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The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics

The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics
ed. Peter Normanton
Running Press, $17.95

First, jealousy: oh to be the editor of such a tome, to be sent into whatever vaults (of horror) that contain the thousands of acid-eaten comic books from which these “best” stories were drawn. Then, after just the fifth unsatisfying Poe or Lovecraft rip-off, pity. I pity Mr. Normanton.For all the glory that’s been bestowed upon the golden age of horror comics, before the notorious code that all but sealed the crypts, tombs, chambers, and dens of terror (that is, the Comics Code Authority, a self-censoring measure instituted in 1954 in response to social pressure and to prevent possible government interference), most of those stories don’t age well, and by that I mean once you’re fourteen, the lack of depth and predictability begin to wear thin. Fortunately, the anthology covers post-code decades, and it’s among these decades that downright good stories are occasionally found, stories that use the form adeptly, and that don’t rely on shock tactics or twist endings, but rather leave the reader with the implication of something more—and wrong.

Most disappointing is the last chapter, “A New Millennium for the Macabre.” There are excellent horror comics being written today, but none are represented here (if you’re interested, read The Walking Dead or any of Mike Mignola’s output, for starters).

What is absent from this anthology is notable. The editor was not able to include any E.C. comics, nor the Warren horror titles of the 60s and 70s, nor Marvel, or D.C. An interesting restriction, that leads to the inclusion of some wonderful minor titles—Twisted Tales, from P.C., for example. However, no explanation is given for other exclusions, such as Gore Shriek, a strong horror comic from the 1980s. I suspect there are many such exclusions.

Steve Niles, who gets top billing on the front cover of the book, and who is lauded by many as the best scripter of horror comics working today (he wrote 30 Days of Night), but who is, in fact, very mediocre, if not downright bad, is revealed here by the poor black and white treatment the whole anthology gets. Ben Templesmith’s striking, painted panels can’t make up for Niles’ lack here. Black and White should be fine for most of the stories included, but too often it’s faded where it should be sharp.

Normanton could have made up for the failings of the comics themselves by writing more about them. His introduction to the book and his notes throughout are thin, either pointing out what can plainly be seen or tending toward nostalgia. Perhaps this is pandering to a perceived audience; if so, for shame. All together a missed opportunity, a footnote for fans of little other value.

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Adam Golaski
 is the author of Color Plates and Worse Than Myself. He co-edits for Flim Forum Press, and is the editor of New Genre. Check in on Adam at Little Stories.

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