Monday, May 30, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 54: April-May 1985


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

Batman #382

"The Vengeance Spiral"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Rick Hoberg & Rudy Nebres

Catwoman is glad to be reunited with Diablo, her pet panther, and not glad to have Vicki Vale confronting her. When Batman shows up, Catwoman helpfully provides Darkwolf's origin story. He had been a Syrian terrorist attacking Egypt; Catwoman happened to be living there and she stopped him with help from Diablo, who mauled Darkwolf's face. Darkwolf then started wearing his wolf mask to hide his scars. He eventually came to Gotham City, where he broke into Catwoman's apartment and poisoned Diablo's dinner. The poison drove the big cat crazy, causing him to break his chain and go on a rampage. The poor cat drops dead from the poison.

Elsewhere in Gotham, Darkwolf bursts through airport security and hijacks a jet plane, demanding to be flown to Damascus. Batman, Catwoman, and Robin race to the airport, where Catwoman gains access to the plane, disguised as a flight attendant. Batman lies down on the wing and hangs on tight, with a parachute strapped to his back. The plane takes off, Catwoman attacks Darkwolf, and Batman enters through an emergency exit. Darkwolf tosses a live grenade, which Catwoman grabs before jumping out of the plane. Batman throws the parachute out after her and hopes for the best. He then beats the heck out of Darkwolf, ending "The Vengeance Spiral," and lands the plane safely. No one can find Catwoman, whose fate remains uncertain.

Peter: Had to laugh when Darkwolf, the world's most amateur terrorist, shrugs and says "Yep, that's fine" when the authorities insist on sending another "flight attendant" onboard. Didn't this guy see Magnum Force? Someone explain to me why the master plan of Batman and Catwoman required that the plane take off. Wouldn't it have been much easier for Selina to just have at it while they were still on the ground? Puzzling, to say the least. I won't even bring up the howler of Batman hanging onto the wing while the jet is in the air or Bats tossing the parachute at Selina as she takes a header out of the plane, in hopes the chute will "catch up to her." This script is all kinds of dumb. Doug Moench's bag of good stories and plots might have left the building with the good artists. The Hoberg/Nebres art is perfectly functional, horizon-level average, but since we've been spoiled by Colan and Newton for so long, it comes off as sub-par. Maybe the boys saw these scripts in advance and decided a change of venue was in order.

Jack: I found myself enjoying the story, which moves at a fast pace, and I thought the 23 pages went by surprisingly quickly. I was happy to see a cover by Gil Kane, even if it's overly heavy on inks and nowhere near his best work. The interior art seemed very much the work of Rudy Nebres, and it reminded me of his work at Marvel on Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. I agree that some of the plot points were far-fetched, but it was fun and this is a comic book, after all.


Detective Comics #549

"Dr. Harvey and Mr. Bullock"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Pat Broderick & Bob Smith

While searching for the Batman, Harvey Bullock makes an enemy of one of the Skull Smashers. The youth lures Harvey away from the detective's apartment and lays waste to Harvey's noir poster collection. Harvey doesn't take kindly to the home invasion and hunts the kid down, pummeling him in a dark alley. As the loutish cop is about to haul his prisoner away, the kid's comrades show up and broadcast their intention to chop Harvey into little pieces. Luckily, Batman arrives and gives his sometime adversary a helping hand, mopping the streets with the yutes.

Peter: "Dr. Harvey and Mr. Bullock" gives us a long overdue look into what makes this cop tick. I'm not going to pretend I like the character, but if I gotta read about him, some backstory would be nice. Moench's almost-Batman-free script does give us a few hints about Bullock's life after work, but the details are sketchy. He has a nice apartment, seems to be neat (even though, as Doug shows over and over in a not-so-subtle way, Harvey is a slob while on the job), and has an obsession with old movies. That's about it. 

He seemingly went from hating Batman's guts only a few issues ago to enjoying the beginning of a "beautiful friendship." The final panel, of Harvey offering a helping hand and advice about life to the guy who wrecked his apartment, is about as phony as they come. To paraphrase Kay in The Godfather II, I think I liked this guy more when he was a "common hood." The art is awful, no two ways about it. Worst we've seen in a Batman title in ages. Broderick's penciling is as ugly as Harvey Bullock, with no regard for human anatomy. You don't even have to crack the funny book open to see that, since Broderick's responsible for the bland cover as well. The pits.

Jack: C'mon, it's not that bad! My first question, at the beginning of the story, came when Gordon told Bullock that the Bat-Signal doesn't work in the daytime. That makes sense, but how do they contact Batman if the Joker decides on some noon mayhem? And if there is a reliable, alternate method, what's the point of the Bat-Signal?

After a few pages of the Harvey Bullock comedy show, we get the shocking revelation that it's all a put on and he's refined at home and a connoisseur of old movies. Moench comments on the cliche of the sloppy cop by making it a purposeful act. I liked that aspect of the story and felt bad when the street punk invaded Harvey's carefully curated life. Bullock is like Batman in a way with his dual identities. The least interesting part of the story came when Batman arrived and we had the obligatory, multi-page fight.

"Night Olympics, Part One"
Story by Alan Moore
Art by Klaus Janson

While Green Arrow and Black Canary are out nabbing two-bit robbers, there's a new villain with a bow and arrow hitting the streets of Star City. And he's gunning for Ollie.

Peter: There's really not much to this first chapter of Alan More's all-too-brief, two-part guest stint on Green Arrow, "Night Olympics." Though Joey Cavalieri was doing an okay job as scribe on the series, you could tell right from the get-go that Alan Moore was bound for bigger and better things. In another year, Moore would unleash Watchmen and, a year later, The Killing Joke, two projects that would change DC Comics forever. Moore's sardonic humor and witty dialogue are evident here, despite the brevity of the strip (the conversation between the two thugs Black Canary is about to round up is genuinely funny), and the Arrow's laid-back persona is the perfect vehicle for the writer's one-liners. That just leaves the art. Thanks mostly to his work with Frank Miller on Daredevil, Klaus Janson would become one of my favorite artists of the 1980s, but here, on "Night Olympics," his work is up and down. Depending on what page you're looking at, Black Canary is a babe or a platypus.

Not so much

Jack: You had me at Black Canary. I don't recall ever seeing Janson on his own before, and the art here is shaky; I loved him as an inker over Gene Colan. The story is off to a promising start, which is no surprise coming from Alan Moore. Too bad he won't stick around.


Batman #383

"Just as Night Follows Day..."
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Alfredo Alcala

It's not easy living the double life of a crimefighter by night and a millionaire playboy by day. Exhausted from a long night patrolling the streets of Gotham, Batman can barely stay awake to tune up the Batmobile and enter crime reports in the Bat Computer. Heading for bed in his Pierre Cardin bathrobe, Bruce Wayne has to deal with contractors repairing Wayne Manor and Jason Todd needing a ride to school.

But that's not all! Bruce yawns through an unscheduled meeting with the principal at Jason's school, nearly dozes off changing a tire on his way home and arrives back at Wayne Manor to find Lucius Fox waiting to discuss a business emergency. Then it's Julia, who has tickets to a concert the next night and wants Bruce to join her. Vickie Vale calls to insist on seeing Bruce to hash out their relationship and tells Bruce to pick her up at seven the next night or they're through! Of course, that's when the concert with Julia is scheduled, but Bruce is so tired his short-term memory is failing miserably.

Bruce picks up Jason from school and nearly falls asleep behind the wheel; he arrives home to find Amanda Groscz waiting for him, ready to discuss Jason's care. Night falls and the Bat Signal appears in the sky, triggering a second wind and a transformation into the Caped Crusader. Batman moves across the city, cleaning up crimes here, there, and everywhere, foiling a grocery store robbery, catching a serial rapist, and ruining the plans of several other thugs. Dawn breaks and, high up on the side of a skyscraper, Batman settles in for a long snooze, leaning against a stone gargoyle, completely unaware that he has a date later on with two different women.

Peter: A very enjoyable change of pace and, of course, the return of the lifeblood of the title, the Colan-Alcala team (if for only one issue). "Just as Night..." is like a 1930s Cary Grant romp, cleverly written and full of smiles (Bruce tracking paint through the Manor is a highlight). One of the best of the year! Did I mention how great the art is?

Jack: The letters column tells us this is Gene Colan's last hurrah, which is a shame, since "Just as Night Follows Day..." features some of the best work he's done on Batman in quite a while. As you say, the story is fun from start to finish, and it gives Colan a chance to do what he does best, drawing lots of different characters. If this is really it for Gentleman Gene, I'll miss him.


Detective Comics #550

"The Spider's Ninth Leg!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Pat Broderick & Bob Smith

Joey Redwine has always been a loser, a tough guy, a thug... but you have to understand, it's not his fault. His father beat him and his mother when he was young, so he's got an excuse to steal, commit assaults, and take drugs. And all that leads him to break into a church to steal gold candlesticks. It's not his fault the nun is there. Joey kills her and then hoofs it.

Which leads to a confrontation with Batman, a chase along Gotham rooftops. Despite the Dark Knight's best efforts, Joey jumps to his death. Waiting for him in Hell are Satan and Joey's Pop. They reminisce about old times.

Peter: It's not just the cliched "bad childhood equals bad adulthood" poppycock that makes "The Spider's Ninth Leg!" so indigestible; it's Doug Moench's perplexing slide back into the adjective and analogy-stuffed sentences that made his Warren material so disposable:

... a colossal, suffocating web--like so many ladder-rungs reaching off to infinity, each step blackly glittering and sticky.

... these charts, he firmly believed, had led to the discovery of many secret omens--the worst of which was constituted by the emergence, if on a Tuesday, of a new zit on his left cheek.

Again, Doug seems to have slipped into the cloak of "funny book writer as poet." Joey's not really a bad guy and the Caped Crusader knows that. Sure, he's murdered a nun and has a heroin addiction, but everyone has problems. Doug's climax, of Joey's welcome to Hell and a confrontation with the titular appendage, makes no sense. And so, it makes sense in the context of the rest of the story. What is the purpose of this chase? To remind us that "the sins of the fathers...?" 

But there's plenty of blame to go around here. The Pat Broderick/Bob Smith art is atrocious, perhaps even worse than last issue. In spots, I have no idea what is going on. Why is Batman flying solo on a nun-killer? Where is Gordon and the backup? Can we climb out of this hole any time soon?

Jack: Another sad story about an abused child growing up to be a criminal. I agree that the art is not very good, and it's hard to have sympathy for a man who beats a nun to death in a church with a candlestick. Still, the unexpected finale with Joey in Hell meeting his abusive father caught me off guard and made me think a bit more highly of the story than I had up to then.

"Night Olympics, Part Two"
Story by Alan Moore
Art by Klaus Janson

A psychotic archer named Pete Lomax has targeted Green Arrow and Black Canary for some unknown reason. After watching the Canary get pegged with one of Lomax's arrows, Ollie hits the roof with a raging fury.

Peter: It's a simple but well-told story, this "Night Olympics" arc, and we should bask in it before we return to the highs and lows of Joey Cavalieri next issue. Moore loves to turn superhero cliches and expectations on their head and point out to readers just how absurd it is that these guys in spandex and capes are leaping from rooftops and surviving hails of machine-gun bullets all while showing love for the medium. The villain here is Pete Lomax, not "Bowman" or "Black Arrow" or some other ludicrous moniker. What's his motivation? Evidently to prove to mankind that superheroes aren't all that super. Compared to the bilge we get as the "main feature," this seven-page quickie is funny book heaven.

Jack: A simple story of revenge in which Klaus Janson plays to his strengths up until the last page, where the art again gets a bit shaky. This two-parter was more satisfying than what we're used to seeing in the backup features.

Next month...
Can Carmine save what
looks to be an unmemorable month
at Warren Publishing?

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Journey Into Strange Tales Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 61


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 46
July 1953 Part I
by Peter Enfantino

Adventures into Terror #21

“Don’t Double-Cross a Witch” (a: Harry Anderson) ★★★

“Doctor Molnar’s Corpse” (a: Dick Ayers & Ernie Bache) ★1/2

“Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones” (a: Joe Maneely) ★★1/2

“Possessed!” (a: Gene Colan) ★★1/2

“Hair I Go Again!” (a: Gil Kane) ★1/2

Anton Luvac is run out of his village by angry neighbors (we’re not told just what he did but it must be bad as the villagers are carrying torches) and the only refuge left to him is at the cabin of an old witch. The crone is smitten with Anton’s looks and promises he’ll get his revenge on the village if he’ll marry her. Once he agrees, the witch gives Anton the power to turn humans into animals and he transforms the town’s men into pigs, demanding bags of gold to turn them back. He plays the same game several times and his wealth increases. Meanwhile, Anton falls in love with a simple but gorgeous blonde barmaid named Marta, who also seems to find Luvac ravishing even though he’s put her vocation at risk (“I will take your order, sir! Especially since my employer is now a pig!”).

"Don't Double-Cross a Witch"
Anton talks Marta into leaving the Balkans with him and, as they are heading out of town, putting torch to the old witch’s cabin. They burn the woman’s house to the ground and ride their carriage away from the inferno. Luvac turns to give his honey a squeeze, only to discover the old witch sitting in her spot. Marta played Luvac at his own game! "Don't Double-Cross a Witch" is a deliriously fun little ride, one that would look very comfortable in an EC comic book, especially with the very Ghastly-esque visuals courtesy of Harry Anderson. 

“Doctor Molnar’s Corpse” is yet another riff on the Frankenstein story, this time the scientist inadvertently uses a dead demon for his experiments. The art, by Ayers and Bache, is quite odd.  The first three pages are bland and lifeless but the final round of panels is quite good, very atmospheric. The contrast really is like night and day. In “Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones” (a really dumb title), Chinese emperor She Hwang-Ti demands a great wall be built to stop the onrush of Mongols. He tasks the duty to his right hand man, Ho-Wing, who uses sadistic measures to get the Great Wall built in record time. One of the men objects to Ho-Wing’s vicious tactics and uses him to fill a hole in the wall. Great twist and some very nice Maneely art help to anchor one of Stan Lee’s “History of Communism” lectures.

"Doctor Molnar's Corpse"
After her lover is brutally murdered before her very own eyes by the evil Don Andrea, the gorgeous but willowy Lise falls into a “Devil’s Trance.” While in the coma, any free-floating spirit may take possession of her body and, so, one does. The transformation is swift and apparent as the woman rises, thrashes about, and speaks in tongues. Don Andrea and Lise’s father approach an old witch to help exorcise the girl but, ironically, when the spirit is banished, Lise thrusts a dagger into Don Andrea’s heart. The spirit was holding her back! “Possessed” has a bit of a complicated plot (especially at the climax) but I shouldn’t complain about layered stories, I know. The Colan art is good in spots, not so good in others.

In the finale, a creepy (though nattily dressed) dweeb enters a wig shop and announces to the owner that he can supply as much human hair as she needs. After the man makes a few return visits, arms full of human hair, the woman decides to follow him to discover the source. Turns out the guy is a ghoul, stealing the tresses from graves he desecrates. “Hair I Go Again!” has some nice Kane art but the ending could be just about the dumbest “out of left field” twist ever attempted in an Atlas funny book.

Adventures into Weird Worlds #20

“Where Man-Eaters Walk” (a: Joe Maneely)  ★★

“Kermit the Hermit” (a: Bob Fujitani) ★

“Death of an Army” (a: Myron Fass) ★★

“Never Again” (a: Vic Dowling) ★★

“The Doubting Thomas” (a: Robert McCarty) ★★1/2

When we left big-brained little Jesse, he was stomping out of the family residence, after shrinking his folks into nothingness, on a quest for world domination. To that end, he isolates himself in a rural shack and works on perfecting his shrinking gas (and an antidote just in case). The years roll by and Jesse’s head gets bigger, the outside world continually meddling with his peace and quiet. After moving dozens of times, he finally settles in the African jungle. When a tribe of cannibals attacks, he sprays them with Shrink-O and they become doll-size. Jesse uses them to do his bidding and catch him food. The natives become restless and, one day, they knock over a bottle of Shrink-O and Jesse reduces to a size even smaller than the headhunters. Without hesitation, they squish him.

"Where Man-Eaters Walk"
A meandering sequel to “The Empty Room” from AIWW #19, “Where Man-Eaters Walk” suggests that the uncredited writer thought it might be a good idea to continue Jesse’s story but then grew bored of it half-way through. The creep factor reduces greatly once the kid grows up. The narrative is so inconsequential and very little happens; it’s odd that Stan had Joe Maneely take over chores from the first installment’s artist, John Forte, especially since the sequel was a foregone conclusion.

Fresh off a bank heist and hiding in the hills, Pete Allis gets wind of a crazy old coot named “Kermit the Hermit” who has a fortune stashed in his remote shack. Only problem is, the shack is guarded by a pack of vicious dogs. Pete concocts a plan involving a live goat and heads up to the shack. Unfortunately for Pete, it turns out that Kermit may just be more vicious than his curs. Awful Fujitani art (looks like a throw-back to the 1940s, with an awkward photo-shop vibe) and a dopey plot (this bank robber is risking being nabbed by the cops for the “fortune” of a crazy hill loon?) send this one to the bottom of the barrel.

"The Doubting Thomas"
“Death of an Army” is a three-page quickie about the battle between bacteria and corpuscles taking place in the body of an ailing man. The “script” is pretty weak (right from the get-go we know exactly what these “creatures” are but then the presiding doctor has to sum it all up in the final panel) but Myron Fass does some interesting things with his art (as does the colorist who limits the palette to just a few colors on the second page while the battle is in full swing) and, best of all, it’s only three pages. “Never Again” is one of those “the past is actually the future” upside down sci-fi tales, this one about a band of prehistoric hunters who kill a caveman for conducting experiments. It’s in the final panel we discover that we are actually 200 years in the future after nuclear weapons have destroyed most of mankind. Yep, one of those.

A series of bloody and vicious murders rocks a remote European village and the five local University professors congregate around a table to discuss the town’s options. One, Professor Zmuda, insists that the killings are the work of a werewolf but the other four scoff. Zmuda resigns from the faculty in a huff but swears he’ll prove he’s not a looney tune. A few weeks later, Zmuda kidnaps one of his colleagues, Professor Mollar, and takes him out into the woods. Explaining that this is the spot were the werewolf feeds, he ties Mollar to a tree to be fed on. Mollar has other ideas though so he transforms into the pesky lycanthrope and kills Zmuda. Very much like an EC horror story, though much tamer in its depiction of violence, “The Doubting Thomas” succeeds mostly due to its art, which also begs comparison to EC and Ghastly. Bob McCarty would only contribute nine times to the Atlas pre-codes (his first job was “The Man From Another World” in Journey Into Unknown Worlds #19), which is a shame as he’s a very competent storyteller.

Journey into Mystery #10

“The Wrong World” (a: Jerry Robinson) ★1/2

“Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill” (a: Larry Woromay) ★★

“Now You See It…” (a: Sam Kweskin)  ★

“The Assassin of Paris” (a: Charles A. Winter) ★★

“Vacation for Vincent” (a: Bill Benulis & Jack Abel) ★★1/2

In a sequel to last issue’s “The Only Man in the World,” Professor Wilbur Thompson attempts to overthrow the rule of Zadixx, the brilliant scientist/monster from Dimension X by rebuilding his Cyclotron machine. Somehow getting away from the prying eyes of Zadixx, Wilbur manages to complete the project, send the creature back to Dimension X, and restore mankind, but the victory comes with a cruel price. Definitely a step below last issue’s imaginative first part, “The Wrong World” is overly complicated and simple at the same time. Jerry Robinson’s visuals are still a plus but this is a story that should have been left alone after a gripping climax to part one.

"The Wrong World"
“Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill” is a reimagining of the classic nursery rhyme, this time casting J&J as feuding siblings who stand to inherit a fortune but (for some weird reason) decide to go mountain climbing in the Himalayas. Both are planning the other’s downfall. Throw logic right out the window with this one and just enjoy Larry Woromay’s EC-esque artwork. “Now You See It…” hammers home the old idiom that you should never confess your adultery to your magician husband just before he’s about to saw you in half. This one is just too obvious and silly.

“The Assassin of Paris” is terrorizing young women and stealing their valuables but the vile fiend picks the wrong mark at last: a mind reader! Though the twist is a good one (and one I never saw coming), the fact that this woman would put herself out there as a target is pretty far-fetched. 

In the finale, hitman Vincent Ferrick has one more job to pull off for his mob boss before a well-earned vacation down in Miami. Vince puts wise guy Ed Hammond in the drink with cement shoes and hops a plane. The sun is roasting, the sand is a delight, the booze is flowing, and the chicks are everywhere. One babe, in particular, catches his fancy. A Marilyn-lookalike named Grace, who melts the heretofore steel heart of Vince in no time. 

"Vacation for Vincent"
The dope proposes and promises Grace she’ll have anything in the world she desires. To celebrate, Grace gives Vince a great big kiss and… that’s when the lights go out. Vince awakens to find himself buried to the neck in sand, with the high tide on its way, and Grace standing above. She finally gets around to mentioning that Ed Hammond was her hubby and that they were very much in love. As the water rises over Vince’s head, the last thing he sees is the billboard announcing “Come to Florida… Everybody’s Playground!” 

Though the art is not great (which is odd because I’ve become a fan of Benulis but I assume it’s the heavy inking of Abel that gives it its gritty, amateurish look), I loved that “Vacation for Vincent” is just about the most noir-ish short story Atlas has ever run. You could imagine a prose version of this in Manhunt magazine, perhaps written by John D. MacDonald. No, it’s not perfect (for a professional assassin, our guy takes a lot of chances) but it hits the sweet spot.

Journey into Unknown Worlds #20

"Bwana Brown!” (a: Gene Colan) ★★

“The Son of Rasputin” (a: Russ Heath) ★★★1/2

“The Secret of Asteroid #85!” (a: Gil Evans) ★★

“A Monument to Mortimer!” (a: Hy Fleischman) ★

“The Race That Vanished” (a: Don Perlin) ★1/2

“Bwana Brown!” tells the members of the Manhattan Explorers Club how it is he came into a fortune’s worth of gold and jewels: he convinced the Kato-Kato tribe of Africa he was immortal and they handed over the treasure. Though the rest of the members beg him to reveal the whereabouts of the tribe, Bwana refuses but leaves them a treasure chest filled with jewels for them to grovel over.

One member, Alex Steele, isn’t satisfied with a handful of jewels; he wants it all. He breaks into Bwana’s apartment and murders him, stealing away with the map to the Kato-Kato village. Steele parachutes in and explains to the tribe’s chief that he is immortal. The chief tells him he has to pass a test and Steele agrees. Later, the chief brings Steele’s head on a platter to Bwana Brown, who’s back with the Kato-Katos and explains that Steele couldn’t kill him because he really is immortal. “Bwana Brown” makes little sense; there’s no explanation whatsoever for Brown’s immortality or why he’d let the Explorers Society know about the tribe in the first place. Did the Katos behead Brown as well?

"Son of Rasputin"
Russian stage director Boris Lachova is madly in love with young and gorgeous actress Natasha but her heart belongs to handsome stud, Petrov. Boris calls Natasha to his castle on the pretense of rehearsing a new play but his plan is to brainwash her into murdering her beloved Petrov. Boris trains Natasha to shoot a gun once she hears the ringing of the bell; she practices so many times it becomes ingrained in her. 

The evil genius then summons Petrov to the castle; the man arrives, sensing something wrong and rings the doorbell. Natasha whirls and shoots, killing Petrov. Boris knows, to keep Natasha to himself, he has to keep her in a hypnotized state forever. They marry and Natasha becomes a dutiful servant but, one night, a roaring fire breaks out and the couple must flee to the top of the castle. Firemen arrive to rescue them but when Natasha hears the ringing of the “fire-bells,” she grabs a rifle and starts picking off her rescuers. The firemen flee and Boris and Natasha are consumed in the fire.

Well, a last-panel epilogue claims that the girl escaped the tower by leaping into a nearby tree but let’s dismiss that nonsense. She burned to death, the poor innocent waif. “The Son of Rasputin” is just about the deepest script we’ve gotten in the Atlas titles for many a moon. The hypnosis/brainwashing is handled very seriously, no sight gags or one-liners, and Natasha’s descent from promising new talent to zombie in six pages is startling. Almost as startling as Russ Heath’s brilliant graphics. That final panel, of Rasputin burning to a crisp, is a stunner. In “The Son of Rasputin,” there are a lot of innocents sacrificed for art.

A trio of cons escapes prison and hops in a rocket ship for space. Destination: Asteroid #85, where, so the story goes, men land but never leave. The rocket crashes but the cons survive, but for how long without food or water (thank goodness there’s air!). They spot an abandoned spaceship and climb aboard, hoping it still has the power to take off. Turns out it’s one of the inhabitants of Asteroid #85, having lunch! The punchline would have been so much sweeter if it wasn’t given away at the last second by one of the thugs as they board. Still, it’s fun, harmless, and only three pages.

No pearls from Perlin
In “A Monument to Mortimer!,” Earth has been off-limits for a century since other planets became tired of our warring ways. Earth has been opened to a delegate who comes down to survey the situation now that Earth is “war-free.” During his tour, at every stop he sees monuments to Mortimer Snapely. His tour guide tells him that Snapely was indirectly responsible for peace on Earth. It’s not really worth going into much more than that. It’s a stretch to call “A Monument…” a story since it caroms right and left, making very little sense. 

That complaint could also be leveled at the finale this issue, “The Race That Vanished!” An expedition for the “museum of mankind” visits a newly-discovered island, where they stumble onto a race of mutations. Barely escaping, they explore the rest of the island and their “atomic detector” points them to a big metal cylinder buried underground. Unearthing the object, they discover it was a time capsule buried in 1939 and not to be dug up until 2439. “To be opened in 2439, eh?,” shrugs one of the men, “well, we’re just a few years overdue!” Yep, this is the future and (ostensibly) those freaky critters were us. Well, at least I think that’s what’s going on since our uncredited writer didn’t bother filing in the gaps. How many times was this nugget dusted off and used as a foundation? Don Perlin’s art looks like a throwback to the 1940s (and, when it comes to Perlin, that’s a compliment).

Marvel Tales #116

“Won’t You Step Into My Parlor?” (a: Joe Sinnott)  ★★1/2

“Werewolf By Night” ★

“Not Wanted” (a: Sam Kweskin) ★

“The Final Payment!” (a: Al Eadah) ★

“When Billy Says Bang!” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★

The Count Scarpia, to his friend Count Roggiero’s amazement, has built an exact copy of his parlor room in “mammoth proportions!” The furniture, the rug, even the rat hole in the wall are all forty times their regular size. What an achievement! But why would this otherwise-non-eccentric man of royalty go to such an expense for a “parlor” trick? Well, for a very good reason. Scarpia is tired of the thieving and poaching gypsies that have overrun the countryside. To give the room its first testing, the Counts head out into the forest and, sure enough, find a poacher and take him back to the castle. Scarpia hands the gypsy a glass of liquid and orders him to down it. When the man awakens, he goes stark raving mad and collapses after seeing the huge furniture.

Having had their fun, Roggiero and Scarpia bring the man back to the normal room but, once he comes to, the gypsy goes insane again, grabbing a sword and running Roggiero through. The madman chokes Scarpia into unconsciousness, telling him that now it’s his turn for some good old gypsy payback. Scarpia awakens to find a giant rat pouncing on him. “Won’t You Step Into My Parlor?” is six pages of total lunacy, enlivened by Joe Sinnott’s crazed gypsy and a reckless disregard for reality. What 19th-Century royalty would go to such extremes to teach the peasants a lesson? Atlas nobles usually just feed them to the dogs or the crocodiles. 

Johan Bauer is in love with beautiful Bettina Lascher, but he’s pretty much a pauper and she wants the finer things in life. So, Johan does what any man in his position would do: he dresses like a werewolf (actually more like a gorilla) and commits robbery by night. One night, while rolling a dandy man, Johan is startled to find a real werewolf taking a bite out of Johan’s victim. He runs, screaming, and locks himself inside his apartment but, only a few minutes pass and there’s a knock on the door. It’s the werewolf, telling Johan that he likes his style and they should be a team; the lycanthrope is moving into Johan’s pad immediately. This doesn’t sit well with Johan’s plans at all; how is he supposed to impress Bettina when there’s a werewolf in the parlor? Luckily, he’s only a “Werewolf By Night” and reverts back to an older but dashing man during the day.

Johan tries to stall Bettina’s visit but the girl just can’t be stopped. When Johan tells his shaggy roommate, the wolf man promises he’ll be good and go out for a snack. Bettina shows up, is impressed by the flat but you know who comes knocking on the door, hoping to catch a peek. But that’s okay because… surprise surprise surprise… the werewolf is Bettina’s dad and she’s a werewolf too! “Werewolf By Night” is completely and utterly inane and I almost thought this was intentional but I can’t give the unnamed writer that much credit. Johan, seemingly a good, thoughtful young man decides, on a whim, he has to turn to mugging passersby for dough to take Bettina out. This is a werewolf with manners! Instead of holding Johan against his will, this lycanthrope pays for each victim lined up for him!  The werewolf, who parts his hair to the side, dresses smartly as a human, but then puts on the same ripped-up trousers when he’s getting ready to hunt. I want to see the panels of human-wolfman doing his laundry and ironing, and then laying out his pants for the evening. Not that Marvel’s Werewolf By Night title in the 1970s was that much better.

“Not Wanted!” is a lame two-pager about a talent agent who wants something new but doesn’t pay attention to the guy who comes in to give his resume. Discouraged, the guy leaves and we discover that he’s a dog (or a bear — I really can’t tell). Even sillier is “The Final Payment!,” wherein we meet skinflint landlord Jed Scrag,  who can’t wait to lower the boom on his tenants and toss them on the street. Driving into town, he has a blow-out and crashes. Jed stumbles from door to door but the occupants scream and slam the door. Heading back to the crash site, he discovers his head is still in the wreckage. The most hilarious aspect (amongst a whole lot of silliness) is that Jed obviously can’t speak but the uncredited writer and artist Al Eadah have seen fit to reward the poor guy with thought balloons! Good trick that.

Last up in this dismal collection of horror stories is “When Billy Says Bang!” about a boy named Billy who points his finger, says “Bang!” and watches people die. Sadistic Dr. Zinborg discovers Billy’s secret and sees the imp as his way up the doctoral ladder. Every time Billy offs another colleague, Zinborg gives him peppermint sticks but, in the twist ending, Billy has enough and “Bang!”s the doc for giving him a tummy ache. Not some of DiPreta’s best work; the art looks hurried and amateurish. The story is just dumb.

In Two Weeks...

Monday, May 23, 2022

The Warren Report Issue 85: June 1977



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

Creepy #89

"Blood Brothers" ★★
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Jose Ortiz

"The Windmill" ★★
Story by Lou Rossin
Art by Leo Duranona

"Angel of Jaipur" ★★1/2
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by John Severin

"The Hungry Dragon" ★★
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by Carmine Infantino & Alex Nino

"The Door Gunner" ★★★1/2
Story by Larry Hama & Cary Bates
Art by Leopold Sanchez

"Coggin's Army" ★★
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Martin Salvador

Readers had been clamoring for an "All-War" themed Creepy for a long, long time and they finally got what they wanted this issue. Or did they? War would seem to be a natural setting for a horror story, but it can also bring out the cliches and pretension as well. Behind that gorgeous Frank Frazetta reprinted cover (originally from Blazing Combat #1) lie six stories set in several different conflicts. Shall we?

PFC Ted Mears is temporarily blinded by the flash of shelling and slowly makes his way back to camp, only to find his entire company dead. Well, all except for Voper, a soldier who crawls out from under the debris, a soldier Mears doesn't remember. The two men make their way through the forest, encountering German patrols along the way. Each time, Voper tells Mears to wait and he'll take care of the Germans. And each time, Voper comes back with more rations. 

During one of Voper's "raids," Mears hears a scream and runs toward the sound, only to discover Voper kneeling over a partially-eaten Nazi. When Mears quizzes his comrade, Voper says the dead German was eaten by animals. Mears finds it strange that he never sees Voper eat! The soldier's paranoia grows and reaches a crescendo when he confronts Voper with his belief that the man is some kind of supernatural presence. Voper laughs the suggestion off and tells Mears he needs sleep, but Mears reacts with a rifle shot. Voper begins to bleed and Mears realizes he's made a mistake; Voper is human after all. 

Ted manages to get the wounded Voper to a medic station and passes out from fatigue. When he awakens, he asks his doc how Voper is doing and the surgeon confesses that Voper is dead. Unbelieving, Mears heads to the next tent, where he finds the skeletal remains of Voper. Ah hah! It was Mears who was the ghoul the whole time!

The "(choke!)" sound effect that climaxes "Blood Brothers" tells you all you need to know about what Bruce was up to here. It's a weak thread to hang a ten-page story on, and halfway through the narrative I kept checking to see how many pages I had left. From the start, we all knew that Voper was a ghoul (or a vampire or an evil spirit or the devil or...), so there just had to be some kind of twist to justify the extra pages. Unfortunately, the reveal doesn't work when you think about it, as it raises difficult questions Bruce doesn't (and can't) answer. Was Voper ever alive? Did Mears carry Voper's corpse with him all the way to the medic station, stopping now and then for a bite to eat? The surgeon tells Mears that he was munching on his sidekick for three days. Voper must have been tasty, since his corpse is nothing more than a skeleton with a head. In the end, nothing gels for me but I will say that Jose Ortiz's art is perfectly gruesome for the subject.

A Creepy Happy Ending

In early World War II Liechtenstein, a hunchbacked windmill keeper puts on fireworks displays to amuse his king but proves to be more than just a jester when the Nazis come to town. A silly but somewhat entertaining little non-horror story, "The Windmill" has a strange happy/downer of a climax. Our hunchback hero has been stashing gunpowder for his pyrotechnics shows and a German tank targets the building, setting off a huge explosion. Which, of course, kills our "deformed" protagonist and, perhaps, levels the town, but does destroy one Ratzi tank. Not sure if this can be considered a victory.

World War I, India. British Leftenant Baume returns from a patrol with his fighter plane shot to hell. When his comrades get him out of the cockpit, Baume seems to be in a state of shock. Later, around a fire and enjoying a strong cup of Joe, Baume relates the shocking story of his father, who served during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Baume Sr. and his mate, Cassie, were the only surviving members of a native assault on their fort. If the two men could not hold the fort, the "savages" would storm the fort and kill the women and children inside.

Just as the natives were gathering for a last assault and all hope seemed lost, an "angel" (in the form of Leftenant Baume's plane) appeared in the sky and mowed the enemy down. Baume's audience scoffs at the tale, until a soldier enters the room to inform Baume's CO that the wings of the Leftenant's bi-plane were riddled with Enfield Shot, a form of ammunition not used since the Indian Uprising!

There's no explanation given for how or why Baume entered a time warp and arrived at just the time his Pop needed him, but then the story is probably better off without it. Dube seems to be riffing off One Step Beyond, complete with the expository history note at the climax. "Angel of Jaipur" succeeds, for the most part, for the obvious reason. Of all the EC artists who carried over to Warren, I think John Severin is the one who retained most of his style and power. No one else could have illustrated this tale. Well, maybe Heath.

While serving in Korea, GI Chet comes across a temple while being chased by a handful of enemy soldiers. Chet takes refuge in the temple and discovers a group of children hiding inside. He manages to wipe out the soldiers dogging him and then turns his attention to the abandoned youngsters. Discovering that the tykes haven't eaten in several days, Chet heads out to forage for food but, by the time he gets back, the precocious little brats have found plenty in the form of the dead soldiers. 

Chet, overcome with revulsion, opens fire on his little friends, killing all but 12-year-old Kim. He hurries her back to the medic station and concocts a story about enemy gunfire wounding the little girl. Plagued by guilt, Chet takes Kim back with him to the States and (presumably) marries her when she reaches age. But lately, Kim has wanted her meat rare and Chet is waking up with nightmares of his siege on the children at the temple. Kim insists she was the only child wounded and that the others are all safe and in touch, but Chet wonders when his wife will slit his throat in his sleep.

Despite a couple of nagging plot holes, "The Hungry Dragon" is a powerful and disturbing war-horror tale. The Infantino/Nino team-up continues to astound, with each beautifully complementing each other's styles. I'd have liked to have a little more info on exactly when Chet brought Kim back to the US and what exactly the arrangements were when they got back. How long have they been married? Yeah, there's some subtle creepy stuff going on here... maybe. The final panels, where Kim comments that one of her friends from the temple is trying to contact Chet and we see his interior denial, is fascinatingly foggy. 

The lines between reality and fantasy begin blurring for a disturbed Vietnam vet. That's really all I'm gonna say about "The Door Gunner" other than it's got a clever twist in its tail, one I never saw coming (despite the fact that I read this already years ago!). This one really has to be read to be appreciated. Writer Larry Hama (in his first of eight contributions to the Warren zines) avoids all the typical vet cliches and just tells a disturbing and gripping story. Hama would later go on to fame and (hopefully) fortune as writer of Marvel's super-popular G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero comic book series.

Though the Civil War has been over for years, it still lives on in the brain of the General. When the General is placed in the Cosgrove Institution for Vets, he immediately takes charge and rallies the other inmates around him, prepping them for their inevitable breakout. Similar to the previous tale but not half as effective, "Coggin's Army" is a limp noodle with more dismal graphics from Martin Salvador. It's obvious Roger McKenzie spun his "EC Wheel of Fortune" and, once again, it landed on "Blind Alleys." Were there ever any sympathetic hospital directors, or did they all derive pleasure from torturing their patients? So how did Warren's first All-War issue fare in the end? At least one of the stories will end up in my Top Ten of 1977-78 list but, overall, its contents couldn't hold Frontline Combat's jockstrap.-Peter

Jack-When we do these posts, I read the stories and rate them before I look at your reviews and ratings. Often, we are remarkably close in our assessments. This time, however, we are far apart! I'm not sure why Warren decided to publish an all-war issue of Creepy in 1977, but, for the most part, it's not very good. The big exception (for me) is "Blood Brothers," which should make my top ten list. The story had me captivated, the ending surprised me, and the art is excellent. "The Windmill" is a lightweight story, and I've never been a fan of Duranona's art. Things improve with "Angel of Jaipur," which recalls "The Last Flight" from The Twilight Zone and features art by one of the top war comic artists, John Severin. The others are Joe Kubert and Russ Heath.

I enjoyed the mix of Infantino and Nino in "The Hungry Dragon," but I thought the story went nowhere and ended abruptly. Worst of all was "The Door Gunner," which I thought had art that seemed unfinished and a terrible story with one too many twists. I rated this one star across the board and it's one of my worst of the year. Slightly better (and that's saying something) is "Coggin's Army," which was just pointless and too long. You know it's bad when Salvador's art is not the worst in an issue.



Yesterday, the Final Day"★1/2
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Luis Bermejo

"Brass Monkey"★1/2
Story by Jim Stenstrum
Art by Jose Ortiz

"Goodbye, Yellow Brick Rhode"★1/2
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Carmine Infantino & Dan Green

"He Who Waits in Shadow!"
Story & Art by Jim Starlin

Restin Dane hops in his time travel machine and returns to the Old West, looking to get revenge on Gat Hawkin (and walking toward a "Saloom"). Hawkin is waiting for him and tricks Dane by positioning a mirror just so; Hawkin pumps bullets into the time traveler's back and leaves his bleeding body to be cared for by two beautiful prostitutes, Kate and Jan. Hawkin tries to figure out how to operate the time travel machine while the ladies take Dane into an abandoned mine shaft where they encounter the Guardian, a robot left there long ago by visitors from another planet.

In the present, Dane's robots debate the wisdom of recalling the time travel machine and risking trapping Dane in the past. Dane tells his lady friends that he needs to get back to the future so he isn't stuck in the Old West. He sends Jan with written instructions to operate the Rook, but she is caught by Hawkin, whose cohort shoots her in the back. As she falls, she grabs the handle of the Rook and it disappears from the Old West and appears in the future, where Bishop Dane and a robot called Manners are waiting for it.

Manners's Old West garb
was a highlight!
In the mine, Kate hands Dane a Colt .45, while in town, the good folks have had enough of Hawkin and his goons. Outside the mine, Dane puts on a pair of wings left behind by the aliens of long ago, gives Kate a smooch, and flies into town, gunning for Hawkin and his sidekick. Just then, Bishop Dane and Manners appear and emerge from the Rook, ready for some gunplay and fisticuffs. The combination of angry townsfolk, Restin Dane, Bishop Dane, and Manners is more than a match for Hawkin and his goons, and a huge barroom brawl ensues, with the usual results.

Manners drags the Danes back to the Rook and they all return to the future, where they are surprised, on awakening, to have been joined by Kate and Jan, who seem none the worse for wear.

"Yesterday, the Final Day" doesn't always make much sense, and about halfway through, Kate says, "'I...I'm so confused! I'm not sure I understand any of it.'" The reader can understand how she feels. Still, Bermejo's art is strong enough to carry the story, and it ends up being a fun, breezy read. At 22 pages, it's one of the longer single stories we've seen to date, but I've read plenty of eight page tales in Warren mags that seemed much longer. The Rook is developing as a melange of cliches--Old West, time travel, ancient astronauts, gunfights, bar brawls, etc., but it's enjoyable nonetheless, especially the two-page spread that illustrates the fight in the saloon (or saloom).

After Hard John Apple explains to Tarara Boomdeyov that he thinks everyone in the world is out to get him and he plans to wipe them all out with his nukes, she warns him that her boyfriend Rudolf, supreme commander of the Red Threat Army, will take care of Hard John and the General. Hard John and Tarara gain admittance to the Catlick compound, disguised as a sheep and a shepherdess, only to be uncovered as spies and chained to a stone wall. Enter Rudolf, a/k/a Hemlock Zinger, "the most ruthless and despicable man on Earth"! Tarara realizes that her lover is a creep and Hemlock is about to torture the twosome when they are rescued by the General. As they make their escape, Hemlock tosses a grenade, which the General tucks under his hat. The ensuing explosion kills the orangutan and frees Hard John and Tarara, who head back to his arsenal to wipe out the rest of humanity.

"Brass Monkey" is the best entry yet in this series, which appears to have one more episode to go. Less time is spent on recap and more is spent on new action; there's no explanation for why Hard John decides to breach the Catlick compound, but the events come at the reader so quickly that there's no time to ask questions. It's a shame the General gave his life, and it's not clear if it was intentional or not, but the simian character didn't add much to the proceedings anyway.

Godeye is a hero for hire who flits around the universe with his agent, Touchy. Godeye's latest adventure takes him to the planet Elton, where he is assigned the task of rescuing a beautiful princess from a monster named Thud. The princess is suspended in mid-air, running in place on a big disco ball made of golden bricks. The ball is known as a Rhode and Godeye manages to outwit Thud and rescue the girl. He learns too late that the Rhode was made of 24-karat gold bricks, leading to the concluding pun: "'Goodbye, Yellow Brick Rhode.'"

Terrible puns mar this story from start to finish, wasting eight pages of nice art by Infantino and Dan Green, who (to my recollection) was a much better inker than he was a penciller. Lewis almost certainly thought it would be funny to take the name of the Elton John song and turn it into a pun that he could work backwards from to fashion a story. Unfortunately, the whole thing made me groan.

A man named Jim sits alone at night feeling sorry for himself. It seems his relationship with a woman has ended and now he is consumed by despair and kills himself. Darklon knocks at his door and enters, asking how he plans to resolve the situation between Darklon and his father. Darklon finds the artist dead and realizes he'll have to solve his own problem.

"He Who Waits in Shadow!" is an odd story in which an artist, presumably Starlin, is so upset about a breakup that he kills himself, leaving his creation without a guide. It's only six pages long and features the usual overwrought Starlin words and art, but it's rather effective for a short, self-reflective piece. I did not know what was going on for the first five pages, but the final page, where Darklon enters, explained it all. I wonder if this was a deadline story and Starlin had to toss something in the hopper to delay continuing the saga?-Jack

Quick! Figure out just what the hell
this is and win the prize!
The Rook is so overly complicated that I forget what the hell it's all about while I'm enjoying the action. Do I really need to know the rules or keep sorted the supporting cast in my tiny brain? Isn't it enough that I'm reading a 22-page story and not complaining about boredom? It will have to do. 

The latest "Hard John" is the weakest yet, at least in the script department. Stenstrum's dark comedy does nothing for me; it's just not very funny. The biggest takeaway from the strip is that 1984 is on the horizon. I do like Jose's Corben-esque graphics though. Despite my thumbs-down, I'm looking forward to next issue's conclusion. I had to check my notes on the first installment of "Godeye" (way back in Eerie #68) and I see I disliked that chapter just as much as this one. The plot makes little sense but, worse, it's boring as all hell and Carmine should have a restraining order issued on Dan Green. What a mess. As is always the case, Darklon is visually striking, but the script here is nothing more than a vignette. I assume this is Starlin involving himself in the story, but I could be wrong. I usually am. Sadly, the most interesting thing about this issue of Eerie is the Rook contest: 

Beginning This Thursday...

And Next Week!
Voyage to the
Bottom of the Barrel