I admit it: before reading Two-Fisted Tales, I was only vaguely aware of Kurtzman and EC Comics. And what I had heard or read mostly concerned the horror comics and the catalytic effect they had on Wertham’s theories and the creation of the Comics Code Authority. I had never heard of Two-Fisted Tales or Frontline Combat, and aside from a dog-earred reprint of the first issue of MAD my dad bought for me when I was 10, I don’t think I had ever read anything by Harvey Kurtzman.
Now I know why they named the awards after the man.
Reading Two-Fisted Tales is a treat. The stories are, to jam them into a rather broad category, adventure tales. A number of the stories in this first collection focues on soldiers in the Korean or Second World War, but there are a variety of settings: one goes as far back as the Spanish conquest of America. These are adventure stories of the highest order: men (and they are almost exclusively men) fighting and dying, confronted by the tragic realities of war. These aren’t gung-ho, jingoistic recruiting comics: they are, without a doubt, an attempt to show readers just how senseless and destructive war can be.
The issues were edited by Kurtzman himself, who also wrote (or had a hand in writing) almost all of the stories. On the art chores are Kurtzman, John Severin, Wally Wood, Jack Davis, and others. That’s some pretty heady company, you must admit. And these guys bring the goods. Working on strict layouts from Kurtzman, they fill the pages with wonderful artistic details and perfect character acting. The stories have all been re-coloured, as reprints of stories from this era must be, but the editor of this collection points out that they took pains to match the original colouring of Marie Severin. The colouring is a great addition: perfectly serviceable when it needs to be and adding some real emotion when used the highlight certain panels.
What is most pleasing is Kurtzman’s story telling. The man could cram so much story into a mere eight pages, without making it feel rushed or overly verbose. Kurtzman’s brisk story-telling is a sharp contrast to Al Feldstein‘s heavily-narrated style, which dominated the other EC books. having read some other comics from the era, I was blown away by how well Two-Fisted Tales stands up today. I’d put these on my shelf with any modern war comics. Two-Fisted Tales is good comics, folks. Damn good comics.