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‘The EC Archives: Crime Patrol: Volume 1’ (review)

Written by Gardner Fox, Al Feldstein
Art by Johnny Craig, Sheldon Moldoff, Henry Kiefer,
Ed Walden, Ann Brewster, Stan Ashe, Marie Severin
Foreword by Brian Michael Bendis/ Cover by Johnny Craig
Published by Dark Horse Comics/EC Comics

 

Volume One of Crime Patrol, reprinting issues 7-11 from 1948 and 1949, is the latest in Dark Horse’s continually impressive EC Archives series.

What makes this particular volume either a bit of a treat or a bit of a let-down, depending on one’s level of EC fannishness, is that its Pre-Trend stories aren’t, as a rule, particularly good.

It’s not that they’re bad, though. They just aren’t the top-of-the-line stuff one expects to find published under the EC colophon.

But, hey! Everybody’s gotta start somewhere.

While these stories are not prime EC, one can start to see the better stuff getting closer.

The prolific Gardner Fox—best known, probably, for his work on The Justice Society of America and, later, the Justice League of America, too, is present here with a number of stories. Fox was undeniably one of the best comics writers of his day. Artist H.C. Kiefer turns up for a couple of stories, as well. Kiefer was a very good artist, if not, in my opinion, up to the lofty standards EC would soon set for comics. Ed Waldman, Ann Brewster, and Howard Larsen are perfectly serviceable artists found in the book, although the fact that I’m pretty sure I’d never heard of any of them before may indicate their lack of long-term success in the field.

On more familiar ground, we also have artist Sheldon Moldoff—best known as Batman’s ghost artist in the 1950s and early 1960s (as well as being the man who claimed to have suggested horror comics to Bill Gaines in the first place!). At EC, Moon Girl was Moldoff’s main assignment and he moved on before the peak years.

Finally—and to me the absolute best part—we get early, developing work, both as writers and artists, from soon-to-be EC editors Al Feldstein and Johnny Craig. Neither man is quite yet the master of the form he would become, but Craig, in particular, is well on his way, his smooth style lending itself easily to this type of story already.

And speaking of types of stories, there are actually a couple of very early horror stories here, although nowhere near as ghoulish as what was to come. “The Werewolf’s Curse,” drawn by Larsen, isn’t bad at all. There’s also one with a giant green would-be killer octopus. A second story features a man actually called the Octopus, although I wasn’t sure if he was some kind of monster or a super-villain type in a green suit.

Most fun are the early stories that feature eccentric heroes who are actual members of the title “Crime Patrol,”—freewheeling international detectives and spies such as Captain Crime, Van Manhattan, Madelon, and the Chessmen! Apparently straight violent “true crime” stories brought more mail, though, so these loosely-connected series characters disappeared quickly enough.

Bottom line: I’m still not thrilled with this series’ coloring, and the stories are mostly just so-so, but EC fans will appreciate the early look at two of the most important members of the greatest comic book bullpen ever.

So, for the right audience, this book is choice! And for that particular group:

Booksteve recommends.

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