Monday, October 29, 2018

Twisted Tales #1

Halloween 2018 Post-A-Day: Day 29
Twisted Tales #1

One of the best horror anthologies of all time

Twisted Tales did not pull punches.

It was one of many 80’s horror anthologies to come out but stood head and shoulders above the pack. Each issue contained enough old school, EC comics inspired stories transformed by masters of modern day horror artistry to fully sate any horror addicts needs. They were simply marvelous.

Most stories were the work of Bruce Jones, who served as series editor. There were occasional one-off stories by other authors, but we owe Jones a great deal for the success of the book. And since I’m handing out honors, the artists Jones pulled in to craft his tales reads like a hall of fame inductee list of comic books’ greatest horror artists. We have Richard Corben, Mike Ploog, Val Mayerik, Alfredo Alcala, John Bolton, John Totleben, Butch Guice, Gray Morrow, Berni Wrightson, and SO MANY OTHERS!!!

What I’m saying to you, dear readers, is if you ever, ever see a Twisted Tales book in the wild…SNATCH IT UP!!

You’ll be glad you did. As proof of that, let’s dive into our FOUR grand stories in this premier issue. Oh, and these tales have been known to include everything from cannibalism, racism, misogyny, killings and graphic, graphic violence that I have to state this book is strictly ADULTS ONLY!  

Also, stay tuned for the link at the end to a very special Cosmic Treadmill on Twisted Tales!

Writer – Bruce Jones
Art – Richard Corben
Colorist – Steve Oliff
Editor – Bruce Jones
November 1982

Under that beautiful Richard Corben cover comes this beautiful Richard Corben piece, story by Jones of course. We begin with Oscar Felps, a racist, misogynist asshole who is cursed with a horrible headache and crummy job. A job that takes him out to visit clients a lot. And today, an assortment of aches assails him. So Oscar stops to take in the sights of a crab filled beach along his route. 

But it doesn’t’ work. Work is waiting. Oscar gets back in the car and heads to his next client meeting.

I did mention that Oscar is a terrible racist jerk, right? Appears he’s also in the job of BEING a Jerk. His fulltime occupation is that of a bill collector, driving around trying to strongarm people into making payments. Doesn’t look like he enjoys it much either. 

Gotta say that Jones writing this is pretty un-politically correct, yet completely fabulous. His voice on the Hispanic woman, while so fitting a stereotype, also creates a tone that a more vanilla handling of this conversation wouldn’t. In certain situations, using a trope or cliché is alright. Even a non-PC racist one. My rule of thumb is: is this atmosphere or is this indicting the person. In this case this story is focused on Oscar and the character in question serves as backdrop.

And this backdrop is so extreme that Oscar’s headache explodes, drives him to run for his car. He pukes up his lunch and then leaves, too harried by the sights and smells around him.

Oscar’s luck is about to change, as he charts his car (OMG! Is that an AMC Gremiln? Hells Yeah!) toward the house of the next person he is supposed to harass. Instead he finds a beautiful blonde woman walking along the beach road…

He pulls over and offers her a ride. Note that this has nothing to do with Oscar being a gentleman. 

It has everything to do with Miss Marie Delgado’s appearance. Speaking of her name, when Oscar hears it he turns almost giddy. She’s his next appointment. Delgado owes quite a bit of money and Oscar…

…a fact that Oscar looks to take advantage of. Even after Miss Delgado starts to mention that she’s had a case of the… “crabs”. I guess a little itching is worth it for a sexual predator.

Whatever goodwill we had for the ailing Oscar, with his traumatic headaches and lousy job, has all disappeared at this point. The guy’s a slime. He even continues after learning the poor woman is a mother to several children.

Children who have odd habits like filling the house with seaweed. And making it borderline unlivable, I would assume. Still Oscar persists, although she makes him promise to leave before dark. That’s when her kids come home.

Of course, they make love for so long that before long, Oscar has overstayed his welcome…

…and his trip to the bathroom is cut a little short by Miss Delgado’s “children.” 

The lady DID say she had crabs, Oscar. You just weren’t listening.

Yeah, I enjoyed that tale quite a bit. Just enough weirdness and gore with a pinch of morality added in to make it satisfying. What’s next on our plate?

"Out of His Depth”
Writer – Bruce Jones
Art – Alfredo Alcala
Letters – Alfredo Alcala
Colorist – Bruce Jones
Editor – Bruce Jones

Our next story starts with a skeleton digging its way up from the mire of a lake bottom and striding ashore. 

It occurs to me that Jones’ tales contain a lot more narrative bent than standard horror books. This is very much in the vein of the EC horror books that preceded it and lends the feeling that Twisted Tales is their natural heir. I dig the vibe Jones gives these, too. He doesn’t ramble, but makes the most of his chance to build atmosphere.

Now we transition to a Camp Granada in the past, although that won’t become apparent until later. And I did not stop to ask if this was the same Camp Granada as the “Hello Mother, Hello Father” song. What I can discern is that we have Sharon, who is using her camp counselor job to look for a mate; and Willie, the disgusting-looking handyman who has eyes only for Sharon. 

Also, Willie stinks like a backed-up sewage line. 

However, that new suave camp administrator sure has got her heart all aflutter! If only he’d ask her out.

When he doesn’t, she uses Willie to make him jealous…

…which works, leading her to believe that she’s got Jeff on a string and can reel him into marrying her…

…even as it breaks poor Willie’s heart.

But fortunes can turn, as Sharon finds out when she discovers Jeff with his arms around another (naked) woman. Sharon is heartbroken herself.

…and decides to run off and marry Willie. Wow. That’s…kinda fast and discounting every other male in existence. There's more that two guys out there, Sharon!

Meh, I’m certain this rebound marriage will work out for the best for everyone involved. I mean, it’s not like Sharon is going to run back to the two-timing Jeff because she’s a weak-willed simpleton…

…and it isn’t like Jeff isn’t going to see dollar signs in his eyes when Sharon mentions how much money “poor” Willie actually has, causing him to cook up a scheme that she takes part in to bash Willie in the head and drown his body in the lake.

This plan is the pits though, because without a body to prove Willie’s dead they got very little ways of getting at his cash. 

Isn’t it lucky for them that Willie’s corpse drags itself out of the lake FOR THEM? Unfortunately, for Jeff, it wants to show him what being dead feels like. 

Sharon, loses it and heads back to the cabin. She becomes resigned to giving Willie what he wants, and with her screams we end this second story.

"A Walk in the Woods”
Writer – Bruce Jones
Art – Bret Blevins
Letters – Bret Blevins
Colorist – Bruce Jones
Editor – Bruce Jones

The third tale takes you on a tour of Germany, only this one uses your favorite fairy tales as its route. Alice and John drive up to a cabin, being lost in the woods…

Not just any old cabin though, this one is occupied by a strange old woman…

…who keeps armed beartraps in her poorly lit living room. John sets one off… with his foot! Of course by now we are all thinking…cabin in the woods, trapping people…this chick’s got to be a witch, right?

Thankfully Alice is handy with an ax, chopping that bear trap right off his leg. However, they are literally and figuratively not out of the woods yet…

…when the witch keeps coming with her tray of sweets, John breaks through a window to escape. Which is a strange thing to do since they were by a door just a second ago! However, the pair is in luck because just down the path is a cute little cottage. They go in hoping to find a phone…

…what they find instead are three bowls of ….is that porridge?

We all know where this is going…

The two are “bearly” out the door of that cottage, when John hands Alice a nice looking coat with a …hood. A sort of a “hoodie”. it's red.

See John has already caught on to  this bull crap, so when a shack and “granny” shows up, he knows Alice is in for more trouble by staying than he is by leaving. She gets the gun and Grandma lays out what’s going on.

Which would be good if grandma was on her side, but unfortunately she’s more lycanthrope than geriatric. Now it looks like Alice is the one with one foot in the grave.

As for John (or is that Jack?)? Seems he’s going to have a great fall. Hope the crown the story is talking about is in a tooth, because otherwise…

And there we end this tale. A bit odd but still serviceable. Now let’s see what our final twist turns out to be. I can tell you, it is a very wrenching tale.

"All Hallows”
Writer – Bruce Jones
Art – Tim Conrad
Letters – Carrie McCarthy
Colorist – Steve Oliff
Editor – Bruce Jones

We arrive at our final outing feeling comfortable with Jones’ ability to craft a story and in the hands of Tim Conrad’s understandable art. Unfortunately, this story is truly unsettling. It implicates several things that are only hinted at and it pays off in one of the most tragic and horrific ways possible. I can’t think of a better wrap up for the first issue of Twisted Tales.

We start with two youths wearing Halloween costumes. One of them a couple of sizes too small. We learn that they are soon to be seniors. Bobby Bradshaw, in the ill-fitting devil costume thinks this ritual they are doing is being followed to faithfully. We the audience are pulled in, trying to understand why older kids are making such a fuss about trick-or-treating…

They pick up a third young man, and intimate that there will be a fourth that they have to walk across town to meet up with. Skeeter is his nickname, I suppose. Bobby wants to deviate from the route to hit a house before getting the fourth boy. We learn there is a “route” they follow.

Bobby goes to the door anyway. The woman who answers acts terrified, as if in fear for her very life. She pleads her innocence, without being prompted with a challenge to it, then slams the door. Our older children walk on, chiding Bobby for “scaring her half to death.” They pick up Skeeter, dressed as a ghost and waiting (appropriately) at the cemetery gate.

They begin the route.

At each house they are met with people who are emotionally shattered. Scared out of their wits. Willing to give the boys cake and donuts in an attempt to bribe them into leaving them along it seems. There is something dark going on here, and it oozes from every frame.

The charade falls apart when they reach the Collins house. Mrs. Collins gives the boys junk candy. Bobby confronts her on it. Mrs. Collins becomes compliant, promising them anything they want. And Mr. Collins comes to the doorway and accosts them. Claims they took their son and that he won’t let them hurt anyone else. Yells after them. “Who’s next? When will you stop this?” 

To which Jack replies “When we’re through, Mr. Collins.”

All comes clear at the next house. The boys don’t just ask for candy. They ask if their friend Eddie is at home. The parents compel their son to go with the kids, their fear made plain by stating that even if they moved, the boys would still find them somehow. 

Eddie resists as much as he can, but he is led down the block to the burned out ruin of a house seven years old. We start to learn something sinister happened here. A fire that took out an entire family and a new kid in town. Eddie claimed it was “the others that did it.”

We know this is some kind of mob justice taking place. The boys tie Eddie to a strut in the burned out ruin. Eddie pleads with Skeeter that he didn’t mean to do it, and removes his ghost costume to find the beneath it is the melted spirit of a 10 year old boy, forever in anguish. 

As for his three living companions, they mete out justice, by burning Eddie alive, exactly as Skeeter was, exactly as all of Eddie’s deadly prank pulling friends have been. And then they calmly escort Skeeter back to the cemetery for the last time.

Brrr! What a chilling end to that one. I can’t think of anything to say that will add to what this issue brings, so I will bow out at this point. Suffice to say, go find these. There is a bound edition of them too. Seems well worth your time.

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