You shouldn’t be here. This is the place for the dead, for the damned, for the unholy. You should not be here. And yet… you cannot stay away.
Our journey to learn more about the “new guy” continues with my review of a classic comic book, brought back for one single momentous issue. To celebrate its eighty years in the biz, Marvel Comics are releasing one shot issues for some of its most iconic brands that started it all decades ago. One a week, all through January and February, the comics are going to range from their classic war stories collection, War is Hell, to the Science Fiction tome, Journey Into Unknown Worlds. But the one I’ll be covering for the site, is of course, Crypt of Shadows. The horror comic comes back one last time, or at least until its sales justify an ongoing title, or the next big anniversary hits (100 maybe). But unlike a collection of reprints, which would arguably have been just as cool, these one-shots include brand new stories! So, let’s dive in and check it out.
Crypt of Shadows was originally a title from the 1970’s, some two decades after Marvel, then known as Atlas comics, was cranking out the horror comics like they were going out of style. But the comics code that was established in the mid to late 1950’s all but single-handedly killed the entire genre across all companies. While some went the way of the dinosaur, Marvel saw it as an opportunity to create a new medium to help stay afloat. This is what would later become known as the birth of Marvel’s superhero line that practically defined the 60’s for the legendary brand. Once the comics code was re-tooled in the 70’s, Stan “The Man” Lee saw it is a great time to reintroduce some of the horror elements through new “heroes” in the form of Morbius the Living Vampire, Man-Thing, and The Ghost Rider!
I grew up on comic books. In fact, I learned to read from comic books after my mom realized I wasn’t a big fan of Seuss or the Berenstain Bears. My absolute favorite was Ghost Rider! Why my mom thought a flaming skulled biker who sold his soul to the devil was appropriate for a five-year-old, I have no idea, but the imagery of that skeleton looking character, flames of hell fire shooting out of his hands, still resonates with me to this day.
During this period, the mantle was carried by the original man to don the biker leathers, Johnny Blaze (although the 90’s Danny Ketch is still my favorite iteration) and legendary horror comics artist, Mike Ploog, helped launch the character. It’s important to include Ploog in the conversation of Marvel’s horror comics of the 1970’s because he also had stints on Marvel’s Werewolf by Night, and The Monster of Frankenstein, which faithfully retold my all-time favorite novel, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Anyway, around this same time Lee also launched the Crypt of Shadows imprint which was actually just reprints of those classic 1950’s horror stories brought to a new legion of fans. So, it’s no wondering why, when celebrating their 80th anniversary, Marvel thought it best to bring this aged gem back into the hands of fans, old and new.
As I said earlier, this anthology is a collection of brand-new stories by Hulk writer Al Ewing and art from three different artists, one for each story. Like any good anthology, comic, novel, movie or otherwise, Crypt of Shadows opens with the aptly titled, “Cynophobia,” and in just a few pages, we meet protagonist John Radley. He meets with a shrink to discuss his fear of dogs, and promptly launches us into, “Grave Errors!” where he recounts an urban legend of a man fallen on hard times who decides to rob the tomb of a wealthy doctor who’s rumored to have been buried with all his worldly possessions.
The grave robber soon finds out that one of the Doctor’s most prized articles, buried in the sarcophagus just next to his, was his loyal, yet two days starved canine. The pooch mauls the robber, who blocks the attack with his arms and is then unable to open the tomb door after the dog escapes into the night and knocks the crow bar that was prying the door open.
We’re back in the office with Radley as the shrink tells him that it’s just an old myth due to the fact that if the robber were trapped in the tomb, unable to escape, he wouldn’t have been able to recount his own story. Temporarily soothed by the psychiatrist’s explanation, we then jump into, “A Moment of Madness!” where this time, Radley unfurls a tale from his own life. A tale that includes his wife and their inability to have children early in the marriage that prompts the wife to buy a dog and baby it much like they would have done to a human child.
Radley becomes so jealous of the love she showered upon the pooch that he decides to kill it so that her love will then be refocused on him. However, so that she’ll be so traumatized by the experience herself, he decides to poison the dog with a formula that he and his company have been developing, unsuccessfully obviously, that drives the test subjects mad upon ingestion. Yet, when dinner time comes, Radley becomes worried at the unusually late hour to which the pooch has gone without its meal. He goes to check on his wife in the kitchen and... well, I won’t spoil the end for you, although you can probably guess.
Back in the Psychiatrist’s office, because again, any good anthology has got to have a good bookend, right? We come to find that all three of the stories have more in common than Mr. Radley would like to have believed at first, with quite the shocker of a mind-bending ending that of course I’m not going to ruin for you here! You’re going to have to go and check this one out for yourself. For its nostalgic art style and wonderfully told story structure, this read gets a 4 out of 5, suffering only in its duration due to the constraints of modern comic book lengths.