Monday, September 2, 2013

1984: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Part 1)


Today's post is the first in a multi-part series covering 1984/1994 magazine, a part of the Warren publishing family that tends to get a lot less play than the other Warren magazines. This first post mainly focuses on the first 4 issues of the magazine.

1984 is kind of like the black sheep of the Warren publishing family. When one thinks of Warren, they think of Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella, but 1984 doesn't get much mention. All 3 of these titles are in the process of being reprinted in fine, hard covered volumes but we don't see that for 1984 and likely won't. 1984 will probably be most remembered for being way too over the top in its presentation and causing controversy after controversy.

1984 premiered in the summer of 1978, during an era when Warren's titles were on a slow decline from their heights during the mid-70s. 1984 ended up being the one concept for an "adult" Warren magazine that actually saw print. Seven years before, there had been plans to publish a magazine called "POW!", and there had even been a cover prepared by Frank Frazetta (which eventually saw print in Eerie #81), but it never came to fruition. In 1976 Josef Toutain of Selecionnes Illustrada attempted to develop an adult science-fiction style magazine called "Yesterday... Today, Tomorrow" which also never saw print. By 1978 however the competitor magazine Heavy Metal had come out and was extremely successful. I think it’s not much of a coincidence that Warren's adult science fiction magazine, edited by Bill Dubay, finally premiered not long afterwards.

Unfortunately for the readers of 1984, "adult" meant not necessarily mature storytelling, but rather a heavy reliance on sex. In fact a letter sent in and published in the fifth issue put it across pretty well, calling it "Bill Dubay's Future Sex Fantasies". Sex acts and misogyny is quite apparent through these early issues of 1984 and would remain so through its run. The very first story published in 1984, "Last of the Really Great, All-American Joy Juice" features a spaceship carrying all the semen left in the world whose pilots are soon come upon by some brutally ugly but sex crazed women. Ludicrous and bizarre plots like these fill the early issues of 1984. You've got men or women knowingly having sex with aliens or monsters ("Momma, Can You Hear Me" from issue 1, "Bring Me the Head of Omar Barsidian" from issue 3 and "Mondo Megillah" from issue 4). Issue 2's "Messiah" features a sex scientist who describes for pages on end the research he has done into the sex of numerous alien worlds. Oversized genitalia caused by radiation (which we thankfully do not see) is featured in both "Quick Cut" from issue 1 and "The Last Of the Red Hot Lovers" from issue 2. Radioactive semen which causes women to explode is also featured in the latter story. "Scourge of the Spaceways" from issue 2 features a plot point where anyone having sex with a woman will have their penis rot away and fall off. The big twist of "Lullaby" from issue 4 is a man having sex with his mother. Need I go on? This is just some of the craziness you get to see in these first 4 issues.

"Idi Amin", gorgeous art, horrible story

To its credit, 1984 has some amazing artwork, and for a while didn't feature any advertisements, so you've got a magazine full of it. Esteban Maroto in particular puts in an amazing job on his stories in these issues, although his story in issue 4 features some notable swipes from Jeff Jones' "Idyll". Richard Corben has 5 color stories in these issues, all of which are impressive. Alex Nino was the most featured 1984 artist throughout its run and he has  five stories here as well, all which look great. Jose Gonzalez's work in issue 4's "The Lullaby" is about as beautiful an art job as you'll ever see from him in a Warren magazine. The one unfortunate thing about this is it shows just how much better 1984 could have been. I think it’s very clear in a lot of these cases that these stories weren't originally supposed to be as over the top sex-centric as they ended up being. Many stories in these issues have plot and dialogue that hardly correspond with the artwork. The already mentioned "Last of the Red Hot Lovers" is a prime offender. None of the written storyline about the "Hungs", brutes with oversized genitalia taking on the "Glows", for whom having sexual intercourse with a woman will cause her to explode appears in the artwork. The art for this story was in all likelihood about a medieval battle between two armies. "Messiah" to a smaller extent comes off the same way. The "Idi Amin" series, which has its first 2 stories here in the first 4 issues comes off as a bit depressing to me as I so much would have liked to see what this story was originally about. The artwork, featuring an Egyptian queen and her brutish companion in a post-apocalyptic Egypt is just gorgeous. Unfortunately it’s overlaid with a story about how Ugandan Dictator Idi Amin was turned into a woman by the US Government's "Department of Dirty Tricks". This is a series where pages go by with the exact same story and concepts being rammed down our throats over and over again. The majority of dialogue from Idi is horrendously stupid. Only a few pages into the story there is blatant contradictions abound where it is said that Idi Amin was too well guarded to assassinate, yet the DDT was still able to gain access to him to change him into a woman? It’s absurd. No official source that I am aware of pegs down where these Idi Amin stories were originally from, but I would suspect they (or at least the first one) were intended for the "Yesterday... Today, Tomorrow" magazine, which was supposed to have a story featuring a Sphinx, which does appear in the first story. "Lullaby" likely was originally from somewhere else as well, as I can't see Warren having Jose Gonzalez do a non-Vampirella story when he was in so much demand on that title (and writer Jim Stenstrum is credited as "Alabaster Redzone" which was done when he would rewrite stories). Speaking of poor storylines, two back to back stories in issue 2 feature one of the most overplayed plot twists in science fiction when it is revealed that the planet where everything bad is happening or is about to happen is... Earth! This is a lame plot twist, but to see it used in back to back stories (both by the same author, Dubay) is quite ridiculous.

Wood's "The End" becomes a nonsensical tale about a TV writer
Continuing to focus on rewritten stories, the first 2 issues of 1984 feature a butchered Wally Wood story titled "The End" which was split up into 2 heavily rewritten stories titled "Quick Cut" and "One Night, Down on the Funny Farm!" Both rewritten stories are idiotic. Dubay's obsession with oversized genitalia is a major plot point of the first story which is pretty brutal in its treatment of women. While the second story is not as offensive, it’s just as stupid, featuring a nonsensical story about a network TV writer that appears in a fantasy world. None of which makes sense when you look at the artwork of course. Wally Wood was so upset at what Dubay did that he'd never do any work for Warren again.

Of course no article about the early issues of 1984 should be told without the story of "Mondo Megillah", the story that arguably caused the end of Warren Publishing. This story goes back to the very beginning of 1984, before it was turned into the sleazy magazine that it became. At one point in its development, 1984 was supposed to feature adaptions of science fiction stories from well-known authors (which unfortunately never came to pass). Writer Gerry Boudreau had convinced Bill Dubay that he could get permission from Harlan Ellison to do a comic book adaption of his story "A Boy and His Dog". Dubay gave him permission to write the story, but Boudreau was never successful in getting permission from Ellison, who refused to allow any such adaption to appear in a Warren magazine. Desperate for stories for the speedy Alex Nino to illustrate however, Dubay gave him the script that Boudreau had written, swapping out "boy" for "girl" and "dog" for
"monster". With the art being finished, there was no way Dubay could simply bury the story and not publish it. He handed it off to Jim Stenstrum, who rewrote the story as best he could and rearranged panels. Despite this, the story still came off as plagiarism and was later discovered by a writer from the Comics Journal, who had tipped off Ellison. Ellison sued Warren and the company went bankrupt not long after a settlement was made.

Sex filled, ruining what could have been fine stories, even committing plagiarism. Could it get any worse? It does! Issue 3 of 1984 features the single most offensive story in Warren history, "The Harvest". This story features a future where the corporations have set up various gaming preserves. A father and his son go to one of these preserves and go hunting where it is revealed that they are hunting black people. In fact all black people in the world have been gathered up and put in these preserves, treated as animals, and are brutally murdered to provide food for the white protagonists. Could it get even worse than that? It does! The ending of the story features the boy shooting a pregnant woman, with the father tearing her baby out of her and talking about serving it as veal. Responses in the letter column published in a later issue tries to explain this story as bringing the problem of racism to its extreme and to teach a lesson. But it truly has no redeemable value to it and is for all intents and purposes just trash. When you consider some other things that would appear in Warren's magazines (some more which will see in later issues of 1984), how does Bill Dubay not come off as a racist?

Richard Corben's "Ogre"
So is 1984 completely bad? I'd say no. I know I've spent a lot of time in this article on the bad things about 1984, but there is some good work here. I've already praised a lot of the artwork earlier. As misogynistic as it comes off, I do think "Scourge of the Spaceways" from issue 2 is a fairly good and unique story. "Mutant World" and "Ogre", the Richard Corben stories are all entertaining. All of the Alex Nino stories are fairly strong, admittingly with sex or gross out humor attached. "Rex Havoc and the Asskickers of the Fantastic" has a good start in issue 4, with a genuinely funny story about the Asskickers of the title and the monsters such as vampires and the like seeking the same rights as humans.

Anyway, that's my views on the first 4 issues of 1984. Please stay tuned for a follow up at some point in the future covering future issues.

1 comment:

Lady Lilith BloodCrave said...

How interesting. I cannot wait to hear your future opinions.