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Saturday, November 20, 2004

Shocking Tales Digest #1

A bit of an oddity, for some reason in 1981 Harvey published a single issue of SHOCKING TALES DIGEST, containing reprints of late 1950s horror/fantasy stories, primarily by Jack Kirby and Bob Powell. I don't think they published anything else in the period like it, most of their comics at the time being the humour books like Richie Rich and Casper.

The Kirby contents are nine stories that add up to 42 pages, all of his work (except one cover) from the first two issues of ALARMING TALES in 1957. It's interesting stuff, with great art and stories with a lot of themes that Kirby would show an interest in throughout his career, although of course dealt with in a cursory manner with no more than six pages per story.

"Logan's Next Life" is a two page short about re-incarnation. Apparently you keep your birthmarks between incarnations.

"The Cadmus Seed" (also recently reprinted in THE JACK KIRBY READER v2) is a silly little story with some interesting use of cloning, echoing some later JIMMY OLSEN stories. I also just noticed that there's a line in here which sounds suspiciously like one of the best lines in an Alan Moore Swamp Thing story and a scene which looks like it could have inspired the Gaiman/McKean version of Black Orchid.

"The Fourth Dimension is a Many Splattered Thing" is goofy, mostly notable for Kirby getting to draw some nice cubist/surrealist landscapes for a few pages.

"The Last Enemy" is probably the most interesting story in here from a "Kirby's other work" perspective, since there are clear hints of Kamandi's world. In this version, a man goes to the future in a time machine, to find a world where men have been destroyed by atom bombs and intelligent animals have taken over, all of whom would fit in perfectly in a Kamandi story.



Also interesting is that the villains of the piece are the rats, who have dug a tunnel system under the earth as part of the plan their eventual takeover, which resonates with themes in Kirby's unfinished novel, THE HORDE.

"Donnegan's Daffy Chair" features a flying chair, which of course evokes Metron of the New Gods and his Mobius Chair. The rest of the story doesn't, but it's some goofy fun, with a good sense of humour.

"Hole in the Wall" features an old newspaper employee who dreams of fanciful travel, gets fired and finally realizes his dreams. This is, I think, the best of the stories here, with some wonderfully evocative images of the times, as well as some nice fantasy images.

"The Big Hunt" goes back to merely silly, with a story about a man who goes to the fifth dimension in an experiment and hunts there. The big interest is Kiry dreaming up some wild fantasy animals.

"The Fireballs" is a UFO story, with people seeing mysterious balls of flame in the sky. I'm still not sure I understand exactly what happens in this story.

"I Want to Be a Man" giant robots, Kirby style, in a fun little story which seems to be inspired by Asimov's short stories of this period. Great splash page of the robot, which was also used on the backcover of the digest.

Lots of other fun stuff besides, and fairly well printed given the digest size, this probably isn't too easy to find, but worth picking up if you do. A shame Kirby's other work for Harvey from the era (including a few more ALARMING TALES stories, several issues of BLACK CAT MYSTIC and some science fiction and war comics) hasn't been reprinted.

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