Originally posted at Pencil Panel Page.
In the late 1940s and 1950s, the Entertaining Comics Group was well known for resolving conflict through a rather distinctive kind of retributive justice in its horror, suspense, and crime titles. Devious characters who set out to hide their iniquity always seem to fall prey to the elaborate traps that they had designed for others, whether it was inadvertently ingesting their own poison or tripping their own explosives. As EC publisher Bill Gaines explained it, “You broil live lobsters; you end up getting broiled alive… we did have this kind of morality that somebody got back what they gave.” (Which is exactly what happens to the sadistic restaurant owner in “Half-Baked!” from the Feb/Mar 1954 issue of Tales From the Crypt.)
I am curious, though, as to what happens when this storytelling strategy intersects with another peculiar and incredibly grim feature of EC’s revenge narratives, that of spousal dismemberment. I’ve been coming across story after story in which men and women, often wronged and abused, end up literally cutting their spouses to pieces. In a crime story called “The Neat Job!” from the Feb/Mar 1952 issue of Shock SuspenStories, for instance, a wife discovers too late that her new husband is a “fiend for neatness” who constantly inspects the way she cleans and organizes, even going so far as to keep checklists of the number of pills in each medicine bottle. When the homicide detectives arrive, the shaken woman points to a wall of jars lined up in the basement, each precisely labeled with parts of her husband’s corpse: Liver 1, Gallbladder 1, Teeth 32, Heart 1… “Yeah, lady!” one detective exclaims, “You certainly did a neat job!”
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