atom's Comic Book Blogs

  • atom | Male | Utah

"I have a lot of issues. . ."

I write comic book reviews that NOBODY has ever asked for!

July 2024




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We're up to PART FIFTEEN of our 2023 Longbox Junk Halloween Horror Marathon and it's time to wrap things up!  Unfortunately, I got pushed off my great pace this year due to some work stuff, so I didn't get quite as many entries in as I planned on, but it was still a mighty fine party if I do say so myself. . .and I DO.
This time out, I have a bit of a special treat for you.  I've taken a little dig into the definitely NOT junk part of my collection for some GOLDEN Age comic horror.  And not just ANY old Golden Age comic horror, but a comic from the Big Daddy of Golden Age horror comics, EC!  That's right. . .the company that unwillingly helped usher in the Comics Code.
Pre-Code  horror comics are highly sought after books in just about ANY collection.   I got this comic as part of an auction lot about 3 years ago.  No, not an online auction.  THAT'S weak comic hunting.  I'm talking about sitting in a room with a bunch of people bidding on stuff.  Now that's some Longbox Junkin'!  It was in a box of comics I paid the princely sum of $125 for.
Truthfully, I'm a little excited to get into this one, because as far as I can tell, this will be the FIRST review ever done of this particular issue.  
My bet is that it will probably also be the ONLY review ever done, because most SANE comic collectors will slab this one up and NOT carry it just bagged and boarded in a manilla envelope to work to scan pages out of it.  I mean, I GUESS I could have just used my Vault of Horror hardcover set (which has a reprint of this issue), but then you don't get to see the STANK of almost 70 years on those old yellow pages. It just ain't the same.
Enough introduction! Let's set the dial on the Longbox Junk time machine for 1954 and take a look inside, shall we?  Ready? Let's GOOOOOOOOOOO!


EC (1954)

COVER:  Johnny Craig
There are more famous and controversial EC horror comic covers, but I really like this one! Golden Age master artist Johnny Craig tells a story I want to know more about in one single image!  The bright fire and bold title against the stark black background REALLY catches the eye, especially with the larger Golden Age cover size.  It's not a particularly great HALLOWEEN cover, but the simplicity of it just grabs me.  Like I said, not the most famous EC horror comic cover, but I find it very compelling.  Let's get inside!
FOUR comic stories and a text piece in 36 pages!  , but they had it good in the Golden Age when it came to comics.  I have a fair handful of Golden Age goodies and they're ALL absolutely stuffed full of content from end to end.  So this review may get a little long. Fair warning.  LET'S GO!
SCRIPT: Johnny Craig
PENCILS:  Johnny Craig
INKS:  Johnny Craig
We meet Larry Bannister as he hides in a dark room, nervously clutching a pistol, waiting on someone. But who is this man? Why is he here?  We flash back two weeks to find out.
Larry Bannister is a man with an unfaithful wife.  He follows her to an isolated lodge and catches her in the act with her lover.  At gunpoint, Larry forces the two of them into the woods, gives them shovels, and demands they start digging!
When the hole is deep enough, Larry tells his unfaithful wife and her lover that it's their grave.  First, they try to talk their way out of it.  Then, they try to fight. But Larry has the upper hand.  Once he subdues them, he begins filling in the hole. . .burying them alive! 
But when Larry returns to the lodge, he discovers his car battery is dead.  Unable to use the battery from his wife's car, he leaves his car at the lodge and returns to the city, planning to return as soon as he can.
Over the next two weeks, Larry remains calm.  He reports his wife's disappearance, answers all the questions from the police, and seems to have committed the perfect crime and gotten away with it.  There's only the loose end of his car remaining.  
And so, he returns to the isolated lodge with a new battery, and is relieved to find everything exactly as he left it.
After Larry meticulously cleans his wife's car of his fingerprints, he suddenly realizes that, even though he brought the new battery, he's forgotten the keys to HIS car!  Desperate, Larry knows that he can't just leave his car at the lodge.  But then he remembers that his wife had a spare set of keys to his car that she carried in her purse.
There was only one solution. . .he had to dig up the grave and get those keys!
But after making his way back to where he'd buried his wife and her lover, he sees that the grave has been disturbed.  Digging in, he finds it empty!  Luckily for him, he finds his wife's purse and the spare keys.
Terrified by the  implications of the empty grave, Larry comes to the conclusion that his wife and her lover somehow lived through his burying them alive, and that they have been hiding out at the lodge, waiting for him to return!
He runs through the rainy woods back to the lodge, convinced that he is being followed in the dark.  He decides to turn the tables on them and ambush them in the lodge when they come for him.  
And that's where we came in. . .with Larry hiding in the dark lodge, nervously clutching a pistol and waiting for his wife and her lover so he can finish the job once and for all.
After a while, Larry hears their footsteps.  Thumping, shuffling footsteps!  He snaps on his flashlight and points his gun to confront his wife and her lover for the last time!  Unfortunately for the horrified Larry, he quickly discovers that the pair did NOT survive their burial!
Fused together in a tangle of rotted limbs, the shuffling corpse-monster that was once his wife and her lover moves quickly toward Larry!  He fires, but the shots have no effect! He screams hysterically as the two people he had buried alive get their revenge. . .from beyond the grave! DUN-DUN-DUNNN!
The End.

A great start for this Golden Age goodie!  A tight, tense story that's more of a crime tale than a horror story until that last page when Larry gets what's coming to him.  Johnny Craig weaves dialogue just dripping with paranoia and fear!  
Craig also pulls art duty on this one, and, for those reading who haven't had much exposure to Golden Age comics, let me tell you that if you see Johnny Craig's name credited as artist, just know it's gonna be good. . .maybe even great.  In MY humble opinion, Johnny Craig was one of the greatest artists of the Golden Age. He does NOT disappoint here. The scans above should speak for themselves.  
Overall, a fantastic opener from one of my favorite Golden Age creators!
SCRIPT:  Johnny Craig
PENCILS: Jack Davis
INKS: Jack Davis
Scandal rocks the small European village of Blumstadt when young Eric Holbien returns from a week in the city on business with news that he has married!  Eric's betrothed, Alicia, who has been promised as his wife since she was a young girl, is devastated.
Eric and Helena (his new wife) are confronted by Alicia, her mother, and Eric's own mother.  It is not a pleasant conversation, to say the least, with Eric's disappointed mother being the most harsh.  Finally, Alicia takes the high road and wishes Eric and Helena the best.  
But out of earshot of Eric, Alicia tells Helena that she hates her and will have her revenge!
Only a week later, Eric's mother suddenly dies with no explanation.  Helena doesn't attend the funeral and rumors begin to swirl that she had something to do with the death.  The rumors only become stronger when a delegation from the local church tells Helena that she's not welcome at services, only for the leader of the group to fall dead just a few days later!
Soon, the rumors begin to turn to accusations of witchcraft!  Alicia's mother is the strongest supporter of the belief that a witch is among the people of Blumstadt.  And then, one day when Alicia's mother passes Helena on the street, the woman falls dead on the spot in full view of all passerby!
At her mother's hasty funeral, Alicia is suddenly stricken by pain and visions of Helena trying to kill her!  Among the other deaths, the villagers have had enough!  Accusations fly and a mob forms to seize and burn the witch!
As the frenzied mob of villagers break into Eric's house to seize his wife, Helena begs for mercy, trying to tell the villagers that it is Alicia getting revenge on her that's been responsible for the town's misfortunes!
The mob isn't having any of it and they take Helena!  Eric tries to defend his wife, but is shot dead by the enraged villagers as they drag Helena to the fire!
But SURPRISE!  As the villagers throw the protesting Helena onto the fire, she gives up the pretense and shouts words of dark magic, transforming the villagers into rats as her true appearance is revealed. . .from a dark-haired beauty to a withered crone, Helena WAS a witch after all!
The End.
Another really good little story!  I like that the writer makes it look like an innocent woman is being plagued by a witch for revenge, but then flips the script and. . .yeah, the villagers were right.  A clever twist!  Like the first story, this one is also written by Johnny Craig and has the same tight, tense feel to it.  I know Craig more for his art, but I'm discovering he's also a pretty fine writer!
On the art side of things, right up there next to Johnny Craig on my Golden Age art favorites list sits the great Jack Davis!  He's got a more exaggerated and less precise style than Craig, but his looser pencils open up a nice feeling of movement that made Davis one of the Golden Age greats and carried him through a long and successful career even after the Golden Age was past.
Overall, another really enjoyable little story.  This one with a twist that took me by surprise, and when you've read as many of these old horror/suspense comics as I have, that's a sort of hard thing to do.
COOLER - 3/4 page text story with illustration
We follow a man as he escapes from Cragmore prison.  He's chose winter, believing it's his best chance to cross the lake surrounding the island prison when it's frozen over.  As he crosses the ice, he hears pursuit and ducks into a hole, down into the freezing water, breathing the air in the small space between the ice and water.
But soon, the terrified prisoner realizes that he's lost the hole.  As he frantically searches for a means to escape his predicament, he freezes to death.  A free man, but still in an icy prison.
This is a VERY short little tale.  Just three-quarters of a page (and I have to say, the amount of fine print on the other quarter page is pretty amazing, compared to the little indicas we have now).  But for its extremely short length, its a very nice and atmospheric read!  For a filler, this is some pretty quality writing!
Overall. . .surprisingly good.  I scanned the whole thing above for you.
SCRIPT:  Johnny Craig
PENCILS:  Bernie Krigstein
INKS: Bernie Krigstein
We meet an old Asian man named Chen Chu Yang, where he lays in an opium den.  He's a man with a strange story to tell. And so we go back about twelve years before, when it all began. . .
Chen has a good wife, who is the light of his life.  One day, he goes to the opium den to relax and has a dream that his wife has died.  When he returns, he learns that his wife is gone.  Grief-stricken, Chen takes on the responsibility of caring for his son and daughter.
Unfortunately, Chen is a bit old and frail, and his son has to step up to take care of the family.  He does so until war comes to Asia and he gets a draft notice.  Understandably upset by his son leaving, Chen decides to drown his sorrow in opium smoke.  While at the opium den, Chen has a horrific dream of his son's death.
And sure enough, when he returns, he learns that his son has met a tragic end.
And so, Chen is left with only his beloved daughter.  When she decides to marry, Chen tries his best to convince his daughter that her husband-to-be is not a good man.  But she's in love and doesn't listen to her father.
As time passes, it turns out that Chen was right.  His daughter's husband is cruel and unfeeling, but now she is married to him, she is honor-bound to remain until his death.  Chen decides that he might be able to help her after all. . .and so he goes to the opium den.
Sure enough, while at the opium den, Chen has a horrific dream of his son-in-law's death.  When he returns, Chen learns that his daughter's husband has been murdered!  Chen takes great joy in the cruel man's death. . .but then he learns that his daughter is accused of the murder!  
Unable to prove her innocence, Chen's beloved daughter is executed for murder.  Now left with nothing to live for, and with the knowledge that his trying to use the strange power he had discovered for evil caused the death of his innocent daughter, Chen now spends all his days at the opium den. . .lost in his dreams.
The End.
Another great little story from Johnny Craig!  Where the first was a paranoid crime thriller with a supernatural twist, and the second was a steady build to witch mob frenzy, this one drifts in a dreamlike manner, like the smoke from the unfortunate Chen's pipe.  Very nicely done to have three stories by the same writer told in such different ways!
The art likewise has a sketchy, dreamlike feel to it.  Not as precise or defined as the previous stories. As if the panels are barely-recalled memories. . .hazy and vague.  It's not my favorite art in this issue, but it does fit this story perfectly.
Overall, a very interesting change of pace from the tightly-focused stories that came before it.
SCRIPT:  Jack Oleck (?)
PENCILS: Graham Ingels
INKS: Graham Ingels
1911.  A young boy named Tommy hears shouting in the woods outside his home.  Sneaking out to investigate, he comes upon a man and a woman arguing.  The man begins to beat the woman, but then realizes he's being watched and grabs the boy!
Almost dead, the man stops choking Dickie for some reason.  Before Dickie passes out, he hears a gunshot.  When he wakes, his parents and the local constable are there.  They find no sign of the man or woman, and a strange burned area.  Other than that, the whole event is a mystery, and remains unsolved.
Flash forward about twenty years.  Tommy is now a grown man.  A man with a problem.  He's got an unfaithful wife.  One night, Tommy overhears his wife and lover discussing killing him.  Infuriated, Tommy decides to turn the tables and kill her instead.  He makes his plan, gathers what he needs and hides it in the woods, and then waits for his moment. . .
Later that night, Tommy confronts his cheating wife.  She protests, but Tommy drags her into the woods.  He begins savagely beating her with a lead pipe when she tries to fight back and escape.  Suddenly, Tommy realizes they are being watched by a young boy!
As Tommy chokes the life out of the young witness, he suddenly realizes that this has all happened before!  HE'S the boy!  Dropping the boy to the ground, Tommy gleefully pours kerosene on his wife's body and sets it alight. . .now convinced he's committed the perfect crime, knowing that the mystery from when he was a child was never solved!
But then a shot rings out.
As Tommy falls onto his wife's burning body, the old constable tries to save him, but fails.  All those many years ago, the only clue was a piece of half-burned paper.  A piece of paper with that day's date on it!  And so the constable solved the mystery. . .twenty years late.
And there's four for four (Five for five, if you count the little text piece)!  This final story drives it home for the grand slam!  It's the only story in here without Johnny Craig's name on it, but it's still a very nice little crime suspense story with a supernatural/ time travel twist.  
On the art side of things, one of EC's premier horror artists pushes the pencils on this one and really brings it to life!  "Ghastly" Graham Ingles was MUCH better known as a horror artist, but he does a fine job with this cool little crime story. . .and nary a gory scene to be had!
Overall, a strong finish to a great issue!


EC comics are some of the most highly-sought after Golden Age comics. . .especially EC horror comics.  This issue is a perfect example of WHY.  It's not the most "valuable" EC horror comic out there.  It's a random issue from the tail end of one of EC's second tier horror titles.  But this comic book simply DRIPS with quality!
The stories are great reads, even almost 70 years down the road.  The art is some of the best you can find in a Golden Age comic.  It might not be the best HALLOWEEN comic, but don't get me wrong, this is a winner from end to end.
One of the things I like best about doing reviews of older comics like this is that mine will often be the first and probably ONLY cover to cover review of a comic that people will usually just see behind the plastic of a slab. . .just the cover posted online.   
 It's a great feeling, knowing that I'm contributing just a LITTLE bit to the overall comic knowledge out there.  I mean, think about it.  Where else are you going to get a description of a 3/4 page text filler piece by an unknown writer in a random Vault of Horror issue?  Right here at Longbox Junk, THAT'S where.  But enough of THAT.
This issue is a solid read all the way through.  I highly recommend it to anyone wanting a good example of Golden Age non-superhero comic books.  You're not gonna find it in a back issue bin. Even though this isn't the most "valuable" or sought-after EC horror comic, EVERY EC horror comic comes at a premium.  Even in the "okay" condition mine's in, I see it's "worth" close to a thousand bucks.  So Longbox Junk this definitely is NOT.
Fortunately, just about all the EC horror comics (including the whole Vault of Horror series) has been reprinted several times and in several formats.  There are some great EC omnibus editions out there, but if you REALLY want to get into them (and I highly recommend you do), then there's a five book hardcover edition in a nice slipcover like the one I have that would make a FINE Christmas present for yourself!  You can find them easily online and it's worth every penny!
So that's it for the  2023 Longbox Junk Halloween Horror Marathon.  I was zipping along nicely for a while there.  Thought I might break my October record until I hit a bit of a work wall and fell off my pace.  But still. . .fifteen spooky reviews ain't bad at all in MY book!
I hope you had a good time at the party, and we'll do it again next year.
Until then, it's back to Longbox Junk business as usual. . .or unusual.  
Be there or be square!

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