TALES FROM THE CRYPT (#40, February 1954)
You had to know that I was going to review an EC title at some point. I'm shocked that it took this long to assess the one comic book that is synonymous with terror in four colors. Tales From the Crypt was the Elvis Presley of genre comics. It pissed off parents, galvanized controversy, appealed to spastic youths and thrusted its groin into America's prurient lens (well, figuratively speaking). This was a primer for cool kids. I own several issues of Crypt, but sadly, most of them are reprints. I haven't read enough of EC's other series to determine a favorite or single out the nonpareil of the bunch. In terms of popularity, it's no secret that Crypt takes its sibling publications to the cleaners.
It's certainly the most celebrated horror comic of all time. If you've never apprised yourself of the original Cryptkeeper, there are a few things you should know. For starters, each issue is heavy on dialogue. Regnant whippersnappers who were raised on Image and Dark Horse are accustomed to breezing through a comic in 10-15 minutes flat. You'll have to set aside 30 minutes to ingest this tome, unless you happen to be a speed reader. Me, I'm stupid, so I need a full half-hour. The panels are varnished in call-outs and text bubbles. You'd think that the artwork would suffer as a result, but there is a prosperity of space for gruesome detail. Dig the bloated, waterlogged corpse in "Pearly to Dead."
Something else you may not be privy to...The Cryptkeeper isn't the only ghoul spinning yarn up in this bitch. He is joined by The Vaultkeeper and The Old Witch. They take turns delivering cheeky puns and illustrative alliteration. Crypt is entrenched in cornball humor and serpentine tales of revenge. Invariably, the revenge is fueled by lust, greed and betrayal (it's usually a combination of all three). Hmm, I guess I should break down the stories on tap. Kudos to writer Al Feldstein and his contingent of artists (Jack Davis, George Evans, Bernie Krigstein, Graham Ingels) for their gnarly contributions to this particular batch of scares.
Food for Thought ~ A husband-and-wife circus act is wrenched asunder when adultery is suspected. We get telepathic torture, a mauled lion tamer, a premature burial and a cemetery goblin. Sweet ending. The hippodrome backdrop is a refreshing change of pace.
Pearly to Dead ~ Underwater demolitionists discover a bed of pearls while rigging explosives. Set during World War II, this Vaultkeeper episode finds a Navy diver murdering his best friend to lay claim to an untold fortune (not to mention the poor bastard's main squeeze). Again, the final panel makes for a great payoff.
Prairie Schooner ~ Less horror and more "cruel irony." A discharged sea dog moves in with his sister and slowly goes insane. Eventually, the raving tarpaulin converts the basement into the stern of a ship. Grab the comic to see how he winds up sinking his makeshift vessel and drowning...in the middle of Kansas. Clever narrative.
Half-Baked ~ An angler off the coast can no longer feed his family. Why? For weeks, his lobster pots have come up empty. Meanwhile, a sadistic entrepreneur delights in the dissection of briny creatures later served at his seafood restaurant. Another instance of morbid comeuppance. Not quite as fulfilling as the similarly-themed "Schooner," but it was unpredictable. Plus, there is quite a bit of character development for seven measly pages.
With the exception of "Food," Tales From the Crypt #40 milks a nautical motif for all its worth. I enjoyed the hell out of it. Expect further EC editions of Panels From Beyond the Grave. There is plenty of material to work with, to be sure.