Eerie #125 (1981)

Neal Adams was arguably the second most influential comics artist between the mid ’60s and early ’80s, trailing only the great Jack Kirby. Adams always had a unique art style that combined tremendous dynamism and flash with a seemingly realistic rendering style. Looking at the art now, the work looks less realistic as it does distorted in ways that bring out the energy of the stories. John Cassaday seems like a more realistic artist now, but back in the day, Adams was big time.

It was fun picking up this special issue of Eerie magazine, which was an all-Adams special. Eerie, along with its sister magazines Creepy and Vampirella, was a mostly black-and-white, magazine-sized anthology horror comic. The magazines ran between 1964 and 1985 or so. The quality of work in the magazines varied, but overall there was a tremendous amount of quality comics published under the Warren Magazines imprint.

Adams was only an irregular contributor to the Warren books, but this issue collects seven different stories he did. Interestingly, Adams seemed to really experiment in these stories. "Curse of the Vampire", for instance, features some wonderful wash work, employing gray shading along with his regular linework, to produce a painterly style. The story feels like a moody old black and white movie, where danger is always lurking around every corner.

"Goddess from the Sea" and "Voodoo Drum" are reproduced directly from Adams’s pencils, and have different feels from each other. To me, "Goddess from the Sea" looks washed out and muddy, giving the story an untidy, unfinished look. This may be because this is a reprint of a story published previously, or may be a case of ambitions outstepping technology, but the art just doesn’t really come alive. "Voodoo Drum" works much better in my eyes. It feels like Adams’s pencils are tighter in this story, and this story really shows off his ability to create drama and energy by subtlely adding conflict to even mundane scenes.

You might notice that I talk about the art in these stories and not about the stories. That’s because, as you might guess from the titles, these stories are not all that special. The stories are kind of cliched in general. Although the wonderful Archie Goodwin wrote the majority of the stories, the writing is consistently below the quality of Adams’s art.

The one story in this collection where the art matches the story is "Thrillkill", nominated by the Warren Companion collection as the best story Warren ever published. It is a really cleverly-constructed tale. The story of a rooftop sniper in Seattle(!) and the life that drives him to this horrific crime, it also uses a unique storytelling device. Adams’s art shows the murderous acts of the sniper, using his style of reality intensified to show the horrific and somehow banal results of the man’s crime. Meanwhile, writer Jim Stenstrum’s half of the story consists of an interview with the assassin’s priest, which almost persuades the reader, in spite of our horror at the cold-blooded nature of the act, to fel empathy for the killer. It’s a terrifically effective strategy, seperating the reader’s head frim his heart and asking each to make their own decision about the criminal.

These are fun stories, but "Thrillkill" hints at something even greater that might have been. Still, we’re lucky that Warren collected seven of these stories in one place. Now if only they could figure out how to put out new reprints of this stuff!

   

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