In my first book, Was Superman a Spy? and Other Comic Book Legends Revealed, I told a neat story about how Ray Bradbury dealt with the fact that Williams Gaines and EC Comics were adapting his stories without his permission (and without paying him). It was a very clever and cordial solution by Bradbury (read the book to see how he did it) and when it was all said and done, EC Comics began producing officially licensed adaptations of Bradbury's short stories. Here, then, are the eight best adaptations EC Comics did of Bradbury's short stories.
The eight stories (all under ten pages long) are in chronological order from when they were first released (based on the cover date of the comic in question).
1. "The Long Years!" (Weird Science #17, January/February 1953)
Originally titled "Dwellers in Silence," this tale was re-worked by Bradbury to make it fit with his classic story collection The Martian Chronicles (Bradbury put his various stories about Mars into one collection and created continuity between the stories). Adapted by writer Al Feldstein and artist Joe Orlando, this story is about a doctor who stayed behind on Mars when the rest of his comrades blasted off to explore other worlds. It is now twenty years later and the crew is back to meet up with the mechanically inclined doctor and his family, who oddly enough do not appear to have aged in twenty years.
The doctor has, though, and as he passes away, he pleads with the Captain not to tell his family what happened. You might have guessed by now what the situation is with the doctor's family, but it is still engaging when the Captain and his crew figure it out themselves. Orlando does a great job with the somber expressions of the Captain and his crew.
2. "There Will Come Soft Rains... " (Weird Science #17, January/February 1953)
Legendary artist Wally Wood has a tour de force performance detailing the subject of this tale (which also was included in The Martian Chronicles). The subject of the story is, oddly enough, a house. If you never thought you'd feel depressed for a house, just wait until Feldstein and Wood are through with this story about an automated house on Mars that continues its daily activities even though its occupants have died in a nuclear explosion. Haunting imagery abounds in this wonderfully dark tale.
3. "The Screaming Woman!" (Crime SuspenStories #15, February/March 1953)
This adaptation by Feldstein and artist Jack Kamen might be the weakest of the eight stories on this list (and if you're going to argue for the inclusion of another story, then this is the one you'd argue to be removed), but I just cannot help but find myself enthralled with the different approach Bradbury takes with this story, especially when compared to his other crime tales.
It opens up with a typical enough conceit. A little girl on the way home from an errand hears a woman screaming from under the ground. The only problem is that no one will take the little girl seriously.
That is how the story begins, but by the end of it, it turns out to be a triumphant celebration of the importance of human interaction. As the old song asks, "Should old acquaintances be forgot and never brough to mind?" Well, this story screams a resounding "NO!" After all, those old acquantinces might someday save your life. A side lesson this also teaches us is that while many people will come in and out of your life, even likely more than one love of your life, you will always remember when someone writes a song for you.
By the way, when this story was adapted for the 1980s television series The Ray Bradbury Theater, the little girl was played by none other than Drew Barrymore!
4. "The Small Assassin" (Shock SuspenStories #7, February/March 1953)
One of the earliest of the official EC adaptations of Bradbury's works was also one of the creepiest. For this one story, I'll be doing a SPOILER WARNING. Based on the short story by the same name, this twisted little tale was adapted by Feldstein and artist George Evans. It is about a young mother who feels that her newborn son is trying to kill her. Her husband does not believe her until it is too late. After her death, the baby kills his father, as well. He is caught, though, by the family doctor. In a scene that you will have to see to believe, the doctor calmly tells the baby that he brought him into the world so he has the responsibility of taking him out. He goes into his bag and tells the baby, "See, baby? Something bright! Something shiny! A scalpel..." Outlandishly chilling stuff.
5. "Mars is Heaven!" (Weird Science #18, March/April 1953)
Another story that Bradbury adapted for The Martian Chronicles, Feldstein and Wally Wood adapted the original story (which is not much different from the one that appeared in The Martian Chronicles, just some changes for continuity's sake, really). In this story, a group of astronauts land on Mars only to find it populated with their dead relatives, leading them to perhaps believe that, well, Mars is Heaven!
The Captain of the mission tries to keep his men in line, but the pull of their closest relatives is too strong to resist (even for the Captain himself eventually). But is this really what it seems or are the Martians playing a terribly cruel trick on the astronauts?
Wood does a great job depicting the "lost in time" feel of this take on Mars.
6. "The Lake" (Vault of Horror #31, June/July 1953)
It is hard for me to imagine how the 1953 comic book reader must have reacted when they picked up Vault of Horror #31 and read "The Lake" (adapted by Feldstein and Joe Orlando). The same month, Batman was fighting a crime predicting robot and Superman was helping to peel potatoes for Lois Lane during her stint in the Women's Army Corps. So to go from that to this, a hauntingly sophisticated tale of a young boy obsessed with the death of his childhood sweetheart, must have been mind-blowing.
Orlando's lush and evocative artwork perfectly captured the story of the boy as he grows into manhood and returns to the lake where his sweetheart drowned a decade earlier.
This is a bittersweet tribute to the way all young boys have to grow up and become a man, and leave behind the pains of their youth. One of, if not the best adaptation EC Comics did of Bradbury's work. I would have loved to see how readers reacted to it when it first came out.
7. "Touch and Go!" (Crime SuspenStories #17, June/July 1953)
In this adaptation of Bradbury's "The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl," while Feldstein does a faithful adaptation of Bradbury's story, the star of this comic is artist Johnny Craig, who does a wonderful job depicting the obsession of the lead character in the tale, a murderer who becomes afraid that he has left fingerprints all over the house of his victim. He frantically wipes everything clean (including, yes, the fruit at the bottom of the bowl) even as he begins to see fingerprints everywhere. Craig is outstanding as he shows fingerprints popping up here and there as the murderer spirals into madness. It is a sequential art masterpiece by the great Johnny Craig.
8. "Outcast of the Stars" (Weird Science #22, November/December 1953)
In "Outcast of the Stars" (adapted by Feldstein and Joe Orlando from the Bradbury story of the same name), interplanetary travel has been achieved, but it is only available to the rich. A junkyard owner is obsessed with the idea of traveling through space and so has saved up money for years (money his family as well as his business could use for a new furnace) in the hopes of perhaps purchasing a single ticket. The man's next door neighbor, though, warns him of the folly of his idea, as if he were to go into space, his wife and family would never forgive him. The lesson is, in effect, "just accept your lot in life."
However, when the man is given the opportunity to purchase a scale model prototype for an actual rocket, he spends most of his savings on the rocket. His wife is furious. However, she comes around when the man begins work on the rocket and changes his family's life forever. It is a heartwarming take on the power of the human spirit. Like on "The Long Years!," Joe Orlando's take on the facial expressions of the people involved in the story is outstanding. He gets across the pain and frustration these people feel but also their hope. The recent Billy Bob Thornton film, The Astronaut Farmer, was loosely based on this story.
That's the list! Before I go, though, I thought I'd share something Bradbury wrote to William Gaines (after their "dispute" was resolved the two became friends and corresponded with each other often) about the adaptations of his stories by EC Comics...
My thanks and gratitude for the really fine adaptations and beautiful art work you are doing on my stories. This is an entirely new experience to me, and I cannot tell you enough how much I appreciate the painstaking detail and thought you are putting into your efforts. It seems to me that again and again you achieve the exactly right atmosphere and angle in carrying out the story...You people have a way of continually making me happy. I can't thank you enough!"
To quote another famous comic book Editor-in-Chief, "Nuff' said."
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