Adventures Into The Unknown, Vol. 1
The Pre-Code Horror Anthology
Written by Edvard Moritz, King Ward, Mac Elkan
Art by Edvard Moritz, King Ward, Fred Guardineer, Al Feldstein, Leonard Starr, Al Ulmer, Paul Reinman
Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: June 6, 2012
Cover Price: $49.99
Adventures Into The Unknown, which debuted in 1948, was the first ongoing horror comic. EC Comics may have been the comics horror icon in the 50s, but this is where the craze began. American Comics Group published the comic for nearly twenty years before the declining interest in the genre finally affected the series. This Dark Horse release reprints the first four issues which span from October 1948 through April 1949.
Each issue of Adventures Into The Unknown includes short tales such as The Werewolf Strikes, True Ghosts of History, The Cursed Pistol, and Giants of the Unknown. The stories feature classic monsters like vampires, werewolves, witches, and ghosts. Kind of sounds like an episode of True Blood — mercifully without the fairies. Many of the stories follow a similar pattern: some tragedy occurred in a location in the centuries preceding the story; a happy, post-war couple moves into the location and the green-tinted, trapped, long-suffering spirit attacks.
Overall, The Living Ghost, which spans the first two issues, was the most compelling story. The Living Ghost is just a bastard who passes his time in the eternal afterlife by wreaking havoc on the living. His idea of a nice weekend afternoon is causing train wrecks, flipping cars off cliffs, and kidnapping women. One day, he kidnaps the wrong lady and her husband comes to the rescue armed with an ancient talisman. I also especially enjoyed The Master’s Hand, a unique plot about an art student and the supernatural mystery surrounding the paintings of her idol, Kees Van Ruyter.
Many of the concepts are inventive, but don’t get it twisted, the delivery is sometimes laughably antiquated. It’s amazing how far sequential art has advanced as a storytelling platform. The tales are short and simplistic; the dialogue is hokey and unnatural. If these stories were published today, we’d find most of them flat and unreadable. But you don’t buy a republished archive of 60-plus year old comics for the engaging stories; you buy them for the experience, which is where Adventures Into The Unknown‘s true value shines.
This collection is very 1940s. Brace yourself, characters frequently hurl out curses. Hopefully you can handle language such as “Holy Smoke,” “Great Scott,” and my personal favorite, “Jeepers Creepers.” Reading the comic, you can almost hear a crackling, tinny dialogue emanating from an old Philco cabinet radio. In fact, the stories flow better with that style of reader voice. Adventures Into The Unknown is like a time capsule of post-war, booming America. This comic isn’t about just the stories, it’s about immersing yourself in late 1940’s pop-culture.
Whenever I run across old comics and magazines, the first thing I do is scan the pages for old ads. Dark Horse wisely included the 1940’s ads because Adventures Into The Unknown is a veritable treasure chest of old gadgets, gimmicks, and gags. In here you’ll find a home radio microphone, so you can broadcast radio shows in your own living room! Or how about a home record maker, wouldn’t that be just swell? There’s a piano slide chord device that promises to deliver prodigal piano skills in five days or your money back. The best ad is the ever-awesome gag catalog which includes a joy buzzer, a squirt ring, a barking dog toy, and a giant fake spider. I’m also inexplicably curious about the results of the writing contest advertised in issue #3 where the winning entry will be drawn as a comic in a future issue. Unfortunately, the results weren’t available by issue #4.
Like other forms of entertainment media, old comics are the closest thing we’ll ever have to a time machine — unless some crazy old coot slips, falls on his head, and conjures a flux capacitor. It’s an amazing experience to just briefly plunge yourself into the 1940s and take it all in. Fans of classic horror and nostalgia will love the experience, but take Adventures Into The Unknown in small doses or else the similar story beats will meld into one big pile of monster mash.
I had a “REDRUM” moment when I realized that I ended this review on exactly 666 words, so I’m adding a few more. Hell, why chance it? Yeah, I suppose the Comics Code Authority was right: horror comics rot your brains.