‘Haunted Horror Volume 4:’ Hardcover Review

Gather round, my pretties!  We have something special for the month of October, a horror anthology from the early days of comic books.  Spooky tales have been handpicked from the tail end of the Golden Age of comics (early to mid 1950s, to be exact) for our reading pleasure.  There are about one hundred and fifty pages in this volume, containing comics that are never more than ten pages.  But now, it’s time to dive into the pages of Haunted Horror to see if the stories crumble like a cheap headstone or endure like a pharaoh's tomb.

This collection is actually kind of difficult to judge next to current works, because it’s been more than half a century since these were written.  Styles and conventions have long since changed, and this is less of reviewing a new product and more appraising a time capsule.  Still, it does give an in-depth view of how things worked back then, so it’s great from an academic perspective.  But, do they still hold entertainment value?  I would say yes, though there are some hurdles people will have to get over.

One in particular is the old style of comic book writing. Almost every panel has a full paragraph of text that either explains the situation or tells you how the character is feeling.  Of the hundreds of panels here, you’ll find at most ten with no dialogue in them.  It doesn’t take enough advantage of the comic’s visual medium.  Also, there are some social politics in the story that have not particularly aged well.  There are no slurs, but the stereotyped depictions of some characters are bound to make some people cringe.

As for the stories themselves, I think they hold up really well.  Nothing truly dates them other than the aesthetics of the technology or settings.  They range from strange tales meant to astonish to stories of people being consumed by their own hubris, complete with supernatural karma to bite them.  A lot of them could stand as scary campfire stories while others, like the one where someone’s severed head swims across an ocean to kill its murderer by gnawing him to death, are just hokey.

My favorites would have to be the one with the wax museum and the final story involving a clock.  That last one is because there’s no supernatural cause for the whole thing, just one man who falls to his obsessions and the cost it leaves on his life.  The wax museum story has a fairly original plot, some chilling imagery, and a nice closer.  The fact that it stars a well-written female character helps, especially considering the era.

At the end of the day, it’s a nice piece of comic book history that people can learn from, an antique from a time when comics could cover any subject matter and the pulp-style reigned supreme.  If you’re a comic academic, a history buff, someone who likes spooky stories, or a mix of any of those, I would definitely recommend picking this up.  Besides, the comic opens by giving the readers satirical instructions on how to read it, so you know you’re in for a good time.

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