What a wacky and wonderful story! There are so many eccentric and unpredictable twists and turns peppered here and there in "The Rat Man" (from Tomb of Terror #5) that it's almost hard to know where to start. How about Professor Ogden's Super Sonic Dead Flesh Reanimator? If your last name is anything but Frankenstein, why would you want to reanimate dead flesh in the first place; for party fun? Ogden is introduced and then discarded within a few panels without giving us a full explanatory on the pros and cons of reviving a corpse so we're left to our own imaginations. Why is Benny's transformation to a rat complete except for his hind legs, which remain human and hairless? The Harvey colorist was obviously sideswiped by that anomaly as well since Benny's feet are pink in about half the panels and grey in the other half. Benny takes on Nails' henchmen and then turns to the mob boss' moll but the fear of facing a six foot tall rat is too much for the gorgeous dame and she withers into "a gibbering old woman" (flashing a devil's horns sign that would make Ronnie James Dio envious) with grey hair and a giant lolling tongue! Oh, and extra credit for the scene where one of the thugs looks out the window and mutters, "Hey! What's that? Look like a giant rat!" If you were warring with a mafia boss, would you eat a bag of grub he offered? I didn't think so, and yet, Benny scarfs the vittles down in good faith. "The Rat Man" is one of those loony strips that reminds you why you read these things in the first place: cuz Shakespeare is boring.
|Totally worth it.|
A surprisingly bleak and hard-hitting tale from very early in the series’ run. “Crypt of Tomorrow” (from #3) seems more typical of later entries that would push for grittier tones after the foundation for the series was established, but “Crypt” is cold as ice right out of the gate. It revives one of our favorite traits of the Harvey Horrors: mercilessness. Joe is an all-around nice guy—as exemplified by his all-around American name—who loves his life and his gal and his pal and yet he suffers anyway simply because he finds himself in a very uncompromising situation. Joe’s descent into madness after the Earth dies is perfectly logical and never once feels hamstrung. “Crypt” even manages to fit in one of my beloved tropes, the corpse/skeleton banquet. The origins of the aliens is never disclosed (we don’t even know if they really are aliens), getting only a tantalizing close-up of the drooling, apish UFO pilot. The climax manages to be even grimmer than The Twilight Zone’s “Time Enough at Last,” and that’s saying something.
Like "Found: The Lair...", "The Eyeless Ones" (from #7) isn't so much a meticulously crafted narrative as it is a clever little adventure that climaxes with a nice kick in the rear. At no point up to those final panels are we tipped off that this is an alien race coming to investigate our ravaged world. I love that the astronauts are dressed like Buck Rogers (with the exception of the obligatory sole female explorer, decked out in something very unsuited for space exploration, designed by Armani just before the launch) and hop out of their ship sans protective garb, almost taking for granted that the atmosphere will sustain them. The first assault, leaving four of the explorers in bloody pieces, is jarring and graphic. It's not spelled out but I assume the mutants lost their eyesight after generations of cave-dwelling. The wizened scientist of the crew provides us with a priceless expository after he has a "discussion" with the leader of the good mutants (the creature's side of the conversation is limited to "GRMPH"!):
Jose: Three scientists and the “charming and very efficient” Vivien are stomping through the jungle when they come upon the lost city of Ilium. Blowing the door off with a grenade (like you do), the team enters the musty temple only to be confronted with a truly hideous bust of the mythic Medusa. A physical paralysis begins to overcome them, but a handy throw of a rock knocks the bust off its altar and all of them out of their shocked state. Later the eldest member of the group suddenly transforms into a ravening gorgon and steals Viv away before the two other men track the beast down and shoot it. After returning to the States, Viv call Jack to let him know that their compatriot Hugo has gone and hanged himself after going stir-crazy in an asylum. They surmise that Hugo might have felt the change coming on him too. When a monster is seen biting necks in the street, Jack and Viv go to Hugo’s grave to see if their old chum has become a ghoul in his next life. Turns out it’s actually Viv who’s wearing the snaky headdress now, so Jack runs her through with a crowbar. When he gets home, Jack’s face starts stiffening and he realizes he’s the new ghoul in town.
“Head of the Medusa” (from #5) was a story made for Rudy Palais, and the artist fulfills the creative potential of the exotic monster and her (freely adapted) mythology with panache. The shot of the bust and its gorgon-ized victims are stunners, all writhing serpents and zombie eyes and fanged snarls. The tale shows off Palais’ rugged line work and gives him a chance to utilize some economical and innovate framing to cover the wide geographical/time spectrum that the narrative spans. It’s not a masterful story by any stretch. The scripter apparently couldn’t make up their mind about Medusa, who turns her victims to stone, drinks their blood, *and* transmits her gorgon curse to them, but Palais renders the already-confused text meaningless with his illustrations. You won’t be able to take your eyes off it!
|Just try to look away!|
"The Shadow of Death" (from #7) contains some sketchy art by Abe Simon (whose work, at times, is a dead ringer for that of the schlockmeisters who redrew pre-code stories for the Eerie Publication titles) and a formula plot line that is saved by a genuinely unique and stirring climax when Farno effectively commits suicide to save the human girl he's fallen in love with. Though Simon's illustrations of human characters leave a lot to be desired, his vampire is a fearsome creature, almost werewolf-like in its appearance and the artist shows other flourishes of style throughout the six-page running length. The panel where Farno reveals to Paul (and to us) that he's a creature of the night is particularly atmospheric and creepy thanks to Simon's use of shading as is the "medley" of Walter and Desire's courtship, underscored by the image of a large bat. In contrast, Oscar Fraga's re-drawn version (re-titled, generically, "Vampire") that appeared in Tales of Voodoo Vol. 7 No. 6 (November 1974) casts away anything resembling atmosphere, stripping itself down to only the bare elements of the story. Not a classic by any stretch but, still, an interesting deviation from the "monster kills, monster is killed" school of pre-code.
|The fabulously moody|
reveal as drawn by Abe Simon...
|...and the re-drawn "Vampire," lacking|
anything resembling subtlety.
|This is your brain on horror comics.|
We tread some very old burial ground in “Return from the Grave” (from #6) but thankfully it never becomes a lifeless retread as so many other “back from the dead” stories did in these pages. Moe Marcus is an artist that I tend to be hot and cold with—he drew both the incredibly stale “Bridge” (Chamber of Chills #17) and the charmingly offbeat “Torture Jar” (Witches Tales #13)—but this one falls closer to his high marks. He’s especially good during the scene of Leonardo’s resurrection; the undead magician’s face looks like something out of a Tim Burton stop-motion film. And though it suffers from the occasional bout of hinky dialogue—best line is when Roberto punches the corpse out and says “No! Get away! I-I’m due to return for the second act!”—the left-field payoff satisfies just with how unexpected it is in a tale of corpsey revenge.
Peter: Charlie Patch is a beekeeper for the wealthy and beautiful Carol Leighton. When Carol comes out to the field for an inspection, she finds everything looking very good, especially Charlie. That night, Charlie is fantasizing about courting and marrying Ms. Leighton when a buzzing catches his attention. Two huge bees carry Charlie off to their hive where he's made to kneel before their queen, a half-bee, half-Carol nightmare that tells him he's been chosen to be her mate. Insulted, the giant drones sting Charlie to death and the country bumpkin falls out of his bed, realizing it was all a crazy dream. The next day, Charlie is summoned up to Ms. Leighton's mansion, where the woman informs him that she wants him to become her bodyguard and hang out at the estate. Jettisoning common sense, Charlie walks down to the field to brag about his new-found fame to the other grunts. Insulted, the workers beat the man to death.
Hmmmm... a deep underlying message? Not a common trait to these Harvey Horrors unless it's something along the lines of "Don't mess with vampires!" or "Atom bombs will be the death of us all!" but "Hive" (from #8) serves up an important moral: do not appear to be something you ain't in front of a band of rednecks, especially if they're armed with clubs and shovels. Nothing to complain about when it comes to Lee Elias' near-perfect illustrations: the giant bees are suitably menacing, Carol Leighton is a babe, and Charlie's co-workers could pass as extras in Deliverance. Aside from his ill-conceived trip down to the field, Charlie is completely devoid of the usual evil intentions most Harvey characters carry in their disease-riddled brains, which makes the finale even more sadistic and unexpected.
But the characters in “Colony” find all these fun excursions have turned deadly in the hands of the witchy counselors. The swimming pool houses the slimy octopus from Ed Wood’s BRIDE OF THE MONSTER; their cabins are actually dank, dripping dungeons; and the witches’ idea of fireside entertainment is watching their human captives subjected to various tortures.
Overall Moe Marcus’ art fares much better here than “Return from the Grave,” though his octopus tentacles look like French fries. There’s even one hazy panel that shows a poor soul bound to a chair as hot candle wax drips on his face; it has "Senate subcommittee hearing" written all over it! With all the supernatural hokum of witches combusting at the clang of church bells, this touch of Inquisition-level sadism is surprising in its presence and adds to the overall madness of this nutty little s'more.
Peter: Jim and Mary Turner, with Mary's father in tow, run out of gas right in front of the Pilgrim's Church, site of the last recorded witch burning two hundred years before. The trio hoof it to a nearby summer resort, where they are taken in by a pair of ghoulish characters and told to make themselves at home. Taking the ghouls up on their offer, Mary, Jim and pop decide to take a swim in the pool where, unfortunately, Mary's dad is eaten by some sort of sea creature. Suddenly realizing things are a bit askew, Mary and Jim confront the robed demons and demand to know what's going on. The leader of the pack confesses that he leads a coven of witches and Mary and Jim are invited to tonight's entertainment. That night, the couple are dragged down to an auditorium and forced to watch as several sadistic acts are performed on hapless travelers. Once the festivities are complete, the frightened pair are escorted back to their cell and an escape plan is hatched. Jim remembers that witches cannot live under the sound of church bells so he races over to the Pilgrim's Church and tolls the bells, effectively ending the madcap Resort of the Witches.
Rife with stilted dialogue and unbelievable characters (would you take refuge with, and dive into a swimming pool owned by, the EC Horror Hosts?), "Colony of Horrors" (from the otherwise stellar seventh issue) is a jumbled mess, equal parts mawkish romance and early torture porn. I've never been one for expository but a few questions linger: What was the creature in the pool and what did it have to do with a coven of witches? Why would witches, who are "notoriously susceptible to church bells," set up shop right next to a cathedral? Why were the travelers wearing swimsuits beneath their clothes? Wouldn't the coven attract even more wayward travelers if they dressed up like human beings? What the heck is "the burning vengeance of heaven" and who doles it out? How can I avoid reading junk like this in the future?
Jose: An old professor yammers about an Egyptian curse killing off his colleagues that’s coming for him next. He’s hardly sedated with a hypodermic before a towering, swollen-headed mummy-thing crashes through the wall and carries the old guy off to the local museum. The police follow it in where the giant mummy is busying itself with doling out its punishment in the museum’s fully-equipped and functional torture chamber. Old guys tells the flatfoots to use "the ibis" to extinguish the creature’s power and, waving the relic in the air, the coppers shrink the mummy down to kicking-size.
A slop job on all counts, “Crypt of Death” (from #2) is the last in the disposable four-pagers given to Rudy Palais for the Harvey horror titles. The artist tries to work his usual magic to the best of his abilities (the mummy is, if anything, refreshingly different), but most of the work looks rushed and cramped to the point of incomprehensibility. The intrusion of figures from one panel into the next seems less like premeditated creativity than accidental messiness. Captions are squeezed in between the sequential art because there’s no other room for it. This is one that just makes my head hurt.
|Rudy Palais' incredible art for|
"Head of the Medusa"
- “The Thing from the Center of the Earth”
“Scream your last scream, and have your last look at the world, for the wax creeps to your face and soon will seal your eyes!!!”
- “Wax Museum”
“Borman told his two friends the entire story but somehow forgot to mention Golgoth!”
- “The Quagmire Beast”
“Urrrghh… gasp… gasp… urrrghh…”
- “The Crypt of Death”
“Great Scott! What’ll happen next in this crypt of death! [sic]”
- “The Crypt of Death”
And Joe finds the corpse that was his golden-haired girl early that morning! He stares, blankly, and a great, terrible question forms in his brain...
Joe: "... Mary is dead, too!"
- "Crypt of Tomorrow"
“And the moral to my little tale is: if you want fame, power, and money, don’t sell your soul to the Devil…”
- “Cavern of the Doomed”
“Get out of the way, dolt! You’re frightening my horses with your face!”
- “Graveyard Monsters”
“The four deaths aroused the townsfolk…”
- “Graveyard Monsters”
Snow Monster: "ARRGHHH!"
Marie: "We are lost! They have seen us!... The monsters of the mountain! Help!"
Nick: "Stay away from us ya @*!* slobs!"
- "Glacier Beast"
|Snow Monster: "Well that's just rude."|
Dying explorer: "AGGGRRAA!"
Cave monster: "GRMPH!"
- "The Eyeless Ones"
“Trapped! This looks like good bye!”
- “The Eyeless Ones”
“So the eyeless ones are the only remains of our civilization as we know it today! Is that the destiny actually in store for the Earth? Fortunately, our generation will never know the answer!” [Sucks to suck for the future! - JC]
- “The Eyeless Ones”
The flesh undulated, wrinkled, and melted in rivulets of stinking slime... and seconds later, three blobs of amorphous protoplasm remained... and two charred boney hands joined together, for Rah and Tleena were joined at last!
- "Marriage of the Monsters"
"Careful, everyone! Stay close to each other and be extremely on guard! I -- I seem to have a strange foreboding of danger!"
- "Head of the Medusa"
As Mary's father prepares to leap into the pool, the people of the colony gather about smiling -- but in their smiles is a strange and eager lust that freezes the blood...
- "Colony of Horror!"
Suddenly, out of the slimy water emerges a ghastly creature -- unlike any that ever existed on land or sea -- a monster that crushes its victims with the savage fury of a cobra!!...
- "Colony of Horror!"
Paging Dr. Wertham!
- "Colony of Horror!"
Meanwhile, liquid from the professor's shattered trunk slowly filtered out, dripping over the two bodies gruesomely intermingled in one gory splash of blood and flesh and cracked bone.
Cop: "I thought I saw a dark form slinking away from that... that... that spot"
Professor: "Maybe it's the solution I developed -- giving life to that gory mass of dead flesh! Oh... no... that would be horrible!" (Then why did you whip up the formula in the first place, doc?-PE)
- "The Ratman"
Benny: "Didn't expect me back, did you, boys?"
Moll: "It... it is Benny! He's... he's changed into a real rat!"
- "The Ratman"
"A guy can really get places with four feet."
- "The Ratman"
"Terror Stricken City Helpless Against Rat" [Newspaper Headline]
- "The Ratman"
Nails: "Don't you see? You can't walk into a restaurant... or into a store... but we can bring you everything... television sets... any kind of food you want... like this steak and french fries I bought.
Benny: "It's a deal! You guys are smart!"
- "The Ratman"
Story of the Month
Peter: Some of the most memorable stories I've encountered while feasting on the glory that is Harvey Horror have been those that make little if any sense. It was a hell of a job pumping these little horror stories out month in and month out for the handful of writers blessed to be part of the Harvey bullpen so they could be excused now and then if their wrap-ups were a bit cliche or their characters a little on the transparent side. But it was altogether different when a scripter went out of control and couldn't manage to connect one scene to another, let alone present a climax above the ho-hum. "The Dead Awaken" (from the premiere issue) is one of those cases where nothing makes sense but the absence of logic, plot, and cohesive narrative only seems to make the work so much more enjoyable. How quickly the two lovers turn on each other. If Alan can die and yet still maintain a healthy lifestyle (including, ostensibly, making love to his new girlfriend), why can't Sheila? And why is it that the face of the old witch seems to be melting? It may not make a lick of sense but one thing we can all agree on: Bob Powell was a hell of an artist. Just check out the eerily effective ghost of Sheila (page six, panel six) and the quasi-happy final panel.
Jose: This last batch of issues was an especially weak one, all things considered. Not only did Tomb of Terror experience the requisite growing pains in its initial issues, but the last two stories from the eighth issue remain lost for the time being, limiting our selections even further. Two missing segments might not seem like much, but all it takes is one good story to make a difference. Thankfully, our old reliable pal Bob Powell came through on several occasions to deliver the goods. In addition to his outstanding story “The Ratman” that Peter highlighted above, Powell turned in “Cavern of the Doomed” for Tomb’s third issue. It finds him returning to familiar territory: the comeuppance tale for the vampy villain. Powell’s countess is deliciously evil, her power to control the weak will of men exemplified best in that knockout panel from Page 3. This short never overstays its welcome and wraps up with a descent to hell that throws in a little tease of S&M for good measure.