Wally Wood cover, issue #6
|Publication date||February/March 1952- December/January 1955|
|No. of issues||18|
Shock SuspenStories was part of the EC Comics line in the early 1950s. The bi-monthly comic, published by Bill Gaines and edited by Al Feldstein, began with issue 1 in February/March 1952. Over a four-year span, it ran for 18 issues, ending with the December/January 1955 issue.
Artists and writers
Front covers were by Feldstein, Wally Wood, Johnny Craig, George Evans and Jack Kamen. Kamen was the comic's most prolific artist, usually doing the lead eight-page story in each issue. Other stories were illustrated by Craig, Evans, Wood, Graham Ingels, Jack Davis, Al Williamson, Joe Orlando, Reed Crandall, Bernard Krigstein and Frank Frazetta. Writing was handled by Gaines and Feldstein exclusively through the first 12 issues with the exception of a single story written by Craig. Over the last 6 issues other writers that contributed included Carl Wessler, Otto Binder, and Jack Oleck.
Issue 13 featured "Squeeze Play", the only solo story Frank Frazetta drew for EC.
Origin and major themes
Shock SuspenStories originated in early 1952 as a "sampler" featuring stories of various genres. Gaines and Feldstein explained the comic's origin and the source of its title in the first issue:
- We've tried to satisfy every one of you readers who have written us insisting that EC increase its output! Many of you wanted another science-fiction mag... you horror fans wanted another horror book... and you suspense readers wanted a companion mag to Crime SuspenStories! We decided, therefore, to make this new mag an "EC Sampler" ...and to include in it an S-F yarn, a horror tale, a Crime SuspenStory, and... for you readers of Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales... a war story! Although there was a wide variance in the types of mags requested, all of you fans seemed to agree on one thing: all of you wanted the stories to have the usual EC shock endings! So what could be more natural than to call the magazine Shock SuspenStories?
The war story would be immediately phased out with the second issue, replaced with a message story – the "Shock SuspenStory". Bhob Stewart discussed the "Shock SuspenStory" in his notes for the EC Library, which reprinted all 18 issues of this title:
- It was evident from the cover of #2 that Gaines had conceived this title for matters of deeper concern. With "The Patriots", the "Shock SuspenStory" was born. And far from being just a label of meaningless hype, the concept proved to be a major step for EC, providing Gaines and Feldstein with a forum for expressing their views on the human condition just as Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat were for Harvey Kurtzman. The Shock SuspenStory was characterized by a running theme of mob violence and an art style best described as Heightened Realism. A similarity can be noted between Wood's dramatically effective Shock renderings and the caricatures of corruption in the acclaimed fine art of Jack Levine.
Over the next three years Shock SuspenStories tackled many controversial issues, including racism ("The Guilty" in #3, "In Gratitude" in #11), mob hysteria ("The Patriots" in #2), police corruption ("Confession" in #4), vigilantism ("Under Cover" in #6), drug addiction ("The Monkey" in #12) and rape ("The Assault" in #8, "A Kind of Justice" in #16). The sampler format remained for the remaining three stories in the title until the end of 1953. With #12, the horror and science fiction stories were phased out, and the comic then focused primarily on shock and crime stories for the remainder of its run.
Influences and adaptations
As with the other EC comics edited by Feldstein, the stories in this comic were primarily based on Gaines reading a large number of suspense stories and using them to develop "springboards" from which he and Feldstein could launch new stories. Specific story influences that have been identified include the following:
- "Just Desserts!" (issue 3) - Ray Bradbury's "The Smiling People"
- "Dead Right!" (issue 6) - John Collier's "In the Cards!"
- "Under Cover!" (issue 6) - Roald Dahl's "Beware of the Dog"
- "Seep No More!" (issue 8) - Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"
- "Fall Guy" (issue 13) - Maurice Level's "The Debt Collector"
- "You, Murderer" (issue 14) - Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
After their unauthorized adaptation of one of Ray Bradbury's stories in another magazine, Bradbury contacted EC about their plagiarism of his work. They reached an agreement for EC to do authorized versions of Bradbury's short fiction. These official adaptations include:
Controversies and demise
Issue #14 contained two of the title's most controversial stories, "The Orphan", which featured a ten-year-old girl murdering her father and framing her mother, and "The Whipping" which featured a bigoted father mistakenly beating his daughter to death under the impression that she was her Hispanic boyfriend. Gaines was questioned extensively about both stories by the Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency in April 1954.
Shock SuspenStories was one of five comics voluntarily folded by publisher Bill Gaines in 1955 due to the outcry over horror and crime comics.
Shock SuspenStories has been reprinted numerous times over the years. Ballantine Books reprinted selected stories in a series of paperback EC anthologies in 1964-66. The magazine was fully reprinted in a series of three black-and-white hardbacks by publisher Russ Cochran as part of The Complete EC Library in 1981. Between September 1992 and December 1996, Cochran (in association with Gemstone Publishing) reprinted the full 18 individual issues. This complete run was later rebound, with covers included, in a series of four softcover EC Annuals. In 2006, Cochran and Gemstone began to publish hardcover, re-colored volumes of Shock SuspenStories as part of the EC Archives series. Two volumes (of a projected three) were published before Gemstone's financial troubles left the project in limbo. GC Press LLC, a boutique imprint established by Russ Cochran and Grant Geissman, announced in a press release dated September 1, 2011 that it was continuing the EC Archives series, with the first new releases scheduled for November. Dark Horse Comics have subsequently published both Shock Suspenstories EC Archives volume 1 and volume 3 (published in April 2015)
|#||Date||Cover Artist||Story||Story Artist||Synopsis|
|1||Feb/March 1952||Al Feldstein||The Neat Job!||Jack Kamen||An abused housewife married to a neat freak snaps one day and neatly dices the sections of his body into small jars.|
|Yellow!||Jack Davis||A colonel's son faces the firing squad for cowardice under fire and the man lies to his boy that he will see to it that the rifles are loaded with blanks and he will later smuggle the body out so that his son will go to his death like a man.|
|The Monsters!||Joe Orlando||Aliens deposit their mutant births on Earth which to them appear as horrible monsters, but appear as regular humans to the Earth men.|
|The Rug!||Graham Ingels||A grizzly skins a hunter and makes a rug out of him.|
|2||April/May 1952||Wally Wood||Kickback!||Jack Kamen||A young woman marries an older man for his money and gets tired of caring for him after a heart attack leaves him paralyzed. She comes up with a plot to stock the cellar with canned goods for three weeks and then pretends to be locked inside while her husband starves to death. It works, and she is cleared of suspicion in her husband's death, but the new man she meets manages to lock himself in the cellar without provisions for several days and is reduced to the same condition as her previous husband.|
|Gee Dad... It's a Daisy!||Wally Wood||Space explorers land on a planet of intelligent carnivorous plants and fall victim to a demonstration of "She loves me...She loves me not..."|
|The Patriots!||Jack Davis||A mob whipped up by anti-communist sentiment beats to death a blind war vet when he doesn't doff his hat to the flag during a parade.|
|Halloween!||Graham Ingels||On Halloween night, when a new matron at an orphanage discovers the manager has been stealing the state's allotment for the children and threatens to strangle her to keep her quiet, the children take matters into their own hands and use his hollowed-out head as a pumpkin.|
|3||June/July 1952||Wally Wood||Just Desserts!||Jack Kamen||A madman holds a dinner party for five people who have done dirt to him in the past and decapitates them.|
|The Guilty!||Wally Wood||A bigot sheriff arrests a black man for the death of a white woman based on the testimony of a man who turns out to be the killer. The sheriff executes the suspect in the woods and claims he made a break for it.|
|The Big Stand Up!||Joe Orlando||A broadcast technician falls in love with a woman whose transmission he picks up from another planet. She comes to him in a rocketship, but she stands about 200 feet high.|
|Stumped!||Jack Davis||A trapper moves a rival's trap hoping the man will step in it and die so that he can take over his territory. He does step in it, but his desire for revenge is so strong that he chews through his own ankle in order to kill the guilty party before he expires.|
|4||August/Sept 1952||Wally Wood||Split Second!||Jack Kamen||When a lumberjack boss and his wife blinds a young worker by hitting him in the head with a rock, the other lumberjacks gag them and stuff him in a hollow log for the blind boy to practice chopping through.|
|Confession||Wally Wood||A police lieutenant murders his wife and then beats a confession out of an innocent bystander.|
|Strictly Business!||Joe Orlando||In the future marriage licenses must be renewed every three years. A man pays a woman thirty thousand dollars to be his wife for three years, but no sex. She agrees and over time falls in love with him. At the end of the three years she tells him that she'll claim she's expecting a child and the license will automatically renewal. He tells her that she could not be expecting a child and reveals he is a robot and that he only wanted a wife during the past three years for crucial business negotiation appearances.|
|Uppercut!||Jack Davis||A fight promoter tells the boys he sends into the ring that they've got to have guts. One of the washed-up cases steals a drug from his brother in med school that will make a person look dead so the promoter will be buried alive. When the promoter comes to, however, he has not been buried but he looks down to see that his guts have been removed during an autopsy.|
|5||Oct/Nov 1952||Wally Wood||Well-Traveled!||Jack Kamen||A henpecked husband dismembers his wife after she refuses to let him spend money on toy trains once too often.|
|Hate!||Wally Wood||A man goes along with a plan to set fire to a Jewish couple's home until his mother tells him he's adopted and that his natural parents were Jews.|
|What Fur?!||Joe Orlando||Aliens skin humans for their pelts.|
|Cold Cuts!||Jack Davis||A man murders his wife and cuts up her body in the tub to store in the meat locker. His plans to dispose of the remains are continually frustrated until his friend invites him for dinner and, after he's taken a bite, reveals to him that he borrowed the meat from the locker.|
|6||Dec/Jan 1953||Wally Wood||Dead Right!||Jack Kamen||A fortune teller predicts to a woman that a man who wants to marry her, but she finds repulsive, is going to inherit twenty-five thousand dollars and die shortly afterward so she marries him. What the fortune teller doesn't tell her is that she wins the twenty-five thousand dollars as a prize, and when she tries to walk out on the slob, he murders her and inherits her money then dies in the electric chair.|
|Under Cover!||Wally Wood||A reporter is a witness to the K.K.K. murder a young woman by flogging for consorting with blacks. The Grand Dragon removes his hood to make sure she's dead. The reporter makes a sound and the hooded men catch up with him. They give him a solid beating, but he denies seeing anyone's face because he knows they'll kill him if they suspect. He comes to in what looks like a hospital room. Two men who claim to be F.B.I. and a doctor are present. They ask him why he was beaten by the hooded men. He tells them he can identify their leader. The Grand Dragon steps out from behind a screen and says "That's all I wanted to know." The fake F.B.I. men and the doctor empty their revolvers into the reporter.|
|Not So Tough!||Joe Orlando||A space commander who is as tough as nails on his crew is reduced to soft putty in the grip of a large gravitational force.|
|Sugar 'N Spice 'N...||Graham Ingels||A contemporary retelling of "Hansel and Gretel"|
|7||Feb/March 1953||Al Feldstein||Beauty and the Beach!||Jack Kamen||Two men are frustrated by the vanity of their attractive wives. The one encases his wife in plastic wearing her bathing suit and the other broils his wife under forty sun lamps.|
|The Bribe!||Wally Wood||A fire inspector commits suicide when a fire breaks out in a night club where he took a bribe to overlook code violations. He thinks his daughter was killed in the fire with the other patrons because of a photo taken of her earlier that evening, but what he doesn't know is that she and her fiance have eloped and didn't stay for the show.|
|Infiltration||Joe Orlando||This story postulates that a small government agency responsible for ferreting out Martian infiltrators is completely infested with Martian infiltrators except for a sole human whom they gun down.|
|The Small Assassin!||George Evans||A mother is paranoid that her newborn baby is attempting to kill her. She's right.|
|8||April/May 1953||Al Feldstein||Piecemeal||Jack Kamen||A woman plots to give her naturalist husband an overdose of sleeping pills so that she can be with his younger brother. Before he passes, he acquires a large shark and places it in their outdoor pool which the wife regularly swims in.|
|The Assault!||Wally Wood||A man kills a tramp in retribution for when she claims to have been raped by an old man and a mob beats the guy to death.|
|The Arrival||Al Williamson||Ninety-five thousand years after man destroys himself with nuclear weapons, the evolved rats develop space travel and meet their Martian neighbors.|
|Seep No More!||George Evans||Every morning, after a man stabs a woman to death and stashes her body in the attic, he sees a huge bloodstain spreading across his ceiling. He tries to cover it up with paint, but every morning it's there. He even puts a bucket on the floor to collect the blood, and it appears half full to him when the suspicious detectives listen to his confession and tell him there is no stain and no blood in the bucket.|
|9||June/July 1953||Al Feldstein||The October Game||Jack Kamen||A man who hates his wife plays a cruel trick on her in a darkened cellar on Halloween. He passes the body parts of a "witch" around to his party guests and their children, while his increasingly frightened wife wonders where her daughter is...|
|Came the Dawn!||Wally Wood||A man thinks that the girl he has met in the woods may be a dangerous escaped lunatic because she matches the description, but his girlfriend ends up meeting a grim fate as the latest victim of the true escapee.|
|The Meddlers!||Joe Orlando||The folk of a small town attempt to drive away a doctor who is attempting to create life in a test tube. They smash his equipment while he suffers heart failure. His failed experiments combine in the sewer to create a blob-like living mass which devours the townsfolk.|
|Carrion Death!||Reed Crandall||A man handcuffed to a policeman is trying to make his way through the desert on foot. He realizes that he has to separate himself from the body but has nothing sharp to cut off the dead man's hand with. He decides to lie down and allow the vultures to strip the corpse, but when he regains consciousness the vultures have already started in on him as well.|
|10||Aug/Sept 1953||Jack Kamen||The Sacrifice||Jack Kamen||A woman manipulates a man into killing her husband by pretending to be in love with him. She and her lover work out a scheme whereby he claims to be a witness to the killing and blackmails the two of them into letting him sleep with the woman. She pretends to be disgusted by the indecent proposal but tells her dupe that it's the only way to avoid the electric chair and that when the man has slaked his lust, she'll be all his. She carries on this act, pretending to be progressively degraded and begging for salvation, until the dupe finally writes out a confession implicating only himself in the murder and swallows a bottle of poison. She then gleefully regales the dying man the details of the con.|
|...So Shall Ye Reap!||Wally Wood||A young man sitting in the electric chair reflects on the events of his youth while his parents sitting at home do the same. The parents see their past actions in a positive light but their son sees things from a different perspective.|
|Home Run!||Joe Orlando||Astronauts are approaching Mars when one of their number admits to them that he is really a Martian who designed the rocket in order to return home after his crashed. The other astronauts think he has lost his mind and attempt to seize his gun which discharges, killing him. They land on Mars and notice that the body has regained its true form and realize the creature was telling them the truth and that hostile Martians are now waiting outside to absorb their bodies and return to Earth as Martian infiltrators.|
|Sweetie-Pie||Reed Crandall||A ghoul sets up roadside hazards to procure fresh meat.|
|11||Oct/Nov 1953||Johnny Craig||The Tryst!||Johnny Craig||A man is so jealous of his wife that he murders a boy from the local orphanage that she has been spending time with in the woods.|
|In Gratitude...||Wally Wood||A Korean war vet berates his hometown because his black friend who threw himself on a grenade to save his life wasn't good enough to be buried in the town cemetery.|
|The Space Suitors||Reed Crandall||A woman and her lover plan to murder her husband out in space but he outsmarts them by giving a signal to the rocket to blast off when he shot so that his wife and her lover will suffocate on the barren planetoid.|
|...Three's A Crowd||Jack Kamen||A jealous man sends his wife and his best friend to their deaths when their suspicious behavior makes him leap to the conclusion that they are having an affair but they are in reality planning an anniversary surprise.|
|12||Dec/Jan 1954||Al Feldstein||Deadline||Jack Kamen||An alcoholic ex-reporter tries to get back on his feet after meeting a girl. His old boss says he can have his job back if he brings in a story. He's sitting in a diner when he hears violence occurring in the next room. The diner owner comes out and confesses to murder. The ex-reporter thinks he's found his story and takes down the details. The killer tells him that his wife cheated on him. When he goes in to check the body, the woman brings to come around. The ex-reporter is furious that his story is about to be ruined so he strangles her and then after she is dead he gets a good look at her face and realizes it is the girl he met earlier and fell in love with. He lapses back into alcoholism.|
|The Monkey||Joe Orlando||A drug addict murders his father in order to get his fix.|
|The Kidnapper||Reed Crandall||A man's baby is kidnapped and when his wife's mental health grows so bad that he desperately attempts to steal another baby, he is beaten to death by a crowd of onlookers for attempting to kidnap... his own son.|
|Fall Guy||Wally Wood||A hotel clerk steals $100,000 from a diamond merchant and rents a safe deposit box years in advance under the name Brad Gilbert. After serving ten years for the theft, he meets up with the girl who promised to wait for him because she wants the money. When he goes to open the box, he finds he's drawing a blank on the name he used. They go to a bar, where she berates his inability to recall the name. His temper flares, and he slashes her face with a steak knife. As the police close in, he heads to the roof and threatens to jump. The police come closer, and he goes over the side, clutching at letters of the sign "Bar and Grill Beer on Tap" as he plummets. As he lies dying on the pavement, he sees the remaining neon letters spell out "Brad Gilbert".|
|13||Feb/March 1954||Jack Kamen||Only Skin-Deep||Jack Kamen||A man comes out of a car accident with amnesia and plastic surgery to reconstruct extensive facial burns to be met by a woman who claims to be his lover and that the two of them plotted to murder her husband for his insurance money. He travels to a cabin with her and when he slips and bumps his head, his memory returns. He strangles the woman because he recalls that he is not her lover but actually her husband who had overheard their plans to kill him and got the jump on the other man and switched clothes before getting caught in the fire he set in the car's gas tank.|
|Blood-Brothers||Wally Wood||A bigot finds out that his life was saved as a child by a blood transfusion from a black man.|
|Upon Reflection||Reed Crandall||A boxer feels guilty for killing a man in the ring when the man's widow screams at him that he's a 'beast'. He perceives that his hands and face are taking on the appearance of a gorilla but a psychologist tells him that it's all in his mind. He sees a mirror on the street and resolves to look into it. He gaps in horror and then withdraws the pistol he had in his jacket to shoot himself. The store owner is puzzled by the suicide and tells the nearby police officer that he had recently purchased a trick mirror to spruce up business.|
|Squeeze Play||Frank Frazetta||A young man gets a girl pregnant and then murders her by throwing her out of a roller coaster car. She sees what he's planning and screams for help. The other riders hear her and summon the police. The killer bolts and buries his clothes beneath the beach's boardwalk and tries to get a ride home with some girls. They cajole him into the surf and abandon him there when they see their boyfriends arrive despite his protests that he can't swim.|
|14||April/May 1954||Wally Wood||The Orphan||Jack Kamen||A little girl murders her drunken father and frames her uncaring mother for the crime so that she can go live with her nice aunt.|
|The Whipping||Wally Wood||A bigot hates his daughter's Mexican husband and tries to force her to leave him. He finally decides to round up a lynch mob to beat the man to death, but when the Mexican walks in on them, the father discovers the victim was his daughter - the mob had grabbed her by mistake as she waited for her husband to come home from work.|
|You, Murderer||Bernard Krigstein||A story told in first person about the victim a hypnotist picks to do his dirty work for a killing after his wife leaves him for another man.|
|As Ye Sow...||George Evans||A husband hires a contract killer to trail his wife and murder the man she meets. The woman reconsiders her affair, decides to call it off, and returns to her husband. The husband is glad to have her back before he remembers what he's done. He sees the figure in the door and the flash of the gun. The last thing he ever hears is his wife begging him not to die.|
|15||June/July 1954||Jack Kamen||Raw Deal||Jack Kamen||A man cannibalizes his new bride in order to survive being stranded at sea.|
|The Confidant||Wally Wood||A mob beats to death a priest when the man refuses to betray the confession of a killer.|
|For Cryin' Out Loud!||Reed Crandall||A man's conscience bothers him so much after he strangles a woman that he has an uncontrollable urge to confess the deed to anyone in earshot.|
|Well Trained||George Evans||A detective arrests the male burglar who murdered his wife when she surprised him and, after a brutal beating that hospitalizes him, continues to hound him in the hospital about the death he will receive in the electric chair. The man fixates on his vengeance to such a great deal that the killer flees the hospital and is struck by a subway car. The detective is tortured by the uncertainty of whether the killer burned by the third rail as he should have or if the train struck him first.|
|16||Aug/Sept 1954||George Evans||...My Brother's Keeper||George Evans||An evil Siamese twin murders but the state does not execute him as it would mean the death of the good one. The good one finally commits suicide to halt the evil of the other.|
|The Hazing||Joe Orlando||A college student wants to join a frat so he makes up a story about a professor they don't like being a communist in order to get him fired.|
|A Kind of Justice||Reed Crandall||A mob beat a vagrant to death for the rape of a sixteen-year-old girl that the town sheriff has been violating.|
|The Pen is Mightier||Jack Kamen||A newspaper columnist murders his gangster friend to get his wife and frames an innocent man for the crime through the power of his words.|
|17||Oct/Nov 1954||George Evans||4-Sided Triangle||Jack Kamen||A farmer tries to molest a retarded girl he keeps to work on the farm as a servant. She tells him that she's got a boyfriend that she sees in the evening. She goes out into the field to the scarecrow. The farmer gets the idea of disguising himself as the scarecrow so he can get what he wants from the girl. The farmer's wife is awakened by the sound of their love-making and goes out to the field with a pitchfork. When the girl tells the wife about her boyfriend, the wife tries to demonstrate to her that it's only straw by repeatedly stabbing the scarecrow with the pitchfork.|
|In Character||Reed Crandall||Bela Kardiff (modelled after the actors Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff) murders all of his Hollywood contacts after he has been typecast in pictures.|
|The Assassin||George Evans||An assassin unknowingly pursues his mark backstage of a theater and kills the man just before the curtain rises.|
|The Operation||Joe Orlando||A diamond thief surgeon cuts open his two goons to smuggle diamonds into the country in their bodies. When he gets a big one worth two hundred fifty thousand he tells the men he will operate on both of them, but place the diamond in only one so that they will not be tempted to disappear. The doctor sends them a note saying he will be delayed because he knows that this will play on their greed and they will turn on each other. They kill each other, but the doctor did not place the stone in either of them but himself.|
|18||Dec/Jan 1955||George Evans||Cadillac Fever!||George Evans||A poor girl knows her father will never be able to afford to buy a Cadillac, so she murders her mother and swears in court that the father did it, so after he is executed he gets his long sought after ride in a Cadillac hearse.|
|The Trap||Jack Kamen||A husband is betrayed by his wife and funeral director when they plot to commit fraud to collect on his life insurance policy for his own murder. They plan to make him appear to be the victim of a mugging and then disappear in South America for a year. When his wife doesn't show with the money, he returns and they have him arrested and he ends up hanging for his own murder.|
|In the Bag||Bernard Krigstein||A cop kills a man with a bowling ball in a bag thinking it's a head.|
|Rundown||Reed Crandall||A man commits murder attempting to acquire enough money to win back his wife's affections. He doesn't know that she and her lover have already made a plot to run him down. When they manage to hit him with the car, they are pleased to find that his wallet is flush with cash.|
- The Complete EC Library: Shock SuspenStories Volume 1. Russ Cochran. 1981.
- Von Bernewitz, Fred and Geissman, Grant Tales of Terror: The EC Companion (Gemstone Publishing and Fantagraphics Books, Timonium, MD & Seattle, WA, 2000) p. 161-5
- Von Bernewitz, Fred and Geissman, Grant Tales of Terror: The EC Companion (Gemstone Publishing and Fantagraphics Books, Timonium, MD & Seattle, WA, 2000) p. 96
- Von Bernewitz, Fred and Geissman, Grant Tales of Terror: The EC Companion (Gemstone Publishing and Fantagraphics Books, Timonium, MD & Seattle, WA, 2000) p. 226
- The Complete EC Library: Shock SuspenStories Volume 3. Russ Cochran. 1981.
- Michael Kronenberg posting at MarvelMasterworksFansite.Yuku.com, September 1, 2011. Accessed September 2, 2011