Thursday, December 17, 2009

But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes...

Classic Creepy Comic Covers - Creepy #77 (February 1976)
Art by Manuel Sanjulian

...but maybe it would be good if he let out a wail or two. Or demonstrated that he knows how to duck!

Having treated Jolly Old Saint Nick with bloody irreverence for the last two Christmases, Creepy turns its attention to the Reason for the Season, if somewhat obliquely. Once again, Sanjulian graces the Christmas cover with a somber tableau, and a cherubic infant that really pops as a focal point, said baby to be seen as a hoi polloi hatchling...were it not for the cover copy, which clearly intimates that this is "a holy infant on the most holy of nights."

Whoa. Jesus. I mean, really...Jesus.

This was new territory for the Warren magazines, and during the calendar year of 1975, they were exploring it between the pages of the titles. Six issues prior, in Creepy #71, readers were startled by the story "His Name Was John," from writer Budd Lewis and artist Luis Bermejo (in an experimental all-Bermejo issue, and a striking one, at that). In it, a Catholic priest is contacted by an alien intelligence that reveals that it is indeed God, and is looking for a new prophet to bring tidings to the world. At the climax, the priest is startled to find tentacles growing out of his back, as he is being changed for his new role, and is humbly resigned to his destiny. This was a far cry from the tales of vampires and werewolves that populated the mag a decade earlier. This was genuine Adult Fantasy, its mature themes going head to head with the material found in its newsstand competition, Heavy Metal. Most critics consider this period to be the zenith of Warren's achievements, with at least one story in every issue to rank among the decade's finest from any publisher (in this issue, that honor has to go to the Bruce Jones / Berni Wrightson collaboration "Clarice," which is, of all things, a poem, climaxing in a horrifically heartbreaking final panel).

However, the Christmas issues increasingly had an unpleasant knack for the maudlin and saccharine, as #77 exemplified. Stories that were low on the horror content would opt for a generic "God bless us, everyone" ending, and rank among the worst the company would ever produce. Perhaps it was hard to maintain a consistently dark tone for an entire magazine, or perhaps it was a misguided effort at variety. At any rate, the lighter fare is quite forgettable, and pales in comparison to the hard-edged tales that were vastly superior.

No comments: