"The Ape Demon!" "The Devil's Disciple!" "She Dared the Unknown!" "The Blonde Witch of the Swamp!" "The Ghost from Algol!"
If all these titles remind you of goofy 1940s B-movies, then you know exactly what to expect from the Adventures into the Unknown! Archives Volume. 2: lurid, ridiculous, B-movie madness with beautiful babes, steadfast men, wacky and weird menaces, along with a whole lot of completely absurd, completely wonderful fun.
This book collects four 1949 issues of Adventures into the Unknown, a pleasant middleground horror comic from an era when horror comics were just beginning to come into prominence on the newsstand. I call this book "middleground" because this material is not quite what most of us have in mind when we think about pre-Code horror. Usually a collection of pre-Code horror means the book contains several tales of violent, vicious action with characters receiving vicious fates – often limbs falling off or terrible mutilation at the hands of ax murderers or things like that. Pre-Code horror was usually full of hardcore nastiness. Reading the worst of that material gives credence to the efforts of Frederic Wertham and government watchdogs in the 1950s to censor comic books.
But the braintrust behind AITU took a slightly different tack from their peers. This series was published by American Comics Group, a more conservative minded company than many of their counterparts at the time. ACG presented stories that were closer in spirit to the black-and-white double feature horror films that second-rate studios churned out in that era.
The best of these stories are pure amusement. "The Devil's Disciple", with an uncredited writer and art by someone named R. S. Pious, is a madcap time travel adventure that involves the devil, an old witch and a woman improbably named Hester Prince. "Condemned – to Live!" , with art by John Blummer, is the very talky story of a man forced to live forever until he finds his true love. At some companies this concept might have been the start of a viciously terrible tale; in this crazy yarn, nobody even gets their hair ruffled. And "The Sargasso Specter", written and illustrated by Robert Brice, is an almost surreal tale of lost ships, pirate gold and an evil green ghost.
We even get a small continued adventure in this book, as artist Charlie Sultan gives readers "The Spirit of Frankenstein" in three issues, in which a mad scientist creates a radio-controlled giant robot creature who creates all kinds of havoc. My favorite bits in these stories involve the weird inventions that the creators bring up – the golden whirligig in the third chapter just makes me smile.
There's one more odd note about Adventures into the Unknown: it's actually being reprinted by two different companies these days. My review is of the Dark Horse AITU Archives. British publisher PS Artbooks is releasing their own collection of AITU under hard covers. PS reprints six issues per volume while Dark Horse reprints four. To my eye, Dark Horse's reproduction is cleaner and sharper, but you may want to leaf through both collections to choose which looks best to you.
This is hardly the most classic pre-Code horror comics ever published, but this book is great escapist fun, especially for people who love crazy old b-movies.