Monday, February 6, 2023

The Warren Report Issue 103: May 1979



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

Barbara Leigh
Vampirella #78

"Kiss of the Dragon Queen!"★1/2
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Gonzalo Mayo

"Little Guy"★1/2
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by Rafael Auraleon

Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Jose Ortiz

"The Service"
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Jim Starlin & Alfredo Alcala

"Zooner or Later"
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Russ Heath

Bruce Charming leaves Vampi and Pantha to their own devices on the streets of Hong Kong and meets with a drug dealer who refers to herself as the Dragon Lady. Pantha goes off with a sexy sailor who wants to show her his big dinghy, while Pendragon appears to have been shanghaied by a Chinese sailor. Vampi hears a scream coming from a warehouse and changes into bat form to investigate; inside the warehouse, she sees a dragon attack an old woman and then disappear down a sewer hole.

Inspector LeGrande rushes to the scene with Conrad and Adam; the police venture into the sewers and shoot the beast, which turns out to be an alligator. In Drakulonian form again, Vampi joins Belasco on a boat and meets the Dragon Lady. Vampi overhears the duo and realizes that they are drug smugglers; meanwhile, the old woman from the warehouse insists that she saw a dragon and not an alligator. Adam joins LeGrande and the police in the sewers to resume the search.

"Kiss of the Dragon Queen!" is better than part one of this saga, but not by much. At least the story is beginning to make sense. I wish I could say the same for Mayo's art, which mostly consists of characters facing the reader in various poses. There are more than a few panels where the dialogue of Chinese characters is rendered in Chinese, leaving the American or English characters as befuddled as the reader. I think DuBay was saving himself the trouble of coming up with word balloon filler.

Can we talk about the cover for a second? Is that an actual, unretouched photo? Good heavens. Barbara Leigh certainly was fit!

John Littleman may be a clown today, but this "Little Guy" was once a successful jockey. His tall, beautiful wife Delores works in show biz as well, as the woman who appears to be sawed in two by a chainsaw-wielding magician named Makjo. The magician has a plan to rob a shipment of gold from a train, but he needs Littleman to hide inside a small box in order to carry off the heist. The little guy refuses and Delores backs him up, so Makjo chainsaws her for real in the middle of his act, calling it an accident. The magician tells Littleman that he now has no reason to object to the robbery plan, but Littleman turns the tables by getting Makjo drunk and convincing him to climb into the box himself. He doesn't quite fit, so Littleman chainsaws his legs off.

A disgusting ending to a dumb story. Auraleon's art is better than Mayo's, but the premise of the story is weak and Cuti has to tie himself up in knots with the plot in order to make everything work out in the end. The robbery idea is far-fetched and Makjo's decision to murder Delores in order to get Littleman to go along with his plan is clearly doomed to fail.

Another guy who wants to show off his big dinghy.
A new recruit in the French Foreign Legion takes the name of Errol Flynn and refuses to divulge any details about his past. He has a strong, negative reaction when he is taken to a Moroccan bordello, but when a gay fellow soldier propositions him, he decks the man. When the soldiers are ordered to march across the desert, Flynn refuses, happily spending a week locked up in the guardhouse. Eventually, Bedouins attack the forts and then flee. Flynn is among the soldiers ordered to pursue them into the desert and he reluctantly agrees. In the middle of the desert, Flynn begins talking about "Passion" and comes face to face with a T-Rex. Later, Flynn is in the hospital, bandaged from head to toe. No one can explain why it looks like he's been gnawed at by a dinosaur--all he can ask is if his captain knows what it means to love!

This story must have been gathering dust in a Warren file drawer for several years, since Englehart was long gone. Little wonder. It makes next to no sense. Perhaps Peter can explain it to me. Did Flynn try to avoid the desert because he was having a passionate, physical love affair with a T Rex? At least the art by Ortiz is the best yet in this issue.

He's tired of showing off his big dinghy.
A handsome male robot named Reggie travels from planet to planet, performing "The Service" for lonely women until he malfunctions. Amy calls for a repairman and Ambrose arrives; when she drags him to bed, she discovers that he's real and threatens to eliminate him, since all men were done away with long ago. He offers to fix Reggie and let him stay a month, but she forces Ambrose to become her slave, cooking, cleaning, loving, etc. till he's worn out. He builds a sexy new robot companion for her and takes off in his spaceship, not realizing that she, too, was a robot.

For some reason, Alcala's inks over a good penciller never look very good to me. The art in this story is mediocre, which fits the narrative. It's corny and predictable and the twist at the end seems pointless. It's disappointing that three good comic creators can't do better than this.

A dinghy joke here
would be inappropriate.
Hatch is 42, rich, and a jerk, so when he's given a diagnosis of terminal cancer, he tries to use his money to find a cure. Nothing works--not experimental drugs, or Jesus, or an Indian witch doctor. His African cook tells him about a jungle tribe called the Zooner who worship the great river horse (hippopotamus) and say they can cure any man. Hatch makes his way to deepest, darkest Africa and finds the Zooner; he is immediately killed with a big knife to his heart. Miraculously, he comes back as a fetus with full, adult knowledge of his situation, but he's disappointed when he discovers he's been reincarnated as a hippo.

Russ Heath gives "Zooner or Later" the old college try but we all see the end coming a mile away. It's unusual for Heath to draw a story without any beautiful, naked women, but the only sign of a female here is a nurse who manages to keep her starched outfit on in two small panels. Perhaps the big hippo in the last panel is a mom. The black cook is the usual, offensive stereotype: "Oh Lord! Ah promised nevah to tell!" Reading these Warren comics 40 years after the fact makes it clear that there was a long way to go toward equality in the late '70s.-Jack

Peter- We're damned if Dube does and damned if he doesn't... write continuing storylines, that is. The one-and-dones tend to be goofy and inconsequential but the longer arcs take a whoooooole lot of time to tell a story that doesn't really feel like a story. Take this chapter of Vampi for instance. It's twelve pages long and yet the plot does not seem to have advanced one bit. Mayo's habit of using stills as an influence continues to grind my gears; none of the characters look at each other when they talk. There's a panel here where our lady from Drakulon mourns the "senseless, grisly carnage" left in the wake of the dragon's attack and yet Mayo depicts her as if she's posing for Playboy, with a pleasant look on her face. Earth to Gonzalo!

"Little Guy" is really dumb; an EC homage gone wrong. Makjo sure had a solid plan: kill the shrimp's wife and he'll definitely go along with the heist. Brilliant. More than a bit of this was stolen from Robert Bloch's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." Nothing, as far as I can tell, was appropriated for Steve Englehart's "Passion," but then neither can I tell you what the hell the story was about.  Sorry, Jack. This was way past the time Steve was working for Warren so I would guess this was a shelved story; shoulda stayed that way. 

"The Service" is easily the most entertaining story of the month in either magazine. I laughed out loud at least two and a half times (coincides with my star rating, by the way) at Ambrose and his exhausting chores. If I ever met Jim Starlin, first thing I'd ask is if he modeled Ambrose after Roy Thomas. The art is sketchy, yep, and neither artist's style really shows through (other than on that gorgeous splash), but I liked it anyway. Back to the weak stuff with Bruce Jones's "Zooner or Later" (somehow I think Jones came up with the title first and then wrote the story around it), another lame EC knock-off that's predictable from the moment the word "hippo" pops up. I'll give Bruce an extra half-star for working in lyrics to John Lennon's "#9 Dream."

Romas Kukalis
Creepy #107

"The Rubicon"
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Pepe Moreno

"Family Ties" 
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Val Mayerik

"The World From Rough Stones" ★1/2
Story by Jean Michele Martin
Art by Joe Vaultz

"Stainless Steel Savior" ★1/2
Story by Len Wein
Art by Leo Duranona

"Quirks" ★1/2
Story by Bob Toomey
Art by Walter Simonson & Terry Austin

Story by Jim Stenstrum
Art by Jose Garcia Pizarro

A group of space explorers, sent to rescue a previous expedition that has gone silent, land on the "non-planet" Scylla and discover it's the resting place of Lucifer. That's it. Pretty simple. In fact, "The Rubicon" is very simple but overwrought with a boatload of pretension and silliness. There's an Alien vibe to the proceedings but I won't level accusations of theft since the flick wouldn't be released for a few more months. The art's not bad (at one point, one of the characters scolds another for looking like a vampire and he certainly does look like he's on the set of Bava's Planet of the Vampires) but, holy mackerel, the dialogue sure is, especially the two-page expository. 

In a post-apocalyptic future, "Dog" searches through the forests for "the old one," the wisest animal left on the planet, in order to learn about man's impending return to Earth. His adventure leads him through a dangerous world filled with bears and deer and horny she-dogs (I'd use that other word but it would probably trigger some sort of Google alarm and they'd come and take me away, never to review Warren funny books again... hey, wait...) until he finally comes to the home of "the old one." Alas, the seer, a circus chimp, has just expired and a "floater" (a being of "pure energy, intellectual utopia") informs "Dog" that man is about to land on Earth and he needs to greet him pronto. Sure enough, a spaceship lands in a nearby field and "Dog" races out to greet his masters. The astronauts are charmed by the canine but disturbed by the levels of radioactivity. A pity the whole planet will have to be burned to a cinder to wipe out all radiation.

There is a charm to "Family Ties," I'll admit, but it's also a very tedious and repetitive ten pages. "Are you 'Bear?' I am 'Dog.' I'm looking for 'the Old One.' Have you seen him? No, well, peace and brotherhood to you!"... "Hey, aren't you 'Deer'...?" And on and on. Bruce takes advantage of Warren's crumbling guidelines and inserts doggie sex, I assume to attract those who are looking for a little something else with their cliched sci-fi comic strips. The charm I mentioned comes at the climax, when "Dog" finally meets man and the pooch is overcome with joy, fetching a stick and enjoying a good scratch under the chin. Val Mayerik does an acceptable job of illustrating a bunch of talking animals.

"The World From Rough Stones" is four pages of Joe Vaultz pin-ups surrounded by words that make no sense whatsoever. A spaceship lands on Earth and explodes, leaving a shell behind. Eons later, that shell becomes Stonehenge. Toldja.

The day they threw away JS-146 for being outdated was the day they created a messiah! JS-146 pulls his metal ass out of the garbage can and hits the city streets looking for a job. When no one will hire an old model, JS-136 takes up with some other discards living in an alley, a handful of old robots and a man named Maxie. At first hesitant, JS finally gives in and hits the bottle with his new friends but the lost weekend leads to a moment of clarity and JS decides he must awaken the world to peace and love. 

JS begins a series of public speeches and each gathering attracts more and more crowds until, soon, he's preaching to a nation. His words of brotherhood lead to peace in the Middle East but also lead to dissatisfaction from old friend Maxie, whose drinking has gotten out of hand. Maxie's hatred for JS leads to a public assassination and, once the circuits and wiring have been revealed, peace and love collapse. The world returns to normal.

For much of the running time of "Stainless Steel Savior," Len had me engrossed. JS-146 seems to be much more than just another Star Wars droid rip-off; he's a funny and warm character. It's when he morphs into a quasi-Bobby Kennedy that the story loses me. Looking at Duranona's character faces, I have to wonder if he's ever drawn a beautiful woman.

Phil and Harry have been trying to clean up the planet "Quirks" for some time now but everything on the planet seems to want to kill them. When Cyrilla Tatterstall arrives and assumes command, she doesn't want to hear any excuses. She demands to see the wild planet herself. While out in the forest, the trio happen upon a cute furry little animal taking a nap under a tree, seemingly oblivious to the carnage taking place around him. Sensing this creature could be the answer to their problems, Cyrilla insists on taking it back to the rocket ship for examination.

But the only hard data Cyrilla gleans from studying her new pet is that the darn thing sure is cute. Suddenly it awakens and speaks telepathically to the three stunned astronauts. The furball explains that the other creatures on the planet hate the explorers because of their intelligent minds. But when Cyrilla asks what the little muskrat's secret to survival is, it shrugs and admits that he's inedible. Phil, Harry, and Cyrilla know when they've been licked so they hop in their respective rockets and head home. Another semi-cute fantasy/sf yarn but it sure takes its sweet time to get to the punchline. Jack mentions below that the art looks rushed and I have to admit I wouldn't have been able to put names to this work without the credits. Doesn't look like any Simonson I've seen. Still the story is good for at least one smile.

The worst is definitely saved for last. "Mindquake" concerns a ship traveling through space, its cargo is "Aaron," a very important member of the "Mind Corps," agents who can... well, never mind, I can't remember that part. But outside the ship are unfriendly aliens known as Tochisians, a race of villains who will do anything to lay their hands on "Aaron," including blasting the ship into teensy weensy particles.  "Aaron" has stolen many vital secrets from the Tochisians and now they want their stuff back. They've even planted two double agents on the ship! Eventually, "Aaron" awakens and save the day and peace is restored to that part of the galaxy.

Oh boy, "Mindquake" sure made my head hurt. Not even the four or five breaks in action to let us know what was going on helped untie the knots in my brain. I know if I scramble the letters in Jose Garcia Pizarro, it'll eventually form "Jerry Grandenetti." Sheesh, I thought this kid of art went out when the Warren Dark Ages closed in the early '70s.-Peter

And I thought this month's issue of Vampirella was bad! This is a dreadful issue of Creepy. The worst part is that there are some decent writers and artists involved, yet their work is, for the most part, below what we've come to expect from them. Jim Stenstrum, who has written some very good stories for Warren, turns in the nearly incomprehensible "Mindquake," with art that only occasionally rises to the level of decent. Walt Simonson and Terry Austin, two terrific artists, must have rushed through "Quirks," perhaps due to low page rates. Len Wein was long gone from Warren, so "Stainless Steel Savior" must be a file story; it's not bad, if rather heavy handed, and it's dragged down by more ugly drawings from Duranona.

"The World from Rough Stones" is utterly worthless; four more pages of ads would have been better. "The Rubicon" conflates In Search of Ancient Astronauts with The Andromeda Strain and throws in some gobbledygook about Lucifer to boot. The closest thing to a pretty good story is "Family Ties," with smooth art by Val Mayerik, yet even Bruce Jones seems to be giving weak effort in a story that consists mostly of animals talking to each other.

Next Week...

1 comment:

Quiddity99 said...

The Vampi storyline continues to bore me here and I was disappointed to see that its heading to a third part. "Little Guy" came off like an old EC story where they came up with the ending first and twisted around the storyline to get there. "Passion" had great Ortiz art and was going along pretty well for a while before the bonkers decision to add the T-Rex. Made no sense whatsoever. My interpretation of "The Service" was totally different than yours, my impression was that he killed her and made a robot version of her to cover it up. Anyway, this story totally comes off like something that would fit in 1984 magazine and in fact is very similar to another Alcala drawn story from that magazine about a woman dominated pirate ship who are amazed to find a real man who can, um, "service" them. I totally feel different on "Zooner or Later" as well, I'm pretty sure I included it at a top 10 favorite Warren story of all time for me when I ranked them many years back on my blog. A predictable ending perhaps (I was spoiled on it via either a Russ Heath or Bruce Jones interview before ever owning this issue), but it is one of the most hilarious endings to a Warren story I've ever read. Alas, this is Heath's last story for Warren. He really was a highlight for this era and his departure is part of a growing trend of the artwork in the Warren magazines going down as their best artists depart and are replaced by lesser talent.

I was surprisingly enough pretty happy with this sci-fi issue of Creepy, with most of the stories being pretty strong. The 2 disappointments were "The World from Rough Stones" which just came off as incredibly lazy and "Mindquake" which comes off a bit like a lame action movie. I was also quite confused over who certain characters were supposed to be at times. "The Rubicon" was my favorite and was effective as pulling off a scary atmosphere.