Monday, August 15, 2022

The Warren Report Issue 91: February 1978



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

Creepy #95

"The Star Saga of Sirius Sam" ★1/2
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by John Severin

"The Laughing Man" 
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Bernie Wrightson

"Murder on the Vine" 
Story by Cary Bates
Art by Esteban Maroto

"The Empire of Chim-Pan-Zee" 
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by Luis Bermejo

"The Oasis Inn" 
Story by Bob Toomey
Art by Jose Ortiz

"The Old Ways" ★1/2
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Leo Duranona

Treasure seekers Jon Iron and Kid Galileo find the infamous Sirius Sam in a seedy, alien-infested bar on Tatooine in New York. The men need Sam to help guide them to a temple on Cassiopeia III. As the only surviving member of a past expedition to that planet, Sirius Sam is the obvious and best choice. At first reluctant, Sam is forced to join the party when Kid Galileo opens fire on Greedo Salamander's men, who have history with the Kid, Iron, and Sam. The trio barely make it out of the bar and into Iron's nearby star cruiser.

"Rip-off" is "homage" spelled sideways
While on board, the men become acquainted. With his hot head, the Kid can't help but hurl insults at his two comrades. Jon Iron has a glass eye and the Kid sees this as an infirmity of the first order. Jon explains that his eye is bionic (like Steve Austin's!) and is even better than the real thing. Later, Jon explains to Sam that the Kid is his brother-in-law and Jon's wife lies in a coma, thanks to Salamander's men. If Jon and the Kid don't find this fabulous treasure, the woman's life support system will be turned off.

The adventurers land on the planet and quickly make their way to the temple, which lies deep within a lush jungle. They discover the treasure, the Eye of Eoucoui, mounted in a simian statue at the temple. Jon Iron attempts to pry the eye loose and inadvertently destroys it, revealing that the jewel was nothing but glass. Sam explains that the natives, similarly simian in nature, consider glass to be a sacred jewel, since glass is not mined on Cass III. Speaking of angry natives, the trio have to exit stage left before they become part of the jungle floor. The Kid is wounded on the way to the spaceship and Sam tells Iron that the natives will never allow them to leave, since their idol has been damaged. Jon smiles and tells his new friend that they don't have to worry about a thing. It's then that Sam notices that Jon's bionic eye is missing. 

"The Star Saga of Sirius Sam" is a perfectly entertaining sci-fi tale with some nice Severin art. There's not much to it, though, and the intent is obvious. Jim Warren was probably making hundreds, if not thousands, of bucks off of all the Star Wars toasters and toilet paper he was selling through the Captain Company (hell, Famous Monsters was advertising the advertising on its current cover) and the word went out to the bullpen: we need more Star Sagas! Never let it be said that Jim Warren overlooked a trend that might make him a buck. Next issue, we'll see Jim jump sci-fi fads and devote an entire issue to "Alien Encounters!" The fact that this is the "Naked Apes" issue necessitates that there be monkeys involved. So, as with several of these stories, apes are written in, whether the part is negligible or not. Here it's negligible.

Entrepreneurs Briggs and Tanner head into the Ughani Valley region, seeking out a rare, apelike creature that's bound to net them millions. They stumble upon a tribe of the creatures and Griggs sets a trap, but a corpse isn't good enough for the money-sniffing brute. He skins the ape and wears its hide in an attempt to trap a live specimen. Tanner awakes to find the big man standing over him. Unnerved, he tells Briggs he's jumping in a canoe and leaving, live ape or none. When Briggs refuses to board the canoe, Tanner questions him and watches in horror as the man removes the skin from his face, revealing the ape beneath.

When you get Bernie Wrightson art, you somehow forget to question all the logical problems inherent in a story where an ape dons a human skin and the other guy doesn't notice. By the second story, it's clear that the artists (and writers) were instructed to incorporate some little bit of nonsense about monkeys with space helmets, whether it made sense or not. The ape that dons Briggs's skin looks nothing like the cute chimps on the cover (or the ape in the "fuzzy" photo that runs in the Time Magazine article Briggs gets excited about) and the cameo stands out like a sore thumb. The script is straight out of EC but oh, that Wrightson art!

Jane finally gets tired of Tarzan's macho bullshit and puts a bullet in him. She and Boy grab the treasure chest the Lord of the Apes had hidden from them all these years and strap it to an elephant. Unfortunately for Jane and Boy, Tarzan's simian buddies are out for revenge.

Though "Murder on the Vine" never drops names (for legal reasons, obviously), it's clear which jungle family this crime drama centers around. Though I'd have liked a little more back story, I assume that Cary Bates assumed we'd all know the myth and if the tale was bogged down with trivia, you know I'd've complained about that, too. I thought the whole thing was clever and amusing, as if Burroughs had written a final novel and titled it Tarzan: Diabolique.

Half a million years in the past, "The Empire of Chim-Pan-Zee" takes a heavy toll every time its warriors go up against rival species, the Neanderthals. To stave off extinction, head chimp Emperor Gez sends General Kam into the Valley of Lights, a time machine that allows the monkeys to pass back and forth from prehistory to our present. Gez's idea is for Kam to steal a weapon that they can defeat the Thals with.

Kam gets through safely and the time tunnel dumps him right at the gates of NASA. He infiltrates the science department, disguised as an escaped chimp, and steals what he believes to be a superior weapon. When he gets back to Chim-Pan-Zee, he tries the gizmo out but nothing happens. He can't understand the failure, explaining that the humans called the device a "push button." Clever climax to what appeared to be a "borrowing" of several elements from Beneath, Escape From, and Conquest of The Planet of the Apes. Writer Cuti doesn't explain why the door to the time machine remains open in 500,000 BC. The dialogue between the two scientists is a riot, and not in a good way.

Chimp buddies Tokie, Ham, and Scritch end a long, hard day of sentry duty, clean up at the fort, and head to "The Oasis Inn," where Scritch hopes to see his true love, Teena. What the poor monkey gets is an eyeful of his girl sitting on Sergeant Crank's lap. Outraged, Scritch plots with his comrades to win his girl back and put the Sarge in his place.

I don't know what to make of "The Oasis Inn," other than it's utterly charming nonsense. But I tell ya what, this slapstick works a heck of a lot better than most of the supposed scary stuff does. Essentially the Little Rascals (or the Three Stooges or the Marx Brothers or...) done in simian form, the story succeeds thanks to some great pratfalls and misunderstandings and, especially, a witty script. Poor Teena gets shoved aside in the end in the best tradition of the He-Man Woman Hater's Club. This is Jose Ortiz's best work in some time, probably because he doesn't have to worry about human faces. I love that last panel.

In the not-too-distant future, mankind has destroyed itself through nuclear war, and scientifically altered intelligent apes rule the world. Four soldiers run across the last human in the world and begin tracking him. But this man is smart and he's armed. He picks the apes off one by one with a high-powered rifle until he's face to face with the last one. He then confesses that he is the scientist who created the smart chimps and shoots himself in the head. The end.

I know Harlan came knocking on Jim Warren's door in the late 70s after being plagiarized, but Pierre Boulle's lawyers obviously didn't read the Warren funny books or else they'd have probably feasted as well. Way too much of this Roger McKenzie cutesy pie script is on loan from Boulle's baby (there's even a nod to the Statue of Liberty scene from the movie), and the rest of "The Old Ways" is pretentious poppycock. Compared to the high quality of the other five stories in this issue, this one stands out like a sore opposable toe.-Peter

Jack-I gave "The Laughing Man" four stars and I'm surprised you didn't! The Wrightson art is wonderful and the twist ending cracked me up. It may only be six pages long but it's an effective story. Next best was "Sirius Sam" which, despite the obvious Star Wars influence, succeeds mainly due to the art by Severin. I totally missed the Tarzan connection in "Murder on the Vine" and didn't really follow what was happening. Maroto draws well and the color looks good, but that's about it. I was getting tired of chimps by "The Empire" and the Planet of the Apes rip-off is helped by nice art from Bermejo. The twist ending isn't bad.

I thought "The Oasis Inn" was terrible, a pointless waste of ten pages. It was just a dumb story with forced attempts at humor and chimps in the place of humans for no good reason. I don't care for Duranona's art, so "The Old Ways" also left me cold; as you say, it's another blatant rip-off of Planet of the Apes. This ape-themed issue was hardly worth the trouble.

Eerie #90

Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Gonzalo Mayo

"The Show Must Go On!"★1/2
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Leo Duranona

"A Woman Scorned"★1/2
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Richard Corben

"The Fianchetto Affair Or:
A Matter of Great Delicacy"
Story by Bob Toomey
Art by Jose Ortiz

"What is the Color of Nothingness?"★1/2
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Alex Nino

In a dystopian future world, a beautiful woman in a tiny bikini rides on the back of a giant, talking lizard named Morga through a jungle that is part of the domain of a wizard named Stormtree. The duo are starving and the lizard eats some "Carrion" they find along the way, the corpse of a man. Two ghouls attack and the lizard kills and eats them; their progress toward the home of a healer is monitored from afar by Stormtree, who is responsible for turning Morga from a human into a lizard beast.

It begins to snow, and Morga and the girl take refuge in a cave before Morga must battle a creature that Stormtree has fashioned from ice crystals. The girl hurls a spear through the creature's eye, driving it away, but when they resume their journey, they are beset by the animated corpses of dead men, revived by Stormtree. Morga fights them all off and Stormtree collapses from the effort of his magic. Finally reaching the healer's home, Morga and the girl encounter only his servant and soon realize that he has killed and eaten the healer but remains hungry for female flesh. Morga kills the servant and saves the girl, who has no choice but to satisfy her hunger by eating her protector.

"Carrion" took me two careful reads to figure out what happened, though the ending was pretty clear the first time around. Mayo's art is busy and is marked by the Warren curse of drawing too many panels of a beautiful girl posing and not enough attention to storytelling. Still, the girl is a knockout, so there's that. Do all of these bikini-clad women fighters owe their origins to Red Sonja?

A woman and her four-legged creature have fallen on hard times on another planet. While visiting a bar, they hear of the approach of a bad man known as Sliff. The woman offers to sleep with Sliff in a hotel and her creature crashes through the wall and finds them together in bed. The hungry creature eats Sliff and this makes it and the woman heroes in town; she is appointed the new sheriff.

I took one look at the first page of "The Show Must Go On!" and thought, "oh no, not another story drawn by Duranona!" Yep, I was right--more unfinished-looking panels to accompany a dopey story by McKenzie. It's yet another Star Wars rip-off, this time following the famous cantina scene--the only saving grace is that it's over in six pages.

Pamela, a beauty in a bikini, chats with Sean, a big blue lizard, in a dystopian future world. Sean keeps trying to get Pamela to use her mind and stay smart, having her repeat nursery rhymes and recall simple facts. Suddenly she dreams a house into being; they enter it and find furnishings. Through flashbacks, it is revealed that Pamela used to live in our world but had a dangerous gift of being able to create things with her mind. In the future, she dreams a car into existence; Sean tries to force her to remember what he was like when he was a man and not a lizard. In flashbacks, their meeting and romance is portrayed; unfortunately, she remembers when she found him in bed with another woman. She called him a lizard and wished that the world would go away...and they're back where they started.

"A Woman Scorned" is an excellent story, a rare instance in the Warren mags of the writing being better than the art. I was intrigued to learn what had happened, surprised at what I learned, and delighted at the twist ending. I have never been a big fan of Corben's work, but it's certainly better than what we saw from Mayo and Duranona in this issue's first two stories, and the color is a plus.

A big female lizard named Dr. Shike visits an important lizard while he's sitting at a table eating a tasty dinner of human flesh. The doctor explains her dilemma: she's been studying 19-year-old human Lucinda Fianchetto since the young woman's birth and she's become emotionally attached to her. Lucinda never liked playing with other human kids and, when she was old enough to be fattened up for killing and eating, Dr. Shike helped her escape. They flew to New Jersey, where Lucinda could join other wild humans, but a series of mishaps ended with them being caught. The important lizard tells Shike not to worry and the cook serves up Lucinda on a platter for them both to consume.

After not liking "The Oasis Inn," I was afraid that another Bob Toomey story would be a dud, but "The Fianchetto Affair Or: A Matter of Great Delicacy" is clever and funny. Even the title is good, with the double meaning of "delicacy" only becoming apparent as one reads the story. Ortiz's art is very good, and my only complaint is that the depiction of the humans as always naked--they are raised for food, after all--makes for some discomfort with the portrayal of young Linda.

Not satisfied with hopping back and forth through time, Restin Dane has invented the Whizzer, a new time-traveling machine that will allow him to witness the Big Bang. He takes off to the edge of the universe, hoping to watch it expanding, and is shocked upon arrival to see other spaceships engaged in battle. Meanwhile, back at the lab, Bishop Dane decides to use the new robot assembler built by his grandson in order to create a companion for Useless. Things go awry and the machine starts turning out an army of female robots.

At the edge of the universe, Restin's ship is attacked and he is saved by aliens who explain their purpose in blasting ships that venture out too far. The battle over the cosmic energy supply has to pause when everyone sees that another universe is expanding toward our own, promising a cataclysm when the edges collide. Fortunately, the opposite occurs, and when the edges of the two universes meet they stop expanding and start to contract. Restin returns to the lab and is not upset by the mess, having a new appreciation for everyone's place in the universe.

"What is the Color of Nothingness?" is twenty pages long and the pages are turned sideways, so it's hard to read, especially on a laptop. There's perhaps eight pages worth of story here, but Alex Nino takes the opportunity to draw great big panels and lots of space stuff. The story doesn't advance the plot of the Rook series at all and, not for the first time, the sections with Bishop and Useless are more entertaining than those with Restin. At least there was no giant lizard with a girl on its back!-Jack

Peter-It's an okay cover (and Warren will reprint it in just three years!), but would I commission four stories based on the painting? Nope. Turns out I was right. "Carrion" is an unintelligible mess, with Gerry seemingly putting words on a paper because he has to. Several times through the story I lost track of what was going on or why it was going on (I would swear the comely lass was run in by a spear in the opening but she seems to be fine a couple of panels later). "Carrion" builds to a climax that never happens... it just sputters out. I assume it was left open for a possible sequel or series that never happened.

Now I have to throw in the obligatory "But 'Carrion' was Shakespeare compared to..." when discussing "The Show Must Go On," a pitiful and ugly excuse for a sci-fi story. We may as well get used to the alien bar sequence and "clever" writers substituting nonsense words for inanimate objects (see this story's "We'd pack 'em in like Flegs on a month-old Korgle!") in all future Warren sci-fi. Duranona knows better and barely shows up for his paycheck.

With "The Fianchetto Affair," Bob Toomey takes a halfway engaging story and flushes it right down the ol' toilet with his WTF? climax. Where are the panels in between the scene where Dr. Shike defends Lucinda to the death and then the climax where he smiles as he eats her cooked corpse? Obviously, Bob was hanging out in the Warren cafeteria when Dube and McKenzie were having their conversation about how stupid the average Warren reader is. If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, leave 'em with a disgusting climax.

I love Alex Nino's art but his stint here on the Rook installment does not click. It's not just that the whole strip is presented sideways but that we've gotten very comfortable with Bermejo's style. When Luis is flowing, it matters not that Dube can't seem to shut his typewriter down. Nino is a distraction, not a compliment.

The Jones/Corben "A Woman Scorned" is the best thing about this issue, a funny and unpredictable fantasy with a more restrained Corben than usual. Well, I mean pre-teen Pamela doesn't have double Ds and present-day Pam keeps her clothes on through the entire length of the tale. Bruce obviously has fun leading us down the usual A Boy and His Dog trail and then pulling a rabbit from his hat in the end.

Next Week...
Robin flies solo!

1 comment:

Quiddity99 said...

Rather iffy premise for this issue, once again doing an entire issue on a cover, and for a non-horror topic no less, but the actual quality of the issue ended up being fairly good for me. Somehow the Star Wars influence for "Sirius Sam" went over my head but it seems so obvious now that you've brought it up. "Laughing Man" was the best story of the issue for me with great art from Berni Wrightson (alas, this is his last Warren story). "Murder on the Vine" had an interesting premise with Tarzan's murder and always love seeing Esteban Maroto art although I question why this got to be the color story. As a huge fan of the original Planet of the Ape movies (despite them all being made long before I was born), I really liked "The Empire of Chim-Pan-Zee", as it very much came off like something we'd see in those movies. I was fairly positive for "The Old Ways" for the same reason. I may have mentioned this in another comment before, but I first came across current Warren artist Alfredo Alcala and became a fan through a comic adaption he did of the Beneath the Planet of the Apes movie. Beyond Jose Ortiz's art, "Oasis Inn" was the weakest for me, pretty much just a comedy with no horror or sci-fi elements at all.

After an entire issue based on a cover painting, we get yet another one in the same month? Craziness! It is a great Richard Corben cover though. Neither of the first two stories impressed me all that much story-wise, although Leo Duranona continues to provide us with some super bizarre looking aliens/monsters. "A Woman Scorned" was also my favorite of the issue; Bruce Jones/Richard Corben combinations usually turn out something really good. "The Fianchetto Affair" I also enjoyed, with some good Ortiz art and a rather horrifying ending with Shike and her boss eating Lucinda. Dare I say it, we get another pretty strong "Rook" story, although I will give most of the credit to Alex Nino who does such an amazing job with it. It's essentially a preview of the great artwork he'll soon start providing in 1984/1994 magazine. Having read a little ahead I can say they didn't commission 4 stories for this cover, they commissioned 5! One didn't make the deadline or there wasn't enough space for it due to the massive Rook story and it got bumped to Creepy #96.