SpawnOfMars1[xrr rating=4.5/5]Okay, this is it. Fantagraphics Books has been releasing its impressively handsome line of EC comics reprints for a couple of years now, organized by artist and printed on crisp, heavy stock with hard covers and a brief biographical sketch of the artist in the spotlight. The series has been consistently excellent, but this latest offering, which focuses on the legendary work of Wallace Wood, may well be the best edition thus far. Spawn of Mars is a volume that belongs on the bookshelves of comics fans and sci-fi buffs alike.

There are 30 stories here, averaging six or seven pages in length, and virtually all contain strong elements of 1950s-style science fiction: gleaming spaceships, futuristic cities, multi-tentacled alien monsters. There are lantern-jawed explorers and svelte female scientists in “futuristic” mini-skirts. And this being an EC collection, there are plenty of twisty endings and unexpected turnabouts (well—maybe half unexpected) from the creative pens of Al Feldstein, Harry Harrison and Wood himself.

Really, though, what sells these stories is the art, which is fantastic. Wood was a master of using bold angles, forced perspective and extreme light and shadow to create the impression of vast spaces or claustrophobic interiors. His splash pages alone (that’d be the opening page of a comic book) are worth the price of admission. His panels ooze with detail, whether the flora of an alien world, the cavernous zero-gravity interior of a rocket ship or the sight of a two-mile-tall spacecraft towering over an endless line of would-be passengers.

Fantagraphics’ reprint editions have eschewed color, perhaps for budgetary reasons, and an argument could be made that the stories have lost some of their impact as a result (although for my money, the impact of the crisp black and white has offset any loss). For Wood, though, it’s especially hard to believe that these stories suffer as a result. His line work is so intricate, his compositions so taut and powerful, that it’s hard to imagine that color would do anything besides distract from the bold layouts and stark beauty on display. Of course, each reader will have a personal preference, but more than any other artist in this series, Wood’s style stands up to the stripped-down scrutiny of the Fantagraphics treatment.

And that’s to say nothing of the stories themselves—stories of carnivorous alien plants, or intrepid heroes subjugated as pets, of mysteries on the dark side of the moon or beneath the surface of an asteroid. The title story, “Spawn of Mars,” manages to be surprisingly disturbing some 60 years after its publication (it also seems to foreshadow any number of “gross-out” science fiction movie moments), while “The 10th at Noon” is an especially well-wrought time travel yarn. Unlike many anthologies of old comics, the pleasure here is not to be found in nostalgic recollections of stories form one’s youth; it is in the fact that these stories, although occasionally corny or overblown, are often really good.

There are also five stories co-written and co-drawn with Harry Harrison; these have a charm of their own, but are far less striking, visually, than Wood’s solo efforts. But no matter. This is a terrific collection from a legendary artist who, unfortunately, died too young and in tragic circumstances. (If you don’t know the story already, I’ll let the biographical sketch fill you in.) Spawn of Mars is likely to be the standout from Fantagraphic Books’ excellent series, one that—have I mentioned this already?—belongs on your shelf.

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