It’s that time again, boys and girls! That’s right ACB’s Comic Book Monsters has returned! This year, I’ll be looking at a slice of some of the creepiest comic book series of all time! I’ll be covering a series a day in reverse chronological order. So, check under your beds and lock the doors and windows. It’s time to take a look at today’s featured series…
Comic Book Monsters – October 29th: Crime and Shock SuspenStories
When it comes to comics in the 50s, there is no publisher that is more notorious in filling stands with ghouls, monsters, cheatin’ husbands, criminals, and golddigging husseys than EC Comics. EC was so infamous at giving us the goods for this daily series, that I’m going to spend two consecutive days featuring three of their most well-known series. Not only that, but as I mentioned yesterday EC would be the one publisher that seemed to take the biggest amount of heat from the Senate during the hearings that eventually led to the Comics Code Authority’s creation. Unfortunately for them, they would also be the biggest publisher who paid the most for this heat when most of their titles were so harshly censored that the publisher had to file bankruptcy. But don’t think that they have completely disappeared as MAD magazine was the only title to survive from their library and it still continues on to this day.
The famous battle with the Senate revolved around the publisher of EC, William Gaines, refusing to back down when asked if his titles were tasteful publications. Gaines, who inherited EC from his father, Maxwell Gaines, published books in the 40s and 50s. EC actually started as Educational Comics under Maxwell before becoming Entertaining Comics under William. In the early days they published books ranging from romance titles like Modern Love and Saddle Romances to stories about animals such as Animal Fables, to even publishing books featuring stories from the Bible. It was William who decided to move into the harder edge tales. I guess there’s no better time to jump into the first two titles of this two-day extravaganza than now!
Crime SuspenStories began publication in 1950. Each issue contained four stories. It wasn’t uncommon for the inspiration of some of the stories to come from some of the more popular film noir of the time and short stories that were popular in pulp fiction books. Working on the book was a stable of artists that would would become famous later at other publishers even though they have become quite well known for their work on Crime SuspenStories. Some of those famous artists were Wally Wood and Joe Orlando who both would go on to great things with DC, Al Williamson who would have a career that would go into the 90s including the artwork for Marvel’s adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back, and Frank Frazetta whose work would inspire thousands of fantasy artists for decades. Many of the stories would be written by Gaines himself with occasional help of other writers including Otto Binder who would put his stamp on DC by creating such mainstays as Bizarro, Brainiac, the Phantom Zone, Krypto, and, possibly most important of all, Supergirl.
If you read synopses of the stories featured in Crime SuspenStories, you might think you’re reading a DVD box for series such as The Twilight Zone, Red Shoe Diaries, or Tales from the Crypt. While this series featured fewer real horror themes, it certainly was not short on depravity. Several stories featured just plain awful characters, most of which were men suffering from greed, jealousy, or just plain douchebaggery. Don’t get me wrong, there were a bevy of femme fatales too. There were women cheating on their husbands, marrying a twin because he has money, but uses the other twin in a murder plot to get said money, faking insanity when she wants her husband’s money so she can get into the state hospital run by her brother-in-law instead of jail, and the so forth.
What you’d see more often then not were plot twists that brought about a surprising end to the masterplan of the lead character of each story. One story featured a man who has killed his wife, but she had just finished killing his mistress and pinned the crime on him. The man is later executed for the murder of his mistress instead of his wife. Another story has a man who can’t swim murdering his rival on a boat in the middle of a lake only for the bullets used for the murder to rip through the bottom of the boat causing the murderer to drown. It was stories like these that could have been defended as cautionary tales that crime never actually paid. Each of those who didn’t live by the law never benefitted from their crimes (which nearly all the stories ended with murder and the downfall of the person committing said murder). It’s actually kind of interesting that this series couldn’t be defended in such a way because if there’s one thing that we learn from religious texts and old fairy tales is that the moral of the story is to teach the listener a lesson. I’m not saying William Gaines was writing anything like the Bible, but it kinda makes you think if his stubborn defense of the taste of his books was actually warranted.
In 1952, Gaines decided to release a new anthology series. Claiming it was what the fans wanted, Shock SuspenStories was mean to feature different genres per issue. It was designed to satisfy fans of crime, sci-fi, horror, and war by giving them a story of each as a sampler. Just one issue later, the war story was removed and replaced by stories about mobsters. The series would go on to cover a wide range of social issues. They tackled racism, mob violence, and vigilantism to name a few.
If the number of twists and turns the stories in Crime SuspenStories felt ripped right out of something like Tales from the Crypt or The Twilight Zone, Shock SuspenStories went even further. There was a story about a bear that kills a hunter and turns him into a rug. Another featured a tough space commander who, during a freak accident with gravity, gets turned into pliable putty. Another had a man who hated his wife killing his daughter and passing out pieces of her body on Halloween to trick or treaters (not sure why he wouldn’t just kill his wife, but eh… what do I know?). There was a story about a man destroying all life with a nuclear weapon. Not crazy enough for ya? Try this on for size… Ninety-five thousand years later, evolved rats develop space travel and meet Martians.
I could go on for days talking about these insane stories. In fact, I want to give a couple more… One story has a pregnant woman paranoid that her unborn baby is killing her from the inside out. You know what? She’s right on the money with that concern. Issue #6 featured a contemporary retelling of “Hansel and Gretel”. Spooky huh? Wait a minute… A contemporary retelling of “Hansel and Gretel”? Was one of them a zombie? A ghoul? Nothing weird about them? Oh. Okay, I guess I’m done talking about the crazy stories if that’s all I’m getting.
Anyway, Shock SuspenStories would be one of five series voluntarily canceled by Bill Gaines after the Senate Subcommittee hearings. It might be safe to say that horror wouldn’t be same for the comics industry for another thirty years.
We’ve reached our suspenstories-ful end of today’s Comic Book Monsters. Tomorrow we’re going to take a trip the crypt to talk about a series that’s been so popular that it wasn’t just a comic book. Oh no, there was a 1970s movie made by the British, an HBO television series, and two more movies that spun out of that very series. And about that series, it’s hosted by perhaps one of the most popular horror hosts in television history. Check back tomorrow for Tales from the Crypt!