THE HAUNT OF FEAR ANNUAL VOL. 3 (Gemstone, 1996; Softcover)
Collects The Haunt of Fear Nos. 11-15 (cover dates February- October, 1952)
Writers: Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Artists: Graham Ingels, Jack Kamen, George Evans, Jack Davis, Johnny Craig, Joe Orlando, Sid Check, and George Roussos.
Colorist: Marie Severin
EC is the gold standard, not just for Horror comics, but for comic books as a whole. Don't believe me? Pull out any other comic book from 1952, any genre, any publisher. Only Flash Gordon or Prince Valiant hold a candle to the sophistication of the artwork and writing that EC had. This was art for the sake of art. Jack Kamen and “Ghastly” Graham Ingels toiled in obscurity and near-poverty, and their work was worlds better than it had to be. They could have just tossed off “good enough” work, but the artists in the EC stable all sought to impress one another with their work. The readers reaped the benefits of this friendly competition.
The writing is also a cut above everything else going on at the time. While Al Feldstein was known to occasionally lift ideas (“liberal adaptations” sounds classier) from other stories, the ironic twist ending and black humor that was an EC hallmark were all his. The Twilight Zone and Rod Serling owe a huge debt to EC.
While I enjoyed every story in this book, I'll list my favorites. In The Acid Test (HoF No. 11), Jack Kamen illustrates beautiful people doing ugly things, in this case an unhappily married couple. Well, the husband is happy, but the wife...not so much. This formula (unhappily married couple= carnage) is repeated throughout the book. “Ghastly” Graham Ingels...while it is extremely difficult to pick which one of his masterpieces is the best in this book, I'll have to go with For The Love of Death (HoF No. 13). In this story, a lonely, disturbed elderly man by the name of Morton Macawber goes to funerals because he feels that only in death are people treated with the respect that they deserve. This causes him to brainstorm how he could be that loved, that missed, and this is when Macawber (har-har) goes off of the deep end. Sorry, but this remains a no spoiler zone, even on 60 year old comic books.
Jack Davis' best piece in the book is Wolf Bait (also HoF No. 13), which ends with a question rather than an answer. Remember how John Carpenter's 1982 remake of The Thing ended, where you just didn't know the answer, nor would you ever know? Well, it's the same thing here, and I love it!
Finally, George Evans' All Washed Up (HoF No. 15) is a beautifully rendered story about...you guessed it, love won, love lost, someone snaps, and then we're off to the races. Some folks may call these stories formulaic, but you must read them with the era that they were originally published in in mind.
Every issue is divided into three parts, with the hosts trading off each time, just like they do in all of the other EC titles. The Old Witch hosts The Witch's Cauldron, The Vault-Keeper hosts The Vault of Horror, and last but certainly not least, The Crypt-Keeper hosts The Crypt of Terror. They all have terrible puns about the story and insult each others stories each time out. This is the model emulated and imitated by every other Horror anthology.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 5 out of 5.
The OCD zone- If you do not know what an EC Annual is, then pull up a chair. I'll give you the skinny on these great books. Gemstone overprinted their single issue reprints in the '90s with an eye towards selling their own back issues. They re-purposed this overstock by gluing 5 entire issues into a cardstock cover. While this is not technically a trade paperback (it has no ISBN), it is squarebound and has the title name on the spine. Close enough for Rock and Roll in my book. The comics themselves are printed on the mando/heavy pulp paper of the day. The water based inks looks fine, although the blacks look weak on this paper, like they didn't sink in correctly. I am not sure if this is the ink or the paper's fault, as I am not an expert on the printing processes used in these books. I can spot bad restoration and reproduction a mile away, but the nuts and bolts of the printing process is out of my realm of expertise.
William Gaines kept the original artwork, or filmed it, and so what you have are superb presentations of this material with no line dropouts. The color palette is largely faithful to the original material, although some of Marie Severin's color choices on the cover recolorings are questionable. I would love to see a purist line of these books done with all of the original color palettes once they complete the EC Archives. I know, I know, would I like fries with that? I am not above making tall orders, especially where EC is concerned. These pages should be hung in museums for all to appreciate and admire.
Linework restoration rating: 5 out of 5.
Color restoration rating: 5 out of 5.
Paper rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Binding rating: 4 out of 5.
Cardstock cover coating rating: 4 out of 5.
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