The EC Archives: Incredible Science Fiction is a hardback volume published by Dark Horse, collecting EC Comics’ final sci-fi stories from the 1950s. The material is widely considered to have been ahead of its time, but does it hold up well today?
By and large, this collection is of a remarkably high quality for comic work created in the 1950s. A higher compliment to give it, however, is that it is still of a high quality today. While the stories contained have their faults, their positive aspects are impressive by any standard. One of the volume’s greatest strengths is its art. A variety of pencilers worked on the issues present, including Wally Wood, Joe Orlando, Bernie Krigstein, and others. Regardless of the specific artist in question, the vast majority of the visuals throughout are striking in their level of detail and sense of imagination.
Given the amount of time that has passed since these comics’ initial publication, it is unsurprising that this volume feels like a time capsule. The themes and visual motifs repeated throughout speak to the science-fiction sensibilities and wondrous hope for the future that were prevalent during the period of their creation. The amount of precise detail in this volume’s renderings of futuristic machinery is astonishing, and matches the narratives’ senses of wonder and possibility. The worlds in this collection are worlds of the future as imagined in our world’s past, and they still charm today. With the level of intensive work placed into crafting these stories’ starry skylines and alien fauna, it’s no wonder that these comics were, and are, so beloved.
With that said, these comics’ ages do show in some negative ways. This primarily occurs in terms of the issues’ writing. The collection’s best stories tackle questions of science and humanity, of mankind and its relation to everything else. The collection’s worst stories, on the other hand, settle for weirdness and creativity without backing such qualities up with substance. There are several stories in this volume that end with sudden twists. Some of these twists are predictable and unsatisfactory as a result, while others come out of nowhere and feel needlessly tacked on. On the other hand, some of the volume’s stories have revelations that actually enhance their plots’ emotional potency and prompt serious thought.
It is worth noting that most of this collection’s worst stories, while basic conceptually and cliché by today’s standards, still approach their subject matter with an enthusiasm and sense of authenticity that is admirable. This is a collection that just oozes joy, and its shortcomings don’t dampen the fun too much. There’s plenty to criticize here, but any negative qualities present are outshined by immaculate artwork and a rich sense of historical novelty. Sixty years after their creation, reading these comics still feels like an enriching experience. Anyone interested in science-fiction as a genre is likely to enjoy this collection, both as a work of art and as a work of historical preservation.