“Say, what’s that shadow moving there?”
Coming just in time for the hallow-days, Haunted Horror #13 is here (and queer)! Reprinting the cream of the corpse of forgotten pre-code horror comics, Yoe Comics (an imprint of IDW) has been churning out over-sized chills on a bi-monthly basis for two years now. Ranging from creepy to campy, the scary to the hairy, and from the damned to the damned funny, Haunted Horror has crept its way onto many a horror fan’s pull list.
However, this time around, this is no ordinary horror funny book, kids. This ain’t your mama’s cuddly crypt keeper. This is issue #13, a genuinely unlucky artifact. Scavenging the rotting annals of pre-code comic catacombs, Madam Clizia and Mr. Karswell bring their cursed horror A-game: Eight tales presented in terrifying Technicolor. Readers can be sure, each individual story hits the high marks for camp, creep, and color factors.
In the early 1950s, horror comics were the hallmarks of troublemakers, corrupting youth long before Facebook, texting, selfies, and the Disney channel. For some reason, the editing ghouls chose the batshit crazy cover from 1952’s Eerie #10. A green alien monster with deer antlers, spider arms, and wolf feet rides a gargantuan housecat through the netherworlds with a beautiful dark damsel behind him. Oh, and the green monster has a huge, fanning, flapping… um… member. Certainly an interesting choice, Yoe Comics.
Mr. Karswell hits the ground running with his tale, City of Fearful Night, about a midway station between the worlds of the living and the dead. This strange world proves to be full of slave laborers who have to work off their purgatory time for gargantuan, maleficent demons. With chilling pencils by Bernard Baily, a beautiful use of color saturation, and lots of face-grabbing shrieking, this is certainly a stand-out tale.
This particular strip would have fit perfectly in an episode of The Twilight Zone. As an interesting aside, The Twilight Zone began in 1959, and this comic came out in 1952 (most of the strips in Haunted Horror are from 1950-56). It’s gratifying to look at the relationship between pre-code horror comics and its influence on shows like The Twilight Zone. Though there were other bizarre sci-fi anthology shows that pre-cursed TZ, such as Tales of Tomorrow, an influential, albeit short-lived, ABC program that ran from 1951-1953. A careful individual will be able to see how all of these programs and comics play off of each other, nod at each other, and expand upon the other’s stories.
The Face in the Shroud mixes the absurd with the disturbing. This story concerns a fearless married couple that surfs the deep web of the supernatural by entrancing themselves in dark rooms and attempting to contact the spirit world. But when an uninvited visitor answers their bidding, the Ouija board hits the fan…
The unsettling and terribly un-P.C. Death a la Carte (in which “The main course was MURDER… and the dessert was DEATH!”) is a hilariously wrong story about a greedy uncle who assumes care of his handicapped nephew in order to inherit his fortune. Things get messy as the man becomes increasingly disgusted by the autistic child’s eating habits. The horror, the horror!
The Paper Ghost is another highlight. It involves the unheard of genre convention of a greedy businessman throwing his partner into… a vat of acid! The twist is, since the business tycoons owned a paper factory, the partner’s ghost comes back to terrorize the man in the form of… paper. Newspapers, loose leaf, Dixie cups (I’m serious)… nothing and nowhere is safe.
The 5th corpse is Memento meets Memento Mori. Told in the second person, in this story, the reader takes the role of the despicable central character. You are Nick Mangotti, a hired killer with one bad memory. Contracted to off your own best friends for a couple hundred bucks, things start getting cryptically confusing when amnesia settles in. Who were you supposed to kill again?
In every story, the colors are brilliant. No wonder kids loved these books so much. An arguable drawback of modern comics is they’ve by and large lost the over-saturated use of colors. With a push for making comics ‘more serious’ these days, the use of gaudy colors to add to the reading experience has been left by the wayside. Artists Steve Bissette and John Totleben (along with some guy named Alan Moore) paid homage to this type of art for their famous Swamp Thing run in the 1980s, arguably one of the greatest horror comics of all time. However, aside from that, even modern horror comics don’t toil with the garish colors that made the pre-code baddies of the 1950’s so vibrantly naughty. Even DC’s relaunch of The House of Mystery series in 2008 didn’t see any of the nostalgic art or color nods within their pages. It was more of a modernization of the classic horror comic, which didn’t seem to translate well to audiences for this short-lived relaunch.
But this is why we have excellent throwback publications like Haunted Horror. They are surprisingly chilly and disturbing cautionary tales to keep children up at night, and to keep adults scratching their heads in foggy wonder.
Be sure to grab Haunted Horror #13 (at your own risk), on stands now! And look for another bizarro-horror issue in December!