Author Jim Trombetta dissects various facets of the horror comics (the werewolf, war, crime, etc.) using quite a bit of psychology. Usually that throws up a red flag for me. While there are several instances where I questioned the logic of the author, there are an equal number when a lightbulb went on over my dim cranium and I actually looked at a story differently. Trombetta's prose is scholarly but not academic (read: not boring). I would question whether such in-depth analysis is due a story about a young couple who buy a new house, quickly discover bottles of blood in the basement and then decide against moving out. When the "bloodman" (rather then the milkman) comes calling for "empties" and takes the couple along with him, I thought "what a couple of dopes" rather than look for any Freudian overtones.
According to Trombetta, "Skeletons perform any number of lonely personal revenges, but they most often appear less as the mirror of human self-hatred than as a quorum." Huh? Just tell me how they can speak without vocal chords! A little far fetched is this description of the cover of Mysterious Adventures #18: "Here a superb Hy Fleischman skeleton grabs his ex-wife and demands that she join him in the grave. What ups the ante is that the ex-wife's boyfriend is also on the scene - molested, prison-style, from behind by another skeleton." Does anybody really see in this cover, even squinting, a skeletal version of Deliverance?
There are 16 strips here, several of which are dopey fun. ( I'd love to own a set of Dark Mysteries, with titles like "The Terror of the Hungry Cats," "Terror of the Unwilling Witch," "Vampire Fangs of Doom," "Terror of the Vampire's Teeth"). My favorite of the batch for sheer goofiness would have to be "The Eyes of Death." Ralph Moore has always been jealous of fellow astronomer Don Reynolds' success. Don seems to have all the fame and fortune that astronomers deserve: stars named after him, awards bestowed, lots of dough, and a sweet chick named Elaine. Ralph's biggest problem is that his eyes are going bad and, sorta like a junk man with no arms, he's having a tough time getting the job done. Despite the fact that this has nothing to do with Don, Ralph has a "moment" and tosses his partner down the observatory stairs. Now, here's where it gets interesting. Instead of calling the cops and confessing, Ralph calls his cousin, the surgeon, to ask if the doctor can perform a super-secret operation to give him Don's eyes. The doctor scratches his chin, pondering, and says "I can do it, Ralph...it's unethical...but...all right, I'll do it! No one will know - he'll be buried with his eyes closed!" (At this point I pause and ask why author Trombetta didn't research the medical field of the 1950s to get to the bottom of how something like this could occur? No autopsy?) Needless to say, Don's corpse rises from his grave to reclaim his eyes at the climax. I have to believe that Trombetta is pulling our leg with his analysis of the story: "'The Eyes of Death' (Dark Mysteries No. 7, July 1952) succeeds in becoming a true nightmare out of a kids' campfire story, in which eyes can literally be ripped off. The story also presents an original idea of cosmic casuality that will no doubt have astronomers revising their theories."
If all this comes off as too negative, don't get me wrong. The Horror, The Horror is a delight from start to finish and features not only those 16 stories but hundreds of rare comic covers. Trombetta drops his professorial cap several times and made me laugh out loud. Regarding the cover of Dark Mysteries #13 (directly to my left). The author questions: "The guard expresses amazement: `It's Tom's leg.... But he was executed last night!' What is striking, of course, is how many more questions this explanation raises than it answers: How does the guard know it's Tom's leg? If this is Tom's leg, where's the rest of him? Did his execution involve his dismemberment? Are the other prisoners afraid that the leg itself will, say, give them the boot? Or has something eaten the post-resurrection Tom in one large gulp, leaving only a drumstick, and are the other characters afraid they'll be next?"
This is how I think Jim should have tackled this project. Forget phallic symbols and emasculating mother-figures. Sometimes a zombie is just a zombie.