Or – “A Collector’s Item For Our Dear Fiends!”
Greetings, fright-fans! Give the man your grimy little dime, if you haven’t done so already, and step into the Crypt of COMICS! I’m your host, the Longbox-Lifter, with a quartet of loathesome gems from that heydey of fear and loathing, the repressed and recessed decade known as the nineteen-fifties! Hang on to your heads, Faithful Spoilerites, and mind your other organs too as we present a Halloween treat for boils and ghouls alike, featuring your recommended daily allowance of Halloween terror!**This Retro Review comes from a time before the Comics Code Authority, and thus contains some disturbing imagery and scenes of horror. (They don’t call it the Crypt of Terror for nothin’, folks.) Mileage, as always, may vary, but you have been warned.**
TALES FROM THE CRYPT #33
Writer: Al Feldstein
Penciler: Jack Davis/George Evans/Jack Kamen/Graham Ingels
Inker: Jack Davis/Jack Kamen/Graham Ingels
Cover Artist: Jack Davis
Letter: A. Machine
Editor: William M. Gaines
Publisher: EC Comics
Cover Price: 10 Cents (Current Near-Mint Pricing: $650)
Previously, in Tales From The Crypt: EC Comics is always a fascinating topic to talk about, an upstart publisher that began when Max Gaines sold his All-American Publishing imprint (home of characters like Green Lantern, The Flash, and Wonder Woman) to his publishing cohort Jack Liebowitz, taking his ‘Picture Stories From The Bible’ title with him to start his own company, dubbed Educational Comics. Max died in an accident a year or so later, leaving the company to his son William M. “Bill” Gaines, who launched titles in the crime, horror and humor genres, including a little something called Mad Magazine. Though the rise of the Comics Code Authority led to the end of EC (indeed, some believe that the creation of the CCA was DESIGNED to end EC, engineered by Gaines’ publishing rivals), what remains half a century later is a legacy of amazing, personal, creative and, on occasion, damn scary comics, and this one is a little of all of these.
We open with the Crypt-Keeper playing carnival barker, running his patter in a bowler hat, offering us another of his spine-tingling tales from the title of the freakin’ book, “a blood-curdling yarn I call ‘Lower Berth!’” We open in a traveling carnival (which is apparently where people went to look at strange things before the internet).
First and foremost, that was apparently some pretty damned specific hieroglyphics they found with Myrna. Secondly, I’m once again glad that the art is handled by future Mad Magazine mainstay Jack Davis, whose style gives a pretty horrible scene a slight edge of subtle comedy, even as we watch an innocent woman being mummified. (If you don’t know why that’s awful, you don’t know enough about mummification.) After years of being the top draw, Dr. Cling and Myrna found their popularity being rivaled by another attraction, Enoch the two-headed man, who died in obscurity somewhere in the Ozarks…
While Jeb (Enoch’s handler) and Doc Cling didn’t get along, and things got even worse when carnival owner Feeley moved Myrna off the center stage to the Midway. For the first time in months, Myrna and Enoch’s dead eyes did NOT behold one another upon their unveiling, and that night, something STRANGE happened in the dark corners of Feeley’s carnival tents….
And Jeb and Feeley and Doc Cling realized it was another case of American blind justice (of the peace) and there wasn’t a single thing they could do about it, ‘cept wait for the bridge to come around again on the guitar. (Y’know, it’s hard to make a joke in the midst of a story that creeps you right out.) The carnival went on without it’s star attractions, until they returned a year later to the very town where Enoch was first discovered, and an old man shared the tale of local legend, a story about a mummy and a two-headed corpse in a cave far up in the mountains…
Heh… Turns out the whole thing is an origin tale, something you don’t see a lot of in the Atomic Age comics of the 50′s. This, of course, is only part of the reason why this issue commands prices nearly double of it’s contemporaries. Another reason is that this book is almost an early EC All-Star Game, with writing by Al Feldstein (who spent three decades helming Mad Magazine) and art by not only Davis, but three other EC stars, including the team of George Evans and Jack Kamen, responsible for literally dozens of scares in my younger life. Their tale (brilliantly entitled “This Trick’ll KILL Ya!”) starts off with an American illusionist traveling to India to learn the secrets of the fakirs. A young woman offers to show him the Indian Rope Trick, to astonishing results…
It’s interesting to see that the Indian girl, aside from some broken dialogue, is not written and drawn as a complete stereotype or rube, another way that EC was ahead of the curve. As for the art, can you imagine how much more horrifying the first tale would have been in Evans & Kamen’s more realistic style? I honestly hesitate to consider it, because I have to sleep tonight… Markini’s wife/partner, an opportunistic hussy named Inez, invites the woman back to their hotel to show the trick again, intent on getting the secret at any cost, even… MURDER. After killing the girl, though, they find no gimmickry in either rope or basket, only their own just desserts.
For those of you keeping count, that’s the seventh “Good Lord!” in the issue. It’s sort of writer Feldstein’s version of that artist who always hid his daughter’s name in his caricatures… And as the Vault-Keeper promised in that last panel, the next tale is a Fairy Tale, of sorts, albeit a particularly twisted one. We begin with an adorable moppet, Prince Junior, of an unnamed kingdom long ago and far away. Junior is terribly attached to his caregiver, Nurse Fanny, and loves her bedtime stories of ‘the wicked witch that cooks the bad wittle peasant childwen’. One terrible day, though, Junior awoke to discover that Nurse Fanny had not…
When promised games and prizes and candy (and even a pony all his own) Prince Junior forgets about his grief, and dances through the castle in joy, until he comes upon the room where Nurse Fanny lies in state. The boy’s curiosity gets the best of him, and Junior slips into the room, only to find his beloved nurse awakening from her death-like slumber. “Oh, dear,” she remarks, “I must have had an attack!” An editor’s note explains that she suffered from cataleptic seizures with the rather droll addtion of, “And after all, how good were doctors in those days, anyway?” Heh. Reunited at last, the Nurse lovingly tells young Junior how she would never, ever leave him, as the boy suddenly recalls his father’s hasty and poorly-timed promises…
And if that doesn’t chill your blood, I don’t know what will, especially with Jack Kamen’s deft illustration of the perfectly angelic little boy. These old EC’s were full of breaking-the-fourth-wall gags, as the Crypt-and-Vault-Keeper’s address the readers directly, and even toss to the next story in the set. But worst of all, more disturbing than either of the Keepers is EC’s third horror host (known to fans as the GhouLunatics), the Old Witch. Created (and most often drawn) by Graham “Ghastly” Ingels, the Witch’s stories had a little extra nastiness built into every panel. Witness the story of Howard, an old-school scammer in the lonely hearts trade, traveling across the country in search of love and money (but mostly money.)
Howard’s dastardly scheme continues, over and over, romancing, marrying and murdering rich widow after rich widow, seven in all, leaving a trail of broken hearts and bodies behind him. Howard’s latest potential conquest writes him after murder number seven, telling of her palacial stone home, with stained glass windows and wrought-iron gates, surrounded by relaxing trees and flowers and gardeners to keep it all tidy. Seeking out his mysterious suitor, Howard finds himself out in the boonies, far from anywhere, until the address that beautiful Janet sent him looms ahead…
Unlike the occasionally comic Crypt-Keeper and the jauntily smiling Vault-Keeper, the Old Witch is just terrifying in her every appearance, and I’m desperately trying to write as many words as I can right now to get her horrifying eye to stop STARING AT ME. There is a reason, after all, why Doctor Wertham’s crusade focused as much as it did on the horror comics of the time, justifiable or not. EC’s horror output comprises some of the most disturbing comics of all time, and is filled with talented artists and writers working hard to creep everyone who reads their work the $&#$ out. Tales From The Crypt #33 is a triumph among EC’s output, earning a blood-chilling 5 out of 5 stars overall. A smarter man probably wouldn’t have written this review right before bedtime, honestly… Until next time, creeps… Pleasant SCREAMS!
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Wanna see something REEEALLY scary?
About Matthew Peterson
Were pop culture a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Matthew still enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear. Surprise. Ruthless efficiency. An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture. And a nice red uniform.