Monday, September 26, 2022

The Warren Report Issue 94: June 1978



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

Eerie #93

"Strangers in the Strangest Places, Part Two"
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Abel Laxamana & Alfredo Alcala

"Honor and Blood"
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by Leo Duranona

"Kingdom of Ash"★1/2
Story by Bob Toomey
Art by Jose Ortiz

"The Einstein Factor"★1/2
Story by Moreno Casares & Nicola Cuti
Art by Moreno Casares

"The Slime Creature of Harlem Avenue"
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Alex Nino

Restin Dane, Bishop Dane, Banjo Feather, and Manners the robot land their spaceship in the old western town of Red Gap. Organ Lo emerges and challenges Manners to a duel but fires first, encasing the robot in concrete. Restin's bullets have no effect on Lo's tough hide, so the gang uses the ship to knock down the wall of Granny Filcher's house in an attempt to reach Organ. Banjo Feather is shocked that Granny Filcher is behind Organ Lo's reign of terror and, suddenly, Organ Lo collapses when hit by bullets from Manners's gun. Granny is whisked off to jail and Organ Lo's body is taken aboard the ship, where he reveals that he faked his own death to get away from Granny. The Danes make use of a time-space teleporter in the Rook Cave to send Organ Lo home and, in Red Gap, Granny discovers that she likes the personal service she receives in jail from Banjo Feather.

Part two of "Strangers in the Strangest Places!" is a letdown. Inexplicably, Alfredo Alcala draws a splash page that depicts the residents leaving town due to their fear of Organ Lo; Abel Laxamana draws the other ten pages and they are nothing special. The story consists of a couple of quick gun battles and some weak attempts at humor.

The Vrykola family's history is written in "Honor and Blood," beginning with a sadistic fighter born in Transylvania in 1605. Count Vrykola liked to torture prisoners, but eventually all good things must come to an end and he retired and had a castle built in Transylvania. Eventually marrying his cousin Ursula, she took sick and died; in her crypt, twin boys were born and survived by feasting on Mom's corpse until they were discovered. As the lads grew, Stanislaw became sensitive to sunlight and his favorite food was blood.

The brothers grew older and left for England to study at a university, but soon Stanislaw realized he was a vampire. Janos began supplying his brother with dead bodies for blood; Stan got curious about what happened to the bodies and followed Janos, only to learn he was butchering and eating the corpses. Stan bludgeons Jan and jumps to his death. Unfortunately, the vampire menace is not over, since a young girl grows fangs and avoids tanning.

This ten-pager felt about 25 pages long and I was surprised when I went back and counted how short it really was. Cuti's script is elliptical, jumping from place to place and event to event too quickly; Duranona's ability to tell a cogent story from beginning to end is sorely taxed. I have no idea who the young female vampire at the end is supposed to be, since the brothers never married or had kids, as far as I can tell. I guess this issue's ugly cover is supposed to illustrate this story. I'm not sure which is worse.

A candid photo of Jack reading "Kingdom of Ash."
Fortunately, Suzanna is not really a rotting corpse--that was an illusion provided by the Changer. She and Moonshadow are taken to meet him and he turns out to be a supercomputer left over from before the nuclear holocaust. The Changer explains that, after all life died on Earth, he was able to use magic to recreate everything, but some problems led to a plague of zombies. The Changer's fuel cells are dying and, when the Changer goes, so does everything else. Moonshadow reveals that he was faking catatonia and agrees to let the Changer transfer all of its knowledge into his mind. Afterwards, Moonshadow flips the off switch on the Changer and heads out into the "Kingdom of Ash" to do some serious thinking.

Even Jose Ortiz can't save this talkfest, and it looks like he was so bored with it that he didn't even try. Having the Changer turn out to be yet another supercomputer from before the nuclear holocaust is a disappointing development, and the first page of this eight-page story is taken up with a lot of text recapping what's happened so far. This series has turned into a complete dud.

Jack's reaction when Peter says
it's time to do another Warren post.
Lt. Roy Crayton, a US Navy test pilot, takes a jet up for a flight. When he applies a burst of speed, he feels like he's being crushed and disappears. A search team is sent out but can't find him; meanwhile, he lands on a mysterious island. Roy spends quite a while talking to himself, feeling sorry for himself, and complaining about his predicament and his past treatment in the Navy, until it turns out that "The Einstein Factor" caused him to shrink to tiny size and the island is really a cow's skeleton. He never learns that he was given a posthumous medal for bravery.

It just goes from bad to worse in Eerie #93! This is our first look at Moreno Casares, who is credited as co-writer with Nick Cuti as well as artist. The story is bad and we've seen it all before, with a character not realizing the island he's on is really something else. The art reminded me of the work of Martin Salvador, who is not one of our favorites. I looked Casares up online and he seems to have a decent reputation, so maybe his stories will improve.

Ablemar Jones and his bro', Sly Stanleystone, are chillin' on a stoop in Harlem when who should walk by but a fine, foxy mama. Their compliments are interrupted by the appearance of knife-wielding Crazy Julius Gore, whose reputation as a mean, tough dude precedes him. The bros make a run for it and soon spy an open window, which they crawl through looking for things to pilfer. Inside, they find a baby left alone in its crib, but the baby resembles a giant pea pod. Before they can escape, the creature latches onto Sly's face.

"The Slime Creature of Harlem Avenue" is dislodged from Sly's face but latches onto that of Crazy Julius as soon as the bros encounter him. Sly and Ablemar take the opportunity to try to make time with the foxy mama, but Crazy Julius escapes from the Slime Creature and threatens them. They make it home safely and hear on the radio that the Slime Creature is from outer space; it looks like it has once again taken up residence on Sly's head as the story ends.

I don't know what Black folks Bill DuBay had met in person by 1978, but I can't imagine they spoke like Ablemar and Sly or behaved like them. These DuBay tales of African Americans read like he watched episodes of Good Times, The Jeffersons, and Amos and Andy and then took all of the worst aspects of each and mixed them together to create his stories. It doesn't help that Alex Nino's creative page layouts eschew things like panels or clear progression from one event to the next--the reader has to squint and use his or her imagination to try to figure out what's happening. At least Nino gets to include yet another of his wormy creatures!-Jack

I liked the first chapter of "Strangers in the Strangest Places" but found the second to be a tedious, confusing mess. What little joy I derive from this series remains (inexplicably) DuBay's dopey dialogue, especially the affronts issuing from elder Dane's piehole ("I'll ventilate his innards till he's holier than thou..!"). This issue, Bishop Dane meets his melon-headed, sandbaggin' female counterpart in the equally sassy Granny Filcher. Odd that we get a splash from Alcala and then nothing more.

"Honor and Blood" is a so-so blending of fact (at least what we know of Vlad) and fiction, but it's got a very abrupt climax. Cuti's concept, that the two baby brothers survived in the coffin, feeding off their mother's rotting corpse, is a genuinely disturbing one. The Duranona art is a seesaw as well, with Leo pumping out some effectively detailed backgrounds but running into trouble whenever zooming in for closeups of his characters, who ofttimes look as if they have to get to a restroom really quick.

I found the monologue of "The Changer" to be laughably complex, yet also fascinating; this was easily the best of the three stories that made up "Moonshadow." Not so good was "The Einstein Factor," with its lead character having a monotonous out-loud conversation with himself that see-sawed between self-preservation and his wife's faithfulness. But anything this issue was better than the final chapter of the offensive "Ablemar Jones" series. Seriously, the fact that Dube got away with the obviously racist dialogue that permeated "Ablemar" blows my mind. While we laud Louise Jones for her editorial work, we also have to wonder if she was on vacation every time Bill turned in one of his scripts.

Attilla Hejje
Creepy #98

"The Alien Factor" 
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Jose Ortiz

"Helen Horror Hollywood" 
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Leopoldo Duranona

"Graveyard Shift" 
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Leopold Sanchez

"Starlet, Starlet, Burning Bright" 
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Carmine Infantino & Dick Giordano

"The Image Makers" 
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by Jose Ortiz

A weird blob rises from the ground in Dallas and newspaperman Allen Stephens is sure it's extraterrestrial in nature. He begs his editor to let him investigate, but the chief will have none of that UFO nonsense mucking up his paper. With the help of another reporter, Stephens discovers that, eighty years before, a flying saucer crashed in that exact same area and the locals pulled a dead alien out of the craft and buried it. Could this blob somehow be connected to the ancient craft? Before he can crack the story wide open, the Feds fly in and take control. The government releases a statement saying that the blob was a fungus and they have destroyed it. Allen Stephens's big story is dead but the writer looks at the stars and knows there's someone else out there!

"The Alien Factor" isn't a bad story, but it doesn't break any new ground for UFO comic fiction, either. We've seen umpteen examples of the government stepping in and covering up evidence of life outside our little blue planet as well as the roving, morally upstanding reporter who's shut down before he can put -FINIS- to the scoop. Here, laughably, Budd Lewis even uses "close encounters of the third kind" in dialogue, a phrase he doubtless would not have known without the huge success of a certain Steven Spielberg flick. With Wrightson, Heath, Severin, Adams, et al., nowhere in sight, Jose Ortiz has become the go-to guy for solid graphics.

The legendary "Helen 'Horror' Hollywood," filmdom's favorite leading lady in monster movies, is found dead in the movie theater she grew up in. What made Helen come back to her hometown and break into the boarded-up, long-dormant cinema that made her what she was? And why did she look decades older than she was? Her therapist tries to put together the pieces that made up the puzzle known as Helen "Horror" Hollywood. In the end, he discovers that the image and dreams the business projected, the false hopes, have gathered together into a vampiric monster that hides in the shadows of movie halls and sucks the life out of its dreamers. With the help of the town's sheriff and Helen's favorite co-star, the therapist puts flame to celluloid and destroys the vampire once and for all.

Gerry Boudreau does such a good job of building the life of his fictional character, adding nuances we don't usually see in a Boudreau script, that it's a foregone conclusion we'll see the disappointing finale. Seriously, I was absorbed by the early Helen and let out a loud -sigh- when we got to the cliches. Gerry obviously belonged to that "angry young man of the 1970s" clubhouse that believed everything was shit and paradise was a ham sandwich and the company of his fellow Warren cafeteria boys. I've never been a movie star, so I can't speak to its pros and cons, but "Helen Horror Hollywood" seems to opine that the small town where hopes and dreams are born is just as deep a hell as Tinsel Town, so what's the point? Open your veins now before you can act on those hopes and dreams seems to be Gerry's message here. I don't like the mixing of photo and art in these things (and it seems to be a requisite for Warren stories about movies and their stars), but then I don't like Duranona's art, anyway. His faces always seem to be either darkly wrinkled or wide-eyed in surprise. Why do so many of Leo's female characters resemble Little Orphan Annie (see also "Honor and Blood" above)? The celluloid vampire whatsis is one of the silliest conceptions we've seen in the pages of Creepy, and that's saying something.

While doing his late-night rock 'n' roll radio show, D.J. Johnny Rock receives threatening phone calls from the man who tried to kill him years before. That man, Parker, was supposed to be rotting in prison, but the voice is certainly familiar. The caller promises Johnny that he's going to visit the D.J.'s fiancé first and then he's coming for him. In a panic, Rock calls a friend and asks him to visit the woman's house and check on her. In the meantime, the threatening calls continue.

Johnny receives the phone call he dreaded: his fiancé has been attacked and seriously hurt. Just then, the studio door swings open and Sam, the station's news reporter, stands in the doorway with a gun in his hand. Sam confesses that Parker was his brother and died in prison; now, Sam is there to even up the score. Thinking fast, Johnny tosses a live wire onto the puddle of rainwater around Sam's feet and electrocutes him. The police arrive and Johnny is escorted away in his wheelchair.

Like "Helen Horror Hollywood," the setup and back story of "Graveyard Shift" are engaging and enthralling and the second half is dopey and laughable. The idea that the station had no idea that Sam, the newsman, was related to the guy who put their DJ in a wheelchair is astonishing even in the era prior to ultra-intrusive Human Resources departments. Bruce Jones throws in the wheelchair contrivance to silence our exclamations of "Why don't you just get out of your galldang chair and go over there yourself, dimwit?" but it still doesn't explain why Johnny didn't just broadcast what was going on to the public once he had ascertained he was in deep doo-doo. To add insult to injury, Johnny never plays "Misty."

Private investigator Richard Midnight receives a call from an old girlfriend, failed actress Barbi Storm, and meets her for lunch. Barbi tells Midnight she's being stalked by a crazed ex-GI named Charlie Fine, son of an important movie producer. Storm can't get the police to act on Fine's threats, so she's turned to Richard for help. Midnight approaches Fine Jr. and Sr. but realizes the mogul has too much money and too much to lose if the truth gets out. He's bought the silence of everyone in town.

One night, Barbi asks Midnight to stay at her place so she won't have to face the night alone and, unbeknownst to the couple inside the house, Fine Jr. shows up in the driveway. Enraged by the presence of another man, Fine rigs Midnight's auto to explode, but Barbi gets into the car first. Fine tries to warn her off but Barbi starts the car and dies in a fiery blast. As the police cart off a near-comatose Fine, Diamond muses how it wasn't just the damaged vet who killed Barbi Storm; it was everyone involved, including himself.

"Starlet, Starlet, Burning Bright" nicely evokes the kind of private dick fiction that was the rage in the 1950s and '60s, with Richard Diamond a hardboiled equal of Shell Scott, Mike Shayne, and Johnny Liddell, if not Mike Hammer. Gerry includes all the familiar tropes: the beautiful gal, the menacing thug, and Diamond's promises that if Fine doesn't lay off he'll "finish what the war started." I never saw Barbi's death coming, though; it was a stunning shock. I could have done without the hero's closing monologue about the guilt of the population (perhaps the entire galaxy) in the death of Barbi Storm. When Diamond throws blame on himself and then adds that he left his wife and kids to take on a "career of heroism and adventure," he loses me completely. Or rather Boudreau loses me. The story works fine without adding that pretentious extra layer. Though the art is credited in the zine to Ramon Torrents, this is clearly another standout Infantino/Giordano enterprise.

Harlie Dunbar has figured out a way to make a fortune off the invention of his buddy, Chester Metz. Chester has invented a holograph machine that makes images appear almost three-dimensional, so real no one could tell they're illusions. The plan is to convince millionairess Mrs. Vanderloom that her dead daughter, Darcy, wants to speak with her from beyond and each session will cost ten thousand dollars. Harlie and Chester hire Brandy, an actress who looks startlingly like the woman's daughter, and rent out a spooky old house for the seance. At first skeptical, Vanderloom is amazed when Darcy appears before her and promises a fortune to the men if they can produce the girl in the flesh. 

The boys convince their holographic partner that a life in the Vanderloom estate is far better than that of an unemployed actress and the game is afoot. They hold another seance, effectively bringing Darcy back from the dead, and old lady Vanderloom takes Darcy home with her. Months later, Harlie arrives at the estate and tells Brandy/Darcy that the final act of their drama is ready: Vanderloom must die so that Brandy will inherit the woman's millions. 

There are at least three pretty effective twists following Harlie's proclamation, and at least one is a humdinger. "The Image Makers" is a thoroughly entertaining con story (and, no, I didn't miss its obvious tip of the hat to Nightmare Alley) with a couple of nicely fleshed-out main characters and some otherwise outlandish tricks that are satisfactorily explained in the end (I spit out a dismissive "Yeah, right!" when Vanderloom bought that her daughter was back from the dead, only to smile when Nick Cuti pulled the ace from his sleeve), all wrapped up in the usual attractive Jose Ortiz wrapping. I thought for sure I had the twist nailed (hey Jack, how many times have we seen the real ghost show up to the seance and the actress arrive late, begging forgiveness due to traffic problems?) but, thankfully, Nick had me fooled. 

The celluloid monster
This issue has a total of 43 story pages (as opposed to 47 for Eerie #93), which leaves 25 for what's most important: those new Star Wars products Jim Warren advertises on the freakin' cover! Give Jim Warren his due; he was a vanguard in so many ways: publish a catalog and throw in a few funny book strips to keep the complaints to a minimum.-Peter

Jack-This month, Creepy was easily better than Eerie. My favorite story was "Graveyard Shift," which featured a good buildup of suspense, a reasonable mix of words and pictures, art that tells the story effectively, and a surprise ending. I also enjoyed "The Image Makers," which used new technology to breathe life into an old tale. I still think Ortiz's art is suffering from over-exposure, but the twist ending was a good one.

I wasn't as impressed with "Starlet" as you were, but I was relieved to see another eight pages from Infantino and Giordano after the muck we've been wading through of late. "The Alien Factor" read like it had sat in a drawer since 1973, while "Helen Horror Hollywood" was so heavy on wordy captions that pictures were barely necessary. Duranona's mix of line drawings, heavy black shadows, and photos didn't work well and his celluloid monster on the final page was a real letdown.-Jack

Next Week...
Does it get any
better than this?!


Anonymous said...

I’m pretty sure EERIE 93 was the first Warren mag I deliberately DIDN’T buy. As I’ve mentioned before, my interest in the Warren mags had been generally waning for some time, and I was particularly missing the presence of Ken Kelly and Sanjulian on the covers. I have a vivid memory of spotting that Don Maitz cover on the magazine rack along the back wall of the Paperback Shack in Panorama City, looking askance at the odd, lop-sided composition (all that empty negative space!) and the two snarly frizzy-haired Vampire dudes. I think it’s a decent enough painting now, but at the time I disliked it intensely. It simply didn’t look like a Warren cover to me.

I flipped thru the mag, thought it all looked kinda ‘been there, done that’, put it back on the shelf and spent my money on something else — possibly one of those Star Trek Fotonovels, or maybe one of the Arkham House reprints Jove was publishing around that time.

I still bought the occasional Warren mag after that, but they weren’t instant ‘Must Buys’ for me anymore.


Jack Seabrook said...

The only Warren mag I bought as a kid was The Spirit. We have 5 more years to cover--is it going to get any better from here on in?

Quiddity99 said...

Only 2 issues this time, but I was still nearly a week late in catching up. Anyway...

"The Rook" story continues to be weak for me as I just don't see what is so intimidating about that Granny character. In the end she is fooled pretty easily and a weak story thankfully comes to an end. "Honor and Blood" I enjoyed and recall this series overall being pretty good, even if this first part was a tad predictable. The whole big computer thing about "Moonshadow" was cliché, but I didn't really mind it and was quite happy with this wrap up to the series. "The Einstein Factor" was extremely predictable and quite the weak story. That said, I really do like Pepe Moreno's artwork. His style is quite a bit different than that of the other Spanish artists working for Warren and kinda reminds one of Moebius. Alex Nino art couldn't save "Abelmar Jones", a story that was even more dreadful than the previous one. I also had a hard time telling exactly what was going on with the art at times. I hope this series is over soon (for some reason I don't think this is the last part, but this series doesn't deserve me spending the time to check).

"The Alien Factor" was a weak kickoff to the issue, I'd expect something with more horror and more of a point to be in Creepy at this stage. Even 25+ years earlier in an EC sci-fi comic this would have been a rather lame story to me. "Helen Horror Hollywood" wasn't too bad although I too was rather disappointed by the conclusion. "Graveyard Shift" had a pretty good premise and I enjoyed most of the story but the end reveal of Sam kinda came out of nowhere, as did the electrocution of him. "Starlet, Starlet Burning Bright" surprised me as well with where it went at the end. "The Image Makers" on the other hand made it rather predictable that the bridge would come into play in the end, although the old lady's role in things I didn't pick up.

Jack: There are still some individual story highlights I can remember but as a whole its a slow downward decline over the next few years followed by a rather massive crash after Louise Jones departs.