It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of the pre-Comics Code EC Comics of the 1950s, particulary their horror line. Tales From the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear were three horror anthologies that delivered shock after shock, month after month. So many shocks, in fact, that when Fredric Wertham started pointing the finger about the link between comics and juvenile delinquency, books like Tales From the Crypt found themselves squarely in the crosshairs of moral outrage. Ever wonder why most mainstream comics became bloodless and tame after about 1955? The “excesses” of books like Tales From the Crypt brought the house down.
Dark Horse Comics has taken over the prestigious task of reprinting the EC Archives from the folks at Gemstone, and Tales From the Crypt Archives Volume 4 is the first to see print under their name. It’s kind of fortuitous. Reprinting Tales From the Crypt issues 35-40, Tales From the Crypt Archives Volume 4 finds the EC crew in peak form (keep in mind, that the series ended with #46, so Volume 5, whenever it arrives, will be the final one…but let’s not forget we’ve still got Vault of Horror and Haunt of Fear volumes to get to, as well!) delivering THIRTY short horror stories by the likes of Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein with art by legends like Jack Davis, Joe Orlando, Graham Ingels, and others. Since these are “archives,” all the original ads and lettercolumns (hilariously answered by The Crypt-Keeper himself!) are reproduced as well as the stories. Mercifully, the digital recoloring doesn’t take the liberties that some other reprint volumes do, and these look as close to Marie Severin’s original colors as ever!
Ah, but it’s the stories that are the star here. Where to begin? While not every one of these is an instant classic, there are enough in this volume to get the blood flowing. A few personal favorites include:
“By The Fright of the Silvery Moon” by the classic trio of Davis, Gaines, and Feldstein. A fairly standard werewolf tale, but notable for its drum-tight pacing and flawless art.
“Midnight Mess” by Gaines, Feldstein, and Orlando, about a man who wanders into a strange town and finds himself in a very particular kind of restaurant. Hardcore fans may recognize this one as having been adapted in the little-seen 1973 Vault of Horror movie. You can read this one in its entirety over on Dark Horse’s site!
“…Only Skin Deep!” A tragic little tale by Gaines, Feldstein, and Reed Crandall, with one of the more gruesome (and that’s saying something) endings in the volume. This one also made its way onto HBO’s Tales From the Crypt TV series.
“The Handler” adapted from a Ray Bradbury tale by Al Feldstein, with classic art by Graham Ingels, this one is about a mortuary attendant who gives his deceased clients the send-offs that he feels they deserve. Here’s one that certainly would have gotten a middle-American mom reaching for her mother’s little helper in 1955: “An old maid was the victim of a terrible device. Under the silken comforter, parts of an old man had been buried with her. There she lay being made cold love to by hidden hands and things…”
It should go without saying that any fan of comics should own these, but really, EC’s horror comics are an essential piece of the puzzle for any fan of the horror genre, literary or cinematic. Tales From the Crypt (not to mention companion magazines like The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear) occupies a perfect space in American horror, right between the end of the Universal Monster period, the drive-in schlock of the 1950s, and the rise of Hammer Films. All you have to do is put yourself in the mindset of a 12 year old in 1955 while reading these stories (which remain among the best written and illustrated comics of the era, if not in history), and imagine how unbearably tame the contemporary adventures of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman must have looked in comparison.
Tales From the Crypt Archives Volume 4 is available now at fiendish retailers everywhere. At $49.99 it’s an absolute bargain for the greatest horror comics of all time. No word yet on when other volumes in the series will become available, but hopefully…the sooner the better!