I'm all for whatever demonic deals it took to get the EC library in the hands of Dark Horse. Not content to merely sell their souls for the rights to reproduce the classic EC stories, Dark Horse has also brought portions of the EC line back from the dead and not in the hackneyed, stilted way you'd expect. In Dark Horse's filthy hooves, EC series like Creepy have returned to the rule the roost of horror anthologizing. Creepy #6 is just the latest entry in the resurrected horror line, full of unsettling, disturbing tales from creators of varying levels of infamy paired with the kind of art you so rarely find in the mainstream.
Dark Horse has even resurrected the cheekiness of the original EC line with jokey, playful letter columns and puntastic emceeing from Uncle Creepy himself. The effect is one of immersion, allowing Creepy to be the kind of title you plunge into headfirst, taking in the entire mood and tone rather than bits and pieces here and there. That immersion goes a long way towards making Creepy #6's major missteps a bit more palatable.
Writer: Joe R. Lansdale
Artist: Nathan Fox
Admittedly Creepy's hit-to-miss ratio in #6 is a little lackluster and that's made immediately clear with the issue's first story. Scripted by Western mainstay Joe R. Lansdale, "Mine" is the kind of tale that wouldn't be out of a place in a common Jonah Hex done-in-one, except for the fact that it's illustrated by the brilliant Nathan Fox. Fox's style is nearly without peer in its darkly expressionist design, lines threatening to overtake anatomy and ink invading whatever inches are left available. Lansdale's story of greed and retribution on the plains isn't new or all that interesting but how Fox plays with it is, turning a tired concept of a soul returning from the grave in the name of stolen property into something exciting. Given a decent enough script to work with, Fox could have displayed a masterpiece rather than simply making the best of serviceable plotting as he does here.
Writer: Christopher A. Taylor
Artist: Jason Shawn Alexander
Jason Shawn Alexander luckily gets better material to work with in "Commedia dell'Morte," which features a particularly abstract script from Christopher A. Taylor. Taylor's story is the ultimate example of the unreliable narrator, a clown on a mission from god, tasked with killing demons posing as parents. Wisely choosing to keep the details of the story under close wraps, Taylor never makes it clear whether we should trust the clown or doubt his mission, complicating matters even further when the clown himself begins to suffer doubt.
Alexander's pencils are harsh but beautiful, injected with a haunting quality that seemingly references the paintings of noted clown killer John Wayne Gacy. "Commedia dell'Morte" is genuinely unsettling, the kind of horror story that gets more mileage from its concept and style than its particular actions, however heinous those otherwise might be. Though it suffers some from a lack of structural focus, it is in many ways the strongest story in the issue.
Writer: Alice Henderson
Artist: Kevin Ferrara
Alice Henderson and Kevin Ferrara's "The Wreck" suffers the same kind of setbacks but without anywhere near as much creativity or inventiveness to help it survive. Feeling like a Twilight Zone knock-off with an idiotic extra twist added to the mix, "The Wreck" is a gigantic disappointment, especially given the art of Kevin Ferrara, known for his terrific work in the horror sphere with Deadlander. A huge chunk of the blame deserves to rest on Henderson's shoulders but Ferrara doesn't help matters with his somewhat bland pencils here, which appear as a 2000 A.D. riff in the worst possible way.
Writers: Dan Braun and Craig Haffner
Artist: Garry Brown
The absolute nadir of the issue, though, is undoubtedly "Lonesome Lore." Looking and reading like a sampling from one of those old Big Books DC's Paradox Press imprint used to publish, "Lonesome Lore" is like an out-of0tune note in the bridge of a song. Ostensibly a compilation of facts about the women in Hitler's life, "Lonesome Lore" is awkwardly displayed and difficult to discern the meaning of. Is it satire? A joke? Cluelessness? No matter the intent, it fails on every conceivable level. Thankfully it's mercifully brief.
Writer: Archie Goodwin
Artist: Neal Adams
Dark Horse is smart enough to end the issue on a great note, though, with the unsung Archie Goodwin and Neal Adams classic "Fair Exchange." While it may be a reprint from the late '60s, "Fair Exchange" stands out from the pack as an economic bit of storytelling with the standardly fantastic pencils of Neal Adams. While "Fair Exchange" hinges on a major twist in the same way "The Wreck" does, it's more efficiently developed and far more logical within the story's constraints. Likewise, Adams' art is lushly detailed and clear, his figures' posture and features symptomatic of their deficits in character. It's a prime example of how to do short horror pieces in comics and the creators of today looking to shine in this version of Creepy would be wise to take notes.
Creepy #6 may not be a perfect issue in the anthology series but as "Fair Exchange" and "Commedia dell'Morte" prove, when the series is on it's really on. Given the dearth of worthwhile horror anthologies out there at the moment, especially those as meaty and well-produced as Creepy, those failures are easier to stomach, almost necessary sacrifices for the demons that fuel the better works.
When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.