Saturday, August 31, 2019

Nightmare #2

Time for Nightmare #2, another issue filled mostly with reprints. The cover for this issue is from Boris Vallejo, who did several covers for Warren and will do a number more here for Skywald.

First is "Children of the Cold Gods" by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito (story and art). With the Earth becoming overpopulated, mankind seeks to cryofreeze people and then colonize other planets. Dr. Bradford is in charge of the procedure, and is woken up to tend to the cryogenic controls which have sunk far past safe temperature levels. Bradford is devastated to see his frozen fiance broken up into many pieces because her body has become so brittle! But the temperature continues to sink further, to a level so cold that a mysterious being that calls itself one of the Gods of the Cold is able to interact with our reality. The "Cold Gods" put back together the body parts of those broken into pieces via cryosleep, causing some monstrous creatures. But by lowering the temperature so far down that air itself becomes a liquid he is able to permanently freeze the monsters.

Our second story is "The Phantom of Philip Hawks" by A.C. Hollingsworth (art). A ship's crew comes across an abandoned ship in the ocean, the Mary Kane. Upon going on board they find various dead bodies including that of a couple. They find the log of the ship as kept by the woman, Mary Kane. The log tells of how she and her husband got married and her father built them the ship. However a man named Philip Hawks desired for Mary, and got killed after being beat up by her husband. He cursed the Mary Kane as he lay dying and it resulted in the death of everyone on the ship. Suddenly Hawks' voice and a spectral image of him appear, forcing the men to flee the Mary Kane on their life boat just in time. The Mary Kane continues to sail the sea, haunted.

Human beings put back together in a horrifying way, in "Children of the Cold Gods"
Third is "The Mirror of Death". The handsome Steve Lajos returns to shore while at sea. He goes to a club where he meets a woman but once alone beats her to death, selling her jewels for money. Upon another stop ashore, Lajos comes across a temple of Mirrors, made to honor the God Struga of the Seven Hands. It is said the mirror reveals the appearance of a man's soul. Lajos goes inside, finding his reflection in the mirror to be extremely ugly and monstrous. This causes him to believe the mirror and temple are phonies. He kills the guide there and smashes the mirror. But when he tries to go outside he realizes he is stuck in the mirror held by Struga. While a rather brief story, I did find the reflection of Lajos to be quite ugly and scary, good job by the uncredited artist.

The following story is "The Circle of Circe!" by Gardner Fox (story) and Syd Shores/Mike Esposito (art). On the Isle of Crete, the slave Ulysses is defeated in a tournament and forced to head to the Isle of Aeaea to find the Golden Tusks of Atlas. Ulysses and 100 of his fellow slaves head there, many dying on the way. When they reach Aeaea, a giant dragon grabs Ulysses and brings him before the beautiful Circe, who wants him for her husband. Ulysses refuses, causing Circe to turn one of his fellow slaves into a wolf, then has a snake attack him. Suddenly Ulysses' mean arrive, leading to a big battle. Circe puts a stop to things and transforms Ulysses and his remaining men into wolves, then she and her fellow women also transform into them. She reveals she is from the Star System Omega, where their males died out many years before in constant warfare. They have searched the universe and are now taking Ulysses and his men to be their mates.

Next is another one-page Nightmare Pin Up, this of the Creature of from the Black Lagoon, as drawn by Bill Everett.

Next is "Time Stop", the text story by Art Stampler. It is quite the rarity for the text story to be the best story of the issue in a comic/magazine, but that's the case here! The story starts off as a cliche mummy story as our protagonist goes to Egypt along with Dr. Vetry and his daughter Vera, digging into the pyramid of a priest of Anubis. Upon coming upon the mummy, they find it alive and our protagonist hits it with an axe, stopping it. All of a sudden things start to go really bonkers. The mummy is revealed to be some sort of robot and Vetry reveals himself to be an alien! He is Wheete Frippe from the planet Freim V, a race that had immortality but whose council decided to impose mortal lives because society became stagnant. Frippe rebelled against this, stealing a teleportation device and heading to Earth to find the secret of immortality from the priest of Anubis. He is attacked by our protagonist, who suddenly finds himself transported to another realm where those of Frippe's race convince him to stop him, giving him the power to absorb Frippe's attacks. Our protagonist returns and kills Frippe. It is then that Vera, revealed to be Frippe's teleportation device reveals yet another big twist, that Frippe was the only sane member of the council that decided to give up immortality. The council had decided to end immortality for all but themselves, robbing their subject's life and Frippe was the righteous one. Our protagonist discovers he has doomed the universe and commits suicide. Wow, this story had several great plot twists; its funny, as I hit this text story and found it to be the longest one yet (unlike previous ones, not even having any images), I pondered skipping it, especially as the prior two were massive busts, but I'm quite happy I didn't. In fact I'd say this is the best story we've had so far as part of my Skywald coverage.

Lajos's reflection is revealed in "The Mirror of Death"
Next is "Blood For the Vampire" with art by Norman Nodel/Vince Alascia (art). The small town of Ravennes in the Alps is haunted by a vampire, Eric Lustveg. The story then brings us into a lengthy flashback as we see how Eric grew up, but was a cruel boy, as if he was possessed by the devil. Upon growing up he kills a guest at the inn he works at and when he's about to be hung instead slits his own throat and rises as a vampire. When people try to put a stake through his heart they find his body missing. Back in the present, a young couple named Rod and Dot Blair head to Ravennes and upon exploring find a vampire's coffin, with Eric inside. They are saved due to the dawn and Rod stakes Eric. But the villagers tell him he should have only staked him once, not several times, so Eric rises again to continue sucking people's blood. Quite a flimsy excuse there at the end to enable Eric to continue his reign of terror. Coming after the best story of the issue is the issue's biggest flop.

Our next story is "The Massacre of Mankind!" This story tells of how mankind got overthrown by its robot slaves. The story takes place in a society where robots are responsible for various menial tasks and are rated based on their performance. It begins with the wedding of Alan and Nara, who are called by Alan's father who is worried about the fact that higher graded robots are responsible for the robot factories. They head to the factory trying to see the robot in charge and Alan's father is let in, only to be killed. The robots refuse to listen to any orders from Alan or Nara, and then the robots start running amok. Humankind is forced to flee into caves and hope they can one day fight back against the robots. Oddly enough this story just ends in the middle of things, making me wonder if we will get a second part in a future issue. Although since this is a reprint story and Skywald is soon to move to all new stories, I doubt that we will get anything further.

The issue concludes with "Pressed for Time" by Marv Wolfman (story) and Dan Adkins (art). Ephram Knowles is killed after having his body crushed by rocks. However he suddenly finds himself in a courtyard, alive again, being accused of witchcraft. As witnesses speak against him, we flash back to how Ephram was obsessed with obtaining eternal life ever since he was a boy. Over time he committed various nefarious acts and eventually is able to summon the devil, who agrees to make it so his days will never end. Back in the present Ephram is sentenced to death by having his body crushed by rocks. He then realizes that while his days will never end, he will be reliving his own execution over and over again. While a rather "eh" story whose ending I saw coming a million miles away, it did have a rather unique method of execution by putting him between two boards and stacking so many rocks on the top one that it crushed him.

This is another story dominated by reprints, with "Children of the Cold Gods!", "The Circle of Circe!", and "Pressed for Time" being new stories along with the one page pin-up and text story. One more issue of reprints to go (Psychos #2) and we can finally move into all new material.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Psycho #1

Brendon Lynch provides a strong cover for this first issue of Psycho, dated January 1971.

First is "The Skin and Bones Syndrome" by Roger Ellson (story) and Gray Morrow (art). A mysterious beam starts appearing on Earth, causing anyone it touches to immediately turn to a skeleton and die. While the Earth's scientists try to figure out what is going on, a young man named Jimmy sends out a radio signal into space and it successfully reaches the planet Aranus, who is sending out the signal. The inhabitants of Aranus are horribly disfigured, due to a mysterious plague that arose from a space probe. Realizing that the signal they are sending is causing death on Earth, they decide to blow up their entire planet! Wow, it was surprising to see a race of alien beings willing to off themselves like that to save Earth. It was good to see Warren regular Gray Morrow here.

Second is "The Glistening Death", drawn by Martin Nodell and Vince Alascia. Warren Arno gets in trouble in the city and heads to the swamp lands where his reclusive uncle Robert lives. Robert warns him to leave, saying there is an unknown terror out in the swamp, but Warren doesn't believe him. That night a blob-like creature comes in through the window but flees when Warren wakes. The next day a beautiful woman comes to see Robert and Warren follows her into the swamp, soon coming upon the creature again. He returns to his uncle's home where he finds he has been hoarding gold and kills him. Suddenly the woman appears again, and reveals that she is the swamp creature and had given Robert gold in exchange for bringing her red meat, essentially making him her slave. With Robert dead, she takes on Warren as her new slave. This is a decent story but the reproduction of the art, at least in the copy I'm reading is quite horrendous making everything quite dark.

The next story is "I Painted Only Terror!". An artist, Paul Beaumont only paints one subject, people that look scared or terrified. His doctor tries to get him to paint other things to stop some nightmares he's having, but Paul instead decides to paint one supreme masterpiece to obtain worldly fame. He recruits a model, then gets into a monster costume to scare her, but it ends up frightening her to death. Soon, her ghost starts appearing, urging him to paint. Eventually Paul's apartment is broken into by the police after his rantings make his housekeeper think he's gone out of his mind. Inside they find Paul dead, and his painting completed, showing him terrified.

Following this story is a one page feature, "Psycho's Gruesome Gallery No. 1", showing a monster coming out of a mirror, as drawn by Steve Hickman.

Incidentally enough, the fourth story is "The Thing in the Mirror" drawn by Everett Raymond Kinstler. James Crawford is an orphan brought up by a wealthy family who grows up mean and cruel. At the age of 25, James becomes obsessed with a woman named Barbara, who is marrying an older man, George. James goes to work for George and causes him to get electrocuted in what he makes look like an accident. Soon James starts seeing strange visions of a monster in the mirror. Eventually, George's ghost appears and transforms James into the small, monkey-like monster he had been seeing in the mirror. In this new form, James wonders out of the mansion he lives in, is captured and becomes part of a freakshow! I enjoyed the ending to this story quite a lot.

Next is the text story "The Steps in the Cellar!" by Art Stampler. A man named Pete Welch finds an abandoned home in a storm. Looking for alcohol, he dismisses a warning message in front of a door and heads down to the cellar. He finds an old woman in the cellar and continues past her, making his way to a chamber with men chanting and where a woman is sacrificed to summon a green scaly monster. The old woman, who is named Mother Satan decides to keep him alive as a witness. Pete is able to use a wine bottle given to him to kill Mother Satan, but fails to kill the fetus Asmodeus she was carrying, lord of the Netherworld. A baby, Asmodeus is found by a couple and adopted.

Fifth is "...And Then There's Cicero" written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Paul Reinman. Ben Slick goes to stay with his elderly aunt Hildy, who has numerous cats, including one named Cicero who she says never seems to be around. While she's asleep, Ben searches the house for her fortune. Seeing a key around her neck, Ben is convinced it leads to her fortune and throws Hildy down the stairs so he can take it. He opens the locked door with the key, only to discover that Cicero is a tiger, who promptly eats him! The start of this story is quite similar to "The Glistening Death", but it does end in a new direction.

Next is "Anatomical Monster" with art by A.C. Hollingsworth. A medical student named Jack Kirk, while shopping for something for his girlfriend is instead given an anatomical chart of a human body by a shopkeeper. Jack gives the chart to his professor who uses it in teaching. However that night the image in the chart comes alive and stalks the city, soon killing a couple. Jack confronts the shopkeeper, who reveals how the chart came to be. As a young man, he was jealous of his colleague Bill and killed him. He drew the chart, basing it on Bill, but soon found that he came to life and started killing people. Back in the present, to destroy the monster, Jack and the shopkeeper burn the chart, but realize it is now blank. The monster comes from the darkness and kills the two of them.

Our next story is "The Hands of Death", drawn by Norman Nodel and Vince Alascia. Eric Dulan, a world famous violinist has his hands mangled in an accident. Devastated over the fact that he can no longer play the piano, Dulan resorts to black magic, finding a man named Dr. Necros who claims he can give him new hands in exchange for "everything". Dulan is able to pick a new pair of hands from a group of dead men. He returns to his career as a violinist, but finds the hands on their own trying to kill someone. He locks himself away, only to kill his friend when he finds him. Dulan goes on the run but is caught by the police. Fingerprinting him, they find it to be the hands of a previously convicted killer and lock him up. Dulan screams for Necros to take back the hands as the dead mock him.

The issue concludes with "The Gruesome Faces of Mr. Cliff!", written by Len Wein and drawn by Mario Acquaviva. Noel Cliff is a once great actor, known for playing monsters in various plays. Now he is an old man, suffering from pain and told he has an incurable disease. Cliff decides that he wants to return to playing the monsters as one final performance, but upon putting on the costume of one of them, becomes the monster itself and kills someone. Cliff starts putting on different costumes, becoming said monsters and killing more people. When a woman at a bar taunts him, he dons the costume of Dracula and kills her, but is chased by the police. Running onto a stage with bright lamps, he finds he has truly become a vampire and dies from the light.

This is another issue dominated by reprints, with only "The Skin and Bone Syndrome", "...And Then There's Cicero" and "The Gruesome Faces of Mr. Cliff" (as well as the text story and one page Gallery feature) being new. The rest are reprints of 1950s stories. That said, I did enjoy this issue a bit more than Nightmare #1.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Nightmare #1

The cover to this issue, dated December 1970, is by Brendan Lynch. The art and script for these stories are uncredited; those I have listed below I obtained from Richard Arndt's book "Horror Comics in Black and White".

We begin with the cover story, "The Pollution Monsters" with art by Don Heck/Mike Esposito and story by Mike Friedrich. Bikers Butch, Annie and Sunny sell 'the soul of the nation' to an old man offering them a fuel that is far more powerful than regular gasoline. They use it on their motorcycles and ride off. The old man is quickly revealed to be the devil. As they ride, the fumes from the motorcycle creates giant pollution monsters that run amok. The rest of the story is these monsters on the attack. They eventually seize the three main characters and turn them into pollution monsters as well. This two-part story is quite the flop to kick off the start of my Skywald coverage, a rather pointless and silly tale.

Second is "Master of the Dead!", drawn by Norman Nodell and Vince Alascia. Pierre Jarnac is obsessed with trying to raise the dead and lead them under his command, causing his own brother to have him committed. Pierre fakes things long enough for them to let him out on good behavior then finds a job as a caretaker at a graveyard where he renews his obsession and experiments. Finding no success, he calls out to the dead to rise for their own sake, and they do so! Yet when his brother arrives and Pierre starts calling out to the dead to kill those who mean them no harm, the dead turn on him and stomp him to death.

In "Dance Macabre" drawn by Bill Everett, a couple, Jack and Daisy Blake are dancers on the island of Morando. After being fired, they come up with a voodoo-themed dance of the restful dead, thinking it will be over the top and make them famous. It does, and they get more and more well known but start seeing visions of the dead claiming they will be punished. This causes the two to grow apart and eventually hate each other. Jack tries to strangle Daisy, but she pulls out a knife and the two end up killing each other.

In "Orgy of Blood" by Ross Andru/Mike Esposito (story and art), a man named Phillips meets a woman at a bar that he takes to her home only to discover she is a vampire when she chains him to the bed and drinks his blood. Phillips wakes, revealing it to all be a dream and sees his psychiatrist who hopes that a prescription will solve things. Phillips dreams intensify however. The vampire woman first brings her daughter with her, and in a later dream brings her mother too and they all feast on him. Phillips is told only a sanatorium can help him but when the nurse arrives and looks quite familiar, Phillips realizes that the psychiatrist visits were all a dream, and getting bitten by the vampires was the reality. A rather silly tale, I found it funny just how further and further over the top it was getting as the vampire brought more members of her family to feast on Phillips.

Next we have the one page "Nightmare Pin-Up" drawn by BIll Everett. This is a one page illustration of a Grave Ghoul digging what else, a grave. The one page of art without a story is something Warren also commonly had done for many years, so this is quite in line with what I'm used to.

The three page "The Skeletons of Doom" is a text story by Art Stampler, featuring a young woman named Myra whose research into ancient pharaohs gets her seized by a group of underground skeleton men who worship Isis who has power through a giant diamond. When a fellow captive Alan (who for some bizarre reason suddenly is called Rich for much of the climax) damages the diamond, they are able to escape to safety. Bill Everett provides a few images for this story.

"Help Us to Die!" features a man named Jim Torrence who is obsessed with Egypt. While at the museum with his wife Mary, he spots a newly discovered mummy, who he sees opening and closing its eyes. Jim thinks if they steal the mummy they could be world famous and even find the secret to eternal life. That night they steal the mummy and bring it to a cave in the hills. The mummy is revealed to be alive after all and they help it remove its bandages, revealing an old man with a small canister with him. Jim reads on the canister to drink it for eternal life, and that only those of royal lineage may partake of it. The mummy gets angry causing Jim to attack it and smash its head against the rocks until it seemingly dies. Jim and Mary then drink from the canister, only to find that while the vial provides eternal life, it doesn't provide eternal youth. We see the years quickly go by and they become withered and aged, hoping for someone to find them and help them die. A rather silly story, Jim reads a warning on the canister, yet promptly ignores it and soon he and his wife discover eternal life isn't as great as they thought it to be.

Next is "The Thing from the Sea". The original art for this story was by Wally Wood but Mike Esposito has also amended the artwork A man named Smithers gets into a gambling argument with a colleague named Murray while working as crew members on a ship. Smithers throws Murray, presumably to his death. But Murray soon rises back to life and starts his long walk back to the shore. Smithers arrives on land and meets Murray's fiance, eventually getting into a relationship with her and asking her to marry him. But just then Murray's rotted, bloated corpse arrives. It grabs a hold of Smithers and brings him into the sea with him until they both sink under the water. The ending of this story is extremely similar to the story "Scared to Death" from Tales from the Crypt #24, which incidentally enough was also drawn by Wally Wood.

Our following story is a mere 3 pages, "The Creature Within". Playwright Nathan Foxx dreams of a horrifying vampire-like creature. This inspires him to write a play, which quickly sells out due to his good reputation. However the night of the performance the monster appears to attack the lead actress, and the lead actor is soon killed as well. Foxx is told they were bitten by some kind of animal and wonders if it was the creature from his dreams. All of a sudden the creature appears out of nowhere and kills him. This story was super rushed, but it was also so predictable it was good to get it over with quickly. The play in the story seems somewhat inspired by The Phantom of the Opera and the lead actor's name is a reference to the star of the movie, Lon Chaney.

The issue concludes with "The Deadly Mark of the Beast!" with art by Syd Shores/Tom Palmer and story by Len Wein. A werewolf has been ravaging the countryside. A man named Collins is convinced that a newcomer to the village, Blake is the werewolf because he's seen walking around at night with his hound. But when Blake is revealed to be blind, people dismiss Collins' claim and leave. When Collins' wife is killed, he becomes enraged, taking Blake at gunpoint at his home and saying they'll wait til the full moon. When Blake grows agitated at the full moon, Collins guns him down. But Blake's hound suddenly reveals that it is a wereman and kills Collins! The ending to this story was quite hilarious and is similar to a comedic episode of The X-Files from a few years back during its short lived resurrection.

Overall a rather mediocre issue to kick things off with. A lot of the issue (Master of the Dead!, Dance Macabre, Help Us to Die, The Thing from the Sea! and The Creature Within!) are reprints from various 1950s horror comics.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

A New Beginning... Skywald

I am excited to announce a new initiative on this blog, a covering of the complete works of Skywald.

The foremost competitor to Warren, Skywald started publishing black and white horror magazines in 1970, and stood for Sol BrodSKY (the original editor) and Israel & Herschal WALDman (the publishers). While their initial issues included a number of reworked old stories from 1950s horror comics, Skywald soon broke into completely new material with each issue and their magazines initially come off quite similar to Warren, even featuring several of the same artists (ex. Tom Sutton, Ernie Colon, Bruce Jones, going under pseudonyms). In 1972, Brodsky departs the company, resulting in his assistant, Al Hewetson (a former Warren contributor) becoming editor. Hewetson immediately sets forth on developing a very unique style, which he calls "The Horror Mood" and Skywald's magazines soon editorially became quite unique and different from what Warren was publishing. Skywald would eventually become dominated by Spanish artists from Selecionnes Illustrada, much as what occurred at Warren, although it is for the most part a completely different set of artists (aside from the occasional who had some Warren work such as Ramon Torrents, Zesar Lopez and Jesus Suso Rego). Skywald would eventually go under in late 1974, due to Marvel flooding the market with their own black and white magazines. By that point they had put out around 60-65 or so issues of their three flagship titles, Nightmare, Psycho and Scream.

For many years I've heard about Skywald but have always had a difficult time obtaining any issues as they are considerably harder to find (and hence more expensive) than Warren magazines. That said, a company called Gwandanaland has recently gone about reprinting the entire Skywald library, finally giving me the opportunity to read for them for the first time. I have heard that the best way to approach Skywald is to read their magazines in chronological order, so that is what I plan to do here. While I can't guarantee the speed of output I had when I covered all the Warren magazines so many years back, I am hoping I can get at least one blog post out a week.