Richard Corben’s Shadows on the Grave #1 Early Review

by Nick Banks

When it comes to horror comics, there are principally two “golden ages” that most fans point to as the high water marks for illustrated tales of terror. The first golden age is naturally the age of EC Comics.  EC Comics pretty much invented the horror comic book (and horror hosts for that matter) with titles such as Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear.  These tales were so effective in scaring their readers and parents of the 1950’s that they attracted the unwanted attention of Dr. Fredric Wertham who penned the book that not only killed the EC horror line, but almost killed the entire industry, entitled Seduction of the Innocent which blamed juvenile delinquency on comic books.  The invention of the self-regulating body, the Comics Code Authority, outlawed the use of all horror elements in comics, effectively ending the genre and EC Comics.

The second golden age was ushered in by Warren Publishing in the form of Creepy Magazine in 1964.  Publisher James Warren and editor Russ Jones skirted the Comics  Code by publishing what amounted to a classic “EC-style”horror comic in a magazine sized edition which the Code had no jurisdiction over.  Creepy, and sister titles such as Eerie and Vampirella, brought all of the terror back to comics (as well as the aforementioned horror hosts) with stories that pushed the envelope in terms of the use of violence, gruesome scenes, and sexuality.  Marvel Comics would soon capitalize on the loop hole that Warren discovered, and began to publish their own magazine sized-comics such as Monsters Unleashed, Tales of the Vampire. and Savage Sword of Conan.    

As a child of the 1970’s, Creepy was my first introduction to horror comics and the artist that intrigued and scarred me the most was Richard Corben.

Corben’s stories were always the highlight of an issue for me, featuring heroic characters with exaggerated physiques and nightmare-inducing undead creatures and enormous monsters.  I would later follow Corben to Heavy Metal Magazine, where he produced some of his best color work such as his barbarian epic Neverwhere featuring the muscle-bound hero Den.

Corben has continued to work throughout his lengthy career (spanning over six decades) and he seems to have found a home at Dark Horse Comics over the last six years or so.  Corben has worked on a number of projects with Mike Mignola featuring Hellboy and he most recently released Rat God, a 5 issue series inspired by the tales of H.P. Lovecraft.

Corben’s latest series is sure to delight fans of his contributions to Creepy, as well as fans of classic EC horror.  Shadows of the Grave is a planned 8 issue series that follows the well-established format of Tales from the Crypt and Creepy.  Instead of the Crypt Keeper or Uncle Creepy, Corben’s anthology series is hosted by Mag the Hag and her side kick Gurgy Tate.  Mag quickly tells us why the comic is black and white and provides a long list of the terrors that await the reader over the course of the series.   

The first issue contains three self-contained stories (“Strung Along”, “Roots in Hell”, and “For Better or Worse”) and the first part of the serialized Denaeus tale “Dreams and Portents”.  All three of the stand-alone tales are classic Corben featuring decaying corpses, biological terrors, and killer “puppets”.  The choice to leave his illustrations free of color was a sound one; the black and white ink work hearken back to his classic Creepy stories. The grays and shading of each story do as much as any colorization process would have done to convey the horror of the scenes as well as the extreme emotional reactions of each character.  Any one of these short stories would not seem out of place from that era; the combination of bleak resolutions and gallows humor is what Corben is known for and these stories are no different.

If Denaeus sounds a bit too familiar , it is supposed to be.   Denaeus is the “Grandnephew of Den” and he bears more than a passing resemblance to the warrior with a build that would make Arnold jealous (unlike Den, this hero does sprout a full head of hair).  Although this tale doesn’t look like it will feature some of the over-the-top R-Rated Heavy Metal tropes found in the classic Den stories, all of the other aspects are apparent, and it has been too long since we’ve seen a classic sword and sorcery installment from Corben.

Shadows of the Grave #1 will be released on Wednesday December 14th at comic shops nationwide.



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