Review: Forbidden Worlds Archives Vol.1A comic review article by: Logan Beaver
How can you not love this cover? A strapping, clean cut, vintage dude shooting at a two-headed ghost of a monkey wizard in the Land of the Lost. This is the first of the two reasons I wanted to review this book: If this story was in there, how could I live with myself if I didn't read it? Sadly, it isn't. There aren't even dinosaurs in this book, never mind two-headed monkey wizards. I wonder how many comics from this time period ever actually delivered on the promise made by the crazy covers they slapped on them.
The second reason I wanted to review this book was for the artists featured in it. Frank Frazetta! Al Williams! Wally Wood! Actually, none of the most famous artists featured in this book appear more than twice. It's surprising to me how you can have each story drawn by a different highly skilled artist and have all of your characters look the same. The only exception is the male lead in "The Vengeful Spirit" (the characters in "Demon of Destruction" all look different, but that's due to Frazetta's inking: the bodies were drawn almost exactly the same). I'm not even asking for a wide range of body types: you can find a greater difference in body type between Batman and Superman than you could between all but that one male protagonists in this anthology, and all of the women look the same. It's like you have all these talented artists working under a house style.
It's interesting to watch how far we've come, technically speaking. Like, oh my god, words. Almost every panel is stuffed with words. Sometimes they have exposition panels that are just words. Sometimes it's amazing how much detail whatever random flawless draftsman they've got working on the story was able to fit into those panels, under and around the monologues. Despite that, the artists manage to create numerous creepy, otherworldly images: gray and purple fog winding around characters at night, the moon monsters with laser vision, practically everything in "Skull of the Sorcerer."
You could also talk about how far we've come culturally, which I originally intended to avoid talking about when writing this ("Boy Howdy, comics were sexist back then! Good thing we aren't sexists anymore, right? High fives for everybody!"), but either chuckling at it, gritting your teeth through it, or ignoring it to appreciate old comics is an inevitable part of reading Forbidden Worlds. How the men treat women in these stories is straight up creepy. In one story, a journalist, when meeting a woman for the first time, just grabs her and kisses her, calling it his "price" for writing a piece about her. This is the start of a happy relationship! Later, he flies to Africa to save her from zombies (which the narrator refers to "the white man showing his superiority over the natives"). Then, they get married! Everyone's getting fucking married in Forbidden Worlds! It's easily the most common ending to a story in this collection.
I wonder if the writers' apparent marriage obsession is the equivalent of Sam in the Transformers movies, some attempt at a "human connection" no one wants (or maybe I'm alone in thinking that those movies would have been a lot better if it was just about giant robots who need to punch each other and blow shit up for THE FATE OF THE EARTH or whatever), or if damsels in distress are just an easy way to push along the plot of an adventure story. It's an idea I can't quite get out of my mind, though: preteen boys across America were picking up Forbidden Worlds, reading moralistic romance stories dressed in guns and magic. They lack the disturbing bleakness and gruesomeness of EC's horror comics, so that's one less reason a kid might want to read it, but Forbidden Worlds also isn't as good.
Dan Nadel points out in his introduction that it's Frank Frazetta and Al Williamson's work for EC that would make them famous, not their work for Forbidden Worlds, and the stories are just simple, poorly made plots without any feeling or humor behind them. Why would anyone read this? Or, more specifically, is there some desire for art that blandly upholds the status quo? Does boring yet reassuring art fill some need for its consumers, in the same way that horror, comedy, and tragedy do? I ask because that's what Forbidden Worlds is, and I can't imagine any other reason why this magazine would have survived as long as it did if this need didn't exist.
Since moving to South Korea, Logan Beaver has written plays, comics, and flash fiction (he did a lot of that before, mind you), gone on adventures and drank more on a Tuesday than is socially acceptable outside of college. He lives there with his girlfriend Collette, and his laptop Pornbot 5000. He is trying to learn how to speak Korean and draw, both of which are very hard. He thinks that, by learning and doing new things, people become something better than they once were, like Pokemon. If he were a Pokemon, he would be Snorlax, though he is generally unfamiliar with Pokemon beyond the original 151.