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Strange Fantasy [comic]

Entry updated 13 May 2024. Tagged: Comics, Publication.

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US Comic (1952-1954). 14 issues. Farrell Comics Inc. Artists include Iger Shop and Bob Webb. Script writers include Bruce Hamilton and Iger Shop. 36 pages. Usually 4 long strips and a 2-page text story per issue.

Though the covers of #1 and #2 showed Mad Scientists in their laboratories, early issues consisted of fairly traditional Horror stories, many with supernatural elements – hauntings being common (see Supernatural Creatures). They can be Clichéd – #1 includes "Primitive Peril", where a plane crashes in the jungle, the survivors are captured by superstitious locals, but fortunately the prisoners realize there will be a solar eclipse just before their sacrifice to the Sun God. Later issues, though still dominated by ghoulish pre-Comics Code tales, were broader in subject matter.

#4 includes "Debt of Fear", which shows the inspiration of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" (May 1842 Graham's Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine as "The Mask of the Red Death"): in present day France newspapers report the death of the last of the Malatroit aristocratic family, from pneumonia. This was to prevent panic – she actually died of the Red Death, the first case for 500 years. A lawyer reads the diary of the first Count Malatroit: in the Middle Ages the Red Death blighted his lands (see Pandemic) and he kept his château isolated, refusing to help to the afflicted. When the personification of the Red Death comes for his beautiful wife, the Count offers his newborn child in her stead: this is accepted, but his wife stabs herself in grief and the Red Death says there is still a balance to collect; the count lives the rest of his life in regret. When the lawyer finishes reading the Red Death appears to say the debt is now cleared, as the Malatroit line has ended. #4 also has an sf story, a reprinted Red Rocket story from Captain Flight Comics #8 (1945), with the protagonist's sobriquet changed to Rocketman (see Rocketman).

In #5's "Dead or Alive" a young woman visiting a museum notices a sarcophagus whose features resemble hers: mummies then appear and transport her back to Ancient Egypt (see Time Travel) to become the queen. Though confused she insists on freeing all slaves, leading to their former owners plotting to kill her: however, an ex-slave knows her life has been stolen and throws her into a pit of flame that returns her to the present. #6 has "Love Trap" where a Spaceship crewed by two women searches for Life on Other Worlds, eventually landing on Syndar, which is inhabited by handsome men and ugly women. Eventually another spaceship, with two male pilots, arrives – to discover Syndar is inhabited by beautiful women and ugly men. The locals turn out to be amoeba-like Aliens who absorb life to live – and the men suffer the same fate as the earlier women. In "Skull Scavenger" a decrepit old man, caught by gendarmes searching a crypt for a skull, explains that 900 years ago he had been an alchemist who created the elixir of life (see Immortality) – and also an antidote; the latter he put in a locket and gave to his girlfriend. Whilst creating elixir for her, he was arrested as a witch: attempts to kill him failed so he was released, to learn his beloved was executed as an accomplice. Now he seeks her body for the locket, as without her he wants to die, particularly as he has discovered his elixir stops death but not ageing.

#7's "Skeleton in the Closet" has a Scientist discovering "vril" (see Edward Bulwer Lytton), a chemical which reanimates the dead; they are killed by their greedy assistant, then dipped in acid until only the skeleton is left. A cleaner, wanting to kill insects in the house, uses a spray gun he finds: it contains vril, so the skeleton comes to life and has his revenge on the assistant. In "Nightmare Merchant" a newly-wed couple move into a home, to discover the milkman delivers bottles of blood for the Vampire who sold them the house: they are the payment. In "Tideswept Terror" another couple buy a boat, to discover it used to be a slave ship and is haunted by a vengeful African prince. #8's "Death Strikes Four" has a murderous clock tower: its clock face is a face and its hands can stretch out and grab, with its wheels and cogs partial to grinding up passers by: a kind of supernatural Automaton whose origin is unexplained. In #9's "Hair Yee-Eeee" (which includes some pencil work by Steve Ditko), Pat Patrick has living hair – cutting it is like cutting into flesh – and despite a healthy appetite he loses weight. The hair eventually covers his body and he becomes a hermit, increasingly unable to slake his hunger – until the hirsute mass he has become begins devouring passers-by. Pat is eventually killed by hair-remover: his hair falls away, revealing nothing beneath save for a patch of dandruff. The issue also has "Mirror of Death": here, in 1915, a banker saves a turbaned man's life and is given a ring in gratitude. It offers a kind of Precognition by showing anyone about to die as having a skull head. As fate cannot be changed, this brings only misery; travelling on an ocean liner, he looks in the mirror and sees own his head as a skull, as are those of all the other passengers: it is revealed that the boat is the Lusitania (see World War One).

#12's "Undying Fiend" features the excavation of a barrow in north-east England, within which lies the body of Garth, a Viking vampire. Disturbed, he awakes and – after a few deaths – turns a female archaeologist. The couple move to Devon and buy a house, planning to prey on the locals. "Scales of Death" features a giant salamander (see Monsters). "Fangs of Fear" has a town's King of Rats stalked by a stranger, who turns out to be the King of Cats: usually indistinguishable from people, they transform into their natural, though human-sized, forms when fighting. In "Terror Town" a professor injects what he believes to be a dead ape's brain with an artificial blood substitute, hoping it will bring it back to life. It does; but it also expands to an enormous size, growing tentacles and a set of mouths, going on to devour the townsfolk. It turns out the professor's supplier sent him an octopus brain by mistake. However, all ends well when a corpse is filled with cyanide and left for the brain to find, though its death agony does knock over a few skyscrapers.

Aside from a Zombie tale, #14 has "Monster in the Building", where a detective investigating murders in an office building learns an armoured monster is responsible: discovering it is just a suit he naturally assumes it was worn by a person – then finds it was actually a large headed but spindly Alien. They apologize, saying the victims attacked them, hindering their mission: apparently the Earth is doomed (see Disaster) unless they can intervene: it is going to tell "them out there" that "it might not be worth it", then changes into a flying saucer (see UFOs) and departs.

Additionally, #3 has "Death Dance", a Rulah, Jungle Goddess tale – Rulah being a Sheena, Queen of the Jungle clone who had first appeared in 1947 and had her own comic 1948-1949; #13 had "Desperate Peril!" featuring Kolah, Queen of the Jungle – but was actually a reprint of the Rulah tale "The Runaway Balloon", from Rulah #27 (1949), with the name changed. On the whole Strange Fantasy was an unremarkable horror magazine, but had its moments, particularly during the middle third of its run. [SP]

further reading

  • Strange Fantasy, Volume 1 (Hornsea, East Yorkshire: PS Publishing, 2015) [graph: collects issues #1-#7: in the publisher's Pre-Code Classics series: illus/various: hb/Iger Shop]
  • Strange Fantasy, Volume 2 (Hornsea, East Yorkshire: PS Publishing, 2015) [graph: collects issues #8-#14: in the publisher's Pre-Code Classics series: illus/various: hb/Iger Shop]


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