mess of a story where graphic panels of people getting shot are followed by a story about cannibalism. "The Nature of the Beast" is the usual, ponderous snooze-fest from Budd Lewis, with a gratuitous panel showing a man whose eyes have been plucked out. Salvador's art is mediocre but I really have no idea what this story is about. Finally, we are treated to Alcazar's scratchy, unfocused pages in "God of Fear," with another pointless story by Jeff Rovin. Creepy 78 seems like editor DuBay took all of his worst stories and decided to get rid of them in one smelly package.

The Spirit #13

"The Valentine" (2/20/49)
Story by Will Eisner and Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner

"The Robbery" (5/14/50)
"The Curse" (10/16/49)
"Water" (4/2/50)
Story and Art by Will Eisner

"Hangley Hollyer Mansion" (6/22/47)
"Pinhead" (4/6/47)
"Tunnel" (3/21/48)
Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti

"Ten Minutes" (9/11/49)
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner

"The Story of Gerhard Shnobble" (9/5/48)
Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Andre LeBlanc

Journeys end in lovers meeting.
("The Valentine")
Jack-After a few issues that had me thinking I might have to reassess my lifelong belief in the brilliance of Eisner and The Spirit, issue #13 roars back with nine stories that are among the best we've seen. Published from 1947 to 1950, they highlight Eisner's strength at focusing on seemingly unimportant characters who quietly live through very important moments.

"The Valentine" turns on a wonderful idea of having post office workers send four undelivered valentines to seemingly random people, who then impress their own feelings onto the cards. Eisner's skill with character and plotting is fully on display. "The Robbery" is an excellent story where Sammy unwittingly hides a robber in the Spirit's underground home while the masked hero is away.

It's astounding how much story Eisner packs into seven pages of "The Curse," where a country boy goes to the big city to make money and falls under the spell of a crooked fight manager. "Water" is another good yarn that focuses on a nobody with big plans, while "Hangley Hollyer Mansion" is a great tale of a woman who turns to violence to try to elicit a marriage proposal; Eisner is never afraid of supernatural elements and here the woman turns out to be a ghost!

"Hangley Hollyer Mansion"
An enormous man/monster is the subject of "Pinhead," where this sensitive soul is more than a match for the Spirit in a fistfight and ends up in jail, happily drawing horror comics! "Tunnel" is the weakest story this time out, as Eisner tries to spice things up with a forced attempt to tell a story using a scientist who is able to project brain waves on a movie screen.

A particularly brutal finish distinguishes "Ten Minutes," about a neighborhood good guy who kills for money; this is one of Eisner's timed stories with a ticking clock. Finally, "The Story of Gerhard Shnobble" is one of the classic Eisner/Spirit stories and I'm surprised it did not appear before now. The titular character is another nobody whom no one notices; he is able to fly but gets shot and killed accidentally by crooks battling the Spirit.

Oddly enough, six of the stories in this issue are misdated, per the Grand Comics Database. Whatever the date, they're classics!

Peter-A mediocre collection at best, with seven of the nine stories rating two stars for me (just about the lowest I can give to a Spirit story).  Don’t get me wrong… the art is still as great as always, it’s just the scripts that don’t hold up. The only standouts this time out are “The Robbery” and “Ten Minutes,” both heavy on the noir atmosphere. This issue emphasizes that Eisner considered the Spirit a supporting character at times, since the dead dick only shows up for a panel or two in several of these adventures. Reader Tom Stein of South Norwalk, CT, and I are clearly on the same page: reprint the Wally Wood Spirit!

Vampirella #50

"Call Me Panther!" 
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Jose Gonzalez

"The High-Gloss Egyptian Junk Peddler" 
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Esteban Maroto

"Granny Goose & the Baby Dealers" 
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Ramon Torrents

"The Final Star of Morning" ★1/2
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Bill DuBay & Jeff Jones

"The Thing in Denny Colt's Grave" ★1/2
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Jose Ortiz

"Ground Round" ★1/2
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Auraleon

Chapter One:
While contemplating life and death in various sexy poses amidst the tombstones of Wildwood Cemetery, Vampirella is attacked by a vicious panther girl. After a short battle, the creature transforms back into its human form, steals Vampi's coat, and runs into the street, where she is run down and killed by a passing trolley car. Vampirella finds and pockets the amulet which gave the girl her powers.

Chapter Two: Conrad Van Helsing is awakened after a particularly horrible dream where a naked woman is hung upside down and sliced open for the enjoyment of a gruesome creature. Conrad's screams bring a worried trio of Adam, Vampi, and Pen. When Conrad relates the story of his dream, Vampi compares it to her macabre battle in the cemetery the night before. Conrad sends Vampi and Adam to an expert on occult Egyptian art and when they get there, they realize that just about every woman in town lounges naked. 

Nubia El Amarna identifies the pendant as the Khafra Stone, "the most famous, the most spellbinding artifact in Egyptian lore!" Legend has it that centuries before, a giant named Khafra came from the heavens and was saved by the pharaoh, Khufu. When Khufu died, Khafra ascended the throne and became the most loved pharaoh of all time! The stone that Vampi holds, Nubia claims, was Khafra's power source. She tells her visitors that she must have it but they excuse themselves and head out the door.

When they return to Conrad's home, they tell him the woman's story and the blind man theorizes that Khafra must have been a being from the stars, much like Vampirella. Later, after everyone turns in, Conrad is attacked in his bedroom by a giant panther. This time, Pendragon comes to the rescue and the panther transforms back into ... Nubia. The frightened girl explains she only wanted to touch the stone and never meant to harm anyone. Pen and Conrad laugh and get drunk.

Chapter Three: When another slaughtered girl is found in Wildwood Cemetery, Conrad surmises that his horrific dreams are a key to the mystery. He further opines that a dark force, an evil, malevolent being, lives beneath the tombstones. A search through ancient records kept at police headquarters reveals that, decades before, an evil genius known as Doctor Cobra threatened the entire city with a "suspended animation" drug. Cobra's plan was thwarted by a young cop named Denny Colt, who was found dead in a puddle of the drug. Could Colt have been buried alive and somehow awakened after a 35-year sleep with a thirst for human blood? As Vampi says to Adam: "It sounds awfully far-fetched!"

Pen and Vampi hop a flight to New York to visit an old, reincarnated witch who may be able to answer all the complicated questions. They arrive just in time to see the witch, Fleur (see Vampi #34 and 35), and her partner, Shifter, hustled into a car by black market baby dealer Granny Goose (think Shelley Winters) and one of her thugs. Goose is upset that Fleur has been manhandling her employees. Our heroes follow the car and, upon arriving at Goose's hidey-hole, Adam dons the Khafra stone (becoming a panther) and Vampi changes into a giant bat. The two crash through Goose's picture window and save Fleur and Shifter from a fate worse than death. Once the smoke clears, Vampi asks Fleur if she knows the secret of the Khafra stone and Fleur relates the story told by Nubia in chapter two! But Fleur does help by using her witchy powers to deliver a vision of a beautiful girl crouched in front of a pyramid in Egypt. It's off to Egypt for our weary travelers.

Chapter Four: At last we discover who the real villains are: the Russkies! Yep, a super-secret society of commie scientists has discovered a spaceship inside the pyramids and has also captured (the real) Pantha. The nutty professors intend to dissect both to unlock their secrets, all the better to... wait for it... build better aircraft and sturdier warriors. Next on their list: conquer America! 

Fresh off a plane, Vampi and Adam hoof it to... you guessed it... the Soviet Embassy, where they attempt to find the "panther girl" they saw in Fleur's vision. The scientists are not forthcoming until Vampi produces the amulet and the eggheads gasp and disavow any knowledge of a panther girl. Vampi ain't buying it and she transforms into a bat to explore the underground dungeons. It's there that she finds Pantha locked in a cage. Releasing Pantha, Vampirella explains that the girl is the descendant of Khafra the pharaoh just before the Reds burst in, wielding machine guns. Pantha transforms into her beastly form and Vampi dons the amulet to make it a deadly duo. 

The girls rip and shred through the Russians in no time and, in a moment of peace and clarity, Pantha remembers her childhood, being kidnapped and sold by Granny Goose. (See, it all comes around full circle! What a small world!) There's only one home for her now: the stars. So Pantha climbs into the spaceship and heads for "the final bright star on the horizon." For one moment, Vampirella considers leaving Earth with her new friend, but decides this planet is her home.

Chapter Five:
Meanwhile, Conrad and Pen have been staking out Denny Colt's grave, waiting for the corpse to rise and claim another victim. A scream emanates from a nearby mausoleum and they barely arrive in time to save a damsel in distress from becoming the latest victim of the Wildwood Cemetery "monster." Using his insanely keen brain, Conrad deduces that Denny Colt would use an above-ground tomb as his lair instead of climbing in and out of a grave every night (and packing down that dirt as well?) and they investigate the crypt, discovering an underground passageway! 

Leaving the blind Conrad behind (I'm sure he was much more useful at the stakeout!), Pendragon climbs down into the tunnel and discovers that the hole connects with the city's sewer system. There, Pen is attacked by the "monster" and barely escapes death by conjuring an illusion to frighten the creature. He returns to the surface with the trussed-up creature, explaining to Conrad that his captive is no monster, but rather a psychopath named Elmer Dungfoot. Conrad also has some surprising news: the girl they rescued has led them to a hidden spacecraft, one with a panther emblem on its side. When Conrad finally gets around to asking Pen how he managed to capture Elmer, the old drunk magician laughs and tells his friend he conjured up an illusion of a "big ugly brute in a frightening blue mask." As he finishes his explanation, Pen sees the same masked figure waving at him from behind one of the tombstones and hoofs it.

"Ground Round" is this issue's only story to exclude Vampirella as a character. Butcher Martin Chinn murders his shrewish wife, Shirley, chops her up, and sells her in his deli. Complications arise when his dead wife's friend comes sniffing around and Martin has to add more meat to the freezer. Unfortunately, Shirley picks this time to pull what's left of herself off a meat hook and get just desserts. 

It's hard to believe this jumbled mess of impressive art and not-so-impressive writing was sold on the cover as a cohesive whole. Nothing about this "book-length blockbuster" could be deemed "cohesive." It's like one of those elaborate jungle gyms you buy for the kids at Christmas and discover too late that the damned thing came without instructions. No problem, you put it together anyway, but at the end of the day you're left with several dozen extra nuts and bolts. You're fairly sure the thing will hold together, but who knows? Dube must have either thought his "Book Length Blockbuster" would hold together or couldn't give a damn as he rose from the Editor's chair one last time.

As dopey as the execution might be, the concept intrigued me and, in the end, kept me entertained and turning pages. Pulling Vampi into the Spirit world might not be everyone's idea of a winner but at least it's a novel idea, something completely lacking from the obvious EC-swipe, "Ground Round." In a special issue devoted to stories starring everyone's favorite vampiress, "Ground Round" is the kid in a KISS t-shirt sitting front row at the Bob Dylan concert. Everything about this issue is a puzzle.

I'm dying to know why that final panel on page 8 (left) is an unfinished sketch. Was that intentional or an oversight? I'm sure Dube would tell us it was an artistic choice. In the second chapter, there's a panel of Vampi by Conrad's bedside dressed in a see-through negligee, but in the following panel she's miraculously clad in her skimpy uniform. And does anyone at Warren know how to spell the word "pharaoh?"

"Granny Goose and the Baby Dealers" might well be the most perplexing of the "chapters" in that it introduces a nauseating subject, baby-nappers (further opening with the death of one of the infants, falling from a high-rise window), and then inexplicably tosses that to the side in order to further the "plot" of the Khafru stone. Other than the pyramid reveal that closes the chapter and the jaw-dropper that Granny just happened to have stolen Pantha as a child, there was no real reason to get into Fleur and her mission to rid the world of Granny Goose.

I declare a moratorium on Adam calling Vampi "lover." Is the Jeff Jones/Bill Dubay splash of "The Final Star of Morning" (right) the worst depiction of Vampirella yet? Is she naked? Pants pulled halfway down? Rocking the Joey Heatherton look? In what universe is this the Vampirella we've grown up with? "The Final Star" adds even more confusion by presenting a real, live Pantha. Obviously, the "Pantha" who was run down by a trolley car was another girl altogether. Right? Well, no, as we find out in a later chapter, there were multiple panther girls! Extra points for the first new Comics Commie Bad Guy since Stan Lee created the Crimson Dynamo! 

Clunky Exposition of the Year award goes to Dube for the final three pages of "The Thing in Denny Colt's Grave," which is supposed to tie all those loose ends together and bring us our own moment of clarity. I'm by no means saying the light bulb went on for me after those twenty panels of elucidation (in fact, just the opposite, it led to eye-rolling) but the sight of the Spirit waving at Pen brought a smile to my face. That's worth something.-Peter

Jack-With every issue that we review, I rate the stories independently and then compare my ratings to yours. This time out, they matched exactly, with one exception. I liked the opening splash page of "Call Me Panther!" where Vampi stands at the entrance to Wildwood Cemetery, but what followed was not much of a story and surprisingly unfinished art from Jose Gonzalez. By "The High-Gloss Egyptian Junk Peddler," I had already given up on noting the misspelled words by Warren's unfortunate letterer. This time, even the big, artistic title is misspelled! Once again, the art is below-average Maroto, which makes me wonder if this whole issue was a rush job.

The best things about "Granny Goose" are all the references to the Spirit mythos; DuBay lines like "freezing their sweet n' tenders behind a cold marble headstone" make me glad that he announced his exit as Warren's editor in this issue's letters column. Another possible source for Granny Goose is Kirby's Fourth World baddie, Granny Goodness. "The Final Star of Morning" has what is surely the worst Jeff Jones art we've ever seen, or else a kid took a pen and colored in my copy of this mag. Oh, and wasn't the planet Drakulon destroyed after Kal-El Vampi took off in a spaceship?

"The Thing in Denny Colt's Grave" has what is easily the best art of this 50th anniversary mess; the story makes little sense but I, like you, welcomed a cameo by the Spirit.

I think "Ground Round" saves the issue! Auraleon's big, bald heads and cross-hatching make it look great and the plot is straight from EC Comics, with a healthy dash of Warren's explicit violence. I'm surprised you didn't like it!

Next Week...

Monday, November 22, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 41: May 1983


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


Batman #359

Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Dan Jurgens & Dick Giordano

Batman makes an unannounced visit to the Tobacconist's Club, where he confronts Filbert Hughes III and demands information about the whereabouts of Killer Croc. Around the same time, Killer Croc leads a meeting of Gotham City crooks at the zoo's reptile house; though he claims to have killed Batman and says he now rules Gotham City, the assembled hoods mock him. Later that night, Croc breaks into Gotham City Jail and, dressed as a guard, murders an inmate named Tony Falco.

Batman hotfoots it to the jail when he hears the siren and ends up in a fistfight with Croc, who clobbers the Dark Knight and runs off. Back at Stately Wayne Manor, Bruce loses his temper with Dick and decides the best way to relax is to call Vicki Vale and apologize for his recent, boorish behavior. Meanwhile, over in Jersey, Croc's right hand man, Slick, visits the Sloan Circus to collect protection money. While the Todd parents follow Slick, Batman takes Commissioner Gordon for a moonlight drive. Gordon has the details on Killer Croc's background from the Tampa Police and proceeds to tell Batman the crook's origin story.

It seems Croc was bullied as a child and grew up to be a hardened criminal. Sentenced to death for killing a fellow inmate, his sentence was commuted when the death penalty was ruled unconstitutional and, after spending 18 years in the clink, he was paroled and got a job wrestling alligators at a carnival sideshow. Two months ago, he killed the deputy who gave him his first beating. Now, the Todds have followed Slick to the zoo auditorium, where they suddenly find themselves onstage in front of an audience of Gotham's criminals! Killer Croc is about to outline his plans for Batman and the unfortunate Todds find themselves with front row seats.

Peter: There's a nasty streak to our hero in this issue that we haven't really seen before. He admits that maybe it's a good idea that the Squid was assassinated, but he really didn't like the fact that it went down on his watch. Bruce lays into Dick for no apparent reason other than to keep alive that thread Gerry introduced issues ago that maybe these two should work solo rather than as a team. That scene comes off as pretty lame, as does Bruce's call to Vicki. But I can't deny that this Croc guy (Marvel ripoff he may be) is a shot of adrenaline to a series that was wilting on the vine.

The young
Killer Croc
The art is molten hot and frigid, depending on the scene. The Jurgens/Giordano team does a fabulous job of portraying Batman and Croc as fearsome creatures but drops the medicine ball when it comes to the human characters. A lot of the figures come off stiff and lifeless. That cover, by the way, is a knockout, even if the scene inside doesn't feature that rogues' gallery. On the letters page, editor Len Wein confesses that this is Gerry Conway's final Batman issue. The bad news is the new guy is Doug Moench. The (hopefully) good news is that he's a much more refined writer than the guy who was writing for Warren in the 70s.

Jack: Unlike 99% of the Warren stories we read, "Hunt" features better writing than art. The style reminded me of Mike Grell, for some reason; perhaps it's the stilted poses and almost unfinished look to some of the panels. I'm surprised that Giordano inked this, since he usually does more solid work. The Killer Croc background tale is weird, don't you think? He goes from looking like a somewhat ugly kid to looking like a human alligator as an adult! That's some seriously bad teenage development, if you ask me.

Detective Comics #526

"All My Enemies Against Me!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

The Joker has called a meeting of all of Batman's foes to inform them that an upstart named Killer Croc is announcing his intentions to kill Batman. Oddly, the Joker is insulted by this proclamation and insists that he and his comrades should murder the Dark Knight first! Unfortunately, the Clown Prince of Crime doesn't read back issues of Batman like Jack and I do, so he's not aware that Catwoman and Talia al Ghul are sweet on the Caped Crusader. Both gals exit stage left and head for the Batcave.

We find our hero in a surly mood yet again, taking his emotions out on unlucky punching bags. Cats and Talia arrive at the same time, have a small catfight, and inform their lover of the new partnership between Gotham's finks. Meanwhile, Dick Grayson is attempting to track down the senior members of the Todd acrobatic team, who are closing in on a very dangerous man they've been following. 

Yet another meanwhile, Barbara Gordon has stumbled on a clue at the site of the Villains Peace Summit and heads to Wayne Manor to inform Batman. Discovering her mentor has hit the road with his two gorgeous lovers/adversaries, she spills the beans to Dick Grayson: "Get into your silly costume, Dick, and let's go! Yep, I know you're the Boy Wonder and I have for quite a while. Do you think I'm an idiot? There's a detective's brain hidden under this gorgeous mane of hair!"

While Dick and Barbara head out on their own, Batman, Talia, and Catwoman pinball through Gotham, taking out the villains one by one. Gordon calls Babs and Robin to the city zoo, where they discover the remains of Trina and Joseph Todd; Croc had fed them to some of his pets. Robin unleashes a howl of pity and anger and swears vengeance for his murdered friends. Speaking of Croc, the Joker has tracked the monster to the abandoned Gotham City Men's Club and proposes a deal. He explains that the Gotham Baddies have united to kill Batman before Croc can get to him and he wants no part of it. Can they be best buds just this once (the sly devil!)?

Back at Wayne Manor, Jason Todd has stumbled upon a secret doorway to the Batcave and begins rummaging through some old chests that just happen to be lying around. Within minutes, he has found an old Robin costume and dons it (cue: "Key Overstreet Slabbed Issue" music). At that moment, the Batmobile roars into the cave and Jason must take shelter... in the trunk of the vehicle!

Batman uses his Bat-computer to come up with an abandoned brewery as a possible hiding place for Croc and he, Cats, and Talia head there, unaware of the stowaway in the boot. Across town, Batgirl and Robin bust some heads and come up with the same address for Croc. All parties converge on the brewery, where Croc and the Joker get the best of Bats, Cats, and Talia, tying them up to an overheating brewing vat. Croc unties Batman and challenges him to a fistfight. Bats happily agrees! At that very moment, Robin arrives, explaining the situation with the Todds. Jason, who has exited the trunk and sits high overhead in the brewery, waiting to help, overhears and dives onto the distracted Croc just as Bats gives the scaled supervillain a left uppercut. Jason beats on an unconscious Croc.

The next day, feeling guilty, Dick Grayson announces to Bruce his intention to adopt Jason Todd and Bruce agrees to provide shelter. Dick smiles as he sees something very familiar in the young man.

Peter: 56 pages begs a lot of patience and concentration but allows the script to breathe. Problem is, there's just so much going on that you get the feeling Len Wein told Gerry this would be a 200-page epic and changed his mind at the last moment. There's not enough room here to dwell on each of the 20+ villains (some of whom I'd never heard of before) and introduce the new subplots. The death of Trina and Joseph Todd (a very pivotal moment, we'll come to find out soon) is handled almost as an afterthought. Side note: those are the cleanest casualties of a crocodile attack ever recorded. The final showdown is anticlimactic. Shortcomings aside, "All My Enemies Against Me!" is a lot of fun and a well-told tale with some great Newton/Alcala art. 

I love how Gerry gets in a plug for women's equality with Vicki Vale elbowing her creepy layout man, Lance, when he puts the moves on her. Vicki explains to us that she was probably too hard on Lance but she's "fed up with men who insist on having things their way" and then calls her flaky billionaire boyfriend to check up on him! She rips Alfred a new one when the butler won't give her the info she wants and then breaks down in tears. Gerry gets to fly the freedom flag and put women down in two successive panels! Brilliant!

Equally stupid/brilliant is Jason Todd's stroll through Wayne Manor and discovery of the Batcave. The world's greatest detective couldn't figure out that the pathway to the world's most guarded secret is perhaps a little too easy to stumble on?

This is the issue where, out of the blue, Batgirl announces to Dick that she knew all along he and Bruce were the Caped Crusaders. Yeah, right. I get that half of Gotham should know their secret identities by now (as witnessed by Jason's discovery), but her sudden exclamation doesn't ring true. But, heck, Babs definitely shows she's a true detective when she informs Dick she's found a sole "pinched cigarette" at a crime scene and from that formulates the theory that all of Gotham's bad guys are grouping together to kill Batman. Sherlock Holmes could never have arrived at that theory with such scant clues. And is it just me or is it kinda creepy that the Commish calls his daughter "babe?"

Jack: Two classic Bat issues in two months! Last time out we had the great Brave and the Bold, and now this. There's just so much to enjoy here that I wasn't bothered at all by the shortcomings you cite. I love the idea of all of the villains gathering and the Newton/Alcala art looks as good as it ever has. It's fitting that the Joker is the leader of the pack, since he is the greatest Bat villain of all time, but even the second-tier bad guys are used effectively. Of course, this issue is a turning point in the Bat-saga with Jason Todd becoming part of the team. It's not lost on me that Gerry Conway has a history of writing issues that are turning points where an important character dies (Gwen Stacy, anyone?).

I agree that Batman's security needs an upgrade and I blame Alfred for that one. And after 50 years, you'd think that some mayor of Gotham would clean up Crime Alley! Things I loved in this issue:
  • an appearance by the Gentleman Ghost
  • Joker: "Lord save me from loonies"
  • Catwoman and Talia fighting over Batman
  • Jason Todd donning an old Robin outfit and hiding in the Batmobile's trunk
  • the Batman TV show-worthy death trap
This is a four-star story and one of my best of 1983!

The Brave and the Bold #198

"Terrorists of the Heart!"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Chuck Patton & Rick Hoberg

A group of terrorists known as the Black Heart are in an armed standoff with Gotham's finest; Batman intervenes but is knocked out of a window by machine gun fire. The terrorists rush the cops, guns blazing, and escape to a handy hideout just around the corner. Their leader is Peter Travers, who bitterly recalls being betrayed by Katy, his terrorist lover. Now he wants to find her and kill her.

In New York City, Karate Kid appears from the future, looking for his old gal pal Iris Jacobs. Her former landlady tells him that Iris has moved to Gotham City. Back in Gotham, a super-villain known as Pulsar breaks into the jail cell where Katy is being held, but Batman appears and goes toe to toe with Pulsar. As in his battle with the terrorists, Batman is blown away, this time by an energy beam from Pulsar's staff.

Batman takes a beating #1...

Katy slips out of the prison while Batman and Pulsar are fighting; she murders a kindly gentleman who stops to help her and she drives off in his car until she crashes into a fire hydrant in her weakened state. Who should happen by to help Katy but Iris Jacobs, who lives right by the fire hydrant and who helps Katy into her apartment and gets her cleaned up. Surprise! Through an open window pops Karate Kid, who has a bad cold and grabs a hanky from a table. He sees on the TV news that Pulsar is on the loose, so he has to dash, determined to go after the villain and promising to deliver important news to Iris at a later date.

Karate Kid meets up with Batman, who quickly uses his skills as a detective to determine that the snotty tissue Karate Kid is clutching belongs to Katy! The terrorists track down the woman who betrayed them and burst into Iris's apartment just as Batman and Karate Kid enter through the open window. Batman fights the terrorists and Karate Kid fights Pulsar, who gets blown to pieces when the head terrorist pushes a button on a remote control that sets off an explosion in the motor under Pulsar's heart. The terrorists are soon dispatched and Iris takes Katy down herself. Sadly, Karate Kid breaks the news to Iris that he's getting married to someone else in the future. She tells him to get lost and he heads back to the future in his time-travelling bubble, leaving Iris with a broken heart.

...Batman takes a beating #2.

Peter: After a couple of Brave and Bolds that had me sitting up and taking notice, we're back to the usual organ-grinder and monkey routine. I have no idea who Karate Kid is and most of the stuff he's telling us about is zooming straight over my head. Was this Peter Travers/Katy Patty Hearst story line continued from somewhere else? How many B+B readers (aside from DC-fanatic Jack, of course) actually purchased something called Karate Kid when it was published for 15 issues from 1976-78? I had never even heard of this guy, so I knew I'd have to hit the research books for some background.  Wikipedia My deep research revealed the following nugget of info about KK: The extent of his skill is so great that he can severely damage various types of hard material with a single blow and was briefly able to hold his own against Superboy through use of what he called "Super Karate." Well, that certainly answered my silly question of why the future filled with Superboys and Wonder Girls would need a karate expert. Hard to believe that martial arts was still a thing in 1983.

Jack: You caught me, Peter; I did buy Karate Kid comics back in the mid-'70s. I also bought Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter. I had an Enter the Dragon flipbook that I got at the movies and treasured. I even took karate lessons at the Y, though when I failed to get a black stripe on my white belt, I quit. So ended my career as a martial arts master. The art on "Terrorists of the Heart!" is not very good. It's one of the first credits for penciller Chuck Patton, who came and went at DC after an undistinguished five-year term in the mid-'80s. Rick Hoberg's inks don't do Patton any favors. Mike Barr's story isn't bad, it's just routine. He knows how to craft a plot and get from point A to point B, but the scaffolding shows, especially in the awkward business with Karate Kid's cold and the hanky leading Batman to Katy. It's a shame that this weak issue followed such a great issue, but that's the nature of an anthology series, I guess.


Congrats from DC's answer to Stan Lee,
Bob "I did it all myself" Kane!
As is our wont around here, we present the annual circulation numbers for the three regular titles (along with the previous years' numbers, so you can see how the comic world was faring); the figures published in 1983 actually reflect on how the title sold during the previous twelve months. As you can see by the figures, the tailspin experienced over the past several years has leveled off and the loss of readership is nearly negligible.


1982: 108,234
1981: 110,997
1980: 129,426

The Brave and the Bold

1982: 91,097
1981: 92,847
1980: 109,307

Detective Comics

1982: 85,049
1981: 85,567
1980: 64,762

Next Week...
Severin and Wally together!

Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Hitchcock Project-Joel Murcott Part Seven: Ambition [6.38]

by Jack Seabrook

"Ambition" is the driving force behind the actions of assistant district attorney Rudolf Cox, who visits a shabby brownstone where a nervous man named Lou Heintz is staying. Heintz is afraid of a criminal named "Big Mac" Lackey and shows Cox a gold cigarette lighter that Mac left behind after searching Heintz's rooms while Lou was out buying liquor. Heintz fears that he'll be killed by Big Mac or his partner, Ernie Stillinger, before he can testify against them in court, so Cox assures Heintz that he'll station men to watch his building and keep him safe.

Cox leaves Heintz's room and drives a short distance before Big Mac unexpectedly appears and climbs into the car beside him. Big Mac tells Cox that he knows there is no solid evidence against him; he realizes that Rudy is ambitious and has his eye on a career in politics. Big Mac announces that he plans to get married and give up his life of crime. The two men grew up together and Mac saved Rudy's life during the war; Rudy gave Mac the gold cigarette lighter to thank him. Their lives then went in opposite directions--Mac toward crime and Rudy toward law enforcement. Rudy knows that putting Mac in jail would help his own career and Mac's plan to give up on crime could make that difficult.

"Ambition" was first published here.

The next morning, Lt. Walker approaches Cox at home to say that Heintz was murdered the night before. Mac's lighter was found in Heintz's room and the fatal bullet came from his gun. Ernie Stillinger has an alibi and Mac claims he was riding in Cox's car at the time of the murder. Cox weighs his loyalty to the man who saved his life against his political career and claims not to have seen Mac in six months, destroying the man's alibi and ensuring his conviction.

"Ambition" is a clever story about the ease with which a man is disloyal to an old friend in order to further his own career. It was published in the August 1960 issue of Keyhole Mystery Magazine and its author, Charles Boeckman (1920-2015), was one of the few writers who came of age during the pulp era and survived long enough to see a revival of interest in his work. He wrote short stories beginning in 1945 and had his stories published in the pulps and the digests that followed. He also wrote novels under his own name and pseudonyms; his topics included crime fiction, westerns, and erotica. Boeckman was also an accomplished jazz musician. His autobiography was published in 2015 and his papers are archived at the University of Oregon.

Joel Murcott adapted "Ambition" for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and the episode aired on NBC on Tuesday, July 4, 1961, as the final show of the sixth season. The show was directed by Paul Henreid and stars Leslie Nielsen as Cox. Murcott had to expand the story to fill the TV show's running time, but the additions are not entirely successful.

Leslie Nielsen as Rudy Cox
The short story begins with Cox putting away his gardening tools and driving to see Heintz. He only learns that Heintz's location has been discovered when Heintz shows him Big Mac's lighter. In the TV show, the exposition is done in the first scene by showing Cox working in his garden when his assistant, Cliff Woodman, arrives and tells him that everybody knows that they have Lou Heinz, who has been involved with Mac Davis and Ernie Stillinger, two "'top racketeers.'" Cox is angry that his first break as district attorney has been ruined and Woodman says that the mayor is waiting to talk to him. In the TV version, Cox is already the D.A., while in the story he is still the assistant D.A., hoping to move up the ladder.

The second scene finds Mac arriving at the building where Heinz is staying and entering the man's apartment to find an agitated Stillinger searching the room. Stillinger pulls a gun and smashes an empty liquor bottle against a wall. He wants to kill Heinz to prevent him from testifying, but Mac calms him down, telling him that the D.A. owes him a favor and promising to fix the problem tonight. As they talk, Mac hands Ernie his lighter so Ernie can light a cigarette; the men are distracted by a car pulling away outside and we never see what happens to the lighter. This scene contrasts the calm Mac with the angry Ernie and shows how the lighter ends up left behind for Heinz to find.

Harold J. Stone as Mac Davis
Scene three takes place in the mayor's office as Cox and Woodman explain to the mayor how Heinz's location has been discovered. The mayor is skeptical about the value of Heinz as a witness, since he was locked up in the jail for drunkenness and kept no paper records of his accounting work for Davis. The mayor reveals that Cox and Davis are old friends, but Cox denies having seen Davis since he became D.A. The mayor needles him for a lack of major crimes uncovered on Rudy's watch and suggests that Cox is protecting his old friend from prosecution. Chiding Rudy for his lack of ambition, the mayor suggests that if Rudy can secure a conviction of Mac Davis, he could go a long way toward ensuring that he will be elected the next mayor and, eventually, governor. "'If you don't get an indictment and a conviction this time,'" says the mayor, "'you're through.'"

The fourth scene picks up where the short story left off, with Rudy visiting Heinz in his rooms. Heinz is a sweaty, nervous drunk, who immediately shows Rudy the cigarette lighter left behind by Davis--it is engraved, "To M.D. with gratitude 1944." In the short story, we learn from Rudy's thoughts that it was he who gave the lighter to Mac for saving his life during the war. In the TV show, the viewer is left to ponder what the inscription means until a later scene where it is explained. Woodman drives Cox to Heinz's location and drives away with him after Cox visits the witness in his room; thus, the incident in the short story where Big Mac gets in Cox's car after Cox leaves Heintz's room cannot happen, because Cox is with Woodman.

Ann Robinson as Helen Cox
Instead, as Woodman drives away with Cox, we see Ernie Stillinger sitting in a car outside Heinz's building, smoking a cigarette and looking menacingly up at Heinz's window. From this brief shot we can assume that it is Stillinger who later murders Heinz.

Woodman drops Cox off at home after dark where he is met by his beautiful wife, Helen, who is dressed for a dance that her husband had forgotten. She tells him that he works too hard and he remarks that the mayor said he lacks ambition, a comment that clearly rankles him. Rudy begs off and Helen goes to the dance alone. Adding the character of Rudy's wife sets up a comparison between him and Mac, who shows up at Rudy's front door just before ten o'clock, according to a clock on the kitchen wall. We don't know it yet, but the brief shot of the clock to establish the time will be important in the final scene. Rudy first tries to keep Mac from entering, then pulls a gun from a drawer and points it at Mac until the criminal shows that he is not armed.

Bernard Kates as Lou Heinz
Mac is charming and relaxed, while Rudy is nervous and jumpy at the unexpected visit from his old friend. In the kitchen, Rudy reluctantly gives Mac a cup of coffee and refuses to drop his investigation. This scene replaces the one in the short story where Rudy and Mac talk in Rudy's car. Now, Rudy tells Mac that he knows Mac was in Heinz's room because he left his lighter behind. The lighter was given in thanks for Mac saving Rudy's life, "'that night in Germany when you dragged me across that field.'" Mac understands that a big conviction could help Rudy succeed in politics, but the aging criminal says he is "'fixed for life'" and wants to get married. In short, Mac wants what Rudy has-- a safe, happy life with a beautiful wife. Mac tells Rudy that he is giving up on crime and he is confident that Rudy will convict someone else and succeed in his career. Mac wants Rudy to leave him alone, "'for old time's sake.'"

Mac asks Rudy to get him the lighter and Rudy wishes him luck. As Mac leaves, it looks like the two men have reached an understanding, but the show's final scene demonstrates that this is not the case. The next morning, the sun is shining and Rudy is again working in his garden, with his wife Helen near him, watering the lawn. A police lieutenant arrives and the dialogue between him and Cox plays out almost verbatim when compared to the final page of the short story.

Harry Landers as Ernie Stillinger
The TV version of "Ambition" adds new scenes and new characters to flesh out the short story, but the key events do not change. The strongest scenes are those that mirror scenes in the source: the dialogue between Rudy and Mac in the car/kitchen and the final scene, when the truth of Rudy's ambition is made plain. The show's best performance comes from Harold J. Stone as Mac; he is convincing as a man who can be big and menacing but no longer has to prove his strength.

"Ambition" is directed by Paul Henreid (1908-1992), who began his career as a film actor. His career as a director started in the early 1950s and he directed 29 episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "A Little Sleep."

Leslie Nielsen (1926-2010) plays Rudy Cox, the district attorney. Nielsen was born in Canada and served in the Royal Canadian Air Force before moving to New York City and joining the Actors Studio. He appeared on TV from 1950 to 2007 and in films from 1956 to 2011, and he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Among his many films are Forbidden Planet (1956), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Airplane! (1980), Creepshow (1982), and The Naked Gun (1988). He was a regular on the TV series The New Breed (1961-62) and Police Squad! (1982) and he was seen on Thriller, Night Gallery, two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and "The Magic Shop" on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Nielsen's mid-career switch to deadpan comedy began with Airplane! but his role in "Ambition" is completely serious.

Charles Arnt as the mayor
Mac Davis is played by Harold J. Stone (1913-2005), a familiar character actor who started on TV in 1949 and in film in 1956. He had a part in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1956) and another in House of Numbers (1957), based on the novel by Jack Finney. He was in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Night the World Ended," based on a story by Fredric Brown, as well as an episode of The Twilight Zone and two episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including Henry Slesar's "The Second Verdict." Stone also appeared in two Roger Corman films in the 1960s: X--The Man With the X-Ray Eyes (1963) and The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967). He appeared in many TV episodes well into the 1980s.

In supporting roles:
  • Ann Robinson (1929- ) as Rudy's wife, Helen; born in Hollywood, she was on screen from 1949 to 2020 and her most famous role was in War of the Worlds (1953).
  • Bernard Kates (1922-2010) as Lou Heinz; a bomber pilot in WWII, Kates was on screen from 1949 to 1999, including an appearance on The Outer Limits. He was in "I Kiss Your Shadow" on Bus Stop and he appeared in two other episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Right Kind of Medicine."
  • Harry Landers (1921-2017) as Ernie Stillinger; born Harry Sorokin, he served in the Merchant Marine in WWII and was on screen from 1947 to 1991. He had a bit part in Rear Window (1954), appeared on Star Trek, and was a semi-regular on Ben Casey (1961-1966). This was one of his three appearances in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Day of the Bullet."
  • Charles Arnt (1906-1990) as George, the mayor; he had small roles in many films between 1933 and 1962 and this episode was one of last parts.
  • Charles Carlson (1906-1990) as Cliff Woodman, Rudy's assistant; he worked on TV from 1961 to 1967 and was seen on The Twilight Zone and in five episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Where Beauty Lies."
Charles Carlson as Cliff Woodman
  • Howard McLeod as the police lieutenant in the last scene; his brief TV career lasted only from 1960 to 1962 but he managed to play policemen in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents during that time, including "Burglar Proof."
Howard McLeod as the lieutenant
  • Syl Lamont (1912-1982) as a hood at the beginning of the second scene who tells Mac where to find Stillinger and Heinz; he was on screen from 1950 to 1975 and appeared in six episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "A Tangled Web."
Syl Lamont as the hood

"Ambition" may be viewed online here.

Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the short story!


"Ambition" Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 6, episode 38, NBC, 4 July 1961. 

Boeckman, Charles. "Ambition." Keyhole Mystery Magazine, Aug. 1960, pp. 27-32. 

Bold Venture Press,

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred HITCHCOCK Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. "Galactic Central." Galactic Central, 
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: "What Frightened You, Fred?" starring R.G. Armstrong and Ed Asner!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "The Creeper" here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "Sybilla" here!