One feature you often see on submission guidelines for sites seeking content is the things they don’t want to see, often because they see the same things so often that they’re bored sick of them. One of the first experiences of the young writer is to come up with this awesome idea, only to be told by someone more experienced that his revolutionary new idea has been kicking around for 70 years or more.
But… it is also true that execution matters more than ideas, which is why most of those sites saying, “Don’t do this,” also include a little weasel statement saying “Unless it’s really, really good.” And every now and then, you hit a moment where a certain old idea runs into a twist that makes it feel fresh, which would be cool if it weren’t for the fact that, like, everybody on the planet seems to come up with the same twist simultaneously.
Which brings us to The Crypt, from Aaaargh! Associated Artists. AAA was a company set up by Rickey Shanklin, Mark Wheatley and Marc Hempel, the creative team behind Blood of the Innocent. Published in 1987, The Crypt was 32 pages, black and white, with no ads or filler with a full color wraparound cover.
Popular creative team, attractive package, no ads. Sounds like a fanboy’s dream, right?
Here’s where the problems begin. First off, it’s a bit of a bait and switch. Though Shanklin is credited with the “concept,” the actual scripting was by newcomer Gregory Kolczyk. And though Marc Hempel did layouts, the pencils were done by Damon Willis. Wheatley did the inks with half-tone assist by George Kochell.
And if you remember the period at Disney between The Rescuers and The Little Mermaid, when the last of the Nine Old Men were passing the torch to a young crew of newcomers, you can imagine how successful the book was. The presence of the veterans gave it a certain minimum polish, but the work was far from top-notch.
And then there’s the other problem, which is that the concept was rapidly getting tired. See, it’s about a group of role-playing gamers who are transported to a fantasy world where the game is real.
Sean Gallagher is a 14-year-old boy who plays a role-playing game called Crypts and Creatures with his older brother Steven and Steven’s girlfriend Casey, along with Steven’s best friend Josh and Casey’s friend Becky. They all head out to visit the catacombs underneath Baltimore’s Westminster Presbyterian Church, where Edgar Allen Poe is buried.
Things go about as you expect. Sean is kidnapped, and the girls disappear, and as Steven and Josh give chase, they go through a door and end up…
So it turns out Sean is some Chosen One of the prophecy to light a magical torch that will give prosperity and peace to whichever kingdom has it. This evil ruler has kidnapped Sean to get the torch for himself, but rival kingdoms are pursuing it, along with a cult that doesn’t want the torch lit at all. The boys discover that the girls are also in Fantasy Land, and of course, one of them is a healer.
The gang finally track down Sean in the clutches of the evil wizard,, rescue him and then fight their way past reanimated corpses to make their escape. Happy ending, right?
Well, in the tradition of Tolkien, we then spend four pages on Sean holding a council to decide who gets the Torch, at the end of which he just destroys the damn thing and heads home. Despite how awesome it may sound, it was not an exciting ending.
So yeah, the story was kind of blah, but really, the biggest problem with the story was that it had already been done to death in recent years. Between the Dungeons and Dragons Saturday morning cartoon series, and Joel Rosenberg’s Guardians of the Flame series of novels, and The Realm, the “Gamers Who Wake Up in the Land of Their Games” genre was getting worn seriously thin by the time The Crypt came out.
Although the book was numbered #1 on the cover, the story was self-contained and there was never a second issue, as far as I can find.