Monday, January 9, 2023

The Warren Report Issue 101: March 1979



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

Barbara Leigh
Vampirella #76

"Curse of the Pasha's Princess"
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Jose Gonzalez

"Gravity Field"★1/2
Story by Bob Toomey
Art by Pepe Moreno

"The Games of Sharn"★1/2
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Ramon Torrents

"Swift Sculpture"
Story by Bob Toomey
Art by Val Mayerik

"Time for a Change"
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by Alex Nino

"The Haunted"
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Russ Heath

Pasha Hamadan el Sarib, military governor of Gwadar, Pakistan, senses that his late wife's spirit has returned to bring him to join her in the afterlife. Not quite ready to give up the ghost, he calls for a seer to help him speak with the dead. A fake fortune teller sees this as an easy way to work herself into the Pasha's good graces (and his bank account). Nearby, Vampirella is starring in The Banshee of Baghdad, an epic that is being filmed on location. Her pal Pantha is by her side every step of the way. When Vampi and Pantha head out into the streets to sample the local nightlife, they run into the Pasha, who invites them back to his palace to attend that night's seance.

As the fake mystic begins to speak in the voice of the Pasha's wife, Vampirella accuses her of being a fake and the seance falls apart. In the hours that follow, Pantha notices that Vampi has taken on a new personality and it soon becomes apparent that she is possessed by the spirit of the Pasha's wife. He welcomes her into his bedroom and she tries to knife him in the back, fulfilling the "Curse of  the Pasha's Princess." One of the Pasha's men performs an exorcism and Vampi is set free; the Pasha explains that his wife was jealous of his many other wives and wanted him to join her in the afterlife. The fake fortune teller and her lover vow to keep trying to work their way into the Pasha's favor.

Bill DuBay doesn't have much of a story to tell here, so Jose Gonzalez lets loose with the sexy poses and topless shots of Vampi and Pantha. The art is fairly good, though many of the pages have so little ink that I started to wonder if they might be pencil drawings. I still have a hard time telling Vampi and Pantha apart.

Gavin O'Leary, a member of the IRA, has stowed away on a spaceship and holds the crew at gunpoint after announcing that he is confiscating the ship as partial reparation for British crimes in Northern Ireland. The ship is en route to Titan and has stopped to study debris that got too close to a black hole. Suddenly, Gavin shoots a crew member named Herbert in the head, killing him instantly. A female crew member explains that they no longer have anyone with the knowledge to navigate the ship toward home. Herbert's body is jettisoned into space and torn apart as it nears the black hole's "Gravity Field." Moments later, Herbert reappears outside the ship and is brought inside, a bit cold but otherwise fine. The black hole begins to speak to the crew through the ship's computer, explaining that it has godlike powers and has never encountered any intelligent beings before. It asks to be brought back to Earth, where it can cure all ills, and the crew agrees.

Sometimes, it's nice to read a story that doesn't have a twist ending or a downbeat climax. Here, Herbert is resurrected by the godlike black hole, which asks to come back alongside the ship to fix all of the problems on Earth. I wasn't sure how a black hole could accomplish any of this, especially when the human body is torn to shreds upon getting near it, but I'm willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of the tale.

A lovely evening spent lying on the grass is interrupted for Richard and Kathy by the appearance of Kleth, a visitor from the planet Sharn. Richard is not human, it turns out--he is really Zynth, from Sharn, who has taken on human form and fallen in love with an Earth woman. Kleth tells Zynth that, as punishment for his crimes, everyone on Earth must die. Richard invokes his right to participate in "The Games of Sharn" and, if he succeeds, Earth will be saved.

The games entail Richard and Kathy being tossed about throughout history from one place and time to the next. Richard must determine who is to kill him in each scenario and he manages to figure it all out, dying in Ancient Egypt, on a ship attacked by pirates, in No Man's Land during WWI, and finally, in Darkest Africa. The solution to the mystery requires Kathy to die, but in the end, both Richard and Kathy are back in the grass, with no memory of what has happened.

Not a bad story, but the art by Torrents is a bit stiff and relies too much on what look like swipes from photos. The march through time and place seems corny, and I wasn't sure why Kathy was brought along with Richard, but once again I'm satisfied by the happy ending. That's two stories in a row!

A woman warrior named Catseye journeys through a frozen land with her horse and her wolf, Temujin. She encounters two large creatures called Snow Ghasts, one of whom kills and eats her horse. She kills the other and recruits the survivor to carry their packs. They reach a cavern and the Snow Ghast becomes terrified of the evil it thinks lies within; it attacks her wolf and she kills it. A large dragon emerges from within the cavern and presents Catseye with a large, frozen drop of its own blood, which Temujin licks and is healed by. The dragon shows off its workshop of beautiful ice sculptures and asks Catseye and Temujin to pose for a "Swift Sculpture."

It turns out that she has sought out the dragon to create a memorial on the island of Rask'khal for mariners lost at sea. The dragon complies and they travel together to the island, where the residents show their gratitude by presenting the dragon with a sexy female dragon. Catseye requests the pick of the litter as payment for bringing the dragon and the sculpture safely to Rask'khal.

Am I reading a Warren mag? There is an unexpected surfeit of cheerful, happy endings in this issue! I probably like sword and sorcery even less than science fiction, but I found this story charming and fun to read. Bill DuBay would have made the dragon goofier, but Bob Toomey strikes just the right balance here, making it almost a reluctant dragon in the way it interacts with Catseye. The art by Val Mayerik is just right, avoiding the musclebound posing of Pablo Marcos and the awkward posing of some of the Spanish artists.

After nine years in outer space, it's "Time for a Change." Lt. Roark suspects than an alien boarded the combination space lab and refueling station a year ago, and she tries to convince Commander Thomm that she's right. Her argues with her, but when she discovers that the entire rest of the crew was killed and hidden in an empty food storage locker, the alien explains that it kept her alive for company, since they have three more years in space. Three years later, the relief crew arrives to find that Roark killed the alien and has spent her time surrounded by the decomposing bodies of the dead crew members, playing a very long game of poker that she always wins.

Alex Nino's art is technically great, but his resistance to using panels to tell the story (Will Eisner's term is "sequential art") gets tiresome very quickly. Here, it takes extra effort to follow what's going on since, even though the tale is only five pages long, Nino draws each page without any panels to separate the actions. It's especially confusing on the last page, where the confrontation between Roark and the alien bleeds into the discovery of the dead crew members three years later. I think that if Nino were reined in a bit, he might be a better storyteller.

As Roland James approaches the notorious Blochman House, he recalls his girlfriend Glenda asking him why he feels compelled to spend the night in a structure where a man brutally murdered his entire family. Roland enters the house and recalls a life spent trying to live up to the example set by his brother. First it was as a teenager, when Roland was nearly killed trying to duplicate his brother's reckless swimming stunt. Then, when his brother became a war hero, Roland engaged in increasingly reckless behavior. Spending a night in the Blochman House is just the latest attempt to emerge from his brother's shadow.

Roland lies in bed in the master bedroom and hears someone coming up the stairs. He's convinced it's a hoax, until a shambling corpse appears before him, bloody cleaver in hand. Cut to his girlfriend answering the door sometime later. She thinks Roland is at the door, but it's his brother Michael, who takes her to see Roland, who is now in a straitjacket in a padded cell. Michael admits he was a coward who faked his wartime heroism. He wonders if he can be forgiven as Glenda runs off in tears.

Whew! I kept expecting a clunker, but the final story is the best in the issue! Jones takes the haunted house cliche and works it into a story of a brother tortured by the compulsion to live up to the deeds of his sibling; this aspect of the story quickly becomes more interesting than the night in the haunted house. Heath does a great job with the visuals, both from the standpoint of horror (the panel with the cleaver in hand is subtle and effective, hinting at but not showing much of Blochman) and from the standpoint of cheesecake, as in the panel where Glenda lies topless in bed, listening to Roland.-Jack

Peter-There's no denying that no one draws better breasts and tush than Jose Gonzalez (except, maybe, Russ Heath... keep reading) but I'm finding it very hard to differentiate between vampiress and were-panther. The two gals are nearly twins. The plot of "Pasha" is extremely hard to follow and, in the end, it's just more silly rubbish. On how many movie sets can Vampirella find supernatural activities? And how long will this silly actress stuff keep up?

"Gravity Field" started cleverly but lost me with its complicated science and goofy climax. As in this month's Creepy #106, Moreno and Toomey make a decent team. Halfway through "The Games of Sharn," Kathy reads my mind and screeches "For the love of God! What in the world is happening?" Like so much of the sci-fi printed on Warren newsprint, "Sharn" reads like one of those vanity zines published by comic fans in the 1970s. Everybody wants to be the next Tolkien but, alas, I didn't even like the original Tolkien. 

"Swift Sculpture" is cute, I guess, and any Mayerik is welcome but the story meanders as if Toomey had no idea where he was going when he sat down at his typewriter. I loved the experiment that Alex Nino does with panel disposal in "Time for a Change" much more than I loved the "Who Goes There" plot lift. 

Four stars for "The Haunted," Jack? Man, you are hungry for a decent story. I had to read it twice to figure out what was going on. I'll give it three stars for a decent haunted house and Russ Heath's magnificent penciling (Heath cheesecake is the tastiest!). It's certainly better than "The Games of Sharn" but not on the top rung of Bruce Jones's career.

Romas Kukalis
Creepy #106

"Quimby the Barbarian" ★★★
Story by Bob Toomey
Art by Pablo Marcos

"Fangs" ★1/2
Story by Laurie Sutton
Art by Leopoldo Duranona

"Swords in the World Series" ★★
Story by Ken Gale
Art by Jim Starlin & Joe Rubinstein

"Primal Equation" ★★
Story by Budd Lewis & Jon Sinsky
Art by Isidro Mones

"Sudden Death Playoff" ★★1/2
Story by Bob Toomey
Art by Pepe Moreno

"The Art of Killing" ★★1/2
Story by Larry Hama
Art by Val Mayerik

As a means of relaxing, Quimby the tax accountant visits a dream broker on weekends and lives out his fantasies as "Qumby the Barbarian." With his tactical mind and devious plans, Quimby seems to have no match in his dream worlds and all enemies are vanquished and sent back to the "real world" in no time at all. That is, until Quimby encounters the High Priestess of Misty Castle, a super-hot model who shoots fire balls and loves to torture her prisoners. Quimby has never been on the receiving end of a losing war but it seems there's a first time for everything. Even in dreams. When Quimby awakens, he discovers the High Priestess is, in reality, his wife Edith, who loved the game and can't wait to play again.

A fun and witty send-up of the barbarian genre; Quimby and his first opponent, a stockbroker, make lunch and business plans while clanging steel aboard a pirate ship. Pablo Marcos's view of the human anatomy hasn't changed a bit but, at least in this instance, the throbbing gristle is apt for the macho atmosphere. The High Priestess is pin-up material.

Mer-gal Janora is smart enough to avoid becoming shark bait but evidently just dumb enough to fall victim to the Master Sorcerer, who transforms Janora into a blood-thirsty sea vampire. Rebelling, she leads her mer-people in an attack on the vampires and, after the war is over, she heads out to sea, knowing she could never be with her friends again. Eventually rising in the waters off Alaska, Janora is captured by a fisherman with dreams of grandeur and fame. Janora makes a quick meal of the fool. 

"Fangs" is barely readable, an amateurish fantasy that lacks focus and also looks incredibly ugly. Duranona uses photos to fill up his frames but what's in those photos is a mystery. The splash is incomprehensible but if I had to take a stab, I'd say it's one of the vampires attempting to fellate a mushroom. I've got a really silly question: how does a vampire drink blood underwater? And how in the world does this story qualify as Sword-and-Sorcery? 

In another dimension, sorcerers Wardoc and Amboq fight a never-ending battle, with their world as the prize. When Wardoc's best barbarian falls in combat to Amboq's champion, Tharkun, Wardoc thinks it best to hightail it before his head is on a stake. He hyper-drives to present-day New York, where he's fascinated by the love for the Yankees. Determined to grab a piece of this adoration, Wardoc transforms his magic sword into a baseball bat and leads the Yanks to the World Series, sweeping the first three games. Alas, while going for the sweep, every Bronx Bombers fan's nightmare materializes at home plate. No, not Randy Johnson (or Josh Becket or Justin Verlander--Jack), but sorcerer Amboq, who's finally tracked down his fleeing enemy and swears to deliver the final blow in front of thousands of crazed fans. 

Another really silly fantasy, "Swords in the World Series" is good for a few laughs but the art by the usually reliable Starlin is clunky and amateurish. Probably the result of inking by Joe Rubinstein, a DC and Marvel vet who was, at the time, embellishing The Incredible Hulk. No surprise then that Amboq's champion fighter, Tharkun, is as close to a copy of Hulk as Warren could get away with without ending up in court again.

The war between male and female reaches its... um, climax when there are no warriors left alive on the battlefield. But wait! One soldier from each side survives and they both seek victory. But after a few sword thrusts and skinned knees, the two do what comes natural to bloodthirsty barbarians... they fall madly in love! But coitus interruptus arrives in the form of a giant spaceship that sucks all of the dead bodies from the battlefield into its interior and zips away. 

When a simple explanation just won't do!
Conan and Sonja follow and come across a huge building housing boatloads of computers and machinery. Atop the magnificent gizmos sits a huge fetus. Our heroes overhear two scientists conversing about the giant baby's feeding habits... it just loves dead bodies. Overcome with anger, the male warrior destroys the fetus and is scolded by the scientists, who explain that the child was an experiment in love and peace and was set to take over the vast wasteland as a new form of mankind. Oops!

"Primal Equation" is all kinds of silly, from its 180 degree turn in character emotions ("I want to kill you, you crazed male beast... wait, I think I love you, you crazed male beast...") to its uber-preachy expository delivered in a most clunky style, but I'll give it a one-star bump for its effective artwork. 

In the eccentric "Sudden Death Playoff," an astronaut plays a mental game of golf with an invading alien, with the Earth as the grand prize. Though I wasn't completely won over by this one (it's a tad confusing at times), I'll recommend it for two reasons: Bob Toomey's imaginative plot and Moreno's stark, atmospheric pencil work. With this coming in the same issue as a baseball story, perhaps this should have been designated a "Special Swords and Sports Issue."

And then there's "The Art of Killing," a competently told story, but void of anything resembling sorcery or horror. An Asian swordsman teaches his son everything there is to learn about Zen and the art of the sword but the young man still has a few hard lessons to learn before he can become a master. "The Art of Killing" seems to be something that might have been slotted for Marvel's The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, which had ended its run a couple of years before the publication of Creepy #106; it certainly doesn't belong in a horror magazine. I'm very fond of Val Mayerik's Marvel horror but here his work seems sketchy and rushed. 

Joe Brancatelli hits yet another home run with his column this month on the greed of comic book investing. Oh, those wonderful days of 1978 when you could buy a near-mint copy of Fantastic Four #1 for $1200. I bet readers at the time were wishing, as I am now, they could pop into a time machine and come back with a stack of 1961 funny books to sell to the rich folk at Comic-Con.-Peter

Jack-My favorite story in this issue is "The Art of Killing." I like the martial arts theme and I recall liking Larry Hama's work on Iron Fist and Wulf. Mayerik turns in the best art job this time out. "Sudden Death Playoff" is surprisingly entertaining for a story about golf, my least favorite sport. Joe Rubenstein's inks make Starlin's pencils look like the work of Sal Buscema in places and, while I'm always happy to see a story about the Yankees, I don't know why they used Reggie Jackson's middle name (Martinez) instead of his real name.

I agree with you that "Quimby" is amusing and that the satire makes Marcos's art fit for a change. "Primal Equation" is silly and mercifully short, while "Fangs" has a weak storyline and vague art that doesn't help clarify matters.

Next Week...
Year Two closes with a bang!

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