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Monday, July 09, 2007

Tales From the Crypt #1 -- Papercutz revives the EC horror title in name only in this debut issue, which has a lot more wrong with it than right. To spoil the suspense, I'll say up front that Kyle Baker's cover is the only element that gets it entirely right, and even that is ruined with an ass-ugly word balloon.

A text piece promises two 20-page stories in each issue, "in the EC tradition," but the EC tradition is actually four stories five to seven pages or so in length. This gave EC's stable of writers and artists a narrow window with which to grab the reader's attention, and a lot of the time they did just that, creating at worst, lurid but entertaining pulp fiction, and at best, some of the most enduring masterpieces of comic book art ever.

The lead story here is called "Body of Work," and the script carries you along just fine up until the nonsensical non-ending, which demonstrates pretty definitively that the writer, Marc Bilgrey, has no grasp at all on story structure or dramatic payoff. The story does seem to be building to something, then it just ends in a manner that suggests Bilgrey was making it up as he went along, and either lost patience or ran out of pages. But there's no logic or irony to what happens, and both are essential if you are laying claim to working "in the EC tradition."

The art in "Body of Work," by "Mr. Exes," initially put me off; it looks quite a bit like Evan Dorkin's comedy work, actually. But, as inappropriate as the style seems for a comic called Tales From the Crypt, it works far better than Bilgrey's script ultimately does, and if the script had risen to a higher level than it ultimately does, the art could have worked despite being 180 degrees away from anything at all like what you might expect from an EC homage.

The second and final story in this debut issue is "For Serious Collectors Only," and I have to note that its writer, Rob Vollmar, is a longtime friend of mine. His story, about a rabid action figure collector, holds together better than "Body of Work," with some nice character moments and a compelling, if inside-baseball-ish script likely to appeal most to comic book nerds. But the ending, frankly, isn't much better constructed than Bilgrey's was, and if you're going to call your comic book Tales from the Crypt, man, your stories better have some fucking snap in their endings.

With four stories in every issue, the original EC Comics could get away with one or two clunkers; in fact, rare was the issue that had four uniformly excellent stories all in a row. With only two stories per issue, the series needs an editor and creators working overtime to make sure those two tales meet the standard you're setting yourself up for when you call the book Tales From the Crypt.

That, I think, is the main failure of the title. The 1950s Tales had a strong, unwavering (even heavy-handed) editorial mandate and oversight from William Gaines and Al Feldstein. There's little evidence of any editorial guidance here at all, from the top-level failure to make the stories as strong as possible, all the way down to the truly wretched lettering that is slapped onto both stories.

I'm all for a revival of EC-style comics, and I'm not so closed-minded that I think a new version has to necessarily be a rubber-stamp of the styles and techniques of Gaines and Company's work. But as someone who has a great love for the best EC had to offer, I'm actually offended by the lack of respect or comprehension this first issue demonstrates for what was special about EC Comics.



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