christmas comic cavalcade: terror inc. #8 (marvel comics)

This week at the CCC, we’re looking at Terror Inc. #8, published by Marvel Comics in 1993.

Cover price was $1.75.

Oh jeez, what to say about this one? Terror Inc. was a weird title. Published during the boom period of the comic market, Terror Inc. specialized in violence and horror. The titular Terror was of the breed of antihero incredibly popular during the comics’ market go-go 1990 boom period. That being said… I really don’t know much about Terror. I was ready to throw this comic over and write about Green Lantern or something when I remembered my buddy Micah is a HUGE fan of Terror. I shot him an e-mail and asked him to sort of describe the character and his appeal. Instantly, my inbox was alight with like half a dozen thoughts on Terror!

Of the character, Micah says: Terror seems to be a constantly decomposing creature who needed to replace his body parts with fresh ones routinely to keep functioning.

The thing is, he’s able to utilize the proficiencies in his host’s parts. He would take a butcher’s eyeball and gain the knowledge of the butcher. He’d know how to find someone’s arteries. Or a baseball player arm to throw a fastball (if he had the baseball player’s toe, he probably wouldn’t get much use out of it, the power’s like a muscle memory or something.)

Micah went on to mention how unique Terror’s powers were and how that distinguished him… and I have to agree. Terror’s morbid and gruesome enough where I can see wanting to base a whole series around him. Still… a Christmas story about Terror? It seems like a weird fit… and indeed it is.

The story, “The Gift of the Maggia” is credited to Terror Inc. creator D.G. Chichester and Horatio Ottolini. The title is obviously a play on the timeless O Henry holiday tale as well as a reference to the Marvel Comics universe. The Maggia is Marvel’s strawman reference to the Mafia. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Mafia controlled a lot of book distribution outlets. In an effort to tell mob stories but not anger real-life mobsters, the higher-ups at Marvel rechristened the Mafia “the Maggia” and told their stories that way. The name sort of stuck well after it had outlived its’ usefulness.

There’s a heavy EC Comics influence to this book, which begins as Terror is meeting with a recently convicted Maggia bookkeeper. Buddy Henry is on Death Row and contracts Terror to “give Christmas to Suze and Ollie,” his wife and young son. The Maggia gets wind of this and… well, here:

The Maggia goes after Buddy’s wife and kid… Terror goes after the Maggia in a pretty brutal way with easily guessable results.

…and eventually, an epic showdown in an oh so convenient abandoned warehouse.

One of the things you can probably tell from the dialogue above… and something Micah helpfully pointed out to me is the way Chichester portrays Terror. He does brutal, brutal things… but he speaks with the erudite manner of a scholar, with a very wry, sometimes punny sense of humor. This immediately humanizes a character who doesn’t look or act human in the least.

Micah describes this as “older humor” but I almost wonder if there isn’t a connection to be made between Terror and The Cryptkeeper, from EC Comics’ old Tales from the Crypt series. That comic was a popular HBO series during the early 1990’s. Terror has a couple of visual cues which remind me of The Cryptkeepr. I don’t really have any evidence to back the comparison up, but it’s kind of apt.

At the same time, this is a WEIRD book for Marvel to be publishing. Even though their most popular characters at the time were killers like Wolverine and The Punisher (both of whom made multiple appearances in Terror Inc‘s brief 12 issue run), the writers of those characters often bent over backwards to justify their tendencies… or neuter them in narratively clear ways. The Punisher might use rubber bullets for some reason, or Wolverine would slice and dice a guy, only to discover he was a robot. It’s pretty clear Terror’s just a grizzly murderer, which wasn’t happening all that much in Marvel’s books in early 1990’s. I’ve read Marvel had a hard and fast rule through most of this time that blood could be shown, but it couldn’t be colored red. If that’s so, that rule is clearly being enforced in Terror Inc. #8’s pages.

Weird coloring aside, the artwork is entirely befitting the tone of Chichester’s script, all scratchy and uncomfortable. The penciller does a great job breaking the characters out of the panels and it’s a nice way of keeping the story off-balance. One of Terror Inc‘s original creators was Klaus Jansen and I can see his influence on the work in this issue.

The story DOES have some weird flaws in it. Like… the Maggia say that Buddy Henry sold them out to the FBI… but then the Maggia pinned a bunch of murders on Henry, which is why he’s on Death Row. If I’m to suppose the FBI knows Henry was a stoolie, why would they believe he’s a murderer? I’m not sure the logic tracks. It’s not a huge detriment to the comic, but sort of awkward.

As holiday tales go, I don’t think Terror Inc. #8 is going to be replacing A Charlie Brown Christmas anytime soon as a holiday standard, but it’s an… interesting take on the concept of a holiday comic story.

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