Before Frederic Wertham’s Comics Code, horror comics were filled with violent imagery, especially murder and gruesome acts. For years these were really hard to find, but in recent years publishers have begun to collect these stories. One of the best collections is Haunted Horror. Published by IDW starting in 2012, each issue features selections from various pre-code horror comics like Black Magic, Baffling Terror, and Journey into Fear. Come with me on a journey into these bizarre tales!
This story, “The Wage Earners,” follows a traveler who happens upon a woman (well, happens upon her with his bumper). She’s fine, but his life gets more complicated.
He marries this poor unfortunate lady for her money, and then he decides to murder her for it so he can meet his mystery lady in the swamp. And then, he gets his.
Whew, that one was rough! But it featured a guy who got his for being a heel, and the girl was the one doing the killing. What about the next one?
This is your average, run-of-the-mill eyeball that follows a guy who murders another guy story. It definitely takes a page out of Poe’s book, except it’s an eyeball instead of a heart. (Although to be fair, there’s an eye in that story, too.)
So the corpse of his victim follows him everywhere, and it drives him a little crazy.
This collection even includes some early Jack Kirby/Joe Simon. Enter “Slaughter-House!”
This is a story of an alien invasion, and how you should never trust a dame.
And on to the second issue.
The first story, “Doomsmoke,” tells the tale of a skull-pipe that drives a collector to violence just to get what he wants.
In this story, all of the visions he sees in the smoke of the pipe come true, and eventually he meets his doom by being electrocuted.
This is one of my favorites. “Corpse Convention” centers around a couple who stay at a hotel on Friday the 13th, and they meet some odd guests.
So the guy’s wife gets captured, and she’s put in a trance.
She is compelled to jump out a window to satisfy their bloodlust, but her husband is able to stop her. They find out they’ve stayed in a different version of the hotel than people see every other day than Friday the 13th. Spooky! At least this one had a somewhat happy ending. You know, in that no one got dismembered or gruesomely met their fate.
This is your classic “I invented a serum to bring disembodied hands to life to do my murderous bidding” story. (That’s a thing, right?)
Eventually, as they always do, the killer gets his when he accidentally stares into a woman’s mirror pendant and the hands murder him. You know, that old chestnut.
“Her Lips Dripped Blood” is a werewolf story, which is very fitting for these types of comics. In this one, Betty and her husband travel to her ancestors’ homestead, where they meet Clara, the housekeeper.
When they explore the graveyard, they discover that her grandfather was a werewolf. (This was before the days of Ancestry.com, where you could just look that stuff up on census records.) Then, strange things start happening. People start going missing, only to be discovered with savage wounds.
Surprise! Your wife is a werewolf, and she’s been murdering people. Time to end this with a silver bullet divorce.
So this one is kind of a Frankenstein story–a man brings the woman he loves back from the dead, and the heart he gives her not only gives her new life, but also new desire. Is it a desire for murder?
Nope. It’s the corpse from which the man took his love’s new heart. Apparently if you remove a corpse’s heart and put it in a lady, the corpse falls in love with the lady. Who knew?
So if you take nothing else from this post, I hope you see how fun it can be to explore the gruesome world of pre-code comics. Many collections are readily available, including the comics featured here, and a book called The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn’t Want You to Read, which I highly recommend.