Monday, October 10, 2022

The Warren Report Issue 95: July 1978


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

Vampirella #70

"Ghostly Granny Gearloose"★1/2
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Gonzalo Mayo

"Mask of U'Gin"
Story by Nicola Cuti & Gerry Boudreau
Art by Jose Ortiz

"Swamp Lovers"
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Leo Duranona

"Reality Twice Removed"★1/2
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Ramon Torrents

"The Terrible Exorcism of Adriennes Pomperau!"★1/2
Story by Luis Vigil & Bill DuBay
Art by Rafael Auraleon

Vampirella changes into a bat to escape the clutches of Rollem Small, but he sends giant robots to grab and keep her prisoner. That night, she has dinner with Rollo and "Ghostly Granny Gearloose," and the food is served by Granny's robots, Frick and Frack. As Vampi appears to respond to Rollo's clumsy attempt at seduction, Restin Dane, Bishop Dane, Pendragon, and Manners the robot rush to her aide in a spaceship. They crash land in Granny's laboratory, where she sets a giant robot to destroy them, but Manners trips it up and it falls to pieces. Vampi appears and displays Rollo's severed head; it seems he was just another android created by Granny. Vampi consoles the old woman by telling her that the authorities will probably put her to work on a government weapons project.

I don't know why this story was broken up into two parts, but part two is worse than part one if that's possible. I sense that Granny's name is a weak takeoff on Barks's Gyro Gearloose, the great duck inventor, while the giant robots and the Granny character seem to be trying to spoof the work of Jack Kirby. Unfortunately, there's little to no plot and the humor falls flat. Mayo is going through the motions and keeps resorting to his posed drawings of Vampi looking at nothing in particular.

A young woman buys a necklace in an occult curio shop and is murdered on the way home by someone wearing an African death mask. Back at the shop, a pretty young widow named Panda laments the death of her husband Alex with her co-worker, his mother Liva, who sold the necklace to the murdered woman. On her way home, Panda is accosted by a police detective investigating the murder; she takes him back to the store to show him the "Mask of U'Gin," but he is also murdered. Panda confronts Liva with the knowledge that the old woman is the killer, and Liva explains that she's trying to provide the late Alex with a partner in the spirit world. Panda kills Liva and Alex's shambling corpse approaches his wife to get her to join him in death.

It's rarely a good sign when two different writers share a credit; it usually means one wrote a mess and the other tried to clean it up. Unfortunately, Cuti plus Boudreau in this case equals even more of a mess. The story is ridiculous and lurches from murder to murder, ending on the unexplained return of Alex from the dead. If any reader did not know Liva was the killer early on, I'd be surprised.

Being a hermit and living alone out in the swamp can get lonely, especially when you start to miss the company of a female. Fortunately for one old coot, he and a giant shrimp became "Swamp Lovers"! The shrimp would appear every now and then in the guise of a woman and they would mate, but when some poachers come along one day and witness the coupling, that's the end of Ms. Shrimp.

Bill DuBay goes on at length (12 pages!) to tell a simple story that has been told many times before. Leo Duranona provides more of his "unfinished" looking pages and some of the panels reminded me of those trick pictures where it can look like a girl or a hat, depending on how you look at it. It's not an awful story, it's just a chore to read.

Burt Roman comes home from work one day in 1985 to find gorgeous wife Adrienne sitting in front of the TV, watching the news reports about a para-military group called the USPA that has declared war on the USA. Burt and Adrienne argue about whether to vacation in Florida or Washington, DC, but when the President drops an atomic bomb on protestors outside the White House, the bickering couple realize they're headed to the Sunshine State.

Some nice work by Torrents elevates this preachy Boudreau tale. "Reality Twice Removed" comments on the American political situation in the late 1970s by extrapolating into the mid-1980s; little did Boudreau know that his dystopia would be eerily close to the world of 2022: the United Spiritual-Political Army is said to be "a coalition of right-wing splinter groups, it includes the Ku Klux Klan, American Nazi Party, JDL, PLO, Unification Church and an ultra conservative branch of the young republicans, among others."

It's 1914, and in a small French village an old woman seeks the help of Dr. DuPont to help her granddaughter, who is having a seizure and speaking in a scary voice. The doctor visits the girl and realizes she may be possessed by a demon, so he goes to see Father Versailles. Both men visit the girl and a demon takes over her body and curses the priest. Father Versailles attempts "The Terrible Exorcism of Adriennes Pompereau!" but fails, so he summons Bishop Ange. The bishop drives the evil spirit out and the sky is filled with lights, as if angels are gathering. Little do the Earthlings know that the ones they call angels and demons are actually warring space folk, whose ships orbit the Earth.

This seemed like a tired copy of The Exorcist until the goofy last page, where the angels and demons are from outer space. Still, Auraleon shines with his depiction of the girl transforming into a demonic creature, and his space demons are impressive as well.-Jack

"Mask of U'Gin" has a nice tempo and a decent twist ending, but it's almost sunk by its dopey expository panels ("I never loved him. I just wanted to inherit this shop!") and the telecasting of the big surprise reveal of the killer. The Ortiz art is a definite plus. Perhaps I'm just elevating this one to "readable" status because the rest of the issue is so awful.

I found "Ghostly Granny Gearloose" unreadable. I won't even bother putting the "virtually" in that sentence; this is really dumb, bottom-of-the-barrel drivel. Jack opines that Dube is attempting to spoof Kirby, but I believe the higgledy-piggledy condition of the script is more in line with what Bill thinks is an Eisner homage. There are all sorts of disparate elements thrown together but, unlike with Eisner, none of it comes together. I'd add that the Rook is wasted, but he's never utilized much in his own strip.

The script for "Swamp Lovers" is meandering and silly (but at least it gives Bill a legitimate reason to use backwater hick dialogue) and the art is ugly. What is would-be political satire like "Reality Twice Removed" doing in a title like Vampi? Good question, but it wouldn't stick out like a sore thumb if it was decent satire. And finally, "Adriennes Pomperau" gives us all what we were craving: a PG-13 version of The Exorcist years after the formula had run dry. 

Bob Larkin
Creepy #99

"An Old Game" ★1/2
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by Pepe Moreno

"Ssshh!" ★1/2
Story by Cary Bates
Art by Joe Vaultz

"Brothers" ★1/2
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Jose Ortiz

"A Slight Case of Overkill" 
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Leopold Sanchez

"There Shall Come a Great Darkness" 
Story by Bob Toomey
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"One Hell of a War" ★1/2
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Leo Duranona

Neil Stern, captain of the nuclear sub, Loki, has discovered his wife is having an affair with a scoundrel named "Acey." Seeing as how the captain is sitting on top of a bushel of big-time firecrackers, an old-fashioned duel just won't cut it, so Stern does what any rejected husband would do: he has his crew fire a nuke at Connecticut (where his wife lives) and prep a second payload for New York (where "Acey" crashes). The crew, believing the U.S. to be at war, comply with the captain's orders, but the Loki is destroyed by an Air Force bomber before the second missile is fired. Ironically, the pilot flying the bomber is "Acey!"

Nothing original (The Caine Mutiny is one of Nick Cuti's obvious influences) here, but "An Old Game" is a decent read nonetheless and has some pretty good graphics by Pepe Moreno. Sure, nuking an entire city to get even with your adulterous wife seems extreme, but this is Creepy, after all. The funny thing, to me, is how much of a similarity there is to The Hunt for Red October. But don't blame Cuti for that one, since the novel wasn't published until the mid-'80s. I'll bet Tom Clancy was a big Warren fan.

Explorers from another world land on a post-apocalyptic Earth and discover (too late) that noise pollution has caused our atmosphere to be explosive. As they launch their ship for takeoff, they set off a chain reaction that destroys the world. Like "An Old Game," "Ssshh!" is not a classic, but it's a fun timewaster. The strip sees the debut of Joe (Buz) Vaultz, whose art comes off as unique but might end up annoying and samey when all is said and done. His art has the look of something created on a computer; competent but not detailed.

Cath and Packy are two fun-lovin' robots who just want to play and breathe in the dirty air in a post-apocalyptic world, but the crazed, murderous band of Mutes always finds the two androids and tears them limb from limb. Luckily, Pa is adept at piecing together the puzzle of wiring and circuitry and rebuilds the pair time and again. Pa explains why the Mutes hate the two kids so much, but Cath and Packy are convinced they can bring the two warring sides together and the Earth can be peaceful once again. As they are cornered once again by the frothing, ugly beasts, Cath and Packy are finally told the whole truth: the Mutes are aliens who conquered Earth years before and Pa was their emissary until he fell under the spell of human emotions. The Mutes destroy Cath and Packy and haul Pa off, promising they'll fix him.

Is it just my imagination, or do we get one of these Jose Ortiz/Bill DuBay wasteland nightmares every issue these days? The only thing missing from "Brothers" is a cute, forty-word title like "Cath and Packy and Pa and the Nightmare Thingy-Dingys!" The reveal of Pa's heritage is a bit of a surprise, but otherwise there's really nothing of substance here, just another slog through rubble.

Years after the stinkin' commies (Stan Lee was right, after all) are responsible for a weapon that de-evolutionizes the human population, reverting everyone to chimpanzees, a man and his grandson remove an Air Force bomber from the mothballs and take to the sky in an effort to halt progress in the human race. It's getting to the point where a "Top Ten Worst Stories of the Year" is infinitely easier to fill than a "Best." With "A Slight Case of Overkill," Bill DuBay lays out an elaborate explanation for his doomsday weapon yet neglects to detail the reasoning behind his two protagonists' Beverly Hillbillies dialogue. Seriously, why was it that Bill had a fondness for characters who talked like they hadn't yet entered the school system (and yet could easily work the controls of a war jet)? Adam Bomb. New Tron bomb. "He creamed a million Japs at Hero Sheema and Naggy Socky..." There are dozens more examples, but you get the picture. The climax is boneheaded as well: Gramps and tyke are going to fly the skies for all eternity while the apes evolve back into men in order to stave off the first sign of violence, but the ol' timer intends to drop a bomb on the rulebreakers. That's a way to eliminate violence, I guess. A stupid, stupid story.

Tom and his brother-in-law, the astronomer, prepare for the end of the world the best they can. Unfortunately, shit happens. There's obviously so much more that's supposed to be made of "There Shall Come a Great Darkness" than my simple twenty-two-word synopsis, but there's really nothing more to see here. The scenes with the mob and the professor's hanging have some impact, but it's wasted within the disposable entirety. The art is sub-par Alcala and nothing inventive is done with the apocalyptic theme. My worst criticism of some of these Warren stories is that if I could have written it, it can't be very good, and I could very easily have written this one. The climax is very reminiscent of "Process of Elimination" (Creepy #83) the Jones/Heath tale about a guy who murders his wife and mistress and then parks on top of a hill to watch a similar doomsday unfold.

I won't even pretend to try to dissect "One Hell of a War," Roger McKenzie's incomprehensible saga of a lone astronaut attempting to save Earth from destruction at the hands of aliens known as the "Trigelians." Suffice it to say, I found "One Hell..." to be just as boring and hard to follow as most of Warren's science fiction of the 1970s. The Duranona art is clearly meant to evoke the grand big screen outer space battles of Star Wars but, instead, is as exciting as a traffic jam at five o'clock on the freeway. Considering that the end of the world is one of my favorite subjects in fiction and film (call me an optimist), Jim Warren and Louise Jones missed the boat with this issue.-Peter

Jack-These theme issues don't seem to bring out the best in the Warren creative team, do they? I liked the splash page of "Brothers" and thought the art by Ortiz was terrific, but there wasn't much substance to the story. I thought "A Slight Case of Overkill" got kind of interesting about midway through, but DuBay's habit of putting offensive speech in the mouths of his hick characters is getting tiresome and the story's ending falls flat.

There's a nice buildup of suspense in "An Old Game," but the average art and letdown of an ending prevent the story from succeeding. I thought the art on "Ssshh!" was reminiscent of Corben's, but the buildup in the story leads nowhere. "There Shall Come a Great Darkness" was just depressing, with mediocre art, and "One Hell of a War!" was long and dull, forcing us to page through even more art by Duranona, who is fast becoming my least favorite Warren regular.

Next Week...
Yet another milestone


Quiddity99 said...

This Vampi story was so forgetful I had no memory of the first part when I picked up this issue to read, despite having read the prior issue only a couple of weeks ago. What's up with Dubay's obsession with having a granny villain? The Vampi - Rook crossover reeks of Warren heading more and more in a direction where its trying to ape superhero comics and it simply does not work. Mask of Ugin impressed me in at least the fact that it surprised me. Liva being the killer was extremely obvious but I didn't expect Panda to have not loved her husband or for him to show up at the end. I liked Swamp Lovers quite a lot. I suppose we'll never agree on Leo Duranona as an artist; I really like his style, how bizarre his monsters are and how experimental his art continues to become. Nothing all that special about Reality Twice Removed with Dubay rambling on and on about the political stuff (including the President nuking himself at the end which was kinda crazy), and a rather dull argument between a couple about a vacation spot on top of that. Top notch art from Ramon Torrents at least. I believe the Exorcism story was originally meant for the magazine "Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow", one of many efforts which was planned by Warren then never actually got published, causing its contents to get thrown into Creepy/Eerie/Vampi. I remembered the demon being an alien twist but completely forgot that the priests were aliens too, so kudos to another story for surprising me with its ending.

I was dreading An Old Game going into it based on the subject matter but I ended up enjoying the story quite a bit. Once again a twist that I did not expect. Ssssh was a fun story. Joe Vaultz is a so-so artist for me, he can't draw humans good so his stories are pretty much always about aliens, robots or monsters. The problem is its really hard for anything he draws to come off as scary so it doesn't really fit for horror magazines. He is also one of several artists that Warren will employ that very much come off like they are aping Richard Corben's style, but come nowhere close to being as good as Corben. Brothers was another fairly good story for me, with Ortiz doing a great job drawing the monsters and the twist, yet again, surprised me. A Slight Case of Overkill was quite the disaster, a story with seemingly no ending and similar to Reality Twice Removed comes off as Dubay spending all his time on some fictional political scenario. I wonder if this was yet another story meant for the all ape issue. If so it kinda boggles the mind how they commissioned so many stories for an issue that they clearly didn't have the space to fit them all in. I enjoyed There Shall Come a Great Darkness a bit more than you did. One Hell of a War in stark contrast to a lot of stories this month was very predictable, but once again I am very much a fan of Duranona's art.

I rushed a read of Eerie #94 yesterday o make it in time for this post only to realize now that it was published the next month. Oops. At least I'm ahead again.

Grant said...

At the very least, Vampirella # 70 has a great cover. At least, a hot comic book character with a snake qualifies as a great one to me.

Jack Seabrook said...

'Nuff said, Grant!