After a lengthy writing absence, I’ve decided to revive this blog and focus on its original purpose, highlighting my love for Warren’s horror comics. This has been primarily inspired by my trip back through Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella for the first time in years as I follow the Bare Bones Ezine which I highly recommend checking out for Peter Enfantino and Jack Seabrook’s journey through Warren which is currently featuring Warren’s publications in 1975.
My new focus is to analyze particular story highlights of Warren’s nearly 20 year run of horror comics. Years back I had a post on my favorite Warren stories and I would consider this a sort of enhancement of that, providing a particular focus on stories that either are among what I consider Warren’s best, or at least ones that are historically significant. My ranking of Warren’s top stories has changed somewhat since I originally posted it years back (see here), and while I do plan on including in this series posts on those stories that I had included in my top 10, there are also many others I have interest in featuring as well. The frequency of posts or how many particular stories I will cover in a given post I cannot say at this time, and I do overall consider it a rather open ended initiative; Warren had such a large output that there should be enough to keep this series going for quite a while.
With that said, my first feature is going to be on a story that I reread for the first time in years just within the past few days.
The Wolves at War’s End (Originally published in Vampirella #43, June 1975)
Art by Luis Garcia
Story by Victor Mora and Budd Lewis
Taking place in the aftermath of the Crusades, this story features a wary soldier who returns to his home village after a lengthy absence. The village is far different than what he remembers; he faces jeers from the villagers, the streets absent of children and the plague having ravished things. Eventually the soldier comes upon his home, boarded up. His family is mostly dead, with only his sister still alive, accused by the local villagers as being a sorceress as she was the only one to survive the plague unscathed. The soldier attacks the villagers, taking off with his sister into the woods, with the holy men left behind proclaiming they will pursue them. The soldier and his sister make their way towards the castle occupied by the family of his lover Elenore. As they sleep in a tree that night he dreams of seeing Elenore again, only to find her as a skeleton. Wolves have gathered below the tree, although his sister claims he had simply conjured them up in his head. Eventually they come across the castle and the soldier heads inside, finding Elenore alive and unharmed, exactly as he remembered her. The soldier embraces her lovingly but she soon vanishes; their pursuers have found them and killed his sister. His sister truly was a sorceress and created the vision of Elenore, revealed to be long dead as he comes across her grave. The soldier leaves the castle, and his sister’s body, returning to the woods where the wolves eventually come upon him again.
The Wolves at War’s End has a rather interesting history and back story behind it. The story was not a Warren original, but rather was originally published in the French magazine Pilote under the title “The Winter of the Last Combat”. The story was part of a series called “The Chronicles of the Nameless” as written by Victor Mora and drawn by Luis Garcia. The series, across 7 stories told of a being that explored the lives of different individuals across various times and places. Other stories in the series featured a contemporary comic book artist, a woman in an old west brothel, a downed World War I pilot and others. Warren would purchase the rights to 4 of these stories (along with one additional Garcia/Mora collaboration) and publish them in Vampirella in 1975. In all cases the stories were rewritten by regular Warren writers including Budd Lewis, Gerry Boudreau and editor Bill Dubay.
“The Winter of the Last Combat” appears to be the most well regarded of the stories in this series, and ended up also being reprinted in Heavy Metal magazine in issues published in February and March 1978. This version appears to be a more accurate translation of the original story and is properly credited (it should be noted that when Warren published the story, Victor Mora was not credited at all and Garcia was miscredited as Jose instead of Luis). Reading this version identifies several key differences with the version published in Vampirella. In particular the sorceress character was not actually the soldier’s sister. Also the wolves were not simply imagined up by the soldier but were real, and originally attracted to the area by the men pursuing him. We also get a better explanation of why these men disappear at the end of the story, they were only pursuing the “sorceress”, and they ended up getting killed by the wolves, the fate that the soldier suffers himself as the story comes to a close. Budd Lewis also adds in a lot of musings about war which wasn’t in the original story. In a way this reminds me much of the series he had written shortly beforehand for Eerie, “Apocalypse” which examines the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, War, Famine, Plague and Death. In fact it comes off as if The Wolves at War’s End is building on themes explored in the first three stories of that series and I think in a way is a good companion piece to it.
Warren evidently liked this story quite a bit, as a mere two issues later in Vampirella #45 we get an extremely similar story titled “The Winter of Their Discontent” as written by Gerry Boudreau and drawn by Isidro Mones. This story also features a soldier returning home to find his village ravished by the plague and the villagers showing no respect or appreciation for him. His parent dead, he searches for his sister, eventually finding that too she has died from the plague. Unlike the Wolves at War’s End, his lover is still alive and in good health, but feels so devastated by what has happened that she has no desire to live any longer. She requests he kill her, which he reluctantly does before committing suicide himself.
This story is considerably acclaimed by David Roach, one of the co-writers of the Warren Companion, who rated it as his #2 Warren story of all time, behind only “Thrillkill” which by general consensus is the most acclaimed story Warren would publish. Richard Arndt also expressed praise of the story in his book “Horror Comics in Black and White”. I personally rated this as my #3 Warren story back when I rated my top 10 stories. It possesses arguably the strongest artwork to appear in a Warren story, at least for my tastes (as one who considers Garcia his favorite Warren artist). Garcia provides a dark and frightening atmosphere that really fits the nature of the story well, particularly after the soldier escapes into the woods. Lewis enhances what was already a strong story with his changes and dialogue. I particularly enjoy the final lines, “In my search for justice I created war. In my search for war, I created death. In my search for death… I have lost my soul.”