Classic Horror Reviews: Crime Patrol #15 & #16
The most famous of the EC horror comics created by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein is Tales from the Crypt, which was eventually turned into a popular HBO show that lasted for seven seasons. But before they settled on the formula that would make them famous and lead to congressional hearings, Gaines and Feldstein premiered their horror host, the Crypt Keeper in the pages of Crime Patrol. He first appeared in issue #15 in a story called “Return From the Grave.”
This first tale is introduced by the “Keeper of the Crypt of Terror,” a spooky guy who bears little resemblence to the Crypt Keeper of the television series and the story is more a crime tale than a horror tale, but it does contain the seeds of the genre that would take over EC comics. “Return From the Grave” contains nothing supernatural, despite what the title might suggest, it’s mearly the tale of two unscrupulous businessmen outsmarted by their partner who they try to talk into suicide. In a Shakespearean twist, their own guilt does them in, with one guy so scared he falls out an open window to his death while the other shoots himself to prevent the “ghost” of his antagonist from getting him.
The next issue of Crime Patrol expands its more horror-style tales and continues the presence of the now-labeled Crypt Keeper. Most of the stories here are still crime-oriented, but the twists grow more like what the later EC comics would be known for and elements of the supernatural make their way into the issue. “The Corpse in the Crematorium,” although it has a very horror-oriented title, is really a straight-forward tale of a man who has catalepsy and falls into a fit for three days that makes him appear to be dead and his fiancee’s frantic search for him. It’s really derivative of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Premature Burial.” Next is “Trapped in the Tomb,” another tales without any twists or supernatural elements, it’s merely the story of one jealous archaeologist trying to kill another over treasure. The third story is a tex-only short, “A Bottle of Murder,” that may be one of the first apocalyptic tales to appear in comics. It describes the journey of a bottle of a material so explosive that simply opening the bottle would level an entire city. The bottle is lost by government agents and winds its way through a path of people, many of whom try to open the bottle to no avail because it has a reverse thread. If anyone figures that out, the town goes nuclear.
The first element of the supernatural in the comic is in the next story, “The Graveyard Feet,” which is one of the long line of stories where a man receives a transplant of a body part and those body parts have a “memory” or connection to their former owner. In this case, the body part is feet and in a ridiculous turn, the feet remember savate from their former owner, turning their new owner into somewhat of a superhero who goes after a evil doctor who is experimenting on people in gruesome ways. The next text-only story, “Voodoo Vendetta,” is the first story in the series that one would think of as a classic Tales from Crypt-style story, in that it has an abusive man being pursued by a living voodoo doll. The final tale, fully narrated by the Crypt Keeper, tells the tale of a many who inherits a castle, which has been moved to the U.S. from Europe, and a large sum of money if he can live through two nights in the castley. As the title suggests, that won’t be easy because of “The Spectre in the Castle.” Rumor has it that the previous master of the castle always comes back to kill one of the new residents of the castle. The new owner and his wife quickly start seeing strange occurances and fear for their lives, but is it really a ghost, or something more, well, crime-oriented?
Art: The art from Al Feldstein and Johnny Craig is quite good and it does a great job of evoking fear (even when the story itself doesn’t), shows a sense of humor and captures an era in time very well. I’m guessing that’s one of the key reason the comics became so successful. Rating: 8
Plot: The two issues of Crime Patrol that deal with what would soon be EC’s signature style (issue 17 of the series would be renamed The Crypt of Terror) are not great reads, as most of the stories are a bit underdeveloped and cliched. It’s distinctly possible that I’m only thinking of them as cliched because I’ve since seen these type of stories a lot, but even if these are the originators of these particular tropes, they aren’t the best-executed versions of the stories, so they still are lacking. Rating: 6
Recommendation: While these are good to read because they are the start of Tales from the Crypt and the Crypt Keeper, they are far from great stories and I would recommend that if you like the genre, you buy the reprints. The originals aren’t worth what they would cost, except for collectors.