Monday, January 31, 2022

The Warren Report Issue 77: August 1976



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

The Spirit #15

"Sally of the Islands" (7/17/49)
"The Masked Man" (7/24/49)
"The Ball Game" (7/31/49)
"Matua" (8/7/49)
"Lurid Love" (9/18/49)
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner 

"Ace McCase" (9/28/48)
"Winter Haven" (12/4/49)
Story and Art by Will Eisner

"The Prisoner of Donjon" (8/29/48)
"Murder, ... Bloodless Type!!" (6/20/48)
Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Andre LeBlanc

Jack-Sometimes, taking the Spirit out of Central City results in great stories, such as "Sally of the Islands," where Eisner and Feiffer are able to create fully realized characters in very little space and tell a good story in only seven pages. The Spirit makes only a brief appearance in "The Masked Man," where a two-bit private eye impersonates the hero and learns it's not so easy to impress Ellen Dolan. "The Ball Game" is a satire on baseball and politics that isn't very funny; Sammy has never been one of my favorite characters and he takes center stage in this one. Science clashes with superstition in "Matua," a well-told story where a giant stone supposedly is an ancient monster about to return to life. These four tales open the issue and are presented in the order in which they originally appeared over four consecutive weeks in the summer of 1949.

"Lurid Love" satirizes love pulps with fake ads, but it's a weak story where the ads are funnier than the plot. Commissioner Dolan falls for a battle-axe in "Ace McCase," not realizing she's a crook. This story has a real surprise at the very end. Eisner does nice visual work with snow in "Winter Haven," in which Dolan and the Spirit happen on a convention of fences at a ski resort and engage in an exciting battle on the slopes.

Eisner's skill at mixing comedy and drama is on display in "The Prisoner of Donjon," in which an elderly prisoner refuses to be set free when the decrepit prison where he has spent decades is to be demolished. When he gets out, he insists on keeping a wire trash basket upside down over his head to simulate the view from behind bars! Finally, "Murder,...Bloodless Type!!" is an action-packed yarn about a man who pretends that his twin brother killed him. In all, a solid issue--too bad there's only one more at Warren!

The highlight here, of course, is the quartet of "island-hopping" stories that opens the issue. I had the most fun with the giant monster trappings of "Matua," but appreciated the noir of "Sally of the Islands." The latter would have made a great little mid-1950s Allied Artists B-flick, with its menacing shadows and cliched bad guys. I had to laugh when Sally asked Smith, "Who are you or what are you..." but not "and why do you wear that familiar mask?" Seriously, the Spirit goes undercover but leaves his trademark eye mask on? Yeah, I know... forget it, Peter, it's the comics!

"Lurid Love" is an on-the-nose clever send-up of the "Confessions" rags of the time, complete with faux-but-believable ads. Sammy's golden moment (reprinted to the right) was my spit-the-whiskey-out-laughing panel of the issue. I found the remainder of the issue to be gorgeously illustrated but familiar in the plot department. Still, this was the strongest issue of The Spirit in some time.

Vampirella #53

"The Human Marketplace" 
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Jose Gonzalez

"Opium is the Religion of the People" ★1/2
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Rafael Auraleon

"The Professional" 
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Zesar

"The Last Man Syndrome" ★1/2
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Ramon Torrents

"Jackie and the Leprechaun King" 
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Esteban Maroto

Crossing the US/Mexico border, Vampirella and Pen are stopped after Vampi's phony passport is flagged. A CIA agent named Spectrum (of course!) approaches Vampi and asks for her cooperation in a case involving a white slavery ring. With no obvious options, our Drakulonian Diva agrees and heads for San Francisco, where she hangs out in a seedy bar filled with salty seamen (ooooh, I just couldn't wait for the obvious typos on that one!).

Sure enough, within minutes, V is harassed by a sailor (wearing stripes, as if the vampiress were whisked back into Barbary Coast days) and eventually drugged and kidnapped. When she awakens, Cap'n Silver explains to her that she'll be brainwashed, sold to a wealthy foreigner with power, and then instructed to murder her "master." Silver explains that the same scenario will take place simultaneously around the world. Vampirella is dumped into a cell with several other captives.

When V runs out of her blood formula, she takes a bite out of one of her fellow inmates, only to discover that the girl has no blood! She's been transformed into a "cybernaut"! Taking wing, our heroine targets one of the sailors who kidnapped her. The man explains that Cap'n Silver's process not only brainwashes the victims but turns their bodies into "synthetic plastic." Holy Cow! The tar further elaborates that the girls are meant to make love to their "masters" and at just the right moment their bodies will explode! Holy Cow!

Vampi dines on the sailor and his dying screams alert Cap'n Silver, who enters the room armed with a gun. He takes a shot, but Vampi does a bat-change and avoids the bullet. Silver runs out the door and falls into a quicksand marsh, sinking out of sight. Meanwhile, the other sailors have decided that they're going to give the girls a test drive, unaware of the consequences. The bang ends with a literal bang. Vampi is congratulated by agent Spectrum and given a proper fake passport and birth certificate. The future is wide open.

It's almost inane to raise my hand in class and ask about silly plot points (if Vampi is so afraid of the border agents, why doesn't she turn into a bat and meet Pen on the "other side"?), but "The Human Marketplace" is so crammed full of head-scratchers and cliches, I almost feel I'd be amiss ignoring them.  Where is this island just outside of "San Francisco harbor?" Neither Alcatraz nor Treasure Island have the lush jungle foliage present and the nearest island would be Hawaii, wouldn't it? A few days' journey, at least.

Why would the CIA figure V is the perfect woman to go undercover on this assignment? What in their folder shows them she could be an asset? That she's a heck of a prop in a vaudeville act? What does Pen do while he's lounging around San Fran waiting for his girl to do all the work? Never mind, I think we can guess that one. Why is Vampirella always short on her faux-blood supply? It reminds me of the old Ultraman show where the big silver guy's chest-light would always start blinking in the middle of a big fight, signaling his power was running low.

But, hell, forget all that. "The Human Marketplace" is the most entertaining Vampirella chapter we've seen in years, dumb as a Motley Crue boxed set and equally void of vitamins. Boudreau discards all the eye-rolling seriousness we've seen in recent installments and goes for sheer nuttiness. If all Vampi stories were like this one, I'd be a lot less cranky.

(Insert eye-rolling emoji here)
A man searches the Naked City for the Snowman, a drug dealer who kept his sister addicted to heroin. He finally finds the scum in an abandoned amusement park and closes in for the kill. Turns out the Snowman has a gang of monster bodyguards that our hero must contend with before he rains hell down and achieves some sort of peace with his vengeance.

Having plumbed the depths of bad Harlan Ellison imitation, Gerry Boudreau turns his sights on the dark and violent world of McBain and Westlake and has just as much success with "Opium is the Woman of the World," er sorry, "Woman Loves Opium in Her World".... whatever. Simply attempting to imitate the style of hardboiled does not make a story hardboiled, as we see from the brain-dead metaphors dotting the landscape. The Manhattan skyline appeared on the horizon a supine glamour queen lying nude on a bed of darkness, her face wet with autumn rain sure sounds like the opening of an 87th Precinct novel but, believe me, Hunter/McBain never wrote a line so pretentious and solipsistic. The unchecked wave of racism bits here and there continues even into the Louise Jones era, with Gerry's character commenting on the "yellow munchkins in rice fields" he fought during the war. I'm amazed this crap has been pretty much ignored over the years.

Check out the "carefully prunned (sic) rows of shrubbery,
arrowing down the alibaster (sic) length of sidewalk..."

Peter Grant uses his good looks to first bed and then extort money from the beautiful housewives of Santa Mira. But when the women get wise to Grant's game, they join forces and end his little game. But one of them has actually learned a good lesson from the exercise. The final twist is a good one, but I have to say "The Professional" was way too long and boring. Halfway through the story, anyone with half a brain would know where this was going. I refuse to be a fanboy and add an extra star just because "The Professional" was written by my favorite horror comics writer. I have my scruples after all <wink emoji>.

A man walks the empty streets of the city, imagining the world has come to an end, even though a woman is being burned at the stake before his very eyes. In the end, he has what the Warren Publishing Company's psychiatrists term "The Last Man Syndrome." As he falls to the ground, people walk over him and trample him. The End.

When I finished "The Last Man Syndrome," I wondered when Jim Warren sent out the memo to his staff that the stories printed in Warren zines should change the world, not scare the reader. I wish I could remember my reaction as a 14-year-old Warren zombie to the McGregor, Moench, Boudreau, and McKenzie tales of inner turmoil and the human condition. The 45-years older me feels the strain of eye-rolling constantly through flowery sentences derived from entirely too much summer school required reading: Well, he had his privacy now. He didn't even feel the passing of a million feet that relentlessly trampled his lifeless body. He couldn't hear the numbling (sic) angry voices cursing him because he had gotten in their way. I can understand now why Jim W. never hired a proofreader. The guy woulda been at the office 24/7.

Little Jackie Paper loves his books filled with fantasy, but he's not very fond of his alcoholic father. So, one day, Jackie decides to head out on his own to find glory over the nearby hills. What he finds in the forest is the cute, lovable, and oh so adorable leprechaun, Bubba (not Baba... that would be plagiarism!) O'Reilly and his pet dragon, Fluff (stop... my sides are aching!). Together, the trio fights battles and enjoys incredible adventures until they run into Blackbeard and his cutthroat pirates. Bubba and Fluff are both slain, but Jackie is spared. That's because Blackbeard is, in reality, Jackie's dad, who explains that the "demon monsters" had cast a spell on the lad to convince him that they were the good guys. There was no Bubba and Fluff. Now, Pop explains, it's time for Jackie to grow up! As Jackie Paper walks away from the (imagined) bleeding carcass of Fluff, he sighs and thinks how much fun the evil villains were.

If this is the new "Golden Age of Warren," I think I'll go back and re-read Creepy #49 and Eerie #39, thank you very much. While I wasn't nearly as angered by "Jackie and the Leprechaun King" as Peter, Paul, and Mary should have been, it's still not my desired field of leisure reading material. What's Dube's message, exactly? That adulthood is for the birds? Now there's a viewpoint seldom shared. Can't wait for Dube's take on "Yellow Submarine." Maroto's art is the pits, little more than early sketches stolen off napkins. 

This month, Joe Brancatelli discusses the sudden firing of Carmine Infantino at DC and Marvel's musical-editorial-chair. Joe also brings up the fact that comic sales are down at least 30% from the previous year (a trend that will continue every year) and gets in a couple of snarky (but well-deserved) jabs at Stan Lee and Warren Publishing itself. I miss Joe Brancatelli.-Peter

Jack-Peter, that's the same Joe Brancatelli column we read two weeks ago in Creepy #81. Still, it's better than the comics on offer this time out. Unlike you, my favorite story was "Opium is the Religion of the People," mainly because Auraleon was the perfect choice to illustrate this grim tale. Boudreau is clearly a fan of classic films and even slips in a cameo by Dr. Archaeus among the rogues' gallery on the wall. I was happy to see Gonzalez back drawing Vampi, but his art doesn't seem as good as it used to and the story is a mixed-up mashup of cybernauts, a vampire, white slavery, and The Most Dangerous Game.

I was also glad to see a story by Bruce Jones, but "The Professional" is ruined by the terrible art, unnecessarily violent end, and silly twist. Still, it's better than "The Last Man Syndrome"--when a writer spends an entire story making the reader wonder what the heck is going on, the payoff had better be good, and this one isn't. Finally, "Jackie and the Leprechaun King" is more DuBay page filler with decent Maroto art. I really think the editor just gave DuBay a page count and he wrote till he filled it.

Creepy #82

"Forgive Us Our Debts"
(Reprinted from Creepy #50)

"A Most Private Terror"
(Reprinted from Creepy #52)

"Deja Vu"
(Reprinted from Creepy #51)

(Reprinted from Vampirella #35)

"A Scream in the Forest"
(Reprinted from Creepy #53)

An all-Maroto reprint "Super Special Summer Giant" (though I'd question 76 pages being a "giant") proves that too much Maroto isn't necessarily a great thing. The scripts are, for the most part, decent, but Maroto's style should be absorbed in medium doses. That way you don't realize that Esteban's males all look like golden gods.-Peter

Jack-The best page of this issue is the new Brancatelli column, where he writes that many comic scribes look down on their readers and argues that comics were of higher quality in the 1960s and consequently sold better. I'm not sure I buy the second part of his argument.

Looking back over my comments on these five reprints that feature Maroto art, I see a theme--the guy can draw but he's not a good storyteller. The best of the lot is "A Scream in the Forest," and Warren colored a couple of its panels to cobble together a nice cover. "Deja Vu" is presented in color, though it was originally black and white. Four of the stories were first published in Creepy with cover dates in the first half of 1973, while the fifth is from a 1974 issue of Vampirella. At least (for once) Warren is not reprinting recent stories.

Eerie #76

"Deliver the Child"
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Leopold Sanchez

Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Luis Bermejo

"Oogie and the Scroungers"★1/2
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Esteban Maroto

"The Silver Key"
Story and Art by Jose Bea

"Beware Darklon the Mystic!"
Story and Art by Jim Starlin

In 1936, cousins Gerome and Jason have a club they call the Moonweavers, dedicated to exploring the unknown. Jason has supernatural powers and senses something strange going on; the boys follow the brain waves to a spooky old house on Blake Street and find Mr. Diggers (from the hardware store) in the basement, summoning up a demon. The demon is not happy that Mr. Diggers commands it to keep watch over his baby daughter for the rest of her life and, when the boys distract Mr. Diggers, the magic barrier is broken momentarily and the demon springs to attack the man who summoned it. Mr. Diggers snaps back to attention and re-establishes the barrier just in time to sever the demon's hands, the only part of its body that had passed through the barrier. The demon is furious and somehow rushes upstairs, where it chews off the hands of Mr. Diggers's beloved daughter.

Peter and I don't always do these posts in order, and I can see from his comments below that he gauged my reaction to "Deliver the Child" accurately. It starts out as another boring bit of nostalgia, gets interesting when the boys encounter Mr. Diggers in the basement (I think he's nude, but fortunately Sanchez is good at shadow placement), and becomes horrible at the needlessly violent end. Stories like this one are part of the reason I never read Warren comics as a kid. This ending is shock for shock's sake. How does the demon bypass the barrier at the end when he's mad? It reminds me of the dogs next door who run right through the electric fence when they see a deer.

In 1799, a crusty old loner named "Wolfer O'Connel" lives alone out West, chopping wood and avoiding bathing. One day, some Indians approach him without warning and he doesn't take kindly to it, so he plays a trick on them before slaughtering them with his axe. The Indians were afraid of an evil spirit that Wolfer soon discovers is a great big mix of wolf and bear; Wolfer fights it off before luring a pack of wolves to kill it (and themselves) in a fall off a cliff.

Luis Bermejo's art in "Highsong" is reminiscent of Berni Wrightson's, especially in the long shots; his closeups of Wolfer's face aren't quite as good. The story suffers from more over-writing by Lewis, as well as more graphic violence, when Wolfer slaughters the Indians. Still, it is set in the wilderness, so it doesn't seem quite as out of place as that of the prior story.

Buck Blaster, Prunella McShatters, and Oogie (the god) are visited by an IRS ship looking to collect back taxes. Prunella uses her godlike powers to blow up the ship and she and Buck return to life on their lonely planet.

"Oogie and the Scroungers" (the scroungers are the IRS agents) is another overly long, unfunny adventure featuring people none of the readers could care less about. Maroto does know his way around the female form, so Prunella is a visual delight, but DuBay once again fills pages with meaningless drivel. His attempt at humor completely falls flat.

On his way to school one day, young Peter Hypnos encounters a painter in the village square. Peter is hurled into a painting, where a strange creature hands him "The Silver Key." Peter unlocks the door to his future and meets more bizarre creatures; eventually, he finds his way home, but his mother doesn't believe his tall tales.

As Peter points out, Jose Bea's artwork here is a direct swipe of the work of Terry Gilliam on the Monty Python TV show, which had taken America by storm when it began airing on PBS in late 1974. For me, the Gilliam skits have dated badly, and so have these Bea stories starring Peter Hypnos.

Two dangerous men meet across a table in a cabaret and stare each other down. One of them, a professional assassin named Koph-Fan, explains that he was hired to kill a crown prince named Darklon. Koph-Fan and three other dangerous men tracked Darklon to a bedchamber, where they mistakenly killed his girlfriend. Darklon took revenge by murdering the other three. Suddenly, Koph-Fan attempts to kill the man across the table, who is Darklon, but fails. In return, Darklon kills Koph-Fan after torturing him to learn the name of the man who hired him: Kavar Darkhold, Darklon's beloved father.

Never having read the series that begins with "Beware Darklon the Mystic," I'm intrigued, mainly because it's mid-'70s work by Jim Starlin. As a kid, of course, I loved Captain Marvel and Warlock and, while the art here is not up to the level of his Marvel work, the story is enjoyable and has some of the usual Starlin touches. I look forward to seeing where this goes. It's interesting to see an ending that seems like a Star Wars rip-off, yet it came before Star Wars.-Jack

Peter-Perhaps because it mines the fields laid down by Mr. Bradbury, I liked "Deliver the Child" a lot. I'm sure Jack will not like its uber-vicious climax, but I prefer my horror stories dark and grim. I'd also prefer them to be void of typographical errors (and this story is an example of what happens when you don't proof a zine before it heads to the printer), but, hey, I'll take a good story over good punctuation anytime. Yes, the back of my brain wonders if I enjoyed this story so much because the rest of the crop is moldy and derivative. I will say that the setup is very confusing.

I also really enjoyed the sole adventure of Wolfer O'Connell, a series that surely would have been more tolerable than Hunter or Freaks in the long run. Bermejo's art is some of his best; I liked that Budd didn't take time out to explain what the wolf-bear-thing was. It just was.

No amount of force-feeding will ever get me to see the bright side of crap like "Oogie" and "Peter Hypnos." Both have their fans, I'm sure, but neither swings my pendulum. Dube's cutie-pie nicknames and dopey dialogue ("Prunie's terrific at washing dishes... and I can always pump munchkin gas...!") leave me nauseous and I'll be a happy man when I don't have to look at Jose Bea's Monty Python homages again. Does Jose ever get back to being that artist that could creep you out with just a panel of two men talking in a diner? 

The complicated saga of Darklon has been dissected many times before (this is a great place to find out more), so I won't waste space other than to say that Starlin was a master, but this wasn't his masterpiece. In my long-ago assessment of the Eerie serials, I said: Of all the Eerie series, this one–-Jim Starlin’s homage to Steve Ditko’s Dr. Strange (at least, I think it’s an homage)-–is the most out of place. “Darklon” cries out for Marvel Premiere of the mid-1970s. Having re-read the opener just now, I haven't changed my mind.

Next Week...
Another old fave returns!

Thursday, January 27, 2022

The Hitchcock Project-William D. Gordon Part Three: You'll Be the Death of Me [9.4] and Wrapup

by Jack Seabrook

"You'll Be the Death of Me" was adapted by William D. Gordon from "The Goldfish Button," a short story by Anthony Gilbert that was first published in the February 1958 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. While the story is a lovely, haunting tale that evokes the shadows that gather in the evening in the English countryside, the television version is a surprisingly effective piece of socio-political criticism that takes the story's basic elements in a new direction.

The story begins when Mary Arthur finds a button in the pocket of her husband Dendy's coat; the button is big and bright blue with a goldfish design carved on it. Mary and Dendy live together in a remote cottage in the country. The night before, Dendy had come home late after working overtime at the factory. Mary felt guilty that they argued and that he left for work in the morning before she awoke, but discovering the button turns her guilt to anger at the thought that he had been with another woman the evening before and that the button was torn from her clothing. Her terrier, Rags, causes her to spill a can of milk and so she heads out with dog and milk can to the dairy, where she learns of a murder the prior night; Bette Rose, who frequented The Blackbird, a local inn where men went to drink and play darts, was killed. She wore a bright blue coat that had big blue buttons with fish on them.

"The Goldfish Button"
was first published here
Mary thinks that she must rush home and discard the button in order to protect her husband from suspicion. Refusing an escort across the lonely moor at night, she snaps Rags's chain on his collar and heads home. When she takes an ill-advised shortcut, the dog gets caught in a thorny patch and she has to crawl under a bush to set him free. Mary arrives home to find Dendy waiting for her; she mentions the murder and asks about the button, which he claims he found on the ground and brought her as a gift. He explains that Bette Rose was strangled with her own scarf, and he found the button near the corpse.

Dendy suggests giving the button to the police but Mary tells him to throw it away, so he is not suspected of murder. Still, he insists on going to the police and she insists on going with him. They leave Rags at home and take the same shortcut that Mary had taken earlier. Suddenly, Mary asks Dendy why he failed to tell the police sergeant about the button when he was questioned that morning. Dendy distracts Mary and, when she turns, he grabs her scarf and strangles her, leaving her body on the ground in the dark for the police to find the next morning, another victim of the murderer. On his way home, he throws the button in a nest of briars. At home, Dendy recalls losing his temper and strangling Bette Rose the night before; when he came home tonight and saw the button, he knew he would have to kill Mary as well. Rags runs out the door and, later, Dendy puts the dog's chain in his pocket and sets off for the dairy to get more milk.

Robert Loggia as Driver Arthur
An hour later, a doctor is driving by when he hears a dog barking. He investigates and finds Mary's dead body. He and his companion drive to the dairy to find a telephone and call the police, bringing the dog with them. At the dairy, Mrs. Jones recognizes Rags, assumes the corpse is that of Mary, and calls the police, who arrive right before Dendy walks in. He asks if his wife is there, claiming that she was not home when he returned from the factory. Dendy takes Rags's chain from his pocket to hook onto the dog's collar and Ruby, Mrs. Jones's daughter, realizes that Mary had the chain when she left earlier. The fact that Dendy has it now proves that he is lying about not having encountered his wife. Dendy is hanged for murder, and it is noted that his jesting remark to the dog--"'You'll Be the Death of Me'"--was prescient.

"The Goldfish Button" is a haunting story that evokes the wild English countryside in its depiction of rough folk and casual murder. It seems particularly well-suited for adaptation onto film, especially in the scenes where Mary walks through the countryside alone at night.

Pilar Seurat as Mickey Arthur
The story's author, Anthony Gilbert, was a pseudonym of Lucy Beatrice Malleson (1899-1973), an English woman who wrote over 60 crime novels, many of which feature a lawyer named Anthony Cook. She also wrote radio plays and short stories and was active from 1935 until her death. Several films and TV shows were adapted from her stories and books; in addition to "You'll be the Death of Me," the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "A True Account," was adapted from one of her short stories.

"The Goldfish Button" was collected in the 1959 book, The Lethal Sex, under the title, "You'll Be the Death of Me," and it was under this new title that it aired on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour on CBS on Friday, October 18, 1963, with a teleplay by William D. Gordon.

Sondra Kerr as Ruby McCleod
The TV show moves the story from the English countryside to the rural south in the United States and the events unfold in linear fashion so, after an establishing shot, we see a bus pull up in front of The Blackbird Tavern and a handful of men disembark and enter the premises. Among them is Bob Arthur, known as "Driver" because he drives the bus (and for other reasons that will be revealed soon). The men chat with Bette Rose at the bar and a new character is added in the person of a silent woman who lurks outside the tavern, peering in through the window. This character later turns out to be Ruby, who is mute and who is described as simple-minded.

Carmen Phillips as Bette Rose
Dialogue between Driver and a character named Tompy Dill reveals that Driver has brought home a wife from "'the Orient,'" presumably a war bride, whom no one has seen since she arrived at the station because Driver keeps her at his remote house. Bette Rose remarks that Driver's nickname comes from his reputation of being "'always in the driver's seat, whether it's cars or women.'" She taunts Driver and follows this by telling Ruby, who is outside the window looking in, to go away. Bette Rose is uncomfortable with Ruby's attention and thinks she looks like "'she's waiting for something,'" a remark that foreshadows later events. Bette Rose has been replaced by Driver's new bride and resents her change in status. Driver relents and dances with her briefly before heading home.

On his way home, Driver stops and lies down by a lake, where he is discovered by Bette Rose. The spot has meaning to her as a place where they used to spend time together, but Driver tells her that "'I'm a married man, now, Bette Rose. Can't you get that through your head?'" When Bette Rose threatens to tell Driver's wife about their past romance, he loses his temper and throttles her with her own scarf, though he says he did not mean to kill her.

G.B. Atwater as Gar Newton
The scene then switches to the inside of Driver's home, where his wife, a young Asian woman, is alone with the dog and afraid because thunder and lightning are raging outside and her husband is late coming home from work. William D. Gordon's choice to make Driver's wife an Asian war bride is wholly unexpected and suggests that something more is going on in this adaptation than a simple translation of the story from page to screen. The show aired in 1963, a year before the U.S. sent combat troops to Vietnam, so one must assume that the wife, whose name is Mickey, is supposed to be Korean, though the Korean War had been over for a decade or so when this episode aired. Her fear at being left alone in a storm (the thunder could be reminiscent of the sounds of war from her home country and Dendy refers to the noise of the storm as "'the Lord's artillery'") takes on additional meaning due to the fact that she is a foreign woman who has been brought to an unfamiliar country and spirited off to a remote cabin, where she never sees anyone but her husband. Even her name--Mickey--is an American nickname clearly chosen to replace her real name.

Hal Smith as Tompy Dill
In a tender moment, Driver tells Mickey, "'I'd do anything in the world to keep you from getting hurt;'" one could read the relationship between Driver and Mickey as a metaphor for the United States' involvement in the Korean War, where white soldiers like Driver flew halfway across the globe in an effort to protect people like Mickey. At bedtime, Mickey hangs up Driver's coat and finds the button, which is the event that begins the short story. She goes to bed without expressing concern and, the next day, she speaks to her dog and reassures herself that her husband loves her, but just to make sure she puts on a pretty dress and brushes her long hair.

Mickey is frightened once again when a man lets himself in without knocking; it is Garfield Newton, the local policeman. Another thunderstorm rages outside and Newton explains that Bette Rose was strangled the night before by the lake that is not much more than a thousand yards from Driver's cottage. Newton interrogates Mickey and establishes that she did not see anyone but Driver in the area the previous night. After the policeman leaves, Mickey spills the milk and leaves to go to the dairy; unlike the story, where her walk is lonely and frightening, in the TV show she meets Ruby along the way and shows kindness to another lonely soul by letting the woman hold the dog's leash and walk with her.

Charles Seel
as Dr. Chalmont
Mickey already knows about the murder of Bette Rose from the policeman's visit, so the only new information she learns at the dairy is that men were attracted to Bette Rose, that her killer was strong and mean, and that "'he tore the button right off her coat.'" She says nothing but it is clear that she immediately suspects her husband of murder. Surprised to find Driver waiting for her when she arrives home, Mickey is even more surprised when he confronts her with the button. They discuss Newton's visit and Mickey says he did not ask about the button, though Driver thinks he could have seen it. Driver gives the same flimsy explanation for finding the button that he does in the short story and the pair leave the cabin together, ostensibly to take the button to the police.

Instead of asking Driver why he did not tell the police about the button, Mickey asks how he could have seen it on the ground the night before when there was no moonlight. Driver decides to toss the button on the ground near where he found it the night before, certain that Newton would suspect him of murder if he were to turn in the button. Her husband's actions convince Mickey that he killed Bette Rose and Driver, growing increasingly angry, picks up his wife and places her on the ground.

This particular shot seems to underline the subtext of the show.
The scene suddenly becomes uncomfortable to watch as the former American soldier, who seemed like a savior to the Asian woman, turns violent, revealing his true nature. Driver confesses, explaining that he did not mean to kill Bette Rose and insisting that the murder was done to protect Mickey. The psychotic ex-soldier suddenly seems to represent the American war effort in Korea, intending to protect the people of that country but instead inflicting mass casualties upon them. "'You gotta stand by me,'" he says, "'I'm all you got. I'm all you got in the world.'" Mickey tells Driver that she cannot stay with him because he killed Bette Rose. Crying that "'They'll hang me,'" Driver advances on his wife, a big, strong man towering over a petite woman. The camera looks up at Driver from Mickey's perspective and he looks menacing; the reverse shot of her cowering against the side of a mound of dirt, surrounded by leaves, is terrible to see. "'I did it for you,'" Driver pleads, "'Don't you understand that? I did it for you!'" He sounds like an American apologist explaining the rationale for the invasion of the Korean peninsula.

Driver strangles Mickey and leaves her body in the woods. There is no doctor to happen by and find her body, as in the short story; instead, Driver returns to his empty house, seemingly distraught. Gar Newton arrives to question Driver, who claims he's worried about Mickey, since she was not home when he returned from work. Together, they go to the dairy and, soon enough, Mickey's corpse is found. Back at the dairy, everyone sympathizes with Driver and Newton confesses that he was wrong for suspecting driver of the murder of Bette Rose. Driver is about to get away with two murders when he takes the dog's chain from his pocket. Rose notices and, instead of accusing him verbally, she does what she had done earlier in the episode: she writes her words on a chalkboard, sealing the killer's fate. Having the mute girl express herself in this way is an effective visual expression that is more dramatic than simple speech.

Norman Leavitt
as Kyle Sawyer
"You'll Be the Death of Me" succeeds on the surface as a story of love and murder, yet it is also subtle and subversive in the way it critiques America's participation in the Korean War and the relations between white, male soldiers and their war brides. As with many other episodes of the Hitchcock TV show, men treat women with casual brutality; in fact, the only safe space for the female of the species is the dairy, which appears to be run by women.

The show is directed by Robert Douglas (1909-1999), who powerfully translates Gordon's words into pictures. Born Robert Douglas Finlayson, this Englishman was both an actor and a director on stage, film, and TV from 1927 to 1982. He flew in WWII as a Royal Navy pilot and had three distinct roles during the course of the Hitchcock TV series: he acted in two half-hour episodes (including the Hitchcock-directed "Arthur"), he directed four hour episodes (including "Behind the Locked Door"), and he produced eight episodes of the hour-long series, including the four he directed.

Kathleen Freeman as Mrs. McCleod

This episode benefits greatly from an original score by the great Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975), who scored seven films for Hitchcock from 1955 to 1964 and who wrote original scores for 17 episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour's last two seasons. (More information about Herrmann may be found here).

Robert Loggia (1930-2015) stars as Driver Arthur. Trained at the Actors Studio, he appeared on screen from 1951 to 2019, including starring in a spy series, T.H.E. Cat, during the 1966-1967 TV season. Loggia was featured in four episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Money."

Perfectly cast as Mickey Arthur is Pilar Seurat (1938-2001), who was born Rita Hernandez in the Philippines. She began her career as a dancer and appeared mostly on TV from 1959 to 1972, including an episode of Star Trek. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

The murder of Mickey.

In supporting roles:
  • Sondra Kerr (1936- ) makes the most of a small, non-speaking role as Ruby McCleod; she has been on screen since 1962. Born Sondra Orans, she was known as Sondra Kerr from 1961 to 1966. She was married to actor Robert Blake from 1961 to 1983 and now goes by Sondra Kerr Blake.
  • G.B. Atwater (1918-1978) is suitably serious as Gar Newton, the policeman; known better as Barry Atwater, he was on screen from 1954 to 1978 and also appeared on "Thanatos Palace Hotel" on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Atwater played roles on The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Star Trek, and Night Gallery, and he played the vampire in the TV movie, The Night Stalker (1972).
  • Carmen Phillips (1937-2002) plays the thankless role of Bette Rose; on screen from 1958 to 1969, she had a bit part in Marnie (1964) and appears in five episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Motive," which was her first credit.
  • Hal Smith (1916-1994) as Tompy Dill, who sits at the bar at The Blackbird Tavern; he was in the Air Force in WWII and played many roles on screen from 1946 to 1994. Best known as Otis the Drunk on The Andy Griffith Show, he also did quite a bit of voice work in animated films and TV shows, including the role of Owl in the Winnie the Pooh shorts.
  • Charles Seel (1897-1980) plays Dr. Chalmont in the final scene at the dairy; he had a long career in vaudeville, on Broadway, and on the radio, and he was on screen from 1938 to 1976. In addition to roles on The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, and Night Gallery, he made four appearances on the Hitchcock show, including "Return of Verge Likens."
  • Norman Leavitt (1913-2005) as Kyle Sawyer, who lights a cigarette for Bette Rose in The Blackbird; he was on screen from 1946 to 1978 and appeared in seven episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "One More Mile to Go."
  • Kathleen Freeman (1919-2001) as Mrs. McCleod, Ruby's mother, who runs the dairy; she started out as a child in vaudeville, had a long screen career that lasted from 1948 to 2003, and did extensive work as a voice actress. She appeared on Batman and The Night Stalker, and she was on one other episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
Watch "You'll be the Death of Me" online here. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of "The Goldfish Button'!

Gilbert, Anthony. "The Goldfish Button." Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine Feb. 1958, 27-39.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred HITCHCOCK Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001. 
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. "Galactic Central." Galactic Central, 
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,
"You'll Be the Death of Me." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 9, episode 4, CBS, 18 Oct. 1963. 

*  *  *  *  *

William D. Gordon on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: An Overview and Episode Guide

The six episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour with teleplays either written or co-written by William D. Gordon aired between December 1962 and January 1964. Two were co-written with Alfred Hayes, one with Alec Coppel, and one with Charles Beaumont; it is speculative to try to ascertain who did what on each of those episodes. Two of the six shows were credited to Gordon alone.

"Bonfire," written with Hayes, takes a short story without a crime and transforms it into a TV show with three murders; the episode features a superb performance by Peter Falk. In "The Lonely Hours," Gordon adapts an Edgar-winning novel about an exhausted young mother and the woman who tries to steal her baby. This disturbing look at women and mothers is unusual in that it has an all-female cast. "The Long Silence," an outstanding episode written with Beaumont, improves on its source, a serialized novel, and examines a woman so traumatized that she is left bedridden and unable to speak.

"The Dark Pool," written with Coppel, deals with a mother who accidentally lets her own baby drown and who is blackmailed by a woman pretending to be the child's birth mother. "You'll Be the Death of Me" makes significant changes to its source, turning a mystery story into an allegory of the U.S. involvement in the Korean War and showing a man's casual brutality toward women. Finally, "Beyond the Sea of Death," written with Hayes, portrays a heartbroken woman who kills her older female companion after being shown that the man she loved and thought dead is alive and faithless.

These six episodes demonstrate sensitivity with stories involving female characters and domestic situations; "The Lonely Hours" and "You'll Be the Death of Me" are especially concerned with the plight of married women.


Episode title-"Bonfire" [8.13]

Broadcast date-13 December 1962
Teleplay by-Alfred Hayes and William D. Gordon
Based on "The Wheelbarrow" by V.S. Pritchett
First print appearance-The New Yorker, 16 July 1960
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"The Lonely Hours" [8.23]
Broadcast date-8 March 1963
Teleplay by-William D. Gordon
Based on The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin
First print appearance-1958 novel
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-yes

Episode title-"The Long Silence" [8.25]
Broadcast date-22 March 1963
Teleplay by-William D. Gordon and Charles Beaumont
Based on Composition for Four Hands by Hilda Lawrence
First print appearance-Good Housekeeping, April and May 1947
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"The Dark Pool" [8.29]
Broadcast date-3 May 1963
Teleplay by-William D. Gordon and Alec Coppel
Based on unpublished story by Alec Coppel
First print appearance-none
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"You'll Be the Death of Me" [9.4]
Broadcast date-18 October 1963
Teleplay by-William D. Gordon
Based on "The Goldfish Button" by Anthony Gilbert
First print appearance-Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 1958
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"Beyond the Sea of Death" [9.14]
Broadcast date-24 January 1964
Teleplay by-Alfred Hayes and William D. Gordon
Based on "Beyond the Sea of Death" by Miriam Allen deFord
First print appearance-Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May 1949
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

In two weeks: Our coverage of Lewis Davidson begins with "See the Monkey Dance," starring Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Roddy McDowall!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma and Jack Seabrook discuss the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents here!

Monday, January 24, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 45: October-November 1983


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


Batman #364

"The Man of a Thousand Menaces"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

Jason Todd has run away and joined the circus, but all is not well In Zuma, Indiana, where the big top is set up this week. While Jason flies through the air with the greatest of ease, a crook who calls himself the Chimera picks a patron's pocket and burgles his house. Jason has uncovered a pattern and sees that similar crimes have occurred in each town the circus has visited; he is determined to unmask "The Man of a Thousand Menaces" when Alfred the Butler shows up to try to talk the young man into returning to Gotham City.

Jason wants to solve the crimes, however, in order to demonstrate to Batman that he is worthy of joining him in his career fighting injustice. Little does he know that the Caped Crusader has followed Alfred and, once he realizes that Jason has uncovered a series of crimes, he decides to keep an eye on the young man and help crack the case. Batman catches the Chimera and fights him in the big top; the Dark Knight manages to get the best of a lion but is knocked out by the Chimera's gun butt and left to be food for a pride of lions while Jason discovers that the Chimera is really Waldo the Clown.

In subplot land:
  1. Vicki Vale realizes her relationship with Bruce Wayne is going nowhere, so she accepts a field assignment to Guatemala;
  2. Harvey Bullock plays a prank on Commissioner Gordon, who has what appears to be a heart attack at his desk;
  3. A mysterious visitor appears at the door of Wayne Manor.
Jack: A strong issue of Batman starts with a cover that recalls the classic Adams/Giordano cover of Green Lantern #86. The mystery of the Chimera's identity isn't hard to solve, but having the story play out mostly at the circus is a welcome change from the usual Gotham City location. I like that Jason Todd wants to prove his mettle by solving a crime and the subplots are not as annoying as they have been in the past. The art isn't top-tier, but it's certainly above-average. My only complaint is that the Chimera is able to knock Batman out cold with a gun butt--the Dark Knight is a better fighter than that.

Peter: Well, Waldo sure had all of us fooled, didn't he? I'm not sure why a clown would feel the need to disguise himself to commit crimes, particularly to become such an unfocused villain as Chimera. The Vicki Vale, Jason Todd, and Harvey Bullock subplots are all dreary, particularly the latter's participation in what we'll soon discover is Gordon's stroke. The only sub-plot worth noticing is "Who's at the door of Wayne Manor?" but I assume it's gotta be Dick, since he's been missing for a few issues. If not for the art, this one would be a skip.


Detective Comics #531

"The Face of the Chimera"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan and Alfredo Alcala

Simultaneously, Batman manages to stare down and escape the lions who have been let out of the cages and Jason gets the upper hand over the gun-toting Chimera. The Dark Knight goes back into the shadows and Jason tests his detective skills, attempting to discover the true identity of the clown calling himself Chimera. Is it really Waldo? Jason just can't believe his friend is a cold-blooded killer.

Meanwhile, Vicki Vale searches for intrigue in Guatemala and Gordon fights for his life, slipping into a coma after suffering a stroke (in this month's Batman). But enough about that nonsense. The real story here is Jason Todd honing his Batman-like (or Sherlock-like) skills of detection by eliminating any suspects in the Chimera sweepstakes. 

It's all a moot point when Jason rummages through Waldo's trailer and comes across Chimera, who explains that he intends to ransom the boy to Bruce Wayne. But Batman arrives, utilizes a clever trick ("Look out behind you, Chimera!") to disarm the bad guy, and the Caped Crusader and his future partner mop the floor with the dope.

Peter: Like its first chapter, "The Face of the Chimera" is strictly average scripting saved by some nice graphics. Seems like such a waste of time and space to create a new villain (admittedly one with a familiar trick, that of "master of disguise") to exist only to threaten a ransom. Obviously, the draw here is the easing into a new Robin and, in that area, Doug excels. Hard to believe this is the guy we moan and groan about in our Warren posts. Gone by 1983 seems to be the Moench-wand of pretension. The "Vicki Vale in Guatemala" sub-plot becomes a three-part "saga" beginning in the next Batman.

Jack: Since this is Detective Comics, after all, I'm happy to see Jason thinking like a detective and trying to eliminate suspects from among the circus folk. The last scene between Batman and Jason, where Batman agrees to take him on as partner, is well done, and Moench is juggling the subplots effectively. The art, of course, is very nice.

"Survival of the Fittest II: Shelter from the Storm!" 
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore & Mike DeCarlo

Green Arrow uses his magical toys to stop the missiles from launching and then heads into the sewers to track the militant survivalists who are hoping to start WWIII. He finds them in their bunker, but they get the upper hand and are about to ventilate our hero when...

Peter: I thought I'd reprint the caption box from the conclusion of last issue's first part of "Survival of the Fittest," all the better to hammer home my proclamation that this arc is the biggest rip-off in comics outside of variant covers. The exciting apocalypse promised turns into a ludicrous last-second save and the Green Arrow series returns to mediocrity. The art is the pits as well. I'd say 80% of the DC artists of this era pumped out the same lifeless graphics; it's tough to tell one strip from another.

Jack: Yes, it's pretty bad. The story almost got interesting for a panel or two before it slipped back into mediocrity. My favorite part was when Green Arrow shot an arrow at the control panel and blew it up. One of the workers said that they could've done the same thing with a gunshot and GA replies, "Oh well!" This backup series defines "page-filler."

Batman #365

Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

Vicki Vale is in Guatemala to photograph what she thinks is a shipment of Russian arms to support rebels. Sneaking aboard a truck, she finds herself in a Mayan pyramid, where she is quickly captured and put in a cell. She overpowers a guard and escapes; outside, she drops a note for a tourist to pick up before she is again caught by the rebels.

Back in Gotham City, Harvey Bullock is remorseful about his part in triggering Commissioner Gordon's stroke. Bruce Wayne has just returned to Stately Wayne Manor with Jason Todd when he gets the news about Gordon's stroke and rushes to the hospital, where Bullock reports that headquarters received word that Vicki Vale is in trouble in Central America.

Bruce tells Jason he can't come along and flies the Batplane to Guatemala, where he is quickly met by a group of angry natives. Batman makes short work of them and heads for the "Ruins" of Zyanya, where the rebels sic Jaguars on him. Catfight over, the Caped Crusader enters the pyramid, only to be greeted by the Joker, who holds Vicki Vale hostage and who is thinking about taking over the country.

Peter: This issue's first chapter of the new Joker thriller all hinges on comics' biggest problem: the coincidence. Unless we discover otherwise, Vicki Vale just happened to be investigating secret militia stuff that just happens to be run by the Joker. Why would Gotham's Prince of Crime be holed up in Guatemala? This better be good. Harvey's personality gets a make-over when he apologizes to Gordon the vegetable; softening the bad cop doesn't make him a more interesting support character. Alfredo Alcala's greatest backdrop has always been the jungle; his inking over Don Newton's art is aces.

Jack: You had me at the Joker! And a three-part story no less. Once again, Moench handles the various subplots cleanly; rather than wasting a couple of pages on Bullock and Gordon, he has Bullock deliver the news about Vicki to Bruce Wayne, thus giving reason for the scene at the hospital and setting Batman off on his next adventure. Art and story mesh well as we get clues to the bad guy's identity in a few panels where we see those familiar purple gloves on the hands of the man in charge. The final panel, a full-page display of Joker lunacy, is terrific.


Detective Comics #532

"Laugh, Killer, Laugh!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan and Bob Smith

The Joker unveils his latest mad scheme to a captive audience of Batman and Vicki Vale. The Clown Prince of Crime has decided that Guatemala would be the perfect place not only for a safe domain for criminals but also for a Joker amusement park.

To that end, the villain ties Vicki to a railroad track and places Batman, his hands tied with wire, atop the train itself. The Dark Knight has only moments to unshackle himself and save Vicki. With the help of the ace reporter (and a few machine guns), Bats brings the Joker's cave hideaway down on his head and saves the day for Guatemala. Or does he? To be continued...

In the "Meanwhile" department, Alfred visits his long-lost daughter, who's holed up in a Gotham apartment, and Harvey Bullock continues to pour his heart out to a comatose Gordon. Barbara Gordon enters the hospital room and comforts the gruff but (suddenly) loving cop.

On its surface, "Laugh, Killer, Laugh!" seems like just another dumb 1980s Batman script and, for the most part, it is. But I bought into the Joker's lunatic scheme of transforming Guatemala into JokerLand. It's completely mental and that's what you want from the most dangerous, insane, DC comic villain. Of course, I still don't buy that the whole thing is built on coincidence upon coincidence, but then that's the nature of the beast, isn't it? When Batman tells Vicki to run to safety after they've destroyed the Joker's hideout and she tells him he's nuts if he thinks she'll miss out on the story of the century, I laughed out loud. Good touch there, Doug.

I love the Colan art as usual, but the exaggerated vertical length of the Joker's lower jaw was ludicrosity's finest hour. Not since the dopey zombie/vampire/whatevers of Will Smith's I Am Legend has the facial anatomy been so off-putting. The guy literally never has his mouth closed. When he talks like a guy at the dentist, how come Bats doesn't say "Huh?" And, as usual, the sub-plots distract from the main story in a bad way. The Alfred's daughter thing is maudlin and, without a lot of back story, utterly wasted, while Harvey Bullock's transformation from dirty, conniving cop to hospital crybaby is just stupid.

Jack: "Laugh, Killer, Laugh!" is in the running for one of my top Bat-stories of 1983. The cover is fantastic and the Colan/Smith art inside is delicious. I agree that it looks weird to see Colan draw the Joker (Jokula?), but I love the plan to turn the entire country into a Joker theme park. I was intrigued by the subplot involving Alfred and in the back of my mind I feel like there was a story where Alfred was doing some heroics in France in WWII. Am I imagining that (Nope. And it ties in to your favorite female comic character of all time, Mlle. Marie!-Petulant Pete)? Did he get busy with a French lass? Moench is doing a good job with the subplots, though having Harvey Bullock hear about Joker's escape and keep it from Gordon stretches credulity. That would be big news! The train escape sequence is exciting, and I love seeing Vicki go wild with a machine gun. What a great story!

"Survival of the Fittest III: Soft Targets!"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore, Adrian Gonzales, & Sal Trapani

With his particular set of skills, The Green Arrow foils the (still somewhat sketchy) plans of a survivalist group and restores order to Star City.

Peter: A perfect example of how to take a thrilling opening chapter and transform a three-parter into mindless pap. Even after 25+ pages, I couldn't tell you what the grand scheme of the world's most inane terrorists actually was. The world domination was taken off the table early and then it was just a matter of running through a whole lot of corridors and ducking trick arrows. I hesitate to bring up the rushed climax because at least it brings this one to an end, but that only means we'll get the start of another crappy back-up arc next issue. No matter who makes up the art team (a different one each chapter, I think), the Green Arrow feature always looks like your basic DC comic book of the 1980s.

Jack: Just how many different kinds of arrows does GA lug around in his quiver? It seems like he'd be bent over from the weight of them all. You used the perfect panel to illustrate how bad this story was--these guys were going to start WWIII and end up being sprayed with water? C'mon, Len Wein, we expect better from our editor.

Next Week...
Jack and Peter search for a gem
in a mound of manure.