When you think about EC Comics you normally think about those wonderfully ghoulish titles such as Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, and Haunt of Fear. However, EC Publisher William Gaines and editor/writer Harvey Kurtzman were nothing if not resourceful and pragmatic. While EC's horror titles get the most notoriety, the company produced a multitude of different types of comics including thrillers, science fiction and fantasy comics, medical dramas, adventures, and much more. On the surface, Two-Fisted Tales appears to be nothing more than the average war comic...but in truth, nothing was average about EC Comics. These stories were produced in the early 1950's, just a handful of years after World War II. America was settling in and enjoying a decade of prosperity and relative peace.
The Korean Conflict had broken out and EC was there to produce war comics just as so many others were. Yet Kurtzman went in a completely different direction than most of his contemporaries. While most war comics were gung-ho, rah-rah, all aboard the patriot train rides, Kurtzman and EC were the first to truly look at the serious side of war. As Kurtzman states, he felt an obligation to the youth of the nation not to glamorize war but to rather show the reality of war as opposed to the comical stereotypes that we'd seen in comics since the early 1940's.
This kind of groundbreaking realism is exemplified in a tale simply called "War Story" written by Kurtzman with art by John Severin. This is a Korean War yarn about a soldier who hurls racial slurs, as well as bullets, at the enemy and is only too happy to kill the them, even after they've surrendered. This sadistic view of the American soldier had to shock many readers in 1950 whose idea of military men were formed primarily by pro-American war films of the 1940's.
But before you think that Two-Fisted Tales is only about war, think again...These stories are brimming with adventure, from mutiny on the high seas to intrigue in the Far East, to diamond smugglers in the Amazon to shootouts in the Wild West. As usual, the roll-call of artists whose work is included in the book features some of the all-time greats including Wally Wood, Al Feldstein, Johnny Craig, Jack Davis, Alex Toth, and Kurtzman himself, who also wrote all of the stories.
As a long time fan of the mercurial Wally Wood, I loved all of his work in Two-Fisted Tales. "Brutal Captain Bull" finds a young English gentleman pressed into service aboard a British naval ship in the early 1800's, serving under the sadistic Captain Bull. Later, Wood's story "Devils in Baggy Pants" features his brilliant art in a tale about the legendary paratroopers of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.
Two-Fisted Tales Vol. 1 features the first six issues of the series in a hardcover format that includes several side articles by Publisher Russ Cochran. It's a gorgeous book with re-mastered colors making them look as bold as the day they were printed.