Sunday, March 16, 2014

Review- THE VAULT OF HORROR ANNUAL VOL. 5

THE VAULT OF HORROR ANNUAL VOL. 5 (Gemstone, 1998; Softcover)
Collects The Vault of Horror Nos. 32-36 (originally published by EC Comics, cover dates August/September, 1953- May, 1954)
Writers: Al Feldstein, William Gaines, Jack Oleck, Johnny Craig, and other unidentified writers.
Artists: Johnny Craig, Jack Davis, George Evans, Graham Ingels, Bill Elder, Reed Crandall, Jack Kamen, and Bernie Krigstein.

EC Comics rule! They remain the gold standard for Horror comics, Horror anthology series, and for comic books as a whole. If better comics were made then I have not read them. Each issue is divided into four stories,a two page text story, and two pages of letters. I will list my favorite story for each issue, even though they are all winners and I could gush nonstop about this stuff. Perhaps one day I won't edit one of my EC reviews so you can see how long they start out as.
The Bates MANSION? This predate Psycho by seven years.
#32's Whirlpool is the winner for that issue. It paints a chilling picture of mental illness at a time when such things were just creeping into the national consciousness. Together They Lie! from #33 is one of those life insurance scam type stories that are fairly commonplace for 1950s comics, but it is saved with the delicious EC ironic twist ending. These ending might seem unspectacular or even cliched to the modern reader but one must take the era which these were originally published in into account. EC pioneered this technique. This predates Rod Serling's Twilight Zone schtick. 
Ghastly Graham Ingels' turn in #34, Where There's A Will..., is another story about wills and inheritances, another popular topic in Pre-Code Horror comic books. Unlike many of these stories, though, the protagonists actually get away with it. #35 is outstanding. I had to think long and hard about my favorite in that issue. All said and done, I would have to go with Beauty Rest by a narrow margin. Jack Kamen's gorgeous artwork really elevates the material. Heck, all of these EC guys were the best, but Ingels and especially Kamen were the best of the best. Joyce was told she was a shoe-in in a beauty contest because of the note that Mr. Boxer gave her. Helen, her jealous roommate, decides to get one over on her by stealing her entry into the Miss Corpse of 1954 pageant. She ends up murdering her roommate by accidentally giving her an overdose on sleeping pills, but at least she won the Undertakers' and Embalmers' Association award! There seems to be an overt hostility to the mortuary business in these EC Comics, with Feldstein and company basically calling the entire profession a sham and a scam. 
Artwork by the master, "Ghastly" Graham Ingels.
Bernie Krigstein's does the artwork for issue 36's Pipe-Dream, a somewhat cautionary tale about opium addiction. Chen has visions (or dreams) in his opium sleep, and his dreams come true in often gruesome fashion. He feels strong and powerful in his stupor, and even upon realization that his addiction is the source of his woe and his power he continues using, hoping for another dream. 
Artwork by Bernie Krigstein.
I am still working through the crate of EC Annuals that I bought from Russ Cochran in January of 2012. It will be years before I finish reading them all. It's a wonderful problem to have.
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 and I'll give you the skinny on these great books. Gemstone overprinted their single issue reprints in the '90s with an eye toward 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 on the spine. Close enough for Rock and Roll in my book.
DVD-style Extras included in this book: None.
Linework restoration rating: 5 out of 5. William Gaines kept the original artwork, or filmed it, and so what you have here are superb presentations of this material with no line dropouts.
Color restoration rating: 5 out of 5. The color palette is entirely faithful to the original issues with the exceptions of the covers. Marie Severin recolored them all for the EC Library sets, and those same versions are found here. Some of the blacks on the interior pages look weak, but that is the result of the water based inks used in the 1990s.
Paper rating: 3.5 out of 5. The comics themselves are printed on the mando pulp paper of the day, while the covers are presented on the original slick cover stock. Some folks prefer this comic book feeling paper. I prefer paper with a little more heft. Your mileage may vary.
Binding rating: 4.5 out of 5. The glued binding is over 15 years old and has nary a creak when you flip through it. These copies were not trimmed to a consistent width, so this miscut book has two issues which stick about 1/16” farther out than the others. Most folks wouldn't notice it, but then again, I am not most folks.
Cardstock cover coating rating: 4 out of 5. There isn't much in the way of coating, but this book has a nice thick cardstock cover with a fair amount of flex to it.

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