In the grimy alleyways of comic book history, there lurk tales so chilling, they’ve been whispered about in hushed tones for decades. Now, thanks to the joint efforts of Fantagraphics and Marvel Comics, these tales have clawed their way back into the light. “Adventures into Terror Vol. 1,” the inaugural entry in the Atlas Comics Library, resurrects the first eight issues of the eponymous series, originally published by Martin Goodman’s Atlas comic line from November 1950 to February 1952. And it cries out to be reviewed!
*Don’t let the title of this review fool you, readers – this book will hurt your brain for reasons you might not expect. To find out why, you’ll have to keep reading. I’ll give you a little hint, though: it has something to do with the Nazi nuisance from the image above…
Contents and Presentation
The volume begins with an extensive foreword (and comic history lesson) by Dr. Michael J. Vassallo, who meticulously charts the rise of Atlas Comics from out of Marvel Publisher Martin Goodman’s Timely Comics. Predictably, Vassallo delves into the creation of the Comics Code Authority, a consequence of the moral panic induced by figures like Dr. Frederick Wertham and Judith Christ, who erroneously believed comic books were a corrupting influence, fueling juvenile delinquency.
This type of introduction is standard fare for most reprints of Pre-Code horror comics, but Vasallo does it with style and aplomb. My only criticism here is that he leaps back and forth between timelines and dates, which makes following his narrative a bit jarring. Still, an enjoyable introduction overall, filled with vintage photos of early 1950s fandom, the Empire State Building Timely offices, and some fresh-faced creators.
Encased within a handsome hardcover, the book spans approximately 232 pages, resurrecting the artwork of legendary creators such as Sol Brodsky, Carl Burgos, Gene Colan, Russ Heath, and many others.* These maestros of the macabre bring to life stories that haven’t seen the eerie glow of a reader’s flashlight in decades.
*Note: The cover art was masterfully restored by the Eisner Award nominated Allan Harvey. Credit where credit is due!
In a Nutshell
“Adventures into Terror Vol. 1” is essentially a golden age horror comics anthology, featuring masterpieces like Russ Heath’s “The Brain” and its sequel, Basil Wolverton’s “Where Monsters Dwell,” and Gene Colan’s haunting “House of Horror.” Each tale is infused with the pulpy, perverse, and delightfully deranged essence characteristic of pre-code horror comics — the very essence that once drew the ire of moral crusaders and the U.S. Senate.
Ultimately this collection isn’t merely a nostalgia trip; it’s a time machine to an era when comics were unbound, wild, and wonderfully horrific. It also includes all the old 1950s comic book ads found in the original issues. And those ads were wild!
For fans of classic horror comics, “Adventures into Terror Vol. 1” isn’t just recommended reading — it’s an essential tome to add to your library of nightmares. But if you’re still not convinced, read on!
As I delved deeper into the collection over a period of two days, certain stories clawed their way out of the shadows, demanding my undivided attention. The first issue, with its cover art masterfully crafted by Russ Heath and dated November 1950, presents a bizarre inaugural tale titled “The Monster Awakes”. This story catapults us into a nightmarish scenario where a pilot unintentionally unleashes a colossal demigod wreaking havoc across the Chinese countryside during World War II. The imagery is haunting, with the monster’s rampage reminiscent of King Kong’s iconic Empire State Building scene. But the true jaw-dropper is the pilot’s descent into the underworld alongside the monster, an eerie revelation that’s etches itself into the mind.
Moving on to issue #2, adorned with a Carl Burgos cover and dated February 1951, we find four gripping tales. Yet, it’s Chic Stone’s sinister “The Storm” that thunderously stands out, painting a chilling picture of a couple’s plight as they seek refuge from a cataclysmic tempest in a mansion dubbed Twilight House, only to discover that their sanctuary has malevolent intentions.
Issue #3, graced with Saul Brodsky’s cover art and dated April 1951, presents a mixed bag of horror delights, including “The Living Dead” and “I Stalked by Night”. Gene Colen’s early pencils shine in “House of Horrors”, but “I Stalked by Night” is particularly haunting, weaving a tale of murderous gloves controlled by a ghostly entity. It’s a chilling reminder that sometimes, the true horror lies in the loss of one’s own control.
Issue #4 brings us “The Brain”, a Russ Heath classic that is as terrifying as it is captivating. Accompanied by tales like “The Hands of Murder”, “The Torture Room”, and “Vampire Brats”, “The Brain” stands out with its story of a Nazi scientist’s disembodied brain, orchestrating chaos from beyond the grave. But let’s not forget “Vampire Brats”, a twisted take on maternity clinics harboring newborn vampires, a story that cleverly subverts the usual vampire tropes.
Issue #5, graced with Carl Burgos’ haunting cover and dated August 1951, unfolds a series of macabre tales including “The Man Who Was Death”, “The Clock Strikes”, “The Hitchhiker”, and “The Hand”. However, it’s “Find Me” that ensnares the imagination. In this mind-bending tale, an artist for a news magazine is tasked with creating a surreal image of an endless loop of hands drawing hands. This entry into a labyrinthine illusion becomes all too real as the artist finds himself trapped within the very maze he’s conjured, blurring the lines between reality and the terrifying confines of the page. The art also hurts my brain just looking at it – it’s a descent into the surreal.
Issue #6, dated October 1951 with a cover by Saul Brodsky, unfurls four more stories: “You Can’t Escape”, “The Dark Room”, “The Girl Who Couldn’t Die”, and the sequel to a previous nightmare, “The Return of the Brain”. Russ Heath’s artistry breathes life into the malevolent Nazi brain as it concocts another diabolical plan to dominate the world. This time, the brain attempts to manipulate a couple to serve its wicked will, but fate has its own twisted designs for all involved. Plus, seeing a brain engage in independent locomotion by bouncing around all over the place rattles my own gray matter like fingernails on a blackboard – hence the title of this review.
Issue #7, draped in the eerie cover art by George Tuska and Joe Maneely and dated December 1951, serves a ghastly platter of narratives. “The Thing That Grew”, “Going Down”, “The Two Who Were Alone”, and “Joe” each deliver their own brand of terror. Yet, it’s Joe Maneely’s “Going Down” that captivates with its exceptional artwork, and Basil Wolverton’s “Where Monsters Dwell” that dazzles with his signature grotesque, yet oddly whimsical monsters. Both stories rise as the crown jewels of this issue, drawing the reader into their unique horrors.
Lastly comes issue #8, dated February 1952, shrouded in an arresting Christopher Ruhle cover. This installment takes a visceral turn with tales of gruesome transformations and alien horrors. “Enter The Lizard” depicts a man’s nightmarish metamorphosis into a reptilian creature, while “The Parasite” narrates a chilling transmutation into a vampiric leech-goblin. Joe Sinnott’s “The Ones Who Laugh” stands as a notable piece, blending extraterrestrial terrors with a psychological unraveling, perfectly encapsulating the sci-horror genre that mirrored the paranoia and fascination of the 1950s’ B-movie scene.
Together, all these tales solidify “Adventures into Terror” as a significant pillar of Golden Age horror comics, skillfully intertwining the terror of the unknown with the macabre transformations the collective American imagination was undergoing at the time.
The Plots, The Art, and the Product
“Adventures into Terror Vol. 1,” unfurls narratives via story and art with a delightful blend of absurdity and wild imagination. Yes, the plots occasionally leapfrog over logic with the agility of a supernatural frog monster, yet they land squarely in a realm of whimsy and fascination as well. Some may be silly, but they are undeniably fun, and drew me into a vortex of nostalgia and uninhibited creativity.
When it comes to the artwork, the illustrations are predominantly impressive, capturing the essence of Golden Age comics with a deft hand. A handful of tales boast artwork that transcends mere illustrations, becoming masterpieces in their own right. This is particularly evident of the Basil Wolverton and Russ Heath contributions. Overall, the collection is interspersed with only a smattering of lesser pieces where the art doesn’t quite hit the mark.
The true ‘marvel’ (beware the pun) lies in the reproduction quality. Fantagraphics, a publisher with a reputation for excellence, doesn’t disappoint. The pages seem to whisper of the past, with each color and line meticulously restored to its original mid-century glory. It’s a resurrection worthy of the tales it presents, a perfect homage to the era that birthed these ghastly delights.
Art: A spectral symphony of mostly exquisite horror art with a few discordant notes. 4/5 stars!
Story: A merry dance of absurdity and imagination that defies logic but enchants the mind. 3/5 stars!
Reproduction Quality and Overall Presentation: A flawless conjuring of the past, Fantagraphics ensures that every eerie detail is lovingly restored. 5/5 stars!
As the final page turns and the echoes of otherworldly screams fade, I’ll end by saying that “Adventures into Terror Vol. 1” is more than just a book; it’s an experience. For we who revel in the macabre and find joy in the darkness, this tome is an essential addition to any horror library. It’s a nostalgic trip down the cobwebbed corridors of comic book history, where each panel pulsates with the heartbeat of horror’s golden age. What more could you ask for? Well, I guess we could ask for a volume 2, but we don’t need to. It’s in the works!
I hope you enjoyed LOD’s review of Adventures Into Terror: The Atlas Library Vol. 1. If your appetite for the arcane has been whetted, and if your thirst for the thrillingly terrifying is unquenched, then subscribe to this blog. Together, we will continue to delve into the darkest corners of horror, unearthing gems and sharing the shivers.
Remember, your voice matters in this community of the damned! Leave your comments, share your terrors, and become a part of this macabre family. What story twisted your mind the most? Which artwork has etched itself into your nightmares?
Thanks for reading, horror friends. Remember to grab your copy of Adventures Into Terror, and make your nightmares a little more colorful.
Until next time, take care, and sweet screams to you all 💀🖤