Thursday, 26 March 2009

‘The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics’ – Peter Normanton (Editor)


I can’t believe that I used to think comic books were all about superheroes foiling criminals. To be fair, a lot of comic books are about just this very thing but (as I’ve found out over the last couple of years) there’s so much more going on out there.
If you know me at all then you’ll know only too well that I’m guaranteed to love anything with zombies in it (even the film ‘Hard Rock Zombies’ but don’t hold that against me!) ‘The Walking Dead’ got me into zombie comics and from there it was a very small jump to David Kendall’s very good ‘Mammoth Book of Zombie Comics’ which is well worth a look if you also like zombie comics as well.
When I realised that there was a ‘Mammoth Book of Horror Comics’ as well… I knew that I was going to have to give it a go. Zombies are great but what about vampires, were-wolves and mad scientists? They’re all in here…

‘The Mammoth Book of Horror Comics’ aims to give the reader the best examples of horror comics from the nineteen forties right up until the present day. Whether it does that or not is up to you to decide, I’m new to this sub-genre so couldn’t really say if anything is missing or not. What I will say though is that if you’re planning on picking a copy up for yourself then you might want to have a quick flick through first. ‘The Mammoth Book of Zombie Comics’ had the text missing from ‘Pigeons from Hell’, ‘The Mammoth Book of Horror Comics’ has the unfortunate habit of repeating some pages (and missing out others) in certain stories. Check out Robert E. Howard’s ‘Dream Snake’ and James Helkowski’s ‘Shuteye’, if the pages aren’t repeated in your book then you’re probably safe to buy it. This wasn’t the case with me and two otherwise superb stories suffered as a result…

‘The Mammoth Book of Horror Comics’ takes the history of the genre and divides it into certain periods of time, showing us how horror comics have developed and sometimes stagnated (in particular after the introduction of the Comics Code). The written pieces show this development very well but the choice of comics doesn’t reflect it as well. Normanton has chosen the best comics in terms of horror but not in terms of their importance as far as the history goes… In this sense the collection maybe needs to be more clear in it’s objectives but you cannot deny that Normanton has chosen some great stories to be showcased…

The nineteen forties and fifties were the ‘Pre-Code Years’ where pretty much anything went in terms of horror. ‘The Mammoth Book’ makes this clear right from the start with a pretty graphic adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’. Implied scenes of animal cruelty are very powerful and left me thinking, “did that really just happen in a comic book?”
The rest of the stories carry on in this vein, while they’re not as graphic as you are led to believe they still come up trumps in terms of sheer power and intensity. Nazi war criminals (‘Hitler’s Head’ and ‘The Living Dead’) and other ruthless people (‘Den of Horror’ and ‘A Glimpse of the Pit’) all get theirs in ways that made me shudder. ‘Dungeon of Doom’ is a chilling reminder that the innocent aren’t protected either, sometimes being in the wrong place at the wrong time is all it takes…

The nineteen sixties and seventies definitely comes across as a little tamer but there is still fun to be had in tales such as ‘The Monster of Dread End’ (with one panel in particular that makes me shiver even now!), ‘Fatal Scalpel’ (especially for the last panel in the story) and Augustine Funnell’s ‘Ghouls walk among us’. I’ve got to say though that a lot of this stuff (although interesting and cleverly done) left me cold…

The nineteen eighties and nineties were where things started to kick off again in terms of the terror being ramped up a few notches. There are several titles here that I’ll be keeping an eye open for, Steve Niles’ ‘Deadworld’ in particular just so I can get more of an idea of what happened before the events of the story ‘One of these Days’. Sounds like I’m going to be collecting more comics. ‘Christmas Carol’ was just plain creepy but I did find myself not having much sympathy for the main character. After all, who invites a leech creature into his house without any thought for the consequences?
Bruce Jones’ ‘Home Ties’ was simple but very spooky while Chuck Regan’s ‘Purgation’ needs a second read before you really get how seriously messed up it is…

The book finishes in the present day and on a high. I wasn’t so keen on the use of photos to tell the story of ‘Dread End’ (an adaptation of ‘The Monster of Dread End’) although it was good to see the story included as a contrast to the nineteen sixty-two version. I preferred the older story myself…
Pete Von Sholly’s ‘The Graveswellers’ is also made up of photographs which really doesn’t work for me, there is an illusion of movement in drawn pictures that doesn’t come across at all in a photo that looks obviously staged.
There is plenty that is good in this section though; Stephen Sennit’s ‘The Crawlspace’ and Steve Niles’ ‘Cal MacDonald: A letter from B.S’ are highlights. If it wasn’t for pages being repeated I get the feeling that ‘Shuteye’ would have been a stroke of genius…

Not everything worked for me in ‘The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics’ but this suggests to me that there is something for everyone within the pages of this book. It’s certainly a very good place to start if you have never read a horror comic before…

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

2 comments:

James B said...

The Comics Code? That's a new one to me - what was that all about?

Anonymous said...

it's the comic version of the FCC