Gemstone Publishing continues their truly outstanding reprints of EC Comics with their latest release, Crime Suspenstories, Vol. 1. This hardcover volume reprints the first six issues of the original series, published from 1950 – 1951. EC Comics remain vastly popular today even when most of their comics publishing peers have long since been forgotten. There are a few reasons for this; EC comics had a level of quality to them that outshined all of their competition in the 1950’s, even DC and Timely/Atlas. While most comic publishers were catering to kids, EC was putting out stories that appealed to an older audience. They also had a stable of artists that was unparalleled at the time.
While their horror comics like Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror have gained the most notoriety down through the years, EC published all types of comics. Crime SuspenStories may not have been a horror title in technical terms, but these lurid tales of violence and murder were definitely horrific. These tales were heavily influenced by crime noir writers and films of the period. One of the best examples is Wally Wood’s Death’s Double-Cross. The story is told in first person perspective from a wife yearning for love from her wealthy husband who only cares about work. She plots to kill her husband with the aid of his exact twin brother. But when the deed is done, the brother begins to act more and more like her husband. She doesn’t know which brother died and to which one she’s now married.
In Dead Ringer, a two-bit hood discovers he’s a nearly identical look-alike to a millionaire who is the victim of amnesia. He plots to kill the millionaire and take his place, conveniently recovering from his amnesia. But this hood soon learns the man he replaced has made a lot of enemies.
Jack Kamen’s Contract for Death is another fantastic tale. A man who is about to commit suicide is offered $5,000 to wait one month before killing himself by a mysterious doctor. He agrees, living it up to the fullest on the five grand. But when he falls in love, he tries to renege on his deal and is forced to find a substitution for his own body.
The Haunt of Fear makes several appearances in the book with stories with a decidedly stronger horror slant to them and introduced by that title’s mascot, The Old Witch. The best is Partially Dissolved in which an illusionist concocts a special metal alloy that is mixed with calcium that will dissolve in water. He plans to use it to perform astounding feats of escapism. But his scheming assistant, who bears more than a little resemblance to Bela Lugosi, has his own plans.
Other standout stories include The Giggling Killer, Blood Red Wine, and Jury Duty. In addition to the stories, writer max Allan Collins provides the books foreword as well as a several “crime blog” articles. Marie Severin’s colors have been re-mastered and look stunning. If you only know EC’s horror comics, you have to check out Crime SuspenStories. These stories are not as widely acclaimed but are every bit as good.