The TOP 13 WALLY WOOD EC Stories — RANKED

Fred Van Lente pays tribute to the late, great artist, who was born 93 years ago…

One of the industry’s greatest illustrators, the late Wally Wood, was born 93 years ago — June 17, 1927 — and we’ve got comics writer/historian Fred Van Lente back to discuss the artist’s TOP 13 EC STORIES.

Dig it.

By FRED VAN LENTE

Wally Wood was a unique artist by his era’s standards as well as our own. It makes sense he was most associated with science fiction, as he was clearly heavily influenced by the illustrators of classic SF pulps in the same way as the only other artist I can really compare him to, Jack Kirby. For lack of a better word, Kirby and Wood’s art was muscular — it carried weight, even as their characters hurtled through weightless space.

Wood lacked Kirby’s facility for character-driven action, though, and as the Kirby style took over the Marvel Age, Wood got more work as an inker than as a penciller, deploying his robust blacks to empower other artists’ lines. Little wonder Kirby asked Wood to ink him on the King’s singular (and singularly disastrous) foray into newspaper comic strips, Sky Masters of the Space Force.

Wood, of course, made his name in the EC science-fiction books of the pre-Wertham purge. Science fiction was the “It” comic book genre in the 1950s after the superheroes had waned and romance remained strong but had peaked. EC’s SF books were considered the gold standard, inspiring SF-agent-turned-DC-editor Julie Schwartz to introduce competition in titles like Mystery in Space (the lead feature of which, Adam Strange, I took a loving look at in another column).

Though EC poobah and writer/editor Bill Gaines, a giant SF fan, burst with pride for his space titles, I am going to make the heretical assertion that of all the EC books they have aged the worst, with their formulaic premises and predictable twist endings. They’re a case study in why being a fan of a thing doesn’t qualify you to create the thing, any more than the average Bleacher Creature should start for the Yankees. Tales from the Crypt holds up better by being not quite as self-important, as well as genuinely funny, thereby taking the reader to unexpected places.

But Wood didn’t do a lot of the horror stuff. I personally prefer the work he did for editor/artist/writer Harvey Kurtzman in Mad and Two-Fisted Tales, as befits a history-loving wiseass like myself. There was something about the solidity of his drawing that made the satire in Mad even crazier, that made it realer, almost realer at times than the things Wood and Kurtzman were parodying.

Here then, is my TOP 13 WALLY WOOD EC Comics – RANKED:

(Shout out to my pal Dimitrios at Anyone Comics in Brooklyn, who hooked me up with the Wally Wood Spawn of Mars collection extra-quick. They are a great store, and if you’re in New York City, know they deliver right to your door!)

13. Tales from the Crypt #24: Scared to Death! A by-the-numbers horror tale is made unforgettable by Wood’s art. Ralph tries to pull a Diabolique by tricking his wife into thinking her father has come back to life to avenge himself for murdering him. If she dies of a heart attack, Ralph inherits her dough… but it turns out the joke’s on him. (Co-plotted by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein, with Feldstein scripting.)

12. Weird Fantasy #6: Rescued! Earthmen land on an alien world to investigate what happened to the last batch of colonists, only to be attacked by pulpy zombies they blow away with their machine guns. If you don’t know what the source of the zombies is you clearly have not read enough EC Comics. Even though you can see the ending coming a mile away, no one draws spacemen fighting zombies quite like Wally Wood. *Chef’s kiss* (Written by Wood.)

11. Mad #1: Blobs! The first two issues of Mad parodied each genre that EC was known for. Jack Davis drew the horror story, Will Elder the crime story, John Severin the “Two-Fisted” story, and of course Wood drew this science-fiction send-up. Melvin and Alfred, two gremlins in recliner wheelchairs that seem to me to be a pretty obvious inspiration for Wall-E, bicker over whether or not mankind is too dependent on technology. You don’t need to be a Black Mirror protagonist to know how that debate turns out. (Written by Harvey Kurtzman)

10. Weird Science #12: Dream of Doom. This is less of a story than a premise spun out into all its many insane permutations: A man keeps waking up from a dream to what he thinks is his real life only to be woken up from that life to discover it was a dream, too. It keeps happening and happening until he questions the very nature of reality itself. It shouldn’t work, but it does, thanks to Wood’s inks and the pencils of Harry Harrison, an obscure artist who only did a handful of stories for EC. (May have been written by Harrison.)

9. Crime SuspenStories #3: Faced with Horror! Bank robber Brogen, ID’d during his latest job, holds a plastic surgeon hostage until he’s rendered unrecognizable to the cops. After the operation, Brogen guns down all the people who know his true identity, including his own henchman and the surgeon — but then he discovers the hard way that the doc has had his postmortem revenge. (By Gaines and Feldstein, with script by Feldstein.)

8. Mad #2: Gookum! A Martian twit arrives on our world having barely escaped the destruction of his by the titular Gookum. I’m a little biased in his favor because on Mars he lived on the Gowanusglarf Canal in Brooklynglarf, which is more or less exactly where I live now. He tried to figure out a way to destroy the Gookum, which has a dormancy period of 500 years, but couldn’t before time ran out. Unfortunately, our hero discovers that Gookum also exists on Earth, though in a most unusual form…! (Written by Kurtzman.)

7. Shock SuspenStories #6: Under Cover! Wood did two anti-Ku Klux Klan stories for EC that involve a lot of whipping (there’s words I never thought I’d write). Fredric Wertham, in his scorched-earth campaign to Cancel EC (#topical) totally misrepresented them as S&M porn in Seduction of the Innocent, though given the voluptuous way Wood draws, who can blame him? One is heavy-handed in a way that anticipates the Peter Boyle movie Joe (1970); this one is better. A reporter spies the Klan whipping a woman to death. Horrified, he runs to report the crime to the police… but maybe he should have given a little more thought to who might be under those hoods? (#topical) [By Gaines and Feldstein, with Feldstein scripting.]

6. Two-Fisted Tales #22: Massacre at Agincourt! Wood’s detailed style lent itself to historical deep-dives, and Kurtzman assigned him more pre-20th century material than any other TFT artist. Here we see St. Crispin’s Day through the POV of a typical EC jerkoff, a French knight who scoffs at the Englishmen’s longbows until his men fall under a hail of arrows. If you think Game of Thrones pioneered brutal depictions of medieval warfare, think again. The story earns the “Massacre” in its title. With Wood’s muscular artwork you get a real you-were-there-feel for this story, and it does make war feel like I-want-to-be-anywhere-but. (Written by Kurtzman)

5. Weird Science #10: The Maidens Cried. Sexy space ladies were kind of Wood’s signature move, though they show up more often on the covers than in the interiors of the EC science fiction books, which are so male-dominated they might as well be called Weird Sausage Party [RIMSHOT]. However, the ladies take front and center in this tale, in which space explorers land on a planet where the males are all wimpy weirdoes and the females are super-hot human-lookalikes. Faster than you can say Mutiny on the Bounty the crew decides to stick around for a while, only to discover this ecosystem is in support of a creature with a life-cycle so horrific it’d make a Xenomorph puke. Wood is at his goopiest, goriest best, here. (By Gaines and Feldstein, with Feldstein scripting.)

 

4. Mad #5: Black and Blue Hawks! These flying aces, diverse in their ethnicity but unified in their stupidity, crash-land into adventure. A Dragon-Lady-type is fomenting revolution in far-off Panazonia, so with a hearty cry of “Hawkaaaaaa” our heroes do their best to intervene, but all they wind up doing is bringing the revolution home. I’ve never been much of a fan of plane-based stories or hockey, so the appeal of the Blackhawks has always been lost on me (I liked Howard Chaykin’s version but as Chaykin pilot comics go I much prefer the Phantom Eagle he did with Garth Ennis), but I’ll take Wood’s version seven ways to Sunday. Kurtzman must have too, because in the very next issue of Mad he had Wood lampoon the similar Terry and the Pirates. Hawkaaaaaaaaa! (Written by Kurtzman.)

3. Weird Fantasy #11: The Two-Century Journey! EC made going on a colony ship to populate another world seem like a one-way ticket to perversity. The best story in this sub-subgenre is Al Williamson’s 50 Girls 50, but this Wood effort is a close second. The colonists on board a generational ship to another world discover that their individual lifespans are much longer than they originally calculated. To preserve their resources for the entire trip, each new birth means that one of the older passengers has to throw themselves out of the airlock. Considering the story’s grim outcome even with all that sacrifice, maybe we’d be better off staying home and trying to fix our own messed-up planet. (By Gaines and Feldstein, with Feldstein scripting.)

2. Two-Fisted Tales #26: Hungnam! The Korean War still raged as Kurtzman produced TFT, and he devoted an entire issue to one of the more disastrous episodes of the war that was only a year old when the comic came out. By December 1950, the Chinese had come to the aid of the North Koreans and pushed UN troops back to the sea. Hungnam is the second-biggest city in North Korea and the last held by the US and its allies. As the British, South Koreans and Americans (including a Puerto Rican regiment) fall back to the port city for evacuation, the hubbub is told through the POV of a nameless stray dog who ventures in and out of the action. Totally oblivious to the human conflict, this pooch finds all the activity great fun — until suddenly, it’s not. Brutal, haunting stuff, particularly if you’re an animal lover like me. (Written by Kurtzman.)

1. Mad #4: Superduperman! Declaring this the top of the TOP 13 is the no-brainiest of no-brainers. This eight-page story by Kurtzman and Wood is quite possibly the greatest superhero parody ever. Clark Bent, assistant copy boy at the Daily Dirt, uses his X-ray vision to spy on the ladies’ powder room when he’s not lusting uselessly after Lois Pain, Girl Reporter. They’re both on the trail of the “Unknown Monster,” who turns out to be Captain Marbles, ex-superduperhero, who has realized that he’s been a sucker for using his powers for good instead of evil. Alan Moore has said that his take on Marvelman was inspired by a desire to do the deconstruction of “Superduperman,” only straight; as this clearly then begat Watchmen there’s no reason not to declare this tale as one of the TOP 13 most influential comics of all time. (Written by Kurtzman.)

Fred Van Lente is a comics writer, playwright and historian. He knows his shizz. Go check out his site fredvanlente.com.

MORE

— The TOP 13 Denny O’Neil THE QUESTION Stories — RANKED, by Fred Van Lente. Click here.

— The TOP 13 Gardner Fox ADAM STRANGE Stories — RANKED, BY Fred Van Lente. Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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8 Comments

  1. MY WORLD will always be the quintessential Wally Wood story for me. Brilliantly imaginative and expertly illustrated. Shocked that it did even make the list.

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    • It’s a nice piece, and beautifully illustrated, but…it’s not really a “story,” is it?

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      • Had enough story for me!

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    • “My World” has to be on this list.

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  2. “didn’t” make the list

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  3. I loved Blackhawk – both the GA Reed Crandall stories and the BA Mark Evanier stories. I despised Chaykin’s version – just awful.

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  4. That “obscure artist”, Harry Harrison, went on to become a far-from-obscure science fiction author.

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