Marvel Masterworks Atlas Era Journey into Mystery Volume 1 gets five stars from me for being a pre-code horror treasure chest of great art from Atlas Comics, the company that would some day become Marvel Comics. Several of the artists in this volume would have significant impact on the Silver Age of Super-heroes at Marvel and DC.
Collects Journey into Mystery 1-10, covering June 1952 to July 1953. The six page Introduction is by Dr. Michael J. Vassallo and contains a wealth of information on artists that might not be well-known to many comic art afficianados. Work from Stan Lee, Russ Heath, Tony DiPreta, Gene Colan, Bill Everett, John Romita, Jerry Robinson, Joe Maneely, Mort Lawrence, Carmine and Jimmy Infantino, and Dick Ayers, among others. This particular edition is the variant limited edition with 1400 copies printed. The Variants are printed in continuous series across all Masterworks lines, with this volume being #106. Cory Sedlmeier is the Collection Editor, so there’s your seal of quality. Cory is *the* name in quality classic reproductions. He’s meticulous, detailed, and hires only the best.
This is an underrated collection and contains some real gems, both artistically and creatively. Atlas horror was a bit different from EC. Most critics would say, hands down, EC is better. I think the distinction is more nuanced than that. No doubt EC had great quality in writing and art. I enjoy reading EC works, but I also enjoy Atlas. They had a small stable of top-notch talent and each book was editor-driven. The Atlas lines supplied many more titles, as Doc V points out in his introductions. By sheer volume, Atlas was the horror leader in the 1950s. Atlas flooded the market with 109 horror issues in 1952, across 16 titles, when they launched Journey Into Mystery. EC had three horror titles and Shock Suspenstories.
Atlas allowed for more variance in page count and artistic style than any other company. The Atlas horror stories also had more economy of words, allowing the artwork to occupy center stage. Atlas was not as gory as EC or Harvey Horror, but they had great suspense, some excellent characterization, and beautifully stylized artwork by some of the best names in the industry. The best Atlas stories rival anything that anyone else put out.
Seven years into the future, Journey into Mystery was one of the Kirby-Ditko Atomic Monster titles that would give birth to Xemnu the Titan (then called the Hulk), Goliath and the Roc. Ten years in the future, Journey into Mystery was the title that debuted Thor.
Here’s a couple of thematic Kirby covers on Journey into Mystery, one with a Giant Space Viking and the other with a Super-powered Space Viking (Neither issue is in this collection):
Highlights from the collection:
#1 – Vivid Russ Heath cover (the cover inset for Vol 1 as well) with floating spectral hands menacing a young woman. Amazing patterns on the wall and in the doorway. “One Foot in the Grave” is one of Tony DiPreta’s best work. He uses such lush brushwork in this one, creating an eerie mood. Tony the florist is one of the more vile characters in the book, so much so that his expected comeuppance is quite delightful.
#2 – Look at the leering face in the splash for “The Scarecrow” by Russ Heath! This is an excellent 110-lb weakling story. Gene Colan does an impressive tale in “You Don’t Have to be a Corpse to Find… The Hiding Place (But it Helps)”. That ending panel reminds me of Halloween the Movie. This one is sure to give you the creeps.
#3 – Carmine Infantino does the fantastic art in “The Stroke of Midnight”. He uses a very different style from his work on the Flash for DC just a few years later.
#4 – Carl Hubbell (not the baseball player) did a couple of moody pieces in this collection, starting with “Death Waits Within”. This one reminds me a bit of “Arsinic and Old Lace” with a desperate older couple replacing the sweet older sisters and a much more tragic ending. It’s amazing how much characterization can be squeezed into a 4-page story without overwhelming the panels with text. “I’m Drowning” by Jimmy Infantino has fine art and is about an escaping convict.
#5 – First we have an epic Bill Everett cover and then the lead story, “Fright” is by Russ Heath and Stan Lee with blacklight coloring most likely by the eminent Stan Goldberg. “Zombie” by Tony DiPreta is a ghastly story with thick rich brushstrokes and a gaunt zombie with grinning ribs. “Condemed” by Carl Hubbell has more fantastic art, with this time having a style closer to Basil Wolverton.
#6 – This issue has the best cover of the bunch, with a grinning skull groomsman and a terrified blushing bride in an ornate wedding dress. “Til Death Do Us Part” is my favorite story in this collection. Skin-crawling artwork by Mort Lawrence, possibly some of his best ever, and a creepy storyline about a real scoundrel who marries elderly ladies to take their money.
#7 – The Master of Skulls, Bill Everett, does it again with a ghoulish cover of a skeleton rising from the grave. “Paid in Full” has more awesome art by Carl Hubbell. This one is nearly all dialog and is a great story.
#8 An impressive cover by Russ Heath with a skeleton dripping ooze and shredded clothing contains a story by Stan Lee and excellent art by Joe Maneely in “Tough Guy”. This tragic tale evokes metahuman/superheroes with a more sardonic angle. “Willie Brown Is Out To Get Me” by Stan Lee and Al Luster is a fantastically condensed tale about a criminal called Weasel as he struggles to escape from the terrifying Willie Brown. Before reading this story, Al Luster was completely unknown to me. I’ve since come across several stories he did for Atlas and Harvey and I haven’t come across one yet that didn’t knock my socks off.
#9 Another polished cover by Bill Everett of a monster’s hand rising from the operating table with horrified medical staff looking on. I liked “The Hungry Animal” by Ed Goldfarb and “My Brother’s Killer” by Paul Reinman.
#10 has great art in “The Assassin of Paris” by Charles A. Winter.
The later volumes of this title were a pale reflection to the work contained in this volume. Both the Variant and Regular editions have long-since sold out. I got mine at a great price and it’s one of my favorite Atlas Era volumes.