The bedside Shelf of Shame is once again completely out of control.
A great many of them are books I bought with an eye towards getting some kind of a column out of them, and much like last year at this time, I’m going to try to get through as many as I can in the next few weeks, especially since they tend to group under various themes.
Today’s pile is all about Great Big Anthology Projects. Been getting a lot of hefty collections in here lately; some comics, some prose. All worth mentioning here, so I thought I’d give you a bunch of capsule reviews. Here we go…
Choke! Gasp! The Best of 75 Years of EC Comics by various.
The blurb: A premiere collection of the best stories of EC Comics, curated in a deluxe hardcover, just in time to celebrate the legendary publisher’s 75th anniversary! This volume collects stories from EC Comics’ most famous titles, featuring classic stories from the hands of legendary creators Al Feldstein, Harvey Kurtzman, Johnny Craig, Jack Davis, Wally Wood, and more! Collects material from issues of Crime SuspenStories, Frontline Combat, Haunt of Fear, Impact, Shock SuspenStories, Tales from the Crypt, Two-Fisted Tales, Vault of Horror, Weird Fantasy, Weird Science, and Weird Science-Fantasy.
What I thought: First of all, I’ve never really been a member of the cult of EC. I should get that out of the way up front. Of course I have tremendous respect for what Gaines and his posse did for comic books as a form, but honestly, there are only so many ways to do an eight-page horror story with a zinger at the end. The formula tends to overshadow the craft and a little goes a long way, for me. Add to that the fact that the Russ Cochran reprint books are prohibitively expensive, and that was enough to keep me from bothering. I just never got interested enough to try and seek them out.
But I ran across this lovely art-book-sized collection for a very reasonable price and thought why not? And you know, I have to admit, when you look at the greatest hits all pulled together in one place like this, you get a much better sense of why EC has the reputation it does.
Interestingly–well, I thought it was interesting–the book is broken out into sections, as one would expect, but not by genre or series title. It’s done by artist. So there’s a Wally Wood section, a Graham Ingels section, a Jack Kamen section, and so on. The Wood SF stories especially are breathtakingly gorgeous, but you all knew that.
There’s also stories from artists you don’t normally associate with EC like Alex Toth and John Severin. A terrific sampler for those folks like me who mostly just know Tales From The Crypt and wondered what all the shouting was about.
Anyway. Very much recommended. Especially if you aren’t a card-carrying EC Fan-Addict but just an interested occasional reader like myself.
The blurb: For the first time, the Ki-Gor series from the pages of Jungle Stories is collected, complete and in order! Volume 1 is introduced by Tom Johnson.
What I thought: My joke has always been that Ki-Gor was the Avis of jungle lords– because he was in second place, he tried harder. He anchored the pulp magazine Jungle Stories back in the day, and is currently in the public domain. So there are a number of reprints out there, and even one or two attempts at a relaunch.
When I’ve happened across the originals (usually in High Adventure) I’ve always enjoyed them, and when these three volumes came across my path for less than half price it was an easy impulse buy. It’s the entire run from Jungle Stories from the beginning up through 1942, about five per volume.
I fell for these largely because of the memory of the ones I’d enjoyed and also curiosity about Ki-Gor’s origins, but the joke was on me, because there really isn’t an origin story to speak of. We open with the independent and sassy aviatrix Helene Vaughn coming across Ki-Gor after she crashes her plane in the jungle, and apart from her figuring out that he must be the son of missionary David Kilgour, that’s all we get. There’s really no time to get into it because of all the running and fighting wild animals and escaping Arab slavers and so on. It’s just taken as a given that if a ten-year-old kid managed to survive alone in the jungle all the way to adulthood after his missionary dad got killed, well of course he would have to be tough and strong and badassed. Duh.
So it’s a Tarzan steal but not really, because Ki-Gor wasn’t raised by a tribe of apes; he doesn’t speak animal languages or anything, though he has a pet elephant that bails him out of trouble every so often. But mostly Ki-Gor’s just a good guy in a loincloth. Helene ends up falling for the big lug and staying with him in his jungle, and together they combat all sorts of jungle menaces. (In fact, she usually got the more prominent place on the cover of Jungle Stories, because, come on, hot babe in a leopard-skin bikini.)
Call it a scaled-down Tarzan, like the Ron Ely version. Tough guy who knows his way around jungle danger and devotes his time to helping innocents stay safe. Forest ranger, basically, but in the African jungle and armed with a spear.
As it happens, Ely was my first Tarzan and I am very fond of that show, so Ki-Gor’s adventures are cocoa-and-old-quilt comfort food for me. These stories aren’t for everyone and they certainly aren’t classics, but they are fun and well-crafted and move at a breakneck pace; and considering the time, there’s really not much racism to speak of. Frankly, the Arabs fare far worse in terms of stereotyping than the black tribesmen do. (There are good tribes and bad tribes, but it’s never presented as a racial issue, which already makes Ki-Gor’s adventures more evolved than Tarzan’s.) So call them provisionally recommended, on the basis of “if you like this kind of thing, these books are a thing you will like,” and the first volume is available very cheap right now.
Batman: Knight Out by Chuck Dixon, Graham Nolan, and others.
The blurb: Chuck Dixon brings readers Batman: Knight Out, a brilliant and beautiful collection of tales featuring villains like the Riddler! Batman will have to rely on the help of his team–Robin, Alfred, and Oracle–if he wants to stand a chance against The Riddler, assassins, and Gearhead with a hit out on him!
What I thought: Well, first of all, that is a terrible blurb, but this is a wonderful book. What it really is, is a collection of the terrific run of stories Chuck Dixon did with Graham Nolan on Detective back in the 1990s. That was the time right after Legacy had concluded, when then-editor Denny O’Neil decided that readers had big-event fatigue and decreed no giant epic crossovers for at least a year; just dig in and tell good Batman stories. Two or three-parters at most, with plenty of one-offs in between. As it happens, that’s the sort of thing Chuck Dixon is very good at, and Nolan’s traditional style of storytelling is a perfect fit. Probably my favorite of these is the one that gives the collection its title, “Knight Out.” This is a done-in-one tale about an evening when Bruce Wayne realizes a charity ball he’s attending is about to be robbed and he has to stop it, but he can’t get away to change into the Bat costume and has to somehow do it as Bruce.
I especially love the way Nolan shows Batman’s mind working as a visual thing in the art, without thought balloons. Just a brilliantly clever idea, very well executed. The whole book’s full of stories like that. No idea why they got the high-end hardcover treatment but I’m delighted they did. More like this, please, DC. Of course it’s hugely recommended.
Dark Detectives: Adventures of the Supernatural Sleuths edited by Stephen Jones.
The blurb: CRIMES OF TERROR AND DARKNESS! In the battle between good and evil, the supernatural investigators form the first line of defense against the unexplainable. Here are eighteen pulse-pounding tales featuring uncanny sleuths battling against the weird, written by Clive Barker, R. Chetwynd-Hayes, Basil Copper, Neil Gaiman, William Hope Hodgson, Brian Lumley, Brian Mooney, Kim Newman, Jay Russell, Peter Tremayne, and Manly Wade Wellman. Featuring the entire ‘’Seven Stars” saga by Kim Newman, pitting the Diogenes Club against an occult object with the power to ultimately annihilate mankind!
What I thought: I bought this specifically because I was talking about Kim Newman’s Seven Stars awhile back and it reminded me that I had been meaning to get hold of a copy. But Seven Stars is actually apparently quite a collector’s item and dealers want gouger’s prices for it…. but it is here in this much more reasonably-priced anthology in its entirety, along with a whole bunch of other nifty supernatural-detective stories from folks like Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker, among others. It’s all wonderfully illustrated by Randy Broecker, who brings a sort of Edward Gorey vibe to the proceedings.
It’s all tremendously entertaining and though I didn’t really intend to, I made out much better than if I’d managed to find an affordable copy of Seven Stars. This version’s definitely the way to go. Recommended.
That’s enough for this time out, I think. Back next week with something else cool from the Pile.
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