This surpassingly excellent masked vigilante series was one of the best written and best illustrated of all the Warren continuing features to ever appear in the pages of EERIE during its creative heyday period of the early to mid-1970s. This series represented top Warren scripter and editor Bill DuBay (or 'Will Richardson,' if you prefer) at his absolute best, backed up by some of the legendary artist Rich Corben's best work. DuBay penned many of EERIE's most intellectually thought-provoking series and stories, and Rich Corben did the same in terms of his illustrating skills, with some of the latter's best remembered work including the series "Child," "Within You…Without You," and "Mutant World" (the latter for 1984/1994). In fact, the bulk of Warren's all-color prestige reprint title, COMIX INTERNATIONAL, was filled with Rich Corben's work, and a book devoted entirely to his underground illustrated work from outside of the Warren banner, called THE ODD COMIC WORLD OF RICHARD CORBEN, was also published by Warren in the '70s. Additionally, Corben was one of the few regular Warren artists who could work well with the color medium, but his b&w work was just as awesome.
The only reason this series isn't as fondly recalled today as much as it should be, IMO, is because its run was so brief (only two entries). Nevertheless, it was both chillingly realistic and grossly over the top in its depiction of violence, along with its exploration of the mob psyche, and it would have made a fantastic film for the time period, or even today. Moreover, it was, in its own way, as introspective of the mob from a personal standpoint as was the "Godfather" trilogy and its many imitators. Further, the plot unapologetically focused (at least in the first story, the better of the two entries) on the seemingly incongruous tendency for so many mobsters to be devoutly Christian, and how this may actually help them rationalize their violent excesses and unethical practices as opposed to stifling it, a chilling commentary on the negative aspects of religion (this is not to say that religion doesn't have many positive aspects, because this author believes that it does; my point, and the point of DuBay's script of the initial story in the series, I believe, is that the negative aspects are too often ignored or deliberately brushed aside so as not to offend anyone who will broach no criticism of their faith, an attitude that is hardly conducive to religion's capacity to have a beneficial influence on social policy and adherents' personal behavior).
With this index, I will not only be covering what I believe to be one of Warren's best series ever, one which I highly recommend seeking out to all fans of Rich Corben's work, Warren's general output, non-paranormal vigilante action, pulp noir, and mob fiction, and to again bring this great work of illustrated story format art back into the public perception with all the recognition it deserves, but also to make an argument for including it within the framework of the "consensus" Wold Newton Universe [WNU].
I am quite reluctant, as are many creative mythographers, to wold a certain character or series on personal fiat alone, i.e., simply because a certain series is very "in theme" with the schema of the "consensus" WNU that I generally work within, though the Butcher certainly fits very well in the tradition of the masked, mostly non-posthuman firearm wielding vigilante anti-heroes of the 1930s pulp novels that were so popular back then. Hence, I will strive to make more direct connections to established WNU lore, including a very subtle but perhaps pivotal crossover with an already wolded, completely unrelated EERIE series that I have likewise indexed on this site.
"Forgive Us Our Trespasses"
Story: Bill DuBay
Art: Rich Corben
In the crime-infested streets of early 1930s New Orleans [see Time Frame below], a furtive, extremely anxious looking, and relatively meek mob hitman who goes by the name 'Weasel' sneaked into a Catholic church rectory, slipped into a confession booth, and, with tears in his eyes, began telling the sitting priest that he had to confess to a most horrendous crime…he had recently killed another priest.
Beginning a first-person narrative, Weasel proceeded to tell the priest all about the events that led up to his dreadful sin.
Weasel and two of his nastier partners, known as 'Spider' [no, not that Spider, pulp mavens!] and Potter, were brought in from Chicago to murder Don Carlo Gambino, the elderly, terminally ill leader of one of New Orleans's two dominant mob families [see WNU Connections below]. The man who hired them wasn't the leader of the Ponti Family, who were Don Gambino's powerful rival in the Big Easy…but rather, the culprit was one of his own three sons, Charlie Gambino. The latter son wanted his father killed, despite the fact that the old man was already on his deathbed, for two important reasons.
One, he wanted to put the blame on the Ponti Family, thus initiating a bloody gang war between them and the Gambino Family, with Charlie not only becoming head of his own crime family, but also eventually taking over as head of the Ponti Family, thus becoming far more powerful than his father ever was.
Two, he was concerned that his deeply religious father (despite his decades as a violent criminal) would confess all that he knew about his even more unscrupulous sons to his priest, who stood at his side during what his doctors believed was the don's final hours (the other two Gambino brothers were, of course, unaware that Charlie put out a hit on his own father, and certainly wouldn't have approved of it).
As Don Gambino lay in his mansion bed, about to confess to his priest, Weasel and his two friends suddenly appeared at their window. The priest spotted them a few seconds before they could strike, and heroically leapt in front of the dying old man, taking a shot in the gut from a distance away, courtesy of Spider ("damn Bible-toter got in the way!"). Potter plugged the old man full of lead while Spider pulled a knife and moved to finish off the priest. The remorseful Weasel shouted to his partner that they didn't have a contract on the priest…but the bloodthirsty Spider had no problem "throw[ing] him in for free." The hitman then brutally slashed the priest across the left side of his face with his stiletto, cutting right across one of his eyes in the process, and leaving his body laying in a bloody heap on the floor. Spider then ridiculed his meeker partner: "You're like an old lady, Weasel…you worry too much about your soul…y'afraid God's gonna smash ya for hittin' one'a his boys? Ha!"
They were then confronted by the man who hired them…Charlie Gambino, who was striving to become the new "don" of the Gambino Family despite the fact that both of his two brothers were older than he. To finish the job they were hired for, Charlie Gambino turned around and had Potter hit him over the head with the butt of his pistol, knocking their boss unconscious to create the illusion of a struggle…thereby creating the "perfect alibi" for him [was it? Wouldn't his brothers and the police wonder why the hitmen didn't "whack" his ass also, instead of just knocking him out? Then again, I'm not a cop or a hitman, so what do I know?].
The three men then quickly departed the manse and took up in a pre-paid-for room at a New Orleans hotel, dropping out of sight until the about-to-commence gang war had run its course, as per their orders.
As the gang war took off in full bloody measure over the next month, many innocent bystanders were being caught in the crossfire, including two young girls, the latter incident reported prominently in the media. When the three Gambino brothers (the others' names were revealed to be Harry and William in the next story) spoke to the press, and were reminded that Don Genovese Ponti (accurately) denied being responsible for "zapping" the old man [was "zapping" really used to denote a hired murder back then?], Don Gambino called Ponti a liar, and insisted promoting the fiction that he killed his father, leaving a veiled but clear threat against Ponti's life to the press.
Once they were out of earshot and back in their home, Charlie Gambino's two brothers berated him for what he almost said in front of the reporters, and how he was conducting the gang war, since the death of those two little girls were bringing the Gambino Family a huge amount of negative press. The two brothers had their doubts about whether Don Ponti really hired the killers (though they didn't suspect their own brother), but Charlie Gambino countered by saying that in starting the gang war, he was at least "doing something" to avenge their father, unlike his brothers and the police, and he justified his claim that Ponti arranged the murder by insisting that their rival did this to (in Charlie's own words), "…show his power…so our boys would flock to his mob…so his would be the only gang left in this city! He figured the three of us would fight over the leadership! He thought to hit us while we were weak! We showed him the Gambinos are strong! We'll win this war…and get Father's murderers!"
One of his brothers smirked, "…even if you have to kill every girl in [the] city, eh, Charlie?" When Charlie asked them if they had a better idea, his other brother told him that he did…they would wait until the three men who actually carried out the hit came out of hiding, as they already knew who they were, since some of their men saw them fleeing the Gambino mansion. He resolved to wait until they appear again, find out who hired them for certain…and then "blast" them all (and he used his shot gun on a training dummy to make his point clear in dramatic fashion, in a panel well done by artist Corben).
Meanwhile, Weasel and his two partners were cooling their heels in their hotel room, and they had now been stuck there for a month. Weasel complained about how antsy he was getting for being "cooped up" in there for so long, while Potter mentioned that he wasn't going to leave that room until the gang war was over, since the police and two powerful mob families who controlled New Orleans between them were after the trio. All of the Gambino Family, outside of Charlie, believed the three were hired to whack the old man by the Ponti Family, but he reasoned that once their boss won the war, and took over the prostitution rackets (now controlled mostly by the Ponti Family), then he would declare the trio to be exonerated, and they would get rich working for him anew. When Weasel expressed his annoyance that he hadn't been able to go to church for four weeks now, an amusing discourse about the seeming incongruity and hypocrisy of mob hitmen being inveterate churchgoers, and the fact that most members of the mob families were, in fact, devout Catholics, took place [see Classic Dialogue below].
Finally, a stir-crazy Spider decided to call their boss, set up a meeting, and insist that he provide them the funds to leave town altogether until the war was over.
Charlie Gambino grudgingly agreed to meet his three employees at a seedy restaurant across town, where Spider requested that he provide them with the capital to go on a world cruise for a while, until the war was over; he didn't like sitting in a single room in the same city where the cops and two big mob families were after them. The don reluctantly agreed to do so, since he realized that if they were caught, they would likely blow the whistle on him, telling them, "…and I don't need that until Ponti and my weak brothers are knocked off. By then, I'll be the head of both New Orleans families, and no one, including the police[,] will be able to touch me."
With that matter settled to the trio's satisfaction, they left the restaurant for their hotel room, agreeing to go to Pier 12 the following morning to pick up their cruise tickets.
But as the three men sauntered out into the darkened streets, they were suddenly confronted by a shadowy figure with an icy voice who told them, "Nice night for dying, isn't it, gentlemen?"
Believing, incorrectly, that they had been set up by Gambino, Spider and Potter quickly drew their guns…only to both be literally blasted to pieces by close range shot gun fire. Utterly terrified, Weasel looked up to see that the killer before them was clad in a dark hat and a black cloak wrapped around his body, which effectively concealed both his sawed-off shot gun and most of his face, save for his right eye. As Weasel nervously explained to the priest he was confessing to, "…I saw the face of a Butcher…a face filled with hate and death…!"
As the story shifted back to the time frame of Weasel's flashback, the horrified hitman finally came to his senses in the nick of time, and he promptly fled the lethal, enigmatic vigilante in terror, as the mystery killer reloaded his shot gun. As Weasel continued his heartfelt narrative, he explained that he knew he couldn't go back to his "rathole" hotel room, because that was where the killer (whom he incorrectly believed was hired by Charlie Gambino) would be sent next. As the horror-stricken man expounded, "I didn't know where to run…everywhere I turned, I thought I heard his footsteps…or saw his shadow…"
Finally, Weasel saw the spires of the Corpus Christi Church, the Parish House of God, saying in his confessional, "I knew I'd be safe there…the Lord would embrace me…God would save me!"
As a teary-eyed Weasel concluded his confession to the priest on the other side of the confessional box (and the story entirely returned to 'real time'), the hitman remarked that he had since resigned himself to the fact that the killer would get him sooner or later…but he wanted to talk to a priest first, confess his crimes, and ask God for forgiveness ("so forgive my sins, Father…especially for my part in killing that poor priest.").
The priest on the other side of the confessional then began praying for Weasel's soul, asking for God's forgiveness, as he was asked to do…
…when suddenly Weasel's head was literally blown off by a shot gun blast that tore through the priest's side of the confessional box. From the latter box emerged the Butcher, who pitied the foolish dead man before him, since he knew that he and his two partners-in-crime weren't killed by Charlie Gambino's orders…and that Weasel never actually killed the priest in question.
Pulling the cloak from his face, the Butcher revealed himself to be the priest whom the men unsuccessfully tried to kill…complete with the left side of his face deformed by a hideous scar and a missing eye, courtesy of Spider's stiletto.
Filled with hatred and a lust for vengeance, this priest, as the Butcher, vowed to do what he believed he should have done "long ago," which was to "clean the hoods out of this parish!"
He then decided that, with the three hit men dead, a Gambino brother must die next…and only he knew which brother.
Comments: As noted above in the Introduction to this index, this series is representative of some of the best work EERIE produced during its creative zenith, and certainly one of its best continuing features ever (despite being so short-lived). Bill DuBay's scripting skills were at their best here, and Rich Corben's artwork, knack for coloring his own art, and his alacrity for depicting frighteningly realistic and unremittingly gory scenes of violence was on full display in this story. The Butcher's gut-splattering shot gun damage to his targets, as well as the havoc wreaked on other humans by the bullets and knives of the mobsters, was very graphically accomplished, this being a terrific Corben trademark.
This series was conceived by editor and author DuBay as part of the editorial Warren staff's commitment to create socially relevant and controversial storylines by using the horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and graphic suspense mediums to convey it, instead of simply relying on frightening imagery, twist endings, violence, and monster mayhem. Not all of the Warren product that came out of this editorial resolution was good or memorable, of course…but "The Butcher" certainly was. The fact that the first story was in color made it even more of an eye-catcher, as Rich Corben's work made the best out of the four-color format when Warren chose to delve into it, more so than any other Warren artist (it's unfortunate that the second and final entry of this series wasn't also done in color, even though it was still a good story; in contrast, all three entries of Corben's "Child" series in EERIE were indeed rendered in color…this should have been repeated for the "The Butcher," since it deserved the color treatment for every entry in the series at least as much as "Child" did). As part of the controversial aspects of this series, DuBay used all mob "wise guys" and a lone, brutal anti-hero as protagonists, with the mobsters and hitmen taking center stage, and the Butcher being a shadowy, deadly presence who appears only in the second part of the story (and an early vignette) to wreak bloody vengeance upon them. Readers were led to believe, early in the story, that the unnamed priest who became the Butcher was the one sympathetic character in the story, but his later descent into brutal violence for the purpose of revenge may cause some to question this, and Weasel, having at least a small degree of redeeming qualities in comparison to his much more bloodthirsty partners, was also depicted with a certain degree of sympathy.
The dichotomy of mobsters and hitmen who routinely murder others and commit any number of savage and immoral actions in the pursuit of business and capital power simultaneously being such devout men of God was explored in this tale without apology by DuBay. The idea that a religion which promises forgiveness for any manner of sins may sometimes contribute to violence initiated by its adherents rather than acting as a buffer for such behavior was and is a highly "touchy" idea to explore, especially considering how seriously and sacrosanct many Catholics and other followers of Christ take their religion. This is not to knock the conception of forgiveness as promoted by Christianity in and of itself, of course; in many ways, this presents the positive conception that redemption for mistakes is always possible, and by proxy, character growth and improvement. On the other hand, when this notion is taken too far or too literally, as the story seems to illustrate, then it can cause the adherents of said faith to become arrogant and believe that as long as they "keep the faith" and "believe," pretty much any action they commit, no matter how heinous or reprehensible, is simply academic because, after all, they are going to be forgiven for everything they do in the end, right?
I don't think DuBay meant to repudiate the validity of forgiveness as the Christians see it, but simply to add equal credence to the old mottos that decree, "what goes around, comes around," "payback is a bitch," or, to use a Bible-friendly metaphor, "you reap what you sow." This would seem to imply that nowhere do the teachings of Christ suggest that the conception of forgiveness should be used as a rationalization to hurt others or commit acts of extreme selfishness. In other words, while people are expected to err and sin, one must never consciously set out to do so with ruthless impunity, and then expect God to protect them from the logical consequences of their actions simply because they "believe."
As such, I think DuBay's message, conveyed powerfully with the imagery in this story and his well-honed dialogue, was highly profound, a veritable banquet for thought, and something which few, if any, responsible Christians would denounce as being a total denunciation of their beliefs or ideology. During the 1970s, many writers had no fears of challenging the tenets of the prevailing Judeo-Christian faith, and also to suggest that adherents of all religions need to do the lion's share of the questioning (I'm not certain what DuBay's personal spiritual beliefs were during this time period, assuming that he had any).
In the next story, DuBay tackles the opposite side of the issue, i.e., the importance of forgiveness and an attack on the notion that being quick to punish is an ethical idea, this making it quite clear that he was focusing on both sides of the issue. This is important, as many adherents to the Christian faith, particularly those of a right-wing slant, seem inclined towards preaching forgiveness and yet also taking an unforgiving attitude when it comes to their support of the death penalty and passing vice laws against marijuana and other recreational drugs that insure an ever-crowded prison population.
To those readers of this index who may be wondering, provided you didn't yet read the story…yes, Weasel was drawn by Corben with a face that made it quite clear as to how he got his nickname, his personality being another factor.
For this story, DuBay seems to have taken two main sources for inspiration:
The pulp action vigilantes with a propensity for violent gunplay, like the Shadow and the Spider, who were popular during the time period in which the Butcher was operating;
And the self-introspective, deconstructionist approach to mob intrigue we saw popularized in the classic '70s films like "The Godfather" and its equally respected first sequel.
Elements of both genres were expertly and almost seamlessly combined for this series, especially the first story. The second and final entry deviated a bit from this tone in order to present a quick resolution to the storyline, but it never went fully "out of theme."
This was the first time, to my knowledge, that an actual Catholic priest became a gun-wielding vigilante who waged an active career against criminals in his home city, for the purpose of ridding his parish locale of such elements. Another, later example was the title character from the obscure but nifty low-budget direct-to-video film, "Divine Enforcer" (which co-starred Erik Estrada and Jan-Michael Vincent, two fan favorite has-been actors).
This story was hosted by Cousin Eerie, which was rather unusual for a series tale.
WNU Connections: As noted above in the Introduction, I would hesitate to try and bring a story or series into the WNU by personal fiat, no matter how "in theme" it was…but in its favor, this series, and the character of the Butcher, certainly fit in very well with the 1930s masked vigilante tradition of the pulp novels, this type of hero being one of the cornerstones of the "consensus" WNU schema.
The one connection I can truly make with the overall WNU, which centers on another, already wolded EERIE series, is the following.
In the "Exterminator One" series (indexed elsewhere on this site), which took place eight decades after this series, the eponymous cyborg assassin encountered a criminal club owner named Lucio Gambino, who was said to be a minor member of a much bigger New York City mob family. Even though the Butcher's exploits take place in New Orleans (albeit over 80 years earlier), it's far from unheard of for powerful mob families to set up shop in more than one major city in the United States over time. Also, keep in mind that both series were written by Bill DuBay, who may (or may not) have been making an intentional stab at inter-series continuity with the Gambino Family. As such, I theorize that the Gambino Family seen in "The Butcher" series was the same one (give or take a timeline) we saw in the "Exterminator One" series, which took place so many decades later, and Exterminator One is already established as existing on a future timeline that branches out from the "consensus" WNU of the present. This, I believe, may be a substantive clue for which to justify bringing "The Butcher" series into the WNU.
The fact that the Butcher was operating in New Orleans, rather than New York City, would prevent him from interfering with (or operating at cross purposes with) many of the similar masked, gun-wielding vigilantes who had different parts of the Big Apple as their stomping grounds during the same decade, specifically the Shadow, The Spider, and the Phantom Detective. It's quite likely that the early national news reports of the Shadow inspired the unnamed priest in this story from taking on the identity of the Butcher (though it was probably Weasel who inadvertently inspired his name), and to engage in a similar ethereal career.
Classic Dialogue: An amusing but very cogent conversation ensues among the hitman trio when Weasel explains his reasons for wanting to get out of the cramped hotel room that they were ordered to sequester themselves in for the duration of the Gambino/Ponti war:
Weasel: "Just the same, I want out…I ain't been to church in more than a month!"
Spider: "Church? Ha! Ha! You help us bump a priest and you're worryin' about goin' to church?"
Weasel: "I always go to church, Spider. That's the way I was brought up. So don't you go laughing about God!"
Potter: "It's funny, Spider, but most of the men in the mob are church-going…they rob, kill and pimp six days a week, then go to church Sunday and ask God to forgive them!"
Spider: "And does he?"
Potter: "I guess so. They all claim to be going to Heaven when they die!"
Spider: "Jeezas! That's it! I gotta get outta here…away from you Christian madmen!"
Great, interesting, and thought-provoking stuff from three hitmen to you…courtesy of Bill DuBay's willingness to ask important questions regarding a topic that, at least in America, is considered so "sensitive" and emotionally-charged that it's actually considered impolite to ask about. Perhaps this topic should be discussed much more often and openly in churches and the regular media…I personally think that the risk of offending some thoughtless religious people is more than worthwhile in order to get the thoughtful religious people out there to face this important issue.
In my opinion, if we cannot look at our beliefs critically, then deep down we must worry that if we did, we would find them wanting in many ways, and denial is easier than facing up to the possible need for self-introspection and change. All of this, IMO, is precisely what DuBay's excellent script for this story was intended to convey [see the Comments section above for more of my ill-rendered, egocentric, and pretentious rants on this topic].
Time Frame: The prologue sequence, where the elder Don Gambino is "zapped" and the future Butcher has his face butchered by Spider's stiletto, was stated as taking place in early December of 1932, according to a newspaper headline provided on the title page. The main body of the story, culminating in Weasel's death and the revelation of the Butcher's true identity, took place one month later, in early January of 1933 (this was roundly contradicted in the next story, but I'm sticking with this date as being the more likely of the two based upon close inspection). This is discerned from the aforementioned newspaper headline announcing the "month-old" war between the Gambino and Ponti families across the streets of New Orleans, which was helpfully placed on the title page before the main body of the story began, and which carried a cover date of January 11, 1933.
"Bye Bye Miss American Dream"
Story: Bill DuBay
Art: Rich Corben
This story opens three months after the last [see Time Frame below], with an unnamed police lieutenant and an officer, named Lansky, looking over the dead and mutilated body of Charlie Gambino [see Comments below], which they identified as the handiwork of the Butcher. Near the corpse, Lansky discovered a typed letter left by the Butcher for the authorities, which explained the entirety of the events that led up to this scenario.
The Butcher recapped the events surrounding the hit ordered on the dying elder Gambino don by his youngest son, which also left the priest behind the mask of the Butcher mutilated and filled with murderous rage. When the gang war began taking innocent lives and the police appeared helpless to stop the chaos plaguing the streets of New Orleans, the priest took matters into his own hands and became the fearsome vigilante that the newspapers had written so much about lately. As he explained, the war went on for four months, with the Gambino and Ponti soldiers hitting each others' main establishments (the Gambino family controlled the bootleg liquor distribution in the city, the Ponti family controlled the whorehouses, and both families vied for control over the city's illegal gambling). As the Butcher's narrative stated:
"Blood spilled like cheap liquor. And if either family had a slow day at the cemetery, I helped them along with a few contributions of my own.
"And all the while, the newspapers and the American people ate up the gore like hungry cannibals, enthralled by the exploits of their vigilante/assassin hero…the figure they came to call… The Butcher."
Both crime families became "edgy" while their numbers were exponentially whittled down as the war continued…with the Butcher taking his own share of lives from each crime family, as did the police, who now had orders to shoot both the family soldiers and the vigilante himself on sight. As the war escalated further and the stakes increased in unison, mob soldiers were called out from other major cities, including San Francisco, Chicago, and New York.
As the Butcher's first person missive continued: "Word was out that there would be an extra bonus for the man who could get me as well! But no one even came close!" As it happened, the Butcher summarily dispatched any soldier from either family who attempted to whack him.
As the war became so costly that both families saw their profitable empires threatened, the heads of each gang agreed to meet in a neutral place to sign a truce that would effectively end the war by uniting the two families into one…with the neutral place in question turning out to be the Corpus Christi parish church [wasn't it well known that Weasel was killed by the Butcher there? What a short memory those crime family dons have!]. However, no sooner was the truce signed than Genovese Ponti, his two sons Vito and Michael, and Harry and William Gambino were all obliterated by machine gun fire, courtesy of two thugs hired by Charlie Gambino, both of whom were hidden up in the church's rafters. As the triumphant Charlie Gambino's plans reached their fruition, he mercilessly shot the two hitmen he hired as they left the church…he wanted no one who had any knowledge of his hand in this sweeping, bloody coup to remain alive.
With that accomplished, Charlie Gambino found all of his lifelong dreams fulfilled…he was the Godfather of all organized crime in New Orleans, in charge of what remained of both crime families' business rackets. Even though, a few months earlier, he knew his father would soon die of natural causes, he also realized that as the youngest of the elderly don's three sons, he would have to wait until both of his brothers died before taking the helm…not to mention having to contend with the rivalry presented by the Ponti Family. With these duplicitous machinations of his completed, however, he had eliminated all possible rivals to his city-wide hegemony.
As the Butcher's narrative lamented: "Brother [Charlie] was secure in his new job as New Orleans crime king…for all of about an hour! It took him that long to reach home…
"…and to realize that I had gotten there before him."
The fact that Don Charlie Gambino had unwanted company in his home was obvious by the many corpses of his mansion security people who lay at various points in the manse with their guts blown out of their bodies. Drawing his piece, Charlie Gambino realized that if he didn't kill the brutal vigilante here and now, he risked losing the realization of his just-achieved American Dream. He quietly made his way upstairs to his study, where he saw the Butcher sitting in one of the chairs, apparently waiting for him to enter, and Gambino pumped his adversary full of lead from behind. Unfortunately, the chair turned out to be empty, with only the vigilante's hat placed on the top, and the disfigured priest-turned-gangster-killer emerged from his true place in the room, behind a long sheet of curtains, with a knife in hand. Before the startled mob boss could react, the Butcher slashed his face, mutilating it just as his hired thugs had done to him months earlier, the overwhelming shock and pain of having one of his eyes carved out causing the mobster to drop his piece. The vigilante then recovered his shot gun and grinned in abject delight as Gambino begged him for mercy…and then blew the contents of the criminal's stomach through his back, ending the final and most guilty factor responsible for enveloping New Orleans in a reign of bloody terror and death for the past four months.
But as the now fully victorious vigilante looked at the gory remains of Charlie Gambino lying before him, he found himself horrified by the fact that he had enjoyed committing this act, and for delivering so much hurt and mayhem to the gangsters who had meted such pain and disfigurement upon him at the beginning of this war. He then realized that he justified his bloody vigilante exploits by musing that he was trying to safeguard the innocent people whom the cops couldn't protect from the depredations of New Orleans' warring crime families.
As his letter regretfully stated: "But I know better than that now. It had nothing to do with the Shepard protecting his flock. My motive…my justification for slaughter was far simpler than that!
"It was revenge!
"My human…animal feelings had taken over. And I lashed out at those who had hurt me. I stooped to their level. All my training, my faith had been for naught. I had learned how to love…to forgive in God's name. And in the end, I failed Him!
"No. The answer isn't love. But it isn't slaughter either. For where does the slaughter stop? With these gangers and thieves? Or will we have to butcher every kid who steals a candy bar? [You won't see Bill Cosby complaining about that!] No, slaughter isn't the answer.
"I don't know what the answer is. I only know that I must find it for myself. And I will not find it as… The Butcher [name signed in cursive, of course]."
The lieutenant was amazed at this letter, which finally gave them the body and identity of the man who started the war. When Lansky asked him if he wanted an A.P.B. issued for the priest, the lieutenant answered in the negative, asserting that not only did this priest do them a favor for ending the mob war and identifying the ringleader of the whole thing, but he had also suffered "more than anyone has a right to." Instead, the police would report that the Butcher had died at the mansion that day…and in a figurative sense, that was indeed the truth. The lieutenant felt that the police force of New Orleans owed him this opportunity to find a new life.
Comments: This second and final entry in the series was also a very well-crafted yarn, with an important and relevant theme to it, even though its tone was a bit different from the last story. The visuals and the theme weren't as powerful as those in the previous entry, and some of the sloppy errors and inconsistencies that scripter DuBay allowed to filter into his script, published two issues after the last one, brought this second story down perhaps one or two notches below the last. But it was still a good read, much better than the bulk of what was then being published in the illustrated story format elsewhere.
This time, DuBay explored the positive aspects of what the Catholic religion represents, particularly with its notion of forgiveness meaning that mindless vigilante justice…or rampant murder in general…is against the beliefs that Christians proclaim to espouse. This was an interesting exploration of the "slippery slope" argument. The reasons for the Butcher ending his career of his own volition in such a simultaneously profound and mundane manner, not requiring the death or suicide of the character, etc., was quite interesting and refreshing.
DuBay also offered a commentary about how the general public takes an illicit delight in the portrayal of violence in the newspapers, which has a real life analogue in the way the public of the 1930s in the "real" universe [RU] used to relish reading about the often bloody exploits of the gangsters famous during that era, e.g., John Dillinger and Bugsy Siegel, and their tendency to transform them into something akin to folk heroes, much as various historians have done with violent criminals from the Old West like Jesse James (remember the episode of "The Brady Bunch" which dealt with that topic?).
What happened to the unnamed priest who became the Butcher after this story is unknown, since he was never seen again. Hence, the fate of the Butcher may be a genuine mystery of the WNU.
Unlike the previous story, this one had only a small amount of dialogue, spoken solely by the unnamed police lieutenant and Officer Lansky in the framing sequence. The main body of the story was told entirely via first person narrative by the Butcher himself, with no dialogue given to any of the gangsters this time around.
In this story, Charlie Gambino was mistakenly identified as 'Harry' throughout. This contradicts the previous story, which I will consider to be more authoritative.
Rich Corben's pencils were as impressive as before, even though it's a shame that the second and final entry in this series couldn't be presented in color (in fact, no color section appeared at all in EERIE #64).
The best way to collect both stories in one magazine is to hunt down a copy of CREEPY #132, which reprinted the two Butcher stories under one cover, as well as many other great 1970s Rich Corben illustrated stories from the Warren inventory (the latter issue of CREEPY was an all-Corben reprint issue). However, the reprint of "Forgive Us Our Trespasses" to be found in CREEPY #132 was not in color, possibly because of the budget restraints that Warren was operating under during its waning days, with much of its suffering funds being allocated into the production of a line of four-color comic inserts then appearing in several issues of EERIE.
Time Frame: The first page of this story contradicts the previous tale by stating that the Gambino/Ponti war began in October of 1932, and then continued for four months before the Butcher iced Charlie Gambino and then retired and vanished. Since this conflicts with info implied in the last story, I maintain that the New Orleans gang war started in early December of 1932 and concluded sometime in April of 1933. The events of this story take place during that four-month interval, and end in the latter month and year.