For all the public outrage they provoked in their commercial heyday, the EC horror comics have proved a remarkably adaptable property over the years: regular reprints, two horror features in the '60s and '90s, a durable HBO anthology series, and a tamer Saturday a.m. cartoon series have all sprung out of the infamous comics line which originated in 1949 with The Crypt of Terror (soon changed to Tales from the Crypt).
More recently, the Papercutz comics line has attempted to revive the comics themselves with a modernized version of Tales from the Crypt for 'tween-aged readers. Judging from the most recent issue, though, Papercutz has a way to go before matching the transgressive kicks provided by the original Eisenhower era comic books.
The current issue (#4) cover features a story riffing on American Idol: not as current a target as it might've been two or three years ago, perhaps, but well within the bounds established by the original Al Feldstein-edited horror comics. (In one of the last issues of the original TftC, for instance, a George Evans-illustrated vampire tale entitled "Clots My Line" parodied a then-popular game show to comically ghoulish intent.) Written by Mort Todd and illustrated in a fuller-faced Jack Davis style by Steve Mannion, "A Murderin' Idol" (the pun is just as groan-worthy as anything that the original comics would've provided) tells the tale of a long-haired loser named Jayson who dreams of being the winner on TV's Popstar Idol. Nearly tripping on a mysterious tome called the Book of Dream Fulfillment, our "wannabe superstar" soon turns to following the book's instructions.
"All I have to do is scribble some strange doodles on the floor and perform some sort of – gulp – sacrifice," Jayson reads. He attempts to get results, using a mousetrap in his rat-infested tenement, but the demon he conjures proves too small to meet his needs. Soon, our anti-hero is offering up human sacrifices for his chance to advance on the show. His biggest seeming obstacle? The show's nasty-mouthed judge Slymon Bowell. (Okay, the early EC-ers probably wouldn’t have come up with a pun as icky as that.) As we watch Jayson embark on his murderous pathway to the top of Popstar Idol, a confrontation between the two becomes inevitable.
We know our would-be popstar is gonna get – and deserves to get – upended for his wicked ways; though when it happens, Jayson's comeuppance doesn't seem as entertainingly grotesque as anything the EC gang would've concocted at their best. If anything, its relative tameness seems more suited to the de-fanged "mystery" comics that the industry attempted to serve to readers after political opportunists and the new-formed Comics Code quashed EC and its imitators. Granted, Papercutz' primary audience is in the pre- and early teen age (as was, of course, the original EC audience), but even primetime TV has more horrific imagery than anything we're served here.
Too, the twenty-plus-page story reads pretty bloated in comparison to the old Tales, which typically clocked six to eight pages. Though the pulpish writing style that writer/editor Feldstein and his later free-lancers used was profoundly text-heavy, it still moved more quickly than "Murderin' Idol." It's not as if the extra pages of story enhance our understanding of the character because Jayson remains a one-note villain throughout. Like the too-long features which pass for movie comedies these days – or your average overblown AmIdol pop performance, come to think of it – the keepers of the new Crypt don't seem to recognize when too much is not enough.