Wednesday, September 25, 2019
Corpse on the Imjin! and Other Stories by Harvey Kurtzman, et al.
Classic war comics from a master of the art form
Harvey Kurtzman is generally regarded as one of the most important and influential writer/artists in the history of American comics. Frequent debates about the all-time greats in comics history generally yield a consensual triumvirate of Kurtzman, Will Eisner, and Jack Kirby at the apex of the art form. Of the three, Kurtzman had the greatest impact on underground and independent comics, but like the other two aforementioned luminaries, he got his start in action and adventure comics. In the early 1950s, when the EC Comics company was producing a landmark body of innovative work, Kurtzman became the founding writer and editor of two groundbreaking titles, Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat. The beautifully produced 2012 volume Corpse on the Imjin! and Other Stories, from Fantagraphics Books, celebrates Kurtzman’s excellent war comics for these two classic EC series.
Kurtzman wrote all the stories, four per issue, in Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat up until about the end of 1952. He only illustrated 11 of those stories, however, all of which are collected here in the opening third of this book. This is followed by another 13 stories written by Kurtzman but drawn by other artists, including such luminaries as Alex Toth, Wally Wood, and Gene Colan. All the stories are beautifully reproduced in black and white, but the book also includes a color section which reproduces all of Kurtzman’s covers for Two-Fisted and Frontline, 23 in all. Interspersed between the comics themselves are introductions and essays by a number of prominent creators and critics of the comics world who provide an ample education on the history of EC Comics and the historical context of the Korean War. I usually appreciate such supplementary essays in a classic comics collection, but here Fantagraphics actually goes a little overboard with the text, to the point where the content becomes repetitive.
The 11 stories illustrated by Kurtzman are really phenomenal work. His art is superb and his stories are revolutionary. Contrary to typical war comics, Kurtzman’s stories for EC were not tales of gung ho heroism. More often than not they were antiwar stories that emphasized the senseless brutality, futility, and inhumanity of war. The first issues of Two-Fisted and Frontline were published at the height of the Korean War, so many of these stories were actually commentary on current events, and usually unfavorable commentary. Regardless of the conflict depicted, Kurtzman did extensive research when writing his war stories to insure that the details would be historically accurate. When he hired other artists to draw his stories, he kept a tight rein on them by providing strict page layouts to build upon. Thus, even when Kurtzman’s not drawing the stories, they still look Kurtzmanesque. As a whole, however, the stories in the book’s second section, though drawn by some very good artists, are not as strong as those drawn by Kurtzman himself. Even the writing seems to have lost some of its edge, as the stories begin to place more emphasis on strategy, guns, and ammo and less on the senselessness of mass slaughter.
The best way to experience the great work of Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat would be through some comprehensive omnibus reprint like the EC Archives editions, which reproduce each anthology issue in its entirety. Corpse on the Imjin! and Other Stories, however, may be the best one-volume greatest hits collection of these classic war stories, and it really gives the reader an informed appreciation of Kurtzman’s monumental contributions to the art form.
If you liked this review, please follow the link below to Amazon.com and give me a “helpful" vote. Thank you.