During the fifties readers were tired of superheroes and horror, crime, romance, and western comics ruled. And as there was no oversight, there was no restraining the publishers on the subject matter, and the method in which they covered it. This coverage ranged from the restrained and tasteful family fare, to the outrageously exploitative. And then the sky fell in, and a perfect storm of communist hysteria, and conservative strawman oriented stupidity, would bring an end to a golden age. Soon comic companies would go out of business, and great talent would leave the comics field, sometimes forever.
HOWEVER, these comics, printed on the degradable paper that they were, were still printed on a more durable medium than the electronic medium of a website or a webzine, and so, rare as some of these stories are, they still exist, and will exist long after some Internet sites have derezed into oblivion.
A person can only wonder what any of the persons that originally created these comics would have thought if they could see that so many of their creations are still being read, appreciated, AND reprinted, on high-quality paper, while their detractors, like Wertham and Keefover, have faded into obscurity.
This anthology starts off with a pair of essays by Craig Yoe and Stephen Banes, and while both try to put this anthology, and the stories reprinted in it, into perspective, both end up being pretty superfluous to anybody who knows anything about this time period. Best read, and then quickly disposed of.
We then jump right into the good stuff, but be prepared. The zombies included here ain't the mindless cannibalistic zombies that "traditionalists" pretend that real zombies should be portrayed as. These zombies from the fifties, fifteen or more years before Romero, are more interested in murder, mayhem, and revenge rather than just chowing down on your brains, and any other assorted body parts they can get their teeth into.
Of course, not everything included here will be good, not even with the patina of nostalgia to hide behind. Still, I found some new favorites here, stuff worth discovering, both because the stories are good, and/or because of the talent behind the inkwell.
We start off with a good story, which would speak to the comic's poor and working class target audience. 'I Am A Zombie' by Lin Streeter is from the December 1953 issue of "Adventures Into The Unknown" #50. Here a heartless real estate mogul runs roughshod over anybody that gets in his way, then he goes after the wrong person, and he learns what it's like to be the type of person he used to wipe his feet on. I like the idea, the art, and politics of the story.
Next up is the only story that I was familiar with. My Dad had a few horror comics from his youth, and he had this one, with a great Don Heck cover if I recall. From the January 1953 issue of "Web Of Evil" #2 comes 'The Corpse That Wouldn't Die!' by Jack Cole, and this is clearly an adaptation of Clark Ashton Smith's Lovecraftian horror story 'The Return Of The Sorcerer'. Those only familiar with Cole's humorous Plastic Man comics will be in for a surprise here. While no authors are accredited it's possible that this story was adapted by Lovecraftian author Frank Belknap Long, as he was writing for the comics at the time. Unfortunately, the cover to "Intrigue" #1 (January 1955) is reprinted as the source for this comic, instead of the original comic.
Next up is the over-the-top piece of madness 'Horror Of Mixed Torsos' by Dick Beck, from the August 1953 issue of "Dark Mysteries" #13. Here's a story that would have given the bluenoses nightmares. A freakish outcast indulges in some truly anti-social behavior. His is a story that has murder, necrophilia, dismemberment, axe-murdering, disembowelment, body parts being fed to rats, and zombies with axes. Woo, hold on to your hats, the first thing that dies here is good taste.
Next up is 'Ken Shannon' by Reed Crandall and Chuck Cuidera from the February 1952 issue of "Ken Shannon" #3 and it mixes a supposed zombie with the hard-boiled detective genre to great satisfaction on my part. This is a story that is full of hard-boiled dialogue like "For a while I was colder than a blonde Faro dealer.", or "I figured it was time to throw my weight around and make like a guy earning his money!", and two-fisted action. The lantern-jawed Shannon, and his constantly hysterical girl Friday, Dee Dee, have to solve the mystery of whether of not a woman's husband has come back from the dead for vengeance. There's enough story here for a full-length forties "B" movie. A great story marred only by the clichéd hysteria of Dee Dee.
Full-length movies HAVE been made out of stories like 'Where The Undead Roam' by Bill Benulis & Jack Abel from "Monster" #2 in 1953. Fantastically drawn, this is a story of voodoo, greed, violence, and revenge. Wouldn't have won a Pulitzer, but, really, who cares? Great stuff.
'Marching Zombies' by Rudy Palais is from the May 1952 issue of "Black Cat" #35, and along with having ethnic stereotypes, involves a lost tribe of desert dwellers, who are now zombies because they have crossed the wrong god. Into this mix wanders a pair of archeologists, poor them. This story is bloody, nonsensical, and should appeal to anybody with an appreciation of any of the "Blind Dead" movies.
From the inkwell of Al Hartley and "Baffling Mysteries" #17 and it's September 1953 issue comes 'Master Of The Undead', and it's another voodoo story. This time a megalomaniac is trying to take over a pretty girl, her plantation, and the world, all through the use of his voodoo controlled zombies. I dunno, sounds logical to me. Maybe in 1953 this made sense, or not, but anyway, great brain candy by any stretch.
While not my favorites, this anthology also contained some other stuff, which while not great, were still interesting and/or fun to read. 'Step Into My Empty Shroud' from "The Beyond" #24 (January 1954) is a mix of the hard-boiled crime story and the zombie story from future novelist Lou Cameron; the first African-American comic artist A. C. Hollingsworth gives us two pieces, from 1952 comes 'City Of The Living Dead!', and the cover of the December 1952 issue of "Diary Of Horror!" #1, which also feature African-American characters with skull lanterns.
Early stories by later masters include 'Treasure Of The Dead' from "The Beyond" #17 (November 1951) by later "Daredevil" and "Tomb Of Dracula" artist Gene Colan, 'The Thing From The Sea!' from "Eerie" #16 (June-July 1954) by future EC comic artist Wally Wood, and 'Giant From The Tomb' from "The Purple Claw" #3 (May 1953) by Ben Brown, and which is also an unsuccessful attempt to create a Christian occult fighting superhero.
There is also a cover gallery which includes covers by Basil Woverton, two future Tarzan artists, Frank Frazetta and Roy G. Krenkel, and future DC and Marvel artists Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, Joe Maneely, and Lee Elias. There is also a great cover by future madman Carl Burgos. This book, and Amazon, both list Howard Nostrand as appearing in this anthology, and unless he's operating under a nome-de-plume, his artwork is nowhere to be seen. False advertising?
On the other hand, this is hardly a great, groundbreaking, or an essential anthology. True, there are essential stories here, and there are two rare stories printed here in black and white, as they are reproduced directly from the original inks or pencils, it's hard to tell, but the seemingly hap-hazard method in which the stories are picked, handicaps this anthology.
The reasons for this are because, instead of giving us their manifesto behind this anthology, they give us a pair of superficial and essentially useless introductions. I mean, why these stories? Are they representative of the horror/zombie stories of the time? Some background, even about the comic companies involved here, would have been appreciated, as such information could have helped put the stories here in some form of historical perspective. And that leads to another problem. We get the magazine, the magazine's date and number, most of the time, but we NEVER get the comic's publishers names. So, while there are stories from such future family friendly publishers as Harvey, Atlas/Marvel, and the American Comics Group, you would never know it from from this book, something you would think that many readers would find of interest.
And who were the writers of these stories? If the editors have the artist information, wouldn't you think that they cold also have found out who might have wrote some of these? Did Stan Lee write any of the Atlas stuff?, and what about some of the other famous comic writers from the early days of Marvel, DC, and ACG? And what about sf writers like Alfred Bester, Frank Belknap Long, C. M. Kornbluth, Jerome Bixby, or Donald A. Wollheim? All of whom were actively writing for the comics at the time.
One last problem is not the editors fault, but is jarring none-the-less. It's hard to understand today, but at one time comics were cheap and shoddily treated, and up until the eighties, were considered disposable, and this obvious from the way that these stories were colored. Clearly, somebody needed to be told how to color within the lines. The comic's four colors at times just seemed to be smeared helter-skelter across the artwork, blurring EVERYTHING, which is why the two black-n-white reprints seem to come off best. All-in-all, not an essential anthology, but a good one, but it just could have been so much more.
For this site I have reviewed these other books dealing with pop culture and comics
Batman: Scarecrow Tales (Batman Beyond (DC Comics)) edited by Anonymous.
Beautiful Monsters: The Unofficial and Unauthorized Guide to the Alien and Predator Movies by David McIntee.
Batman: The Sunday Classics 1943-1946 by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Jack Burnley, Charles Paris, et al.
The Best Of The Golden Age Sheena: The Best Of The Queen Of The Jungle #1 edited by Stephen Christy.
Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History, with Illustrations by William B. Jones, Jr.
Kolchak The Night Stalker Volume 1 edited by Joe Gentile.
Night of the Living Dead TP: Volume #1 by John Russo & Mike Wolfer.
Ripley's Believe It or Not!: In Celebration... A special reissue of the original! (Ripley's Believe It or Not (Hardback)) by Robert Le Roy Ripley.
The Secret of the Swamp Thing by Len Wein & Berni Wrightson.
Serial Vigilantes of Paperback Fiction: An Encyclopedia from Able Team to Z-Comm by Brad Mengel.