Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)

Today’s pick is easily one of my all-time favorite Pre-Code horror stories. I first encountered an edited version of “The Greatest Horror…” in DC’s brief series of Black Magic reprints of the 1970s, but the tale achieves its greatest impact free of Comics Code restrictions.

The big question, of course, is who exactly is this “great horror?” Is it one of the freaks who populate the story, or – in the fashion of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s X-Men, the prejudice and hatred that lurks within “normal” mens’ hearts?

Our Four-Star Fright Fest – along with the entire 31-day Halloween marathon – concludes with “The Greatest Horror Of Them All” by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

The story originally appeared in Black Magic #29 (Prize Comics, March-April 1954).

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True Blood

A Pre-Code horror story truly worth its salt needs a healthy dose of barely concealed sexual tension. A five-page “quicky” that involves multiple blood transfusions between a dashing, lovestruck protagonist and a beautiful damsel in distress certainly fulfills the requirement.

The fact it is beautifully drawn by Nick Cardy only adds to the fun.

The Time Bullet’s Four-Star Fright Fest continues with “Nothing Can Save Her” from Adventures Into Darkness #9 (Standard, April 1953).

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Detective Comics

Although Plastic Man arguably ranks as Jack Cole’s greatest creation, he was equally adept at true crime and horror genres.

The few Cole stories scattered over the first 12 issues of Quality Comics’ Web Of Evil easily represent the height of that publisher’s somewhat tentative entry in the burgeoning horror comics market.

Today’s entry in the Time Bullet’s Four-Star Fright Fest isn’t long on gore, but benefits from Cole’s typically breakneck pacing and broad, near big-foot style art, both of which lend the story a nice sense of foreboding that amplifies the tale’s psychological twists and turns.

From Web Of Evil #8 (Quality Comics, November 1953), here’s “Death Prowls The Streets” by Jack Cole.

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Hair Of The Dog

Today’s contribution to our Four-Star Fright Fest is a werewolf story beautifully illustrated by Al Williamson, using the pen name of Harold D. Williams.

The Grand Central Database doesn’t have a definitive writer’s credit, but given that the tale was published by the American Comics Group it’s a good guess the story was thought up by line editor Richard E. Hughes.

Hughes’ presence would explain the highly specific rules regarding lycanthropy. There’s a right way and a wrong way to tread through The Beyond in the ACG universe, and it’s up to the story’s protagonists to figure out which is which before they reach the final page.

“The Return Of The Werewolf” was originally published in Out Of The Night #1 (American Comics Group, February-March 1952). The story may have been written by Hughes; the pencils are by Williamson and the inks are by Harold LeDoux, who is best remembered for the newspaper strip Judge Parker.

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Circle Of Anti-Life

Ross Andru and Mike Esposito are one of the greatest artistic teams in the history of comics. Their work spanned the Golden, Silver and Bronze ages of comic-books and left indelible impressions on such iconic characters as Wonder Woman and Spider-Man – to name just two.

The following story dates back to the beginning of their long collaboration, 1951, and already demonstrates the distinctive “Mikeross” touch that would soon characterize their work.

“Tree Of Vengeance” originally appeared in Mister Mystery #1 (Key Publications, September 1951).

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The Joker

Like such veterans as Don Heck and George Tuska, Werner Roth is an underrated comic-book artist who owes his relative obscurity to the fact that most didn’t see his work until long after the creator had passed his prime.

Many fans point to Roth’s unspectacular work on the Superman Family titles of the 70s and  groan, but fail to note he did solid work for years on Roy Thomas’ X-Men and truly shined on non-superheroic comics published by Marvel’s predecessor, Atlas Comics, in the 1950s.

The Time Bullet’s Four-Star Fright Fest continues with a good example of Roth’s Pre-Code output, “Poor Mister Watkins” from Menace #1 (Atlas, March 1953).

The story was written by none other than Stan “The Man” Lee himself.

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Back To The Future

Halloween is less than a week away, which means it’s time to pull out all the stops and highlight some of my favorite Pre-Code horror stories by some of the genre’s greatest creators.

Our Four-Star Fright Fest begins with Lou Cameron – who may be better known these days as a prolific crime and western novelist. Before making his name in that field, however, he held court at Ace Periodicals as its star artist.

His clean, yet moody, style easily holds its own with any of the famed EC bunch. The following story – which makes about as much sense as any comic-book tale about time travel – is greatly enhanced by his detailed take on the “fifth dimension” that injects the proper amount of surrealism but also remains strangely down to earth.

Based upon this and other, equally striking stories, I could easily imagine Cameron producing classic Silver Age Doctor Strange tales … that is, if the artist hadn’t moved on to greener pastures where he could actually profit from his creations.

“12 Hours To Doom” first appeared in Baffling Mysteries #18 (Ace Periodicals, November 1953). The story was pencilled and inked by Cameron.

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