Reprint Reviews: 'Black Cat Mystery v1,' Chamber of Chills v2,' 'Tomb of Terror v1,' 'Witches Tales v1'

Harvey Horrors Collected Works: Black Cat Mystery Volume One

Reprinting Black Cat Mystery Comics #30-35 (Aug 51-May 52)

Harvey Horrors Collected Works: Chamber of Chills Volume Two

Reprinting Chamber of Chills #8-13 (May-Oct 52)

Harvey Horrors Collected Works: Tomb of Terror Volume One

Reprinting Tomb of Terror #1-6 (Jun-Nov 52)

Harvey Horrors Collected Works: Witches Tales Volume One

Reprinting Witches Tales #1-7 (Jan 51-Jan 52)


All books published by PS Artbooks, $48 each.

I think these are the kinds of comics my parents' generation thought of when they made fun of comics -- over-the-top, lurid, kinda stupid. But, you know, they're a lot of fun.

First let me establish that I saw no point in reviewing each of these books separately, as the stories within aren't really title-specific, and are almost interchangeable. I noticed that Witches Tales had a higher percentage of tales involving witches,but only by a bit, and I didn't notice any particular focus in the other three titles at all. 

And virtually the same artists are involved in all four books. You see a lot of some names I'm familiar with, such as Al Avison (Captain America Comics), Joe Certa (Martian Manhunter, Dark Shadows), Lee Elias (Black Cat, Eclipso, Tommy Tomorrow, Cave Carson) and Bob Powell (Mr. Mystic). And there are several names I don't know much about, but am becoming very familiar with thanks to this reprint series and others, like Vic Donahue, Tom Gill and Rudy Palais. The art is mostly serviceable, and some of Elias' covers are actually kinda nice. But let's not kid ourselves that this is high art of any kind. Most of it tries so hard to be spooky or horrible that it's kinda silly. In Harvey-land, the moon is always full, and bad guys are always hideous. 

And I just have to mention, because it made me laugh, that the silhouette of a witch riding a broom appeared in front of a full moon in the last panel of a one-pager about Blackbeard the pirate, for no reason whatsoever. Well, it was in Witches Tales, and I guess that's reason enough.

And that's the art, which people actually took credit for! The stories are almost all uncredited -- the exception being Powell's stories, some of which he wrote -- and they are often laughable. Everything is over the top: Walls are always slimy, breath is always fetid, fingers are always gnarled, figures are always sinister, fog is always ghostly, and so forth. Ghastly, terrible, horrible and eerie get quite a workout. The most common situations are described in the most lurid ways possible:

A guy driving somewhere: "Rod jams down the accelerator, and the car lurches forward, crazily. Rod's face is like whitewash, but as he roars thru the night dark as a grave, he talks to himself ... "

A secretary taking a job at a wax museum: "In the cold, damp room, she began her work, but the images of horrid torture devices crept into her mind and the terrible screams of bygone victims, like wails of hell's demons, seemed to reach her ears ... "

I could go on in this vein, because nothing is ever described in pedestrian terms. Getting a cup of coffee is reason enough for Harvey writers to break out the thesaurus with a bookmark on "horrible."

And one thing that pops out is how unstructured these stories are. The EC Books, my first introduction to pre-Comics Code horror, were professionally crafted with a beginning, a middle and an end. There was no wasted motion, no extraneous elements. They were perfect little gems. 

Not so these stories, there's LOTS of wasted motion, and just plain old bad writing. Characters are introduced only to be killed two panels later. Stories do have beginnings, middles and ends -- but rarely all three in the same story. Some stories seem to start in media res, others seem to end because somebody slapped "The End" on the final panel. And, where EC stories would have a moral point, or contain poetic justice, or punish the guilty, or avenge the innocent, there's none of that here. Innocent people die willy-nilly, often without even the courtesy of a name. If the bad guy is killed in the end, it's often by something worse! 

Further, there are a lot of recurring themes, sometimes recurring stories. Characters in these books go to the Antarctic a lot, only to die horribly. Characters climb mountains a lot, only to die horribly. Usually one character will return to tell the tale, his proof some horrible maiming (usually a lost arm). Oh, and the story of the three killers trapped by army ants, where one betrays the other two but the ants get to him anyway, is told three times here -- once in prose. Come on, guys, that's not even trying!

One other thing I noticed: The writers are reluctant to use religious terms. Satan is named once in a while, but usually he gets some sort of euphemism. "God," "heaven," "lord" and that sort of terminology never appeared that I recall, again being replaced by euphemisms. Why the writers were cautious about that is curious, especially since Satan appears all the time, albeit unnamed.

Odd, but nothing to get upset about. As I said in my lead, that's actually kinda fun. I'm always vaguely amused reading these books, sometimes laughing out loud (to my sleeping wife's consternation). 

Part of that is the advertising, which is entertaining in its own way. There are the usual rip-offs -- "100 army men for $1.00!" kinda stuff -- but also some real surprises. I mean, who thought the boys buying these books would want to buy cheap evening gowns for adult women? And apparently in the early 1950s, being skinny was a real problem -- there are at least three different ads from three different companies promising to beef you up. 

So I got a kick out of these books, and I'm looking forward to the next round from PS Artbooks. All of these books were canceled in 1954, so there won't be all that many, representing a lost era when comics could afford to be just plain old stupid.

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...Do any of the bLACK CAT MYSTERY issues even marginally show the heroine Black Cat ?????????

  I believe at least some of the "...Mystery " issues did .

  As for writing - editing , anyway - " Harvey's Stan Lee/Julius Schwartz " , Sid Jacobson , was I'm sure involved here .

Black Cat appears on the cover of issue #30 being attacked by giant insects, but that story doesn't appear inside. A vignette of her head does on the first page, in a column called "The Black Cat Speaks!" which introduces the new (horror) format. She says she'll continue to appear, although not in all stories -- but, in fact, never appears again. "The Black Cat Speaks!" introduction piece continues for the next two issues, but without the vignette, and is fairly generic. By issue #33 the introduction is titled "The Devil's Den." 

I do hope some enterprising publisher gets around to Black Cat #1-29, because I've heard nice things said about those books.

...Ah , thank you , CC , I saw that cover , with the fact that it was never explained inside , repro'd in Roy's ALTER EGO .

  There were inexpensive reprints of some Black Cat material (mostly the Lee Elias " mid-period ") in the 80s/00s from the " what the Harvey Family kept after selling the Harvey World " outfit whose name I don't wanna search my memory fof now...And , actually......... !!!!!

I knew you'd like these, Cap. Me, I'm looking forward to the release of Heap!

Is that also from PS? I'm ordering them from Westfield, because I get a mild discount. (Amazon is charging full freight!) But I don't recall seeing Heap offered yet. (Of course, I might have ordered it already, and simply forgot!)

Yes, it's been solicited in Previews, but I'm out of synch with Diamond as well. My retailer still gets them direct from the publisher in UK.

You might also want to check InStock Trades, Cap.

Captain Comics said:

Is that also from PS? I'm ordering them from Westfield, because I get a mild discount. (Amazon is charging full freight!) But I don't recall seeing Heap offered yet. (Of course, I might have ordered it already, and simply forgot!)

Thanks, Travis. I had that address favorited a hard drive or two ago, and forgot about it.

And I checked my Westfield account, and by golly, I have ordered "Roy Thomas's The Heap." Why it's called that, I have no idea.

...Roy The No-Longer-A-Boy :-) is the " editor " (When I presume it just means collecting all the existing stories , not exercising any " This gets published/This doesn't " judgement , as I assume to be the case , I dunno why one says " editor " - at least in the sense I'm thinking of . But anyway .) , writes the intro , anyway .

Captain Comics said:

Thanks, Travis. I had that address favorited a hard drive or two ago, and forgot about it.

And I checked my Westfield account, and by golly, I have ordered "Roy Thomas's The Heap." Why it's called that, I have no idea.

Hey, Cap... remember how I used to always say how I was falling behind reading these horror collections but that Tracy was keeping up? Check out the photo of her "stack of shame" she posted yesterday on Facebook!

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