Simon and Kirby produced crime comics during two periods; for Prize and Hillman (1947 to 1951) and for their own publishing company Mainline (1954 to 1955). Perhaps the genre was already in decline but after the introduction of the Comic Code crime comics all but disappeared. I know that Justice Traps the Guilty continued to be published until 1958, but were there any other crime comics that lasted long under the Comic Code? It would seem that crime was pretty much a forgotten comic genre until Jack Kirby did In the Days of the Mob for DC in 1971.
Was In the Days of the Mob ahead of its time, another example of Kirby’s visionary genius? It, and the sister publication Spirit World, were very different than all the other comics released at the time. Different in size and printing. Not the normal comic book size but that of a magazine. And not the normal comic book coloring but all with tones of black. Mark Evanier, an assistant to Jack at that time, has said that it was Kirby’s idea to produce a more adult oriented comic. The magazine size therefore makes sense since it would allow the title to escape the Comic Code censorship. Which was clearly necessary if the stories were going to be anything stronger than the mild superhero comics that dominated the industry at that time. Evanier has also said that Kirby’s intentions were that In the Days of the Mob would be printed in color and that the gray wash that the magazine was subjected to was DC’s idea. It certainly seems like a visionary idea since In the Days of the Mob was years ahead of Heavy Metal (first appearing in 1977) another magazine size comic for a more adult audience.
But what about the stories? Was Kirby looking at the future there as well? Right away the reader is presented with Warden Fry, warden of Hell. Fry will introduce the stories and provide a link between each. Using a character as a spokesperson for a comic had been done before but perhaps not always so well as In the Days of the Mob. The interior is largely one long graphic sequence. Page numbering is for the entire magazine and not for the individual stories. Only the splash pages give notice of the start of the next tale. This is a magazine meant to be read in the order that it is produced.
The first story is “Ma’s Boys” a tale of Ma Barker and her criminal sons. Jack had told this story before, or more accurately Simon and Kirby had. “Mother of Crime” had appeared in Real Clue Crime Stories (volume 2 number 4, June 1947). I have briefly discussed it before (Crime’s Better Half) and it was include in Titan’s “The Best of Simon and Kirby”. Since these stories are supposed to be real, it would not come as much of a surprise that there are similarities between the old and the newer versions of the story. But actually it is obvious that there is much more than a casual connection between the two because in the Simon and Kirby version Ma Barker relates her story from hell. Undoubtedly in 1971 Jack’s inspiration came from the Simon and Kirby story. He not only retold the story he expanded the use of hell from this single story to become a theme for the entire magazine.
The story of Ma Barker as gang leader may have been fiction but one that did not originate from Simon and Kirby. While Ma traveled with the gang, surviving members insisted she took no part in the planning or executing the crimes. They claimed that such matters were not even discussed in her presence. It was said that the story was fabricated to protect the public image of the FBI after it was found that they had killed an elderly mother.
The next story from In the Days of the Mob is about Al Capone. It turns out that Simon and Kirby had done a story about Capone as well called “The Case Against Scarface” (Justice Traps the Guilty #1, October 1947). However the story that Jack did for In the Days of the Mob is not the same one covered by Simon and Kirby. So while the older story might have gotten his creative juices flowing, Jack ended up with an entire new tale. By the way “The Case Against Scarface” also appears in “The Best of Simon and Kirby”.
The third story, “The Kansas City Massacre”, was also one covered by Simon and Kirby (“The Strange Aftermath of the Kansas City Massacre”, Headline #26, September 1947). Solo Kirby concentrated on the massacre itself while Simon and Kirby covered that and also the events that followed. Kirby’s later version went in more detail than what was done earlier by Simon and Kirby but basically it is the same story.
The final story that Kirby did for In the Days of the Mob was an unusual one called “Method of Operation”. The story is about a gangster whose fondness for fishing leads to his arrest by the head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover himself. The oddest thing about the story is Jack refers to the criminal as “country boy” and nowhere does Kirby actually identify him. However there is no doubt that country boy was Alvin Karpis. By this point it should come as no surprise that Simon and Kirby had previously done a story called “The True Life Story of Alvin Karpis” (Justice Traps the Guilty #2, December 1947).
The official story is that J. Edgar Hoover did in fact arrest Karpis, grabbing Karpis before he was able to get a rifle from the back seat. However Karpis claimed that Hoover never appeared until the FBI agents already had him safely in custody. However the fact that the car Karpis was driving did not have a back seat certainly casts doubt on the FBI version of the story. Of course this awkward detail never made it into either the Simon and Kirby or the solo Kirby stories.
It seems clear that with In the Days of the Mob Jack Kirby was looking back to when he was collaborating with Joe Simon. This is not at all surprising. Kirby came to work for DC because he did not receive the credit he felt he deserved during his time at Marvel. Further Kirby was unhappy with the changes that Stan Lee would impose on some of his creations. Kirby sought and obtained from DC a greater control over what he produced. The sort of control he had while he was collaborating with Simon. So it was natural for Kirby to think about and use as inspiration some of the more successful Simon and Kirby efforts. That is not to say that In the Days of the Mob were just a repeat of the Simon and Kirby crime comics. None of the specific text or imagery for Kirby’s crime magazine appears to have been lifted from the earlier Simon and Kirby efforts. Kirby completely redid the stories to fit his 70′s vision of how comics should be done. His art is full of impact. As for his writing, well let us just admit that his scripting was not, as still is not, universally admired. With In the Days of the Mob, Jack Kirby was both a visionary looking forward to a new market and a reactionary looking back on successful early creations. What Kirby was not, in this case, a man of his time. DC did not know what to do with Kirby’s new crime magazine and had no faith in it at all. The title was cancelled before the second issue was ever printed.
In closing I would like to add a note about the inking of In the Days of the Mob. Vince Colletta has been criticized, quite rightly in my opinion, for the liberties he took in erasing pencils in order to speed up inking. However Colletta’s inking in this title seems very solid and not at all overbearing. I like it very much. Which is more than I can say about the final ink wash used.