Touch Of Evil

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A common element in many Pre-Code horror stories is the overwhelming sense that everyone and everything  a reader holds dearly can be lost in an instant due to a cruel whim of fate or – even worse – the machinations of hidden forces.

Although such menaces were usually depicted as supernatural beings (i.e. vampires, werewolves and witches) transported from traditionally gothic settings to post-war America, it doesn’t take a genius to see how these anxieties mirrored the general sense of unease fostered by the Cold War.

We like to think of the 1950s as the  idyllic, simpler era as depicted in Happy Days or Leave It To Beaver. The threat of atomic warfare, however, cast a long shadow over everyday life.  There was a very real – if often unacknowledged – understanding that armageddon could occur in an instant. Fearing enemies (or more specifically, Communists) lurked in the shadows, Americans looked at one another with suspicion.

Intentionally or not, horror comics addressed this reality by substituting monsters for more tangible threats. Man’s own folly would come back ten-fold in the form of the walking dead or a particularly ironic curse gone awry.

The following story is a good example of the paranoia that permeated horror comics. A seemingly innocent man is driven to horrible deeds because he bought a bouquet of flowers from the wrong person, a tragic tale made all the more compelling by the art of Rudy Palais.

From Black Cat Mystery #31 (Harvey, 1951), here’s “Bloody Red Rose.”

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