IMPACT ANNUAL VOL. 1 (Gemstone, 1999; Softcover)
Collects Impact #1-5 (originally published by EC Comics, cover dates April- December, 1955)
Writers: Carl Wessler and Al Feldstein
Artists: Jack Davis, Reed Crandall, Graham Ingels, George Evans, Bernie Krigstein, and Joe Orlando
EC's 'New Direction' titles tend to be dismissed by most EC fans, widely considered to be inferior because EC toned down the subject matter in order to receive the seal of approval from the Comics Code Authority. While the tongue in cheek, over the top Horror elements were removed “for the good of the children”, the stories found in Impact are among the most visceral in the entire EC repertoire. Don't mistake these tugs at your heartstrings as short-changing your intellect, as the cerebral is still in full effect as well.
While EC's fortunes were in decline during this time, the output of their artists was at an all-time high in terms of quality. George Evans in particular shines in this title. There is a 5 part interview with him from 1995 reprinted in each issue, and Evans tells of how the rest of the comic industry blamed EC for the whole Wertham incident. Many of the artists were largely black-balled because of it, forcing them to go into other lines of work such as commercial art.
The obvious winner in #1 is Bernie Krigstein's tour de force, Master Race. We were only a decade removed from World War II at this time and the Nazi menace still haunted the dreams of the Jewish population. Krigstein boldly defied EC's strict layouts, extending the page counts of his own stories to the chagrin of Feldstein and Gaines. He was one of the first to apply cinematic “camera pans” to comics. He really saw comic books as a form of artistic expression. You can read more of my thoughts on his work here. If you have never read this tale, please skip the rest of this paragraph and proceed to procure a copy of it posthaste. The story about a man haunted by nightmares of being in a concentration camp, about how the prisoners made a break for freedom as the Allies approached. He lives in fear, seeing every face on the subway as the man who said that one day he would get him as the prisoners fled. The tale is written to give the reader the impression of the prisoner's plight, and only at the twist ending is it revealed that the man who lived in fear was not the concentration camp prisoner but rather the Nazi guard on the run in America.
In all honesty many of these stories seem like they were retro-fitted, as with a tweak in the scenario many of these could have been 'New Trend'-style stories. The twist endings are all still evident throughout this series. Issue 2 really ups the emotional impact, with morality plays taking center stage. Graham Ingels' The Suit could have easily been a Horror story with a handful of tweaks. It was a very emotional story presented as is, but Ingels' pacing and payouts lend themselves to the double cross and black humor. I was half expecting something gruesome to happen. Paid In Full tells the tale of a life of regret, one of those Things would have been different, if only I weren't so selfish! stories.
I was surprised that issue 3's The Debt made it past the Comics Code Authority. The last page, with the twist ending, made it feel like something out of Crime SuspenStories or one of the other EC crime comics. I imagine that it was a moot point for the CCA since EC was effectively black-balled on the distributor level, with bundles of comics returned because they were never sent out.
It's nearly impossible to pick a winner for #4, but George Evans' brilliant Country Doctor wins it by a hair. Evans is one of the best artists to ever grace the pages of comics. I am a sucker for photo realism, and Evans is right up there with the best of the best (Foster, Raymond, etc.).
Issue 5 sees things winding down quality-wise, even though the stories remain good and are highly enjoyable. Impact is an interesting footnote in the history of comics. Too far ahead of it's time for it's own good, yet too tame for the audience of the time. One can only imagine the artistic heights that American comic books might have reached if Wertham and the Comics Code Authority never happened.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 5 out of 5.
The OCD zone- Gemstone overprinted their single issue reprints in the '90s with an eye toward selling their own back issues. They re-purposed this overstock by trimming and 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.
Linework and Color restoration: Shot from the original artwork with a color palette authentic to the original publication. If you want to see EC Comics in full color then this is the best way to do so, as these look superior to the originals in print quality.
Paper stock: Standard pulp paper of the day. The pro is that this looks and feels like a real comic book. The con, and it is a very large one, is that this will age and yellow, just like real comic book paper. I am admittedly less and less worried about this sort of thing as time goes by, as I will likely be dead before this book deteriorates too badly.
Binding: Perfect bound trade paperback.
Cardstock cover notes: Thick cardboard with minimal coating. There are signs of wear after years but all in all very solid.