This first (as of yet, only) archival volume of the 1950's comic book Mad doesn't fully explain or explore the impact Mad has had on popular culture. The book itself contains a few biographical details on some of it's contributors and begins with a leisurely essay that glosses over some of the history of the seminal, and still going, publication that bears the name. Besides that, it's a full-color reprint of the first six issues, all of which are made up of 8-10 page satirical pieces, with a random piece of prose or fake "letters to the editor" dashed throughout. No, it's not as interesting as it might be, and no, it's unlikely to make anyone without a severe taste for nostalgia laugh out loud. In all honesty, if one is interested in the history of American comedy, early Mad might be better served by exploring the work in a more scholarly publication--like Bill Blackbeards work on George Herriman's Krazy Kat. But if you're just interested to see the genesis of the type of humor that's become such a major force in American comedy, touching everything from The Simpsons, The Groundlings, Vice, Second City and The Onion, than this book is worth the trip. It's also to be commended when compared against the art of the period: it's quite clear that in 1952, the best artists in the industry weren't drawing Superman. There isn't a single page in this volume that isn't graced with brilliant cartooning, and although the humor (and the items the humor is satirizing) are rather dated, these were some of the best comics that were coming out in an America trying to move away from the worst war they'd yet to know. Kurtzmann's willingness to piss all over the cheesy heroics and knee-jerk patriotism that haunted the comics and pulp novels of the day was, and still remains, an act of explosive honesty and courage--even as it results in works of comedy that no longer contain the same bite (one assumes) they once had.
As is the case with the majority of high-quality reprints of old cartooning, the Mad Archives project has been dormant since 2002, and there's been no response to our queries about the remaining 3 volumes mentioned in this books press release. One hopes that the books will eventually see the release they, and their contributors, deserve, but at this point the interested reader will have to settle for reading the issues on their computer, from one of the various CD- or DVD-ROM collections.
-Tucker Stone, 2007