THE READTHRU: WEIRD FANTASY Part 1 (#13-16)

The Readthru is designed to take you through the issue run of a comic book or magazine. It will be an ongoing series of capsule review guides to famous titles of yesteryear.

If horror comics were the breadwinner titles for E.C. Comics, then their science fiction titles were their labors of love.  Weird Fantasy began its run in May of 1950. Each issue consisted of four short tales: unlike the horror titles, there were no hosts. It enjoyed a multi-year run despite low sales. In fact, profits from the company’s successful titles were used to keep their sci-fi comics afloat because publisher William Gaines had such a passion for them.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see why Gaines was so crazy about these: they used the pop-art potential of comic book visuals and the tight plotting of E.C.’s anthology storytelling to put across all sorts of mind-blowing futuristic concepts. They also allowed the company’s gifted stable of artists endless opportunities to draw exotic outer space vistas, sleek rocketships and all manner of exotic alien races.

Note: despite the 13-17 numbering scheme, the issues covered here are actually the first four for this title. In typical comic publisher fashion of the era, E.C. Comics resumed the numbering of a former title (A Moon, A Girl… Romance) to save on postage fees. The Postal Service caught wind of this eventually and made them change to a regular numbering scheme after issue #17.

WEIRD FANTASY #13: The debut issue plunges the reader right into the series’ mixture of pulp storytelling and futuristic concepts. For example, opening tale “Am I Man Or Machine?” utilizes a tale of a fateful romantic reunion as the springboard for a tale of a brain transplant and android development. Al Feldstein handles the art, which has a charming ’50s vibe in both fashions and science lab gear. “Only Time Will Tell” is a head-spinner that uses mystery as the hook for a time travel saga, aided by fluid and expressive art from the Wally Wood/Harry Harrison team. “The Men Of Tomorrow” introduces social commentary to the mix, utilizing adventure-style art from Jack Kamen to tell a tale of explorers who discover an alien race and inadvertently seal their fate in the process. The same can be said for “Trip Into The Unknown,” a tale of astronauts exploring a foreign planet that has a bitter sting in the tail and some groovy spaceship art by Harvey Kurtzman.

WEIRD FANTASY #14: this starts on a postmodern note that is decades ahead of its time with “Cosmic Ray Bomb Explosion,” with Gaines and Feldstein playing themselves as they concoct a doomsday bomb story for the comic, only to see the results have far-reaching and lethal effects. Feldstein handles the art for this one, including playful caricatures of himself and Gaines. “The Black Arts” has a lightly horror-styled vibe as it tells the tale of a bitter man trying to use alchemy to aid his love life, only to have nasty consequences. The Wood/Harrison art teases out its dark humor. “The Trap Of Time” has a protagonist trying to stop a tragedy using time travel only to discover the array of hidden perils in his solution. It ends on an ironic stinger and has slick Kamen art. As its title suggests, “Atom Bomb Thief” mixes crime story elements with a-bomb paranoia, utilizing some cinematic Kurtzman art for visual flash as it builds to its twist ending.

WEIRD FANTASY #15: “Martian Invasion” weds alien invasion story concepts to Cold War paranoia, utilizing polished Feldstein art, and then surprises you with an effectively deployed twist. “Henry And His Goon Child” delivers Serling-esque social commentary nearly a decade before The Twilight Zone with its tale of an inventor who lives to regret treating his robot assistant as a slave. The Kurtzman art here really conveys the grotesque cruelty of its main character but leavens it with humorous caricature. “I Died Tomorrow” uses a time travel machine as the springboard for a tale of a greedy character getting his just desserts: Kamen must’ve liked time travel stories because he once again provide the art here. “Dark Side Of The Moon” closes the issue out with an inspired, paranoid riff on what might happen if we were to meet the “little green men” on the moon, told with expressive and pulpy art from Wood.

WEIRD FANTASY #16: After reading the opening tale “The Lost City,” you might wonder if Stephen King also read it as it utilizes the concept of a domed city to horrific effect. However, here it is used for commentary on the idea of science advancing too rapidly.  Feldstein’s art is crisp and straightfoward, reflecting its concept-driven approach. “The Mysterious Ray From Another Dimension” utilizes Kurtzman’s gift for cinematic  layouts and caricatures to tell a satirical tale that takes aim at critics who wax ominous about television’s effects on the populace. “Second Childhood” is a tale of anti-aging experiments gone wrong but uses its plot to sentimental instead of horrific ends, aided nicely by expressive Kamen art. After reading it, you’ll wonder if the author of The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button saw it. Like the previous issue, #16 closes with a tale of interstellar travel illustrated by Wood: this time, it’s called “A Trip To A Star” and it’s a twist-happy tale that utilizes the concept of the “space warp” for a classic E.C. twist ending.

 

 

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