indexThe EC Archives: Vault of Horror Volume 4
Various authors
Dark Horse Books
February 10, 2015
Reviewed by Tim Potter

The reprinting of the EC Comics vintage horror magazines continues with The EC Archives: Vault of Horror Volume 4, a fantastic edition of collected issues from the 1950’s. Issues number 30-35 from the original Vault of Horror series appear here, making these classics accessible to a wide audience for the first time in decades.

The comic magazines were first printed on inexpensive newsprint and rarely age well; their colors fading, smudging and tearing, making original copies hard to come by. The colors in the collected editions have been remastered; Dark Horse has done a great job making the colors look true to their original presentation. There is an introduction to the Archive edition by Grant Geissman, who relates a brief history of EC Comics. Horror luminary Jonathan Maberry provides a forward about his first experience as a youngster reading Vault of Horror.

This collection has six issues of the bi-monthly The Vault of Horror anthology comic, first appearing on newsstands between April 1953 and March 1954. Each issue is hosted and narrated by the Vault-Keeper, a grizzled old man with a penchant for alliteration. Each issue contains as many as six comic stories, one short prose story and “The Vault-Keeper’s Corner, where the Keeper prints and answers some fan letters. Other EC narrators include the Old Witch and the better known compatriot of the Vault-Keeper, the Crypt-Keeper. They host at least one story per issue, mainly as a way to promote the magazines they anchor, Haunt of Fear and Tales From the Crypt.

The vintage advertisements are also great, featuring full-page Mad magazine ads at the outset of each issue and smaller ads throughout for other EC magazines like Picture Stories from the Bible, Picture Stories from Science and Picture Stories from History. It’s a reminder that EC did actually stand for “Educational Comics.”

And EC did manage to educate, not just with those more obviously titled comics, but with its horror comics as well. Themes emerge from what could be easily dismissed as horror and gore stories that really challenge the reader to think about social and political issues. The level of intelligence behind these stories, and the wide range of topics they address, would be impressive in a comic book today. It’s hard to believe these stories actually originated in 1950’s America.

“Easel Kill Ya!” (a typically pun-titled tale) is a story that raises the question of when, if ever, it is acceptable for someone to benefit from the pain of another.

“One Good Turn…” is a thinly veiled allegory about euthanasia.

Capital punishment is addressed directly in “Let the Punishment Fit the Crime” and “Shoe Button Eyes!” is an awful tale of domestic violence. Perhaps the most fascinating story employs zombies to illustrate a story about income and wealth inequality. It is arguably more prescient now than it was upon its original publication.

“Who Doughnut?”, a groaner of a pun for a title, is nonetheless a fascinating story with a hero that may have foreshadowed the great horror icon Carl Kolchak.

An adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “The Lake” to the graphic format is another great success, conveying the beautiful bittersweet nostalgia the author is so well remembered for.

Zombies and noir fiction in the vein of Cain and Woolrich come together for the standout story “Together They Lie!”

The usual weakness of collected editions like this is that there are so many stories that they’re bound to be uneven, but that’s hardly a problem with The EC Archives: Vault of Horror Volume 4. Some stories are better than others, but even the weaker stories in this collection are still a great read. In a series of Archive editions that is routinely fantastic, this volume stands-out as an absolutely essential collection of some of the finest horror comics ever published.

About Tim Potter

Tim Potter is a teacher and lover of all things books.

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