Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review: The EC Archives: ‘The Haunt of Fear Vol. 1’ and ‘The Vault of Horror Vol. 2’


Russ Cochran was just another young reader with a zeal for gooey reanimated corpses when E.C. started publishing its controversial, influential, sublime series of horror comics in the early ‘50s. He has since attained a fan’s ultimate dream by becoming directly involved with his favorite comics, republishing Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear since 1971. These included reprints of individual comics and hardback, black and white anthologies. In the late ‘00s, Cochran masterminded his splashiest revamps yet. Gemstone Publishing’s “E.C. Archives” series featured six original comics chronologically contained in recolored, annotated, hardback collections. Some fans took issue with the digital recoloring jobs, but purism be damned, these collections looked fantastic and were clearly made with the love and attention-to-detail of a long, longtime fan.

Then in 2008, with several new volumes in the series announced, The E.C. Archives came to as unceremonious a halt as the original comics did when the officious senate shut them down sixty years ago. Rumors began floating that Gemstone was having financial troubles, and Cochran’s fine series was left in limbo for three years. Well, it’s time to breath a relieved sigh of “Good lord! Choke!” because The EC Archives have finally resumed on GC Press, a boutique imprint Cochran cofounded with fellow super-fan Grant Geissman, author of such titles as Collectibly MAD: The MAD and EC Collectibles Guide and Foul Play! The Art and Artists of the Notorious 1950s EC Comics!


Lovers of the series will be delighted to see that Gemstone quality has carried over to GC. The Haunt of Fear Volume 1 and The Vault of Horror Volume 2 are full of more wonderful supplemental essays by Geissman and Bhob Stewart, who wrote a series of insightful issue-by-issue essays for Vault. Cochran and Geissman snagged two more prestigious personalities to contribute forwards: John Landis (Vault) and Robert Englund (Haunt). Of course, the stars of these volumes are the comics. Purists may be further riled to see that the images are more vivid and nuanced with highlights and shading than the Gemstone versions, but why squawk when there’s so much here to adore? Graham Ingels’s ghastly ghouls and gore oozing off the pages. Jack Davis’s cheeky, bulge-eyed characters capturing the more humorous side of the E.C. ethos. Witness the evolution of The Haunt of Fear, which began in somewhat slapdash fashion, recycling tales from both The Crypt and The Vault and lacking the essential wise-cracking horror host, to the introduction of our old pal The Old Witch at the end of the second issue, to her owning her GhouLunatic role in the fourth one. Terrifically terrifying tales include such creeping classics as “Horror Beneath the Streets” (starring none other than E.C.'s own William Gains and Al Feldstein!), “The Wall” (not-so-loosely based on Poe’s “The Black Cat”), "The Monster in the Ice" (a postmodern sequel to Frankenstein), “The Reluctant Vampire (which became one of the best episodes of the HBO’s Crypt series, with Malcolm McDowell in the title role), and the demented debut of the “widdle kid” stories starring homicidal tots. So wait no longer, boils and ghouls, and get your claws on these essential new E.C. Archives collections, which you can order now through Russcochran.com. Here’s to hoping we won’t have to wait another three years for the next wave. Gasp!
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