Category Archives: Crime

The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics [2008]

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THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST CRIME COMICS is a thick new anthology edited by Paul Gravett, part of a large series of MAMMOTH BOOK OF… collections which seem to be mostly prose but have also included …BEST WAR COMICS, …BEST HORROR COMICS, …BEST NEW MANGA and the upcoming …ZOMBIE COMICS (oddly not the “Best” zombie comics…). The books I’ve seen of the series are far from perfect, and obviously rights issues keeps them from being really comprehensive, but they’re a good value for the money (generally $12-$14 purchased on-line for about 500 pages) and good samplers of the genres, not restricted to just American comics.

THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST CRIME COMICS has been the best of the collections I’ve seen so far, because it includes some Simon&Kirby, namely the 14-page story “The Money-Making Machine Swindlers” from JUSTICE TRAPS THE GUILTY #6 [1948].

The reproduction is in black and white from a printed copy, and looks pretty good for that. There are some remnants of the colouring, but light enough that they provide some shading without distracting from the linework.

The story is a confessional type, told by Prisoner 235079, Stella Brady, about how she came to be a guest of the state, your typical story of a young girl looking to escape from the drudgery of working life, witnessing a scam gone wrong involving selling gullible fools a share in a phony counterfeiting machine. Sensing that she can work the scam better, she gets in on the action and helps to set up a hotel owner with a gambling problem as the next mark. Little does she know, crime does not… oh wait, wrong company. Little does she know, justice traps the guilty.

Great little story, some prime S&K from the period when the romance comics were just taking off, with a lot in common with those stories, from the confessional narration to the attention to detail in the various characters and settings, some great storytelling punctuated by moments of sudden violence that S&K excelled at.

Police Trap #4 [1955] – Cover

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POLICE TRAP #4, 1955. Boy, that looks dangerous position for a cop to find himself in, doesn’t it? One of the books of S&K’s Mainline company. I always wondered why they didn’t add that “Another Simon/Kirby Smash Hit” stamp until several issues in (and on issues where they didn’t draw any interiors). Also, that giant comics code stamp blocking the logo sure is an eyesore.

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Justice Traps the Guilty #21 [1950] – Cover

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More crime work from the Prize days by Simon&Kirby. I especially like the contrast these covers always have from the clean-cut and powerful cops with the grimy criminals, with a very different texture.

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Published 1950

Justice Traps the Guilty #23 [1951] – Cover

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Beautiful crime cover from S&K, their last for this title as the romance and horror comics for Prize dominated their time (plus BOYS’ RANCH over at Harvey). Love that distinctive inking over on the cops’ uniforms.

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Published 1951

Justice, Inc. #3 [1975] – The Monster Bug

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More adventures of the pulp hero Richard Benson, the Avenger, as scripted by Dennis O’Neil and drawn by Kirby towards the end of his DC stint. As I mentioned before, this is my favourite of those “filler” bits that Kirby did.

This story continues from THE SHADOW #5, with the unfortunately named villain Colonel Sodom who escaped in that issue. I’m not sure if this is adapted from an original pulp novel or not, but it does introduce Justice, Inc. agent Fergus MacMurdie, who was requested in the letter column. The story involves a virus that turns people into monsters, which gives Kirby an excuse for some monsters and action.

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Fun fast-moving story in the pulp tradition, although it ends kind of abruptly.

Mike Royer inks the 18-page story and Al Milgrom inks Kirby on the cover.

Published 1975

Golden Age Of Marvel #1 [1997]

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This anthology includes three Kirby stories. First up is the requisite Captain America story, this time the 13-page “An Ear For Music” from CAPTAIN AMERICA #7 (1941) (the table of contents mis-credits it as “Horror Plays the Scales”, another story from that issue. Also, this story is usually listed as “Captain America and the Red Skull”, but I think the title is “An Ear For Music”). In this story, the Red Skull returns, using Chopin’s funeral march as a calling card, planning to kill some military leaders. As this is going on, Steve and Bucky get recruited for a play with Betty Ross, and have to constantly get out of that when duty calls. A nice story, the design for the Red Skull is a highlight of the early Captain America stories. I also liked the Skull’s attempt to frame Cap in this issue, leaving a note reading “Captain America, I got away with General King… Too bad you were nabbed… If you’re shot for this I’ll avenge your death — The Red Skull”. Even worse, that works. The art for this story is by Kirby/Shores.

Next up is the 7-page Vision story from MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS #25 (1941). Unfortunately they used the 1968 reprint from MARVEL SUPER-HEROES #13 as a source, as you can see from the huge vertical gaps between panels.

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This story features a disgraced professor using a book of black magic to call forth a massive storm. The Vision appears in the smoke from one lightning strike, rescues some people and then takes the battle to the mountain where the professor is controlling the storm. A light story, but very dynamic art, Kirby was very rapidly getting more bold and confident during this year at Marvel.

The last story in the book is “The Microscopic Army”, a 5-pager from YELLOW CLAW #3 (1957). As usual for the short Claw stories, the plot is sparse but the art is brilliant, including a great splash page. In this story, the Claw uses a kidnapped scientist to create a shrinking device, sending in some of his soldiers as spies. FBI Agent Jimmy Woo is called in to a mysterious break-in and notices little tiny footprints, and uses a prototype of the device to shrink himself. A quick battle that includes a giant type-writer and Jimmy using a pen as a lance follows, and the Yellow Claw is forced to flee before his base can be found.

Published 1997

In The Days Of The Mob #1 [1971]

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When he first went to DC in 1970, Kirby seemed to think that they’d be open to different ideas and new formats. Soon enough he’d learn that they weren’t, not so much. In the meantime he did produce a number of stories, some still unpublished, in the crime, horror and romance genres. All genres that Kirby had quite a bit of experience in, although at this point in his career it had been years since he’d done any substantial story-work in anything but super-heroes (except for two short horror stories he’d done for CHAMBER OF DARKNESS late in his Marvel days, which didn’t end well). DC ended up publishing two issues of this stuff in 1971, oddly under the “Hampshire Distributors” label (I’m not sure if anything else was ever published under that name).

Clearly crime stories fascinated him, as he showed in a memorable storyline for the FF shortly before. Let loose to work solo he came up with IN THE DAYS OF THE MOB. It’s your basic true-crime book, with a framing sequence set in Hell, with Warden Fry doing the hosting. Kirby pulls out some of the big guns for the first issue, Ma Barker, Al Capone and Pretty Boy Floyd.

The issue features 41 pages of Kirby comics, as inked by Colletta. Kirby apparently planned these to be colour stories, but instead they were printed in black and white format with a heavy grey inkwash, and for some reason no panel borders. The combination seems to deaden it somewhat, which is a shame as it’s really strong work otherwise. While I don’t know if it would have been successful at the time even if it was given a higher level of support and production, it’s strong work by Kirby, who was clearly into the subject matter, and his attention to period detail and scripting style really fit the material.

The book opens up with the no-nonsense Warden Fry exclaiming “Welcome to Hell”, and showing us through the section of Hell where mobsters serve their time, including a massive two-page spread of the teeming masses of the prison (and if there were this many after Colletta was done, imagine how many there were before). He then comes across Ma Barker, and tells her story about how she led her four boys into a life of crime and how they all died. Back in Hell we see various felons playing cards, with predictable results.

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We then meet Al Capone, allowing the Warden to launch into the story of “Bullets For Big Al”, where we see the story of a misguided attempt to overthow Capone in the Chicago mob. A fun story, it features another two-page spread of a lavish mob party, with a big band and dancing girls, before descending to some brutal violence.

Next up are some text features. Kirby writes a three page article with photo illustrations about the era, a sort of bizarre free-form essay called “The Breeding Ground” about era he grew up in. Meanwhile Evanier&Sherman write a two page article, “Funeral For a Florist”, with a small Kirby illustration for the header.

Back to the comics after that, as the warden leads us to a 1933 train station to witness “The Kansas City Massacre”, an attempt by “Pretty Boy” Floyd and others to help a prisoner escape gone wrong. Finally we get “Method of Operation”, a quick look at the story of “Country Boy” and how his affection for fishing and women led to his capture in New Orleans.

Sergio Aragones finishes up the book with two pages of cartoons, and there’s a large poster insert of a wanted poster for John Dillinger included. The cover is a mix of photo-collage and illustration, apparently inked by Frank Giacoia.

A finished second issue, inked by Mike Royer, was done but not published, although parts of it appeared in AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS and various fanzines. The inside back cover features an ad for it, with two great full pages of art from the “Ladies of the Gang” story and a panel from “A Room For Kid Twist”. For more about the series, including a page from #2 and comments by Mark Evanier, read this article from TJKC #16, ignoring the odd comment about Colletta’s inks for #1 being better than Royer’s for #2.

Published 1971

Teen-Aged Dope Slaves And Reform School Girls [1989]

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This collection published by Eclipse brings together various crime and sensationalistic comics of the 1940s and 1950s. Two 13-page Simon&Kirby stories from Prize’s HEADLINE are among the featured stories, both featuring sexy girls lured into a life of crime. Black and white reconstruction on the stories was by Greg Theakston’s Pure Imagination.

“The Bobby Sox Bandit Queen”, from HEADLINE #27 (1947), is a great little story about a 16-year-old girl who gets caught up in crime thanks to her older boyfriend, leading to a cross-country crime spree of bank robberies, hostage takings and stolen cars, with the police on their tails the whole time. The story was also reprinted in the recent Jack Kirby Reader v2

“I Worked For the Fence” is from HEADLINE #28 (1948). In this saga, Monica Bell, a failed show-girl, is about to go back home from the big-city when she finds her suitcase has been switched with one full of jewels. Remembering a co-workers mention of a fence, “Buyer Busch”, she takes the jewels to him, finding out she was set-up by him as a likely prospect for a “switcher” as he explains the inner workings of his operation. She takes the job and makes some easy switches, and then works as a buyer at the racetrack. She’s spotted by a private investigator, who she quickly falls in love with him, but almost gets caught when her next buy turns violent.

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She tried to quite but finds she’s already in too deep, but is rescued by her new beau, and is now serving her time in jail, determined to live life straight when she gets out. Because, if you haven’t learned by now, Crime Never Pays.

Other stories include “Lucky Fights It Through”, a Harvey Kurtzman comic about syphilis, “Teen-Aged Dope Slaves”, from the Rex Morgan strip, plus other tales of drugs, sex and violence.

Published 1989

Justice, Inc. #4 [1975] – Slay Ride in the Sky

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Of the handful of Kirby’s books with other writers that he did to fulfill his page quota in his final days at DC, my favourites are the ones that Denny O’Neil wrote, including three issues of JUSTICE, INC, based on the pulp hero Richard Benson, The Avenger. Kirby’s style works well with the fast moving pulp action, with the toughs in suits harkening back to the classic S&K crime comics.

This issue features the men of Justice, Inc. investigating some planes that are mysteriously blowing up, tracing it to exploding birds. They trace the explosives back to the owner of the airline, who takes them prisoner aboard a blimp, which, as all blimps in comic books eventually must, ends up blowing up. Along the way you get a battle aboard a bi-plane and a mid-air rescue. All good pulp stuff.

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Mike Royer inks, doing a good job of bringing out the period feel, at times looking quite like a 1950s era inker.

Published 1975