Horror Comics Old and New

John Constantine Hellblazer: Reasons to be Cheerful: written by Mike Carey; illustrated by Leonardo Manco, Giuseppe Camuncoli and Lorenzo Ruggiero (2004-2005; collected 2007): Excellent but frustratingly short collection of Constantine stories really ends halfway through an arc. This is something DC used to do a lot with its adult-oriented Vertigo collections, I’d assume in order to squeeze as much money as possible out of the trade paperback reprint market. They’re now re-collecting Constantine’s Vertigo title in lengthier collections from the start of the comic. I’d assume this arc and the subsequent The Gift will appear in one reasonably priced volume some time in about 2016.

Carey’s an excellent writer, and really the second-last great writer of Constantine’s now-cancelled Vertigo Universe title. The art by Leonard Manco and others is solid and moody, and the horrors suitably horrific. Of course, Constantine is Odysseus-like in his on-going ability to get everyone associated with him killed. As the main arc partially collected here deal with a threat to Constantine’s relatives, friends, acquaintances, and people and things he only met once, a high death toll is assured. Who will survive and what will be left of them? Recommended, but you should probably wait for a new, more complete collection.

The EC Comics Library: Shock SuspenStories Volume 2:¬† written by Al Feldstein and Ray Bradbury; illustrated by Johnny Craig, Wally Wood, Joe Orlando, Jack Kamen, Reed Crandall, George Evans and others (1952-53; collected 2007): Shock SuspenStories was the Whitman’s Sampler of EC Comics during that comic-book company’s brief, brilliant run as the best comic-book company in the United States in the early 1950’s. Stories reflected the breadth of EC’s comics line, from social agit-prop stories (known as “preachies”) to science fiction, horror, and suspense.

If one wants to see EC in all its glory, Gemstone’s over-sized SuspenStories collections are the way to go. Grotesque horror stories with terrible puns in the title include “Beauty and the Beach” (illustrated by Jack Kamen), in which two jealous husbands enact ridiculous yet appropriate vengeance on their sunbath-loving wives, and “Seep No More”, a riff on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart.”

There are also two excellent adaptations of Ray Bradbury stories here — “The Small Assassin” and “The October Game”, both suitably under-stated and horrifying in their implications. Notable “preachies”, which were pretty much always illustrated by the great Wally Wood, include “Fall Guy,” a gimmicky story with a visual bit riffed upon in Watchmen; “Came the Dawn!”, a loopy ax-murderer tale with the sexiest woman Wood ever drew for EC; and “…So Shall Ye Reap!”, a justifiably much-lauded tale with dual, unreliable narrations.

Also included is artist Reed Crandall’s terrifically grotesque “Carrion Death,” a story of murder and vengeance meted out by the natural world. We also get not one, not two, but three stories about Martians — and only two of those Martian races hostile — and for unintentional laughs the bizarre and ridiculous anti-drug “preachie” “The Monkey,” in which recreational marijuana usage inevitably leads to murder, as it so often does. In all, highly recommended.

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