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Two words I don’t want to read in another review anytime soon are “love” and “letter.” It’s not a very high compliment to pay a comic book that the best thing it does is remind you of better comics. Ultimately we’re not going to remember the love letter when we have its subject to admire.
Treehouse of Horror is not a love letter to Tales from the Crypt. Treehouse of Horror is the real thing.
Dead Man’s Jest starts with issue 10, featuring four stories respectively plotted or conceived by metal artists Gene Simmons, Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie and Pat Boone. The issue isn’t one of my favorites as I feel that it suffers for being a little indulgent of its guest talent, but nevertheless stands strong on stunning artwork and good writing.
The first story stands out visually, with bold pencils by Tone Rodriguez, dramatic inks by Andrew Pepoy and coloring by Joey Mason that brings the whole thing together to breath taking results. You could take any splash panel out of this story and proudly airbrush it on the side of your van. Some good gags here include Ralph Wiggum drawn as Hello Kitty and the revelation that Marge only wears her hair like that to hide Gene Simmons’ bass guitar.
At its weakest, Treehouse of Horror still succeeds as a remarkable pop culture artifact. When the the sheer craftsmanship is on this level, certain degree of post-modern terror is inherent to the very concept of seeing The Simpsons in nightmarish scenarios.
Issue 11 is among my favorites in part because it’s just such a beautiful piece of comic art, and in part because editor Bill Morrison recruited everybody for this one. John Severin, Al Williamson and Angelo Torres handle stories that place The Simpsons in classic E.C. plotlines, Bernie Wrightson recasts Swamp Thing with Homer in the lead in a Len Wein scripted remake, and Gene Colan gives us a Marv Wolfman-written Dracula story with Mister Burns in the titular role. It’s a breath taking lineup of talent, and you can get more than your money’s worth by just flipping through this issue and taking in the art.
The stories in this issue are direct revisits of classic four color horror tales, but, like Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, they’re more than just spoofs. “Squish Thing”, assisted by Wrightson’s romantic inks and Wein’s script feels, at times, as tragic and haunting as the original Swamp Thing story. The final page of the E.C. section of the book is as effective a heart-stopper as you have any right to expect when you open up an issue of Tales from the Crypt or Shock SuspenStories.
Treehouse of Horror is only published once a year, and as much as I’d love to see more, this keeps the series condensed and prevents it from repeating itself. If we’re being totally honest, you can afford to skim most E.C. stories or skip to the ending after you’ve read a dozen or so issues. They covered the same material over and over again, and Warren’s Creepy and Eerie magazines were even worse.
Like Bruce Jones’ Twisted Tales and Alien Worlds, the fact that there are fewer than twenty issues of Treehouse of Horror to sort through make every issue that much more precious and unique. Every month, E.C. had to publish Shock SuspenStories, Crime SuspenStories, Tales from the Crypt, Haunt of Fear, and Vault of Terror, and that’s not counting the sci-fi and war titles. Three stories per issue, five issues a month and sooner or later a lot of the material starts to run together. Bill Morrison instead kept the series fresh with one stunning issue a year.
Morrison resigned from his position as editor in chief at Bongo Comics last year, which came as a disappointment, but Matt Groening retains sole publishing rights for Simpsons comics, and this explains why Treehouse is such a great series: it’s a creator-owned horror series published by the guy behind Life in Hell, the most subtly terrifying and nihilistic comic strip of all time.
I give Dead Man’s Jest my highest possible recommendation as a fan of horror comics, as a reader who grew up watching The Simpsons starting with the Tracey Ullman shorts, and as an admirer of pop art. Treehouse of Horror is not just an homage or a pastiche or a spoof or a love letter, it’s the real thing.
4 out of 5 stars. The stories in issue 10 are more fun to look at than to read, but issue 11 is a solid 5. The whole series is required reading for anyone who wishes E.C. was still around, anyone who grew up with The Simpsons, and anyone who wants a glimpse of the weirdness that James Harvey’s Bartkira project is going to unleash on the world.
As in the TV show, Treehouse of Horror is non-canon to the rest of the Bongo universe.
Issue 11 is a good example of what Treehouse is all about, but with only 18 issues to the series, you could easily sit down and read the entire thing in a weekend.
From Beyond the Grave has some really fun stories in it, like a surprisingly gory Jaws spoof and Lenny starring in the Roddy Piper role in a retelling of They Live!