Anyone who know me personally know that I’m a huge fan of horror movies, books and art. Part of this stems from growing up on the classic horror comics that DC published through the 1980s. I also was heavily influenced by EC comics, although rarely in their original form. I watched a lot of Tales from the Crypt episodes over the years (and yes, I own the box sets). I know other publishers put out some good material as well. So what I want to do, from time to time, is introduce a new generation of readers to some of the classic horror anthology comics. Every week or so, I’ll do a review of one of the classic horror comic issues, starting primarily with the DC and EC ones since those are what I have and those are what I’ve read the most. First up, is Weird War Tales #1
As with most of the classic horror comics, Weird War Tales is an anthology series. This one has an obvious theme, as well, given away by the title — these are all horror stories that have connection to war. Each is meant to be a morality tale designed to lead up to the tag line at the end of each story “Make War No More.” As you can see, the cover on this one is pretty good, with an undead Nazi soldier menacing some American G.I.s. The problem is that this cover relates to a mere scrap of a story that doesn’t really make any sense. Appropriately enough, it’s titled “The Story Behind the Cover.” It’s a mere three-page story that aims to tell the story of the undead soldier. At only three pages, though, it doesn’t really explain the origin very well and its difficult to understand the key point, which could’ve been a good horror story stinger if it had been better developed.
Like many of the old horror anthologies, there is a storyteller that introduces each of the tales. In this case the storyteller is found in a wraparound tale that has an American soldier in the European theater of World War II being wounded and stumbling through a forest. He begins to hallucinate before stumbling upon a cottage where an old-man with skull-and-crossbones pupils takes him and begins to tell him several stories relating to the horrors of war. At the end of the wraparound story, there is a nice little twist that is a bit obvious.
The lead story, “The Fort Which Did Not Return” tells the tale of a bombardier who is the only survivor of his B-17 raid. His bomber gets its target but he only survives because the plane continues to fly its mission all the way back to the base after the entire rest of the crew is killed.
Next is “The End of the Sea Wolf,” which is from the point of view of a German U-boat commander. He is returning after the war with a salvage ship to bring up a Q-boat he sunk during the war, presumably to obtain intelligence on the technology inside. He tells the tale of how he sunk the nearly-indestructible ship. In the end he took it down by ramming it with the U-boat and both ships went down, which presumably means he is now a ghost. The story doesn’t make that very clear.
There is a short text-only story that follows, but it has nothing supernatural in it and I’m not sure what it’s point is. It seems to be written along the lines of a wikipedia article. The last story is the best in the issue, “Baker’s Dozen,” a tale about the most superstitious squadron in the American military during World War II. The group has a character with a horseshoe, one with a rabbit’s foot, one with a wishbone, etc. As they go out on a mission on Friday the 13th, their commanding officer gives them a 13th soldier, one who during the mission stops to pet a black cat who crosses their path. The troops in the squadron quickly grow to hate the 13th soldier as they blame him for a series of mishaps that befalls them along the way. In the end, though, his heroism and luck manages to save them all and none of them is even injured. The 13th soldier becomes their lucky charm. The story has a nice structure that ties it all together in an interesting and humorous way.
Art: The only credit I can find in the issue is for Joe Kubert, who obviously did the art throughout. I’m a Kubert fan, but this isn’t his best work. It’s still pretty good, though, and includes a number of interesting images. Rating: 7
Plot: The writing is mostly sub-par, and I’m not sure if Kubert did the writing chores, too, but if he did, it’s no wonder he was more known for his art. Rating: 6
Recommendation: This is one I’d only recommend to collectors, since it’s a first issue, and die-hard horror or war comic fans. It’s not great, but it might be entertaining to fanboys of these genres.