Collectors of the gloriously gruesome horror comics of the 1950s are at present performing a unison action: they are crossing their fingers and praying that PS Publishing will succeed in completing its sumptuous series of hardback reprints of some of the most striking material of that pre-lapsarian era. After all, it’s not a foregone conclusion that such ventures reach a happy conclusion — Russ Cochran’s admirable hardback colour reprints of the legendary EC line stumbled recently, but (fortunately) seems to be back on track (after a fashion). So one has to admire editor Peter Crowther’s chutzpah in green-lighting this project, particularly when one holds in one’s hand something as striking as Black Cat Mystery, Volume 1, a collection of the first five issues of one of the seminal horror comics of the era (even if one is puzzled by the cover chosen to illustrate the volume, showing the sexy super-heroine Black Cat. whose innocent title was hijacked by tales of zombies vampires and werewolves – and who is nowhere to be found in this volume). What is to be found, however, are examples of some of the most talented illustrators of the era, notably the derivative but imaginative Howard Nostrand and the totally individual Bob Powell (a major talent), the latter of whom supplied the Harvey imprint with all of its best illustration work (and this PS Publishing series is, it should be remembered, called ‘Harvey Horrors’.).
The blood-drenched gruesomeness of the tales on offer here is reminiscent of EC comics at their peak, and the cadre of artists (with some woeful exceptions) do full justice to the material, rendering it shamelessly enjoyable. If one has a caveat, it’s the usual one – Harvey simply could not afford writers of the calibre of Al Feldstein and William Gaines who (despite their repeated tendency to overwrite) seem like James Joyce to Dan Brown compared to the bizarre, often totally incoherent scripting on offer here. But as the writer Christopher Fowler (no slouch himself when it comes to horror material, although these days he is more often to be found in the crime arena) points out, one does not read Harvey comics for elegantly scripted dialogue – in fact the jawdropping insanity of much of the writing here is actually part of the charm. As in other volumes in the PSP series, production values are the highest, and aficionados need not hesitate.
Personally, I can’t wait for Mr Crowther (an enthusiast for the medium himself) to continue his reprint series of one of Harvey’s rivals, ACG comics, whose Adventures into the Unknown was the first continuous horror comic (followed sometime afterwards by Forbidden Worlds). And collectors should note that even when the nannyish Comics Code laid its dead hand on these two titles, what they began to lose in the gruesome they more than made up for in sheer vaunting imagination. But getting back to Black Cat Mystery — forget about that eccentric writing and the odd maladroit illustrator, and just luxuriate in the grisly, often surreal imagery on offer here. You’ll approve, even if the Comics Code didn’t.
Black Cat Mystery is publshed by PS Publshing