Monday, June 27, 2016

EC Comics! It's an Entertaining Comic! Part Nine: April 1951

Featuring special guest host, John Scoleri!

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
9: April 1951

Weird Fantasy #6

"Space-Warp!" ★1/2
Story and Art by Al Feldstein

"The Dimension Translator" 
Story and Art by Harvey Kurtzman

". . . And Then There Were Two!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Rescued!" ★1/2
Story and Art by Wally Wood

As he prepares to become the first man to experience space-warping, Frank Carter explains to fiance Martha and best friend Hank how the cosmic experiment will take place. The brains behind the space trip, Professor Hartlow theorizes that the universe can be folded and so a rocket ship can actually take a short cut by entering a "Space-Warp." Martha frets that the mission sounds dangerous but Frank insists that in two years he'll be back to marry the gorgeous gal. The trip goes exactly as planned: the spacemen reach their destination within one year and then turn right around to come back to Earth. When they land, the boys discover that the landscape has changed and a group of armed men approach the ship to take them to their leader. When Frank drops Hartlow's name, he's brought before the professor, now over thirty years older. The scientist explains (with nary a whoops!) that maybe his calculations weren't all that fabulous and, when crossing into a space-warp, you lose relative time. Utterly predictable and text-heavy, "Space-Warp" is a real slag, redeemed only by its sleazy finale. After Frank is lectured on how the light years aged everyone on Earth but he stayed in his twenties, the emphasis shifts from a time/space paradox to how saggy Martha's breasts might be now that she's "an old woman of fifty-four!" All's well that ends well when Frank finds out that Martha has been dead for two years but she and Hank had a babe daughter before she kicked off. Frank marries the girl who might have been his daughter and Hank becomes his father-in-law. Who says time warps are just too much of a hassle?

"I can't live without Martha . . . Say, are you married?"

The other three stories this issue are just as predictable as "Space-Warp." Harvey Kurtzman continues his homage to the nerd with "The Dimension Translator," wherein William Weeblefetzer invents a gizmo that can transform two-dimensional pictures into three-dimensional reality. He gets revenge on his intolerant boss but, when the nutty inventor strives to create the perfect woman, the whatzit backfires on him and he's trapped forever in a photo. Kurtzman's previous nerd-fests, "Henry and His . . . Goon-Child" (from WF #15) and "The Time Machine and the Schmoe" (from WF #16), were much more entertaining and imaginative. I've got no complaint with Kurtzman's art, though, as it's perfect for the subject matter.
". . . And Then There Were Two" chronicles the discovery of two robots on a remote atoll. When the super-intelligent robots are brought back to civilization, they're asked their opinion of the Cold War and they offer a solution. This throws the rest of the world into a tizzy and a nuclear war wipes out all of mankind. The robots take over, build their number up, and then watch as the same problems overcome their new world. The ironic climax is the only thing that saves this talky time-waster.

". . . And Then There Were Two!"

The final story of the issue is "Rescued" by the phenomenal talents of one Wally Wood. A space expedition, searching for inhabitable planets after the Earth becomes too populated, goes missing and a rescue team is dispatched. When the crew discover the planet and touch down, they're attacked by gruesome monsters and defend themselves with their blasters. The creatures dead, the crew turn their attentions to finding their comrades and are soon investigating the first rocket ship. Inside they find a quick-spreading fungus, which has destroyed all the machinery on board. Once they get back to their own ship, they find, to their horror, that the mold has destroyed their communication device and ignition system. They are marooned! Soon, the mold begins to attack the men themselves and they are reduced to gibbering monsters. When a third ship arrives (ostensibly, to rescue them), the men rush out to greet their saviors and are shot down by blasters. Wood's gooey, drippy, rotting-flesh art is amazing and, truly, the highlight of this issue, but we all know where the story is going the minute those monsters are gunned down. By the way, this issue hits the "renumbering" button, continuing from last issue's #17 to #6. Why EC chose to re-number this series but not, say, Tales from the Crypt, is anyone's guess. I would assume this played havoc with collectors in later years, having two versions of issues #13-17 to hunt down. -Peter

Jose: Let’s hear it for marrying surrogates of the lovers we left behind! Now just add an onion-thin layer of displaced incest and you get the kooky martini they call the “Space-Warp”! While not as off-the-rails as “Child of Tomorrow” (WF #17), Feldstein’s contribution in this issue flirts with comedy in the closing scenes that find man-out-of-time hero Carter coming home and asking his now-elderly best friend for his daughter’s hand in marriage so that they can all live together like a big ol’ famn damily. Revisiting Feldstein’s “interesting” takes on romance as an adult has been a bizarre highlight of undertaking this retrospective. Unless you’re suffering from insomnia, it’s suggested that you skip over the Kurtzman and Kamen stories here, as they’ll put you to bed faster than a Nyquil smoke bomb. While not any less predictable than these, Wood’s “Rescued” still manages to enthrall with its positively rugged artwork. Brawn and beasts are on full display here, with a healthy dose of ray guns to make all the classic SF fans swoon. Although Peter is correct in asserting that the climax can be seen a long way off, I’d argue that “Rescued” is one of those stories that rewards for knowing the inevitable payoff just as much as being completely surprised by it.

Some more technical gobbledygook from "Space-Warp"
Jack: I agree with both of you that "Rescued!" is the issue's highlight due to the superb artwork. The Kamen story is predictable but I challenge anyone to predict the ending of the Feldstein opening story where the hero marries his former girlfriend's grown daughter! The early pages of "Space-Warp!" read like a space-travelogue--"now passing Jupiter on your left"--and the happy ending is just weird. Kurtzman's nebbishy hero succeeds in inventing the 3-D printer about 60 years ahead of time and the story seems like it would better fit in Mad than Weird Fantasy, but you have to love that he goes all over the world looking for the perfect girl and finds her in Brooklyn.

John: Good lord, does "Space Warp" use a lot of words for such a predictable tale! On the bright side, at least they didn't make his new bride out to be his own kid. I think I would have enjoyed ". . . And Then There Were Two" more if it had started where the story ended. Not horrible, but nothing to get excited about either. Wally Wood's "Rescued" saves the day (or issue, in this case). The art is fantastic, with some of the finest mold-monsters one could hope to find on a far-away planet. And while yes, it's pretty clear where the story is going, it's still a fun ride getting there.


 The Haunt of Fear #6

"A Strange Undertaking . . ." 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

"So They Finally Pinned You Down!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"A Grave Gag!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Cheese, That's Horrible!" ★1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

Ezra Deepley, the town undertaker, is happy to hear of the death of dentist John Bridgeman, who once pulled one of Ezra's teeth without anesthetic. In "A Strange Undertaking . . . ," Deepley violates Bridgeman's corpse before putting him in his coffin. Next comes Mayor Dunhill, who forced Ezra to move to the outskirts of town and profited off of his land. Deepley does something terrible to Dunhill's corpse as well before putting it to rest. Horace Streetwell, the banker, refused to loan money to Ezra, so when he dies he also gets special treatment. Worst of all is Dr. Fowler, who amputated Ezra's leg when he was too drunk to operate properly--Ezra really takes out his anger on the doctor's corpse. One night, out in the mausoleum where the four coffins are being stored till the spring thaw, Dr. Fowler saws his way out of his coffin. You see, Ezra had replaced his hands with a saw and a butcher knife. He frees the other three corpses and they take their revenge on Ezra.

Ingels takes off for the stratosphere!
Graham Ingels's art has been good, verging on great, up to this point, but this story is something else again. It's as if Ingels suddenly took the leap from above average comic artist to master of the macabre. The story is excellent, though the ending--where we are told to imagine what happened to Ezra--is a bit of a letdown. The GCD says that this story is a swipe of Ray Bradbury's "The Handler," but read it for yourself here and see what you think. The plots are close in some ways but not in others, and Bradbury nails the ending where Feldstein does not.

In Feldstein and Wood's "So They Finally Pinned You Down!" a man meets a beautiful girl and then is convinced that she drugged and robbed him, so he searches for her and murders a series of women whom he thinks are the girl. In the end, it turns out he's a vampire who lost his memory and he gets the stake. The plot makes little sense but when Wally Wood sets out to draw pretty girls I really can't complain.

Jack Kamen's art is as wooden as ever in the tired "A Grave Gag!!" in which a practical joker who likes to trick people at funerals ends up buried alive. No surprises here except that Kamen draws a great Old Witch.

"So They Finally Pinned You Down!"
If Graham Ingels reached maturity with this issue, "Cheese, That's Horrible!" shows that Jack Davis still had a way to go. The title is the best thing about this story, in which a greedy businessman murders a kindly European cheese maker and then has a dream where he's caught in a giant mousetrap. The ending, where he's found in bed cut in half, makes no sense, as the Crypt-Keeper admits. -Jack

Peter: A weak issue with one strong exception. "So They Finally Pinned You Down" is saddled with an awful script, one that posits more questions than answers, but Wally Wood's art is extraordinary so I'd have to give this one a cautionary thumbs-up. Not so with "A Grave Gag!" and "Cheese, That's Horrible!," both of which vie for Worst Story of the Year honors. Doubtless I'll hear "Pshaw"s from my esteemed fellow crypt-kickers, but I'm here to tell you all that "A Strange Undertaking . . ." is a seminal horror story in the history of EC Comics. While its plot of a man who seeks revenge on those who sinned against him is old hat, this one is a bit different. First, the delivery is deliberately wonky. We're introduced to the miserly, greedy Ezra Deepley  (get it, an undertaker named Deepley? Har har!)  and we dislike him immediately. Then we're filled in on a few facts about his past; how the men of the town sought to drag Ezra down simply because of his profession. Maybe this guy isn't so bad after all; in fact, let's sympathize with him.

"Cheese, That's Horrible!"
Circumstances and the influenza outbreak deliver justice right into the man's hands and he exacts his pound of flesh on dead flesh. Yuck, he's a bad guy after all! But . . . it's not like he's going out at night and garroting these guys; they're already dead! What's the harm? Well, this is EC and we need justice for the unjust at times so Ezra gets a little blowback in the end (a cop-out final panel, by the way). Ghastly's art is phenomenal, hitting all the right buttons, seemingly leaving behind the minor weaknesses he'd exhibited in the past year. So, "Strange . . ." is, in my opinion, the first EC horror classic. But that's not all. I'd say this is the first "blueprint" EC horror story, the foundation for the classics still to come, with all the earmarks of what made EC so popular and legendary. For instance, the resurrection scenes, so grippingly detailed by Ingels (mostly in shadow), will be played out similarly dozens of times in the next four years. The gruesome way in which Ezra mutilates the bodies is displayed in ghoulish splendor. We've just turned the corner.

Kamen's take on the Old Witch
Jose: As someone who thrilled to his grandfather’s lurid description of “The Handler” and later indulged in EC’s black confectionery adaptation of same, it’s hard for me to assess “A Strange Undertaking” with virgin eyes, especially with our vengeful mortician’s mutilations looking so very pale in comparison when stacked next to Ray Bradbury’s demented imagination. Still, my cohorts are perfectly correct in noting the exemplary artwork on hand: Ingels is so clearly in his element here, firing on all cylinders, the premiere king of retro-age Gothic. A tough act to follow, but Wally Wood doesn’t slouch on the patently noirish goods with his contribution, a classic “hero-piecing-together-the-past” tale that isn’t half as bad as my fellow GhouLunatics would have you think. Feldstein's script strikes a nice tone of fractured dream logic that Wood’s art allows you to truly feel a part of, a trait lacking in other second person-narratives we’ve seen before. The Kamen and Davis are sunk by logical millstones that force the reader to stop halfway through and question the foolishness of the characters, such as why a business mogul attempting to cut out the manufacturer of an expensive cheese blend would choose to kill the man by pushing him into a vat of his own product and thus spoil all potential sales on that batch.

John: I found myself laughing out loud as we found out how each victim of influenza in "A Strange Undertaking . . ." had done our old boy Ezra wrong in one way or another (whipping out his wooden leg was the high point). And while the return of the desecrated corpses was a pleasant surprise, I was extremely disappointed with the cop-out ending; not letting the reader in on Ezra's exact fate at the hands (or saws, as the case may be) of the vengeful dead. "So They Finally Pinned You Down!" definitely wasn't predictable, but it turns out predictable can be preferable to completely out of left field. And as if to make up for that, you can't get much more predictable than the boy-who-cried-wolf tale, "A Grave Gag!" While it's fair to say that "Cheese, That's Horrible!" is in fact horrible, the standout panel reproduced above is a welcome reminder of just how gruesome these comics can get.

Weird Science #6

"Spawn of Venus" 
Story and Art by Al Feldstein

"Man and Superman!" 
Story and Art by Harvey Kurtzman

"Sinking of the Titanic!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein and M.C. Gaines
Art by Wally Wood

"Divide and Conquer" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

An ace team of five “brilliant” scientists are cutting their way through the galaxy on a rocket bound for Venus, that teasingly elusive second planet of our solar system. The big question on everyone’s minds is, “Is Venus hot or cold?” The answer: both! As they hurtle through the planet’s stratosphere, the Poindexters marvel at the glacial icescapes that occupy one side of the planet and the gaseous molten pits that riddle the other. But right between the two is the planet’s Baby Bear region, a not-too-hot, not-too-cold intermediary that the scientists dub “the twilight zone,” heading Rod Serling off well before the pass.

Dying, but helpful ("Spawn of Venus")
Donning their “temperature-controlled” spacesuits, the team head into the jungle-like terrain and are almost immediately assaulted by flora and fauna that devour their numbers down to two. After seeing comrades swallowed and regurgitated by both a flesh-eating plant and an unstoppable amoeba, one of the survivors decides the best thing to do before leaving is to clip a bud from a beautiful flower and present it as a gift to his horticulturist brother back on Earth. Big surprise: the flower sprouts an infant amoeba that promptly chews through the horticulturist’s green thumb and proceeds to consume everything in its path. With the amoeba reaching Bruce Vilanch-like proportions, a “brilliant” team of governmental movers and shakers decide to drop a big ol’ bomb on the big ol’ blob. The result: a million minuscule monsters raining hellfire upon a big ol’ screaming buffet of humans.

Less like classic EC material and more like a stray bit of insanity loosed from one of the company’s zanier pre-code competitors, “Spawn of Venus” earns brownie points for not being good, necessarily, but for offering the kind of ludicrous thrills that were (normally) beneath the talents of the Lafayette Street bullpen. This is the juvenile stuff of Golden Age science fiction: astronauts suited up like dome-headed robots, a hostile planet where literally everything is trying to eat them, a country in panic over the inexorable approach of a titanic monster. It’s the Saturday matinee glee of the story that allows us to turn a blind eye towards the less logically-pleasing oversights.

"Man and Superman"
Harvey Kurtzman’s comedic nebbish routine takes a refreshingly different if not altogether successful route with “Man and Superman.” Here the focus is not so much on our dweeb inventor, but rather on the scientist’s muscle-bound, lunk-headed brother-in-law Charlemagne Farbish, a mental giant who uses his relation’s “Mass Intensifier” (my words) to give his formidable bulk an extra boost in order to win the Mr. America contest. This revolutionary parable warning of the dangers of performance enhancers (my joke) takes it up a notch by showing Charlemagne wasting away from all the extra energy he requires to heave himself around before dissolving into a mass of glowing atoms . . . just like in real life. The jokes don’t land as smoothly as in Kurtzman’s other efforts, but the effort is appreciated.

Wally Wood gets stuck with a premise that surely had overstayed its welcome even by 1951. Chances are highly likely that any given reader could suss out the narrative from the “ominous” title alone: “Sinking of the Titanic.” If you guessed that our hero was going to attempt to save the doomed vessel through the means of a science fictional McGuffin, step on up and claim your prize. The SF trope is a time machine, natch, and our equally doomed hero realizes a moment too late that the dark stranger who saved his life as a boy on the original ship was himself from the future. I’m sure none of us saw that coming.

A thrilling artistic respite from "Sinking of the Titanic"

Zow-wie! ("Divide and Conquer")
Coming out a left-field with a legitimate winner for the first time is Jack Kamen, that romantically inclined and traditional craftsman who has been the butt of many a derisive comment here in the unhallowed halls of bare•bones e-zine. “Divide and Conquer” finds Feldstein tailoring a winning script perfectly suited for Kamen’s nicey-nice aesthetic. Middle-aged scientist Paul has been feeling torn lately: not only is his binary fission serum resulting in duplicated organisms that are of increasingly smaller size than the original subject, but his beautiful young wife Gloria is seeing another man (one with a full head of white hair!) and planning her husband’s murder to boot! Well, there’s only ever one solution to these marital woes: revenge. Paul takes the serum and tricks Gloria into killing a mindless duplicate of himself. Her shock at seeing Paul on two legs is doubled when he whips out a hypodermic containing enough juice to stimulate a perpetual string of breakdowns and reformations in his callous wife. When Gloria’s lover arrives later, he comes upon a raving Paul and a roomful of shrinking, ever-multiplying Glorias. The sadistic finale is pushed one step further by a final coda that has Paul reveal his plans to crush all his tiny wives underfoot and send another of his doppelgangers to prison in his place. Hoo-wee! Now that’s an EC! - Jose

Jack Kamen's saucy splash
Peter: I thought "Divide and Conquer" was pretty dopey but I did love the punctuation Professor Paul puts on his Gloria experiment: "I've just finished stamping the last of her out of existence . . . like so many ants!" I think one of these comic-history publishers like TwoMorrows should put together a book of nothing but Jack Kamen character profiles. Every female would look alike and the only thing separating the men would be different types of hats or mustaches. I'm a big fan of Al Feldstein's end-of-the-world stories and "Spawn of Venus" ranks high among those. Oh, for the days when people could stand next to an atom bomb flash and not be vaporized. This was published seven years before The Blob hit movie screens and I'm betting "Spawn of Venus" was an inspiration. "Man and Superman," with its throwaway one-liners and sight gags, would be better suited for the upcoming Mad rather than a sci-fi funny book. "Titanic" is a boatload of fun if you don't think too hard on it (Why didn't the nutty professor think to contact his parents before they got on the boat?); besides, if I was George Seymore, my first priority would have been to take my time machine back to the day before I bought those awful blue checkered trousers!

You don't say? ("Spawn of Venus")
Jack: Has anyone ever done an in-depth study of the work of Al Feldstein? He wrote a ton of stories, including three this issue and all of this month's Haunt of Fear! He must have been a huge science fiction fan to know so many of the themes of the genre. In "Spawn of Venus," the ship lands in the Twilight Zone, "the area that lies between the light and dark side." Since I doubt Rod Serling was reading Weird Science, this term must have been in use before that. Lines such as "the tremendous quivering Venusian nightmare moved onward" are so enjoyable! The Kurtzman story shows the science behind a superman and starts out funny but then loses steam partway through. Wood's art continues to amaze me in the Titanic story but the plot is predictable. As for the Kamen story, I have to hand it to Gloria--she stabs hubby to death and then dumps his body in a vat of acid. Now that's a woman with guts!

John: Beware of the Blob! "Spawn of Venus" had me thinking how much cooler The Blob would have been had we also gotten to see the trip to Venus. It's almost as if the filmmakers had read this story and thought, if we replace the Venus trip with a meteorite, we can shoot this thing on a budget! I particularly love the use of crazy looking monsters that remind me of the dime-store rubber treasures we used to get out of Hong Kong as kids. As for "Sinking of the Titanic!," is there anyone out there who doesn't see where this (or any time travel story) is going at the first reference to 'The Stranger'? Jack Kamen's art in "Divide and Conquer" is a real treat. It's a fun, if silly, story. My favorite line is Gloria's, before she slips off to call her secret lover: "I have a headache. The excitement, you know." Reading some of these stories, I do know.

Two-Fisted Tales #20

Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin and Will Elder

"Devils in Baggy Pants!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"Colt Single Action Army Revolver" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Pirate Gold!" ★ 1/2
Story and Art by Harvey Kurtzman

"Devils in Baggy Pants"
In "Massacred," an American soldier is captured by the sadistic North Korean Colonel Jun; the G.I.'s entire squad is lined up and shot by Jun's soldiers and the uniforms of the dead men are donned by the North Koreans so as to pass through "Yankee" territory unmolested. Unfortunately for Jun, they stumble upon an equally sadistic band of North Koreans who take them for the enemy and massacre them. "Devils in Baggy Pants" deals with heroism and cowardice in unexpected areas on D-Day.

While "Massacred" is a powerful tale that ends with a nasty twist, I found "Devils in Baggy Pants" to be a chore to get through. It might be its history lesson tone or maybe its predictable climax (where the mouse becomes the lion and vice versa); whatever the reason, "Baggy Pants" is one of the weakest EC war stories we've seen so far. The art is not among Wally Wood's best, almost resembling Jack Davis's work at times, certainly not as nice as the last couple of Wood offerings we've been privileged to read.


"Colt Single Action Army Revolver" is a fascinating experiment that finds powerful bookends but not much in its midsection. We follow the travel of a single gun (and its six bullets) from a greedy gold miner through a series of owners until, in the end, the gun finds itself back in the hands of the miner, now dying in the blazing sun of the desert. The man utilizes the lone remaining bullet to put himself out of his misery. Once the gun exited the hand of the miner at a poker table, I found my interest waning due to the uninteresting characters. At least the story ends on a high note (although the sadist in me thinks maybe a nastier conclusion might have been the miner pulling the trigger and discovering the chambers were empty) and it's got some dynamite art by Jack Davis. The plot has been used countless time through the years, most notably by ABC in a 1974 Movie of the Week, The Gun, directed by John Badham.

"Colt Single Action Revolver"

The best is saved for last. At the turn of the 18th century, the "crew" of a small boat pulls a man from the sea, only to discover he's a pirate who has been tossed from his ship and has a slight case of amnesia. As his memory begins to come back to him, piece by piece, the man remembers the name "Thomas Tew" and a chest of "Pirate Gold." He tosses the two men overboard and sails the ship to Galveston, where he's sure he can add more pieces to the puzzle. There, he bumps into a man who set sail with him and fills in more blanks: the amnesiac is Captain Sawkins; he and a handful of men stole a chest of gold from Jean LaFitte; along with first mate Tom Tew, the men buried the chest in a swamp in Barataria; and, once the chest was safely hidden, the men staged a mutiny and tossed the Captain overboard. Convinced he'll find the mutinous lot and convince them to lead him to the bounty, Sawkins heads into the swamp and, sure enough, discovers the lot en route. He savagely murders them and wades into the water to retrieve the chest when the final memory comes to him a bit too late: they'd placed the chest in a plot of quicksand!

"Pirate Gold"

As a kid, when I first discovered EC Comics through the East Coast reprints (see far below) and the revelatory Nostalgia Press hardcover, Horror Comics of the 1950s, the name Harvey Kurtzman didn't jump out at me (in my defense, there was not a single Kurtzman contribution to the Nostalgia Press collection and East Coasts emphasized the horror and science fiction titles, for obvious reasons) and, had I taken notice, I doubt my Ditko/Kirby/ Adams/Steranko-loving sensibilities would have thought much of Harvey's quirky, jerky doodlings. So, now, absorbing many of these war stories for the first time, I have to say this guy was pretty good! "Pirate Gold" never once lost my interest, thanks mostly to Harvey using each page as a discovery, one little piece of Sawkins's missing brain reassembled panel by panel. The pirate's final revelation, as he wades into the mud ("Wait! There's something else I've forgotten! The treasure! I remember now! When we buried the treasure . . . we . . . we buried it in the middle of . . . of . . . quick sand!") is at once chilling and hilarious. As is Sawkins's rampage when he comes across the mutineers, each man cut down savagely, with Tom Tew getting four HACK!-filled panels all to himself. -Peter

Jose: For some reason, Kurtzman’s art in “Pirate Gold” didn’t register with me as powerfully as in past stories. It seemed a little too jerky at times, to use Peter’s phrase, almost as if it may have been a little rushed. The story, like the remaining three in this issue, is classic EC, though, right down to that one-minute-too-late revelation. There’s more of the same in “Colt Single Action Army Revolver,” which observes the action of the story through the impassive eye of a third party. It starts out strong, drifts during the middle stretch, but brings it back home again with that morbid respite of an ending. The dramatic punch of wartime fable “Devils in Baggy Pants” is softened by too much emphasis being placed on the whole meek-wimp-becomes-hero tract, but reading this back-to-back with “Massacred” proves to be a somewhat destabilizing experience. We’ve said it before and but it bears repeating: EC’s war stories could never be accused of playing nice with the reader. They were incredibly up-front, frank to the point of brutal in their depiction of casual atrocities and torture that painted the experience of battle in coldly realistic tones. Details as seemingly simple as POWs being bound with the laces from their own boots have the power to stop you right in your tracks.

Jack: Anyone who thinks comics for adults started in the '80s with Frank Miller needs to go back and read "Massacred!" It doesn't get more adult than this and the art by John Severin and Will Elder is fantastic. I thought that the art in the other three stories was equally great, though the stories themselves did not live up to the opener. Jack Davis's work seemed more like the Jack Davis we all know and love than it did in "Cheese, That's Horrible!" and, while I appreciate Kurtzman's work in the pirate story, I enjoy his style more when it's leavened with humor.

John: You said it, Jack! "Massacred!" is certainly a powerful tale, and so much different tonally than most of the silly antics I've come to expect from EC stories. I will say this—it's much easier for me to appreciate Kurtzman's non-humor work when he's not illustrating it. While I wasn't as impressed with the story, I do love Jack Davis's art in "Colt Single Action Army Revolver." As I've said before, the types of stories I expect to find in TFT are not normally my cup of tea, so it was a pleasant surprise to enjoy one so much this time out.

A very short history lesson...

Back in the early 1970s, there were four seminal factors in the resurrection of EC Comics (for me, at least):

-The Nostalgia Press hardcover, Horror Comics of the 1950s. Unfortunately, most if us wee lads of 12 or 13 couldn't afford the unearthly price of $19.95 on our one buck a week allowance and so had to discover the joys of this one years later.

-The Amicus-produced film, Tales from the Crypt, adapting some of the greatest horror stories from Tales and Vault. With care and detail and, most importantly, respect for the source, director Freddie Francis and writer Milton Subotsky created the best horror anthology film of all time, one that still packs more than a few wallops in its running time.

-The special EC Comics issue of The Monster Times. This was our first look into what made EC tick: the names of the creators, the thought process behind the creations, the witch-hunt, the legacy. The Monster Times was consistently the most entertaining of all the monster magazines in the 1970s and this issue (#10, May 1972) was the pinnacle.

-Most important for me was the short-lived East Coast Comix project. At a buck a pop, these funny books were five times the price of a Spider-Man comic book but, my God, what a game-changer. Reprinting an entire issue of a random EC comic, East Coast gave us our first experience of holding an EC Comic in our hands. The experiment only lasted a couple years and twelve issues but it successfully kicked off a renaissance that continues to this day. -Peter

Jack: I got Horror Comics of the 1950s for Christmas one year sometime in the mid-70s and it has stuck in my head ever since, even though I long ago gave the book away to a friend in one of my occasional purges. I'm looking forward to reading some of the wildest stories again as we go through the comics month by month.

The comics reprinted:

#1- The Crypt of Terror #1 (this was a representation of what EC's fourth horror title would have looked like. Originally to be titled The Crypt of Terror, this issue was eventually released as the final Tales from the Crypt, #46)
#2- Weird Science #15 (the second #15, from 1952)
#3- Shock SuspenStories #12
#4- The Haunt of Fear #12
#5- Weird Fantasy #13 (the second #13, from 1952)
#6- Crime SuspenStories #25
#7- The Vault of Horror #26
#8- Shock SuspenStories #6
#9- Two-Fisted Tales #24
#10- The Haunt of Fear #23
#11- Weird Science #12
#12- Shock SuspenStories #2

Next Week!
The triumphant return of
The Suicide Squad!


Anonymous said...

The term "Twilight Zone" for the hypothetical narrow strip of a tidelocked planet between the hot and the cold sides probably goes back to the 1940s if not earlie, but a quick google search didn't turn up a certified example for me prior to 1950 (and even then it's not clear if the actual phrase was used on the 1950 radio show, though the concept was certainly there). The concept was almost always applied to Mercury (then thought to be tidelocked),

though I've read at least one early sf story where the concept and maybe the phrase was applied to Venus: Stanley Weinbaum's 1935 ASTOUNDING novelette "The Lotus Eaters." / Denny Lien

"Men of the Darkside"
Program Synopsis
Submitted by:Rockhill Radio18 E. 50 St.NY, NY (c)1950

57 megamiles from Earth, the planet Mercury, smallest planet in theSolar System and closest to the Sun, revolves in its eighty-eight day orbitaround the Sun.

Little is known of Mercury and, as yet, no attempts have been made atsurface exploration. The planet does not revolve about its own axis and,therefore, its two hemispheres are indirect contrast. The side facing theSun is bathed in constant heat, with temperatures so high that many metalsremain in a constantly liquid state. The opposite face of Mercury is inconstant darkness, with never-ending sub-zero temperature. There is thepossibility of life, however, in a belt of eternal twilight between thetwo extreme zones.

Long-range rocket-cruisers, based on Venus, have scouted Mercury andtheir radar-scope photos have revealed the Twilight Zone to be inhabited.. . ."

Jack Seabrook said...

That's really interesting! Thanks for taking the time to research it and let us know.