Monday, January 23, 2023

The Warren Report Issue 102: April 1979



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

Jordi Penalva
Eerie #100

"Master of Ti Chi"
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Alfredo Alcala & Jim Janes

Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Isidro Mones

"In a Strange Land"
Story by Leo Durnanona & Cary Bates
Art by Leo Duranona

Story and Art by Jim Starlin

Restin Dane has traveled back to the Arizona desert in 1875, looking for Ti Chi, the legendary retreat of ancient Oriental warriors. Overcome by the heat, he finds an oasis and drinks from its water.

Meanwhile, in 1979, an alien spaceship crash lands in the Florida Everglades. Soon, the Pentagon pages Restin Dane, but since he's traveling through time, only Bishop Dane and Manners are available to respond. General Waxton T. Bean tells them that aliens have landed in Florida!

Back in 1875, Restin is captured and taken to Ti Chi, a city that lies beneath the desert floor in a massive cavern. In his prison cell he meets Lo Yang, guardian of the holy city, who explains that the tyrant Chekiang rules with an iron fist. In his chambers, Chekiang worries that Restin is the savior whose arrival was prophesied and who will remove him from power.

In 1979, Bishop and Manners hop into one of Restin's ships and head for Florida.

In 1875, Restin is brought before Chekiang, insisting he is no savior. Despite that, Chekiang explains that Restin will be sacrificed in front of the people in order to show that Chekiang is the rightful ruler. Restin attempts to escape.

Bishop and Manners arrive in the Everglades, while Restin is made ready to die in the arena. Chekiang's daughter explains how things have gone steadily downhill in Ti Chi and helps Restin escape so that he can confer with her rebel band. Before long, Chekiang finds the rebels and confronts Restin.

In the Everglades, Bishop realizes that the reports of an alien invasion have been exaggerated, while a deaf and dumb local man tries to help the injured alien, who only wants to bring peace and goodness to the people of Earth.

In Ti Chi, Restin is again imprisoned and again visited by Lo Yang, who grants Restin the wisdom of the seven fathers, making him the savior that he was thought to be. Restin breaks out of his cell and rescues the rebels.

In 1979, the general vows to destroy the alien, Bishop calls him an egomaniac, and the alien prepares to bring his positive message to the Earthlings.

Restin confronts Chekiang and his warriors and fights them off with ease; once Chekiang sees the spirit of Lo Yang emerge from Restin's body, he begs for mercy but is impaled on iron spikes.

In 1979, the general and his men see the alien and kill him; Bishop tells him off and shows him the alien's message of warmth and kindness.

In 1875, Restin is knocked in the head by one of Chekiang's men and suddenly returns to 1979, where Manners welcomes him home.

Alcala or no Alcala, "Master of Ti Chi" is a 30-page stinker of a story. The art is mediocre at best and the narrative mixes warmed over plotlines from Master of Kung Fun with an aliens among us plotline that was old in 1970. DuBay relies on cheap Christian imagery, with both Restin and the alien being compared to Jesus and treated accordingly, and the back and forth from 1875 to 1979 gets tiresome very quickly. Hopefully, this series will improve soon.

A decayed humanoid searches the rubble of a city and finds a tub of lard to eat; a spaceship appears, pulls him skyward with a tractor beam, and incinerates him. On the ground, a human named Juda looks on disapprovingly. Inside one of the huge domes that dot the ruined city, an older woman named Nightshadow and a young man named Chaddo sneak in to view the Orion warships that arrived from outer space and caused "Gotterdamerung!" on Earth in the course of a single day. Nightshadow and Chaddo are caught by a robionic (part human, part robot), who holds them at gunpoint for the benefit of the aliens monitoring the scene but who quietly informs his prisoners that he is on their side. The robionic had been a pilot in one of the ships that opposed the Orions; his broken body was rescued and rebuilt so that they could take advantage of his knowledge.

The robionic exiles the duo outside the dome, where they meet Juda, who tells them that he thinks the few Earth people who have survived are soon going to rebel against the Orions. Just then, an Orion ship attacks, but Juda blows it out of the sky with a heat-seeking missile. He tells Chaddo of a repeated radio message he's been getting that consists of a single word: "Soon." In the weeks that follow, the trio sneak into the dome and train for rebellion with the robionic; Orion soldiers discover them just as the quartet successfully starts a beaten-up old spaceship and takes off, bursting through the outside of the dome to freedom!

I realize that it's a Star Wars knockoff, but I enjoyed "Gotterdamerung!" quite a bit. I liked the creepy scavenger with flesh falling off its body and I didn't mind the Han Solo (Juda) and Luke Skywalker (Chaddo) knockoffs. One panel, a close up of Chaddo, has to be a swipe from a still of Mark Hamill. The beaten-up ship at the end looks like the Millennium Falcon. What can I say? It's a fun story. Maybe I need to watch Star Wars again sometime soon.
Winner of the award for Best Warren artist of 1978!

Picking up where "The Horizon Seekers" left off last issue, the man and woman float along over post-apocalyptic Earth, comparing notes on what little they remember. They had both succumbed to the Big Sleep (no, not that one) and awoke to find civilization destroyed and humans behaving like animals. Neither has any memory of their lives before the Sleep and now it seems like they are strangers "In a Strange Land." Suddenly, below them, they see a jeep with Shexa, the sheik from whom they escaped, chasing their balloon. One of his men blows holes in the basket and the balloon, forcing the duo to abandon the basket and cling to the balloon, which drifts off into the distance before crash landing in a snowbank. Seeking shelter in a crevice, the duo identify themselves as Jesse and Allison and wonder if they knew each other prior to the Big Sleep.

Midway through this issue we are treated to the 1978 Warren Awards which, if you can believe it, give the title of Best Artist to our favorite whipping boy, Leo Duranona! His art in this story is about on par with what we're used to; I guess someone (Jim Warren?) must have liked it. Even though I read part one of "The Horizon Seekers" saga only a few weeks ago I had forgotten it (it's not memorable) until the sheik in the jeep turned up.

Darklon the Mystic and his father, Kavar Darkhold, face off in a "Duel." Now that Darklon has promised his birthright to the Nameless One, Kavar must kill him, since "no heir may be chosen while an issue of the throne still lives." The duel ends with Kavar's death; the Nameless One quickly appears on the scene to take over as ruler of Nebularia. Nameless banishes Darklon, only to see himself and the planet explode due to a contamination agent placed by Darklon.

Meanwhile, in a hospital in a New England suburb in 1979, two doctors watch two patients who are unconscious but whose active pupils reveal a dream state. The doctors don't know it, but the patients are Darklon and Kavar; when Kavar dies in the duel, he dies on the table, and when Darklon survives, his vital signs stabilize.

"Duel" reads like a really good issue of a Marvel comic circa 1975. Starlin writes and draws it and he really gives it his all; the story is exciting and the art is superb. But he's no Leo Duranona!-Jack

Peter- All you gotta do is tell me I have to read a 30-page Rook story and I'll tell you anything you want to know. The password for my bank accounts. Where the bodies are buried. How I convinced Jack to take on these miserable funny books in the first place. Just please, don't make me read "Master of Ti Chi." All right, you win. I'd rather read this than watch another season of Yellowstone. I'm the world's number one Alcala fan, as anyone who reads our various blogs knows, but thirty pages of dense, complicated, head-scratching, eye-rolling, dictionary-challenging dialogue from the typewriter of Bill DuBay is no one's idea of a good time. There should have been a drawing of a curtain halfway through the story to let us know there was an intermission. Bill's oh-so-deep religious messages were delivered with such a heavy hammer, it left a dent in my forehead. While an overbearing feeling of narcolepsy overcame me, I must also begrudgingly respect the fact that Bill delivered what looks to be ten thousand words in those thirty pages. I'd be in awe if they amounted to something.

"Gotterdamerung!" is yet another excruciating rip-off of Star Wars in both script and art (though I would argue Juda looks more like Lee Majors than Harrison Ford) and helps further the argument that very little Warren sci-fi was digestible. At least the Mones art here is better than in this month's Vampi. While I'm blathering about pop culture larceny, can anyone find me a reference to a "First Encounter" before Christmas 1977? Even though the second chapter of "The Horizon Seekers" neither advances the plot much nor delivers any stunning twists, I liked it. Perhaps because I disliked so much this month and was grasping for anything... any little crumb... that might provide entertainment. Duranona's art wasn't all that bad, so I assume this is the story that garnered him that Best Artist bowling trophy. The final Starlin "Darklon" (there will be another appearance far down the road, but Rich Margopoulos and Al Sanchez tackle the writer/artist chores on that one so obviously Starlin didn't own the character he created) is gorgeous to behold and a lot of fun to read. The series had a lot of the cosmic vibe that made Starlin so popular but it's still an odd choice for a Warren series. This has Marvel written all over it. A colorized version of the Darklon stories was released in 1983 by Pacific Comics.

Barbara Leigh
Vampirella #77

"Shadow of the Dragon" 
Story by Bill Dubay
Art by Gonzalo Mayo

"The Night of the Yeti!" 
Story by Michael Fleisher
Art by Russ Heath

"The Night the Birds Fell" 
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by Moreno Casares

"Siren of the Seekonk" ★1/2
Story by Jonathon Thomas
Art by Rafael Auraleon

"Weird Wolf" 
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Jeff Easley

"Futura House is Not a Home" ★1/2
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by Isidro Mones

Conrad and Adam Van Helsing are summoned to Hong Kong by Con's old friend, Inspector Avery LeGrande, to help investigate and put a halt to a series of chilling and vicious murders. In each case, the victim is slaughtered on the docks of Hong Kong Harbor and the killer (purportedly non-human) dives into the bay after its supper. Con, Adam, and Avery discuss the possible explanations for this paranormal activity but Con can't help wishing that Vampirella and Pantha were with them to assist.

Coincidentally, Vampi, Pantha, and Pen pull into the exact same port (what are the chances?) on the yacht of a movie producer who's hoping to talk our Drakulonian into starring in his next big-budget epic. The director leaves Pen and the gals in the hands of a deliciously gay assistant named Bruce (but it should be Mick), who drops Pen off at a local pub and takes the girls on a sightseeing tour. As is his wont, dopey Pendragon manages to cause a ruckus in the bar and is escorted out the door by a burly sailor (we know he's a sailor cuz he's wearing a cap and a striped shirt). What foul deed is on the mariner's mind? Stay tuned...

This is an odd one. Not that any of the Vampi adventures are what you'd call conventional, but "Shadow of the Dragon" is like three unfinished vignettes sewn together. No narrative is advanced. How is it possible that the girls land in the same port as the VHs without either side having advance word? Is the Warren World that small? The Detective Avery section is little more than a relating of Asian myths and giant dragons don't seem to be a possibility here. I assume Vampi's director has something to do with the mayhem, since they usually do. Is it me or has Pantha had a complete makeover? She doesn't look anything like the girl we've seen in past episodes. Perhaps the powers that be had finally relayed the message that the gals were starting to look a little too much alike? The art is great, as always, but I can't shake that weird feeling that none of the characters are actually talking to each other. The girls are usually holding their hips and throwing back their hair and the guys just look off into space. Oh, my burning question for the issue has nothing to do with where Popeye is hauling Pen off to, but rather, what the hell is holding up Pantha's bikini top? 

Anthropologist Phil Templeton has always been obsessed with the myth of the Abominable Snowman and, in an effort to prove the legend is flesh-and-blood, the science nerd heads into the Himalayas with his gorgeous wife, Joanne, and their bestest friend, Stephen Strange Bill Cummings. Alas, disaster hits in the shape of an ice storm and Phil is whooooshed off the side of the mountain to his (alleged) death. Phil's companions survive and Bill decides it's a good time to tell Joanne he wants her for his girl. Joanne insists Phil is still alive and she loves him, so no dice.

Sure enough, thousands of feet below, Phil awakens with nothing more than a few scratches and a hungry tummy. He makes do with the little furry animals he can catch and holes up in a convenient cave on the side of the mountain. A few days pass without incident until the night Phil discovers he shares the cave with a giant bear. The vicious beast takes a whack at Phil and rips open his throat, severing his esophagus. With nothing but a knife, our hero kills the bear and tends to his own wounds. Slicing the bear open, he uses the pelt for warmth and heads out into the cold to find his partners.

Bill, never having learned the definition of the word "no," once again forces himself on Joanne and gets a slap across the face for his troubles. The peeved woman heads out into the night to gather her thoughts just as Phil comes traipsing up the mountain. Since he has no voice box, he's wearing a bearskin rug, and amazingly has grown a ZZ Top beard and Robert Plant mane in a matter of days, Joanne does not recognize him as her betrothed until his moanings reach a fever pitch and the lightbulb, as they say, comes on over her head.

Hearing a ruckus outside his tent, Bill grabs his rifle, sees what he believes to be a Yeti attacking his prime cut, and sets a bullet in motion. Joanne jumps in front of Yeti-Phil and takes one right between the 44DDs. Not one to give up, Bill then shoots Phil in the head, triggering an avalanche. Bill is killed but Phil rises from the snow to become the legendary Yeti!

I was tempted to give this Ed Wood-ian pile of road apples a four-star rating since I haven't laughed this much since the 2020 Republican Convention. There's not one original idea within these ten pages. We've seen this Abdominal Snowguy plot dozens of times... ditto the horndog buddy and busty femme fatale. All that's left then is Russ Heath's art, which is pretty good considering he really isn't given anything cool to draw besides icy mountains and glistening tatas. This must be the warmest Himalayan mountain on record as Joanne has no problem wandering around with no snowsuit and the golden globes on display for all the sherpas to see (Heath obviously had some fun with those panels). And let's address the amazing rapid growth of hair on Phil. Mike Fleisher lets us know a few days have passed so a five o'clock shadow is certainly not beyond believability but Yeti-Phil has a head of hair Trevor Lawrence would covet. If you're looking for serious commentary on the plight of the Yeti, pick up a DVD of Snowbeast but if you just need a few minutes to escape the grind of the day and pine for the time when editors gave Michael Fleisher free rein to transmit his goofiness, "The Night of the Yeti" might be just what you need.

After experiencing a near-midair crash, Eddie, an air traffic controller, starts imagining that birds are attacking him. He has a bit of a calm-down coffee with an air stewardess, who's obviously upset by Eddie's post-traumatic stress, and then heads back into the tower. He murders his co-workers and then deliberately causes a crash between two 747s (one of which, of course, has the air stewardess on board). 

Seriously, "Night the Birds Fell" is one of the stupidest and most aimless stories I've read in a Warren comic. Eddie's childhood trauma (birds and airplanes disturb him) is as head-scratching as his vocation. I thought air traffic controllers were vetted to the Nth degree even in the primitive 1970s, but obviously not. The story itself seems jumbled, as if Cuti had three or four fragments and decided to tie them together. They don't fit. The art looks like Casares sent the Warren offices some rough sketches and ideas and Louise misunderstood them to be the finished product. Eddie as a child looks to be in his early teens but talks like he's three. The final panel, with its Hitler comparison, would be a big guffaw if it wasn't in such poor taste. Tripe.

Despondent over the break-up of his marriage, Will LeBlanc stands on a bridge over the Seekonk, contemplating suicide. Just before jumping (and thereby extending the reader's tortuous journey), Will believes he sees a water woman beckoning him from the river. When Will's ex, Lisa, threatens to commit him, he strangles her and chops her corpse up into little pieces, feeding her to the siren. For a moment, Will is happy, until he sees a male rise from the waves and help Will's beautiful vision munch on Lisa's entrails. Will jumps from the bridge to be with his beloved ex-wife.

Jonathon Thomas stands in the Warren cafeteria, having just read Nick Cuti's wretched script for "The Night the Birds Fell," smiles, and says "Hold my beer!" Two truly awful stories in a row isn't exactly unheard of in the Warren canon, but "Birds" and "Siren of the Seekonk" represent a new one-two punch pinnacle in disposability. Perhaps if these stories weren't so pretentious, I could see some ray of light, but both are  unrelentingly depressing and (here's that word again) aimless. The big laugh is when Lisa contacts the nice young men in their clean white coats to come take Will away and tells them she'll go into his apartment and calm him down but that it might take a while. In the meantime, Will throttles and then carefully dissects the woman in his bathtub and stuffs the parts in a big bag, all while the guys are waiting outside! I mean, it took me a few hours to do that. The one aspect of "Siren" that kept me entertained was Will's delightful boss, who seems to live for firing and re-hiring the poor nut. Only Auraleon's decent art saves this from being a one-star disaster.

In the blessedly brief "Weird Wolf," Elmo Reagan is a lycanthrope vacationing in the hick town of Sutter's Falls, but his reign of terror will soon come to an end thanks to a very sharp sheriff and very curvy bait. There's no explanation for why Elmo is referred to as a "weird wolf" rather than werewolf, but with three pages to unravel a "plot" and wrap it up there's not a lot of room for expository, so I'll just chalk it up to Gerry wanting to be different. Jeff Easley, in his first of six Warren appearances, has a decidedly amateurish (almost "underground") style that reminded me of Ralph Reese, but it's palatable. Certainly not something you can say about the 1978 Artist of the Year.

When her family moves into the robot-controlled Futura House, teenager (at least I think she's a teenager!) Kari Brand becomes suspicious of the house itself. Sure enough, she discovers Futura is duplicating the Brand family and replacing them with androids. Kari breaks into the basement, finds what she thinks is the duplicate family and wipes them out with her blaster. Surprise, Kari is a twin and she's killed the real Brands!

I couldn't follow why this evil corporation wanted to hatch this devious scheme (something about robots being easier to manipulate than humans but then, if the home buyers are all "cloned," who pays the mortgage?), but that's the least of the problems with "Futura House is Not a Home." You can't even accuse Nick Cuti of pretension, as the script is just plain dumb and avoids all the "robots would take care of the planet" underlying themes. Cuti wastes enough paper to deliver what he believes to be an "Oh my God!" climax that hinges on what may be one of the most overused twists in science fiction. Love how the tin god in the basement is revealed to be R2-D2. I'm too lazy to go through my notes and combined ratings for each back post, but let's just say this would have to be among the Top Five Worst Vampirella Issues Ever! -Peter

Jack- Vampirella 77 was one of the worst issues I can recall since the end of the "Dark Ages" at Warren. The only story I thought was good was "Weird Wolf," and it was just three pages long. The art reminded me of Crumb and Corben and I didn't expect the surprise twist at the end. "The Night of the Yeti!" is more fun from Fleisher with the usual above-average art by Heath. It made me wonder if Warren was increasing the number of topless panels to try to sell more mags around this time; the rest of the stories in this issue confirmed my suspicion.

"Futura House Is Not a Home" at least makes sense, though it's not original or particularly well drawn. I wish I could say the same for "Shadow of the Dragon," with its atrocious spelling, posed figures in panels, and lack of any meaningful role for Vampi. At least Pantha got a haircut so now I can tell the women apart. "Siren of the Seekonk" seemed longer than eight pages and the last time I recall someone trying to pass off a bald woman as sexy was in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Worst of all was "The Night the Birds Fell," a dreadful story on all fronts. The Nazi reference at the end came out of nowhere!

More baffling bowling trophies!

Next Week...
The unexpected return 
of an old friend


Quiddity99 said...

I really dreaded this Rook story upon seeing how long it was and the story itself didn't do anything to alleviate my concerns. I anxiously wait for when the Rook moves to its own magazine such that I don't have to reread these dreadfully dull and predictable stories anymore. I didn't mind Gotterdammerung that much, beyond it being so obviously a Star Wars ripoff. Mones art isn't as good as the olden days, but it somewhat better here. Even I wouldn't say Duranona is the best Warren artist at this point, LoL. I'd probably award that to Russ Heath. Duel was fairly good; its been so long since the last story that I couldn't remember if the Darklon series had actually been finished, or if this was a continuation of it. Overall they really could have done better with the 100th issue.

I find it strange how Dubay can turn out pretty decent Vampi stories when Jose Gonzalez is the artist, but I don't like them anywhere as much when Mayo's drawing her instead. Another blasé story making me wish Warren was 100% anthology. Pantha having short hair out of nowhere is also a big downgrade, although I'm quite certain that the artists paid no attention to continuity and it will be back to long relatively soon. Perhaps Mayo had a different model this month that he based her on. I agree that Night of the Yeti was quite ridiculous, but I enjoyed it a lot, with some great Heath art. The remainder of the issue was stinker after stinker, can't really disagree with a single thing you've said.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks! Due to the steady decline in quality, we decided to end our journey at the end of 1979 rather than go all the way to 1983. We value our sanity, at least what's left of it.

Quiddity99 said...

I'll miss reading your thoughts on them every 2 weeks, but can't say I blame you, even to me the quality drop has been significant by this point and it gets far, far worse than it is now. Warren is poor at sci-fi and at super heroes and we get far more of it as we get into the 80s. Plus numerous issues full of old inventory stories rejected for years that they subject us to or stuff bought from overseas with totally new scripts written on top of it (which they're already done a lot of to this point).

Off the top of my head I can think of 3 truly great stories left and I think you'll reach at least two of them before bowing out.

Peter Enfantino said...


I truly do mean this-- the only things that have kept me going through the last two years of Warren is the fun of writing with Jack and the fun of reading your (and our other regular penpals') weekly LOCs. I hate giving up on a project without finishing it but (as you've outlined) it ain't going to get any better from here on out. I've read a good portion of the 1980s Warrens (for various other writing projects) and the idea of rereading them, synoping them, and hitting the thesaurus for new ways to say "crap" melts my brain.
But there will be something to fill the void! More on that soon.

Anonymous said...

Well, I’m surely gonna miss the bi-weekly Warren posts, but I really can’t blame you guys for throwing in the towel. I’ve felt kinda guilty myself the past month or so, for not chiming in more often in the Comments section. Truth is, back in the day I’d started to cut back on the Warren titles around ‘78 / ‘79, buying an issue only infrequently. So I rarely have any personal connection to the issues currently being discussed, or pertinent things to say about ‘em.

Sometime in the ‘90s my OCD kicked in and I decided I needed to complete my Warren Collection, and managed to do so without going broke (back issues of Warren mags were relatively cheap at the time). So I do HAVE ‘em all, including all the ROOKs and even the god-awful GOBLINs. But it’s been increasingly hard to work up the enthusiasm to dig em out of their boxes just so I can post snarky comments about ‘em twice a month.

Doing a speed scan of the contents of the remaining years of the Big Three at the Grand Comics Database confirms it — things do get grim and grimmer going forward. The highlights are few and far between. There’s only one more Heath job, I think, five or six more Toth stories (about half of them pencilled by other artists), a handful of Marotos, etc. Jose Gonzalez only draws a few more Vampirella stories here and there, with Rudy Nebres and Pablo Marcos becoming the main artists on the strip.

Also, Warren starts relying more and more on reprints. I actually didn’t mind buying the Wrightson, Toth, Wood and Ditko reprint Specials — for awhile there, i think they were the only Warrens I was buying fresh off the rack.

Anyhow, it’s been fun! Looking forward to reading your last few Warren Reports before you pull the plug for good, and to whatever else you have in the works too.


Jack Seabrook said...

We really appreciate your comments. Without them we'd just be talking to each other.