By Andy Mansell | Contributor Published: 08/27/2013 10:00 am EST
Publish date: August 28, 2013 Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
I’ve heard about the series Crime Does Not Pay my whole comic reading life. Some even suggest its success was the thermometer that the publishers used to moderate post-war audiences and sent a knife into the heart of the spandex legions. I’ve read that its violence and grittiness opened the door for the landmark EC Horror/War/Crime and all-around mayhem. But none of those historical or artistic breakthroughs show themselves in volume 5 of the complete Crime Does Not Pay.
Even the author of the forward, comics historian Paul Gravett (his Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics isrequired reading!),excuses the content of this particular volume as weak and calls it (I paraphrase) the calm before the Charles Biro and Dick Wood-led storm that erupts in issue #49. The great issues are right around the corner, so for all of you completests out there (and aren’t we all to some extent?) that will be $50.00 for this volume—thank you—and another $50.00 more for the next one—thank you—before we get to the stuff that is worthy of archiving—thank you!
Hey don’t get me wrong—just like the Daredevil Archives I reviewed a month or two back, I enjoyed a bit of this book. There is that giddy excitement that comes from experiencing the Golden Age comic book energy. And Dark Horse does something wonderful with their reprint series—they publish all the original ads as well.
So let’s skip ahead in the volume to issue 40. After an over-written “Who Dunnit” from Briefer’s successor, Robert Q. Sale, CDNP delivers the solution to this mystery with a six panel comic page printed upside down! Sweet! Then a full page B&W advertisement for (wait for it…) a GIANT 30-mile range 3 ½ foot SUPER-TELESCOPE with (again, wait for it…) SUPER-POWER! All for only $2.95 C.O.D.—just pay the postman! Thank God the Nazis weren’t reading this issue and could get a hold of such affordable technology, or else 1945 might have ended a heckuva lot differently than it did!
Then we get a full-color comic page ad for Tootsie Rolls starring Captain Tootsie drawn by the future curmudgeon himself, C.C. Beck. And then a full-page ad from our friends at the Lancaster Seed Co., who will let you PICK YOUR PRIZES [TM] for agreeing to sell at least 10 packets of seeds. Prizes include a “Candid” Camera (whoa, it must be really, really small), a set of dishware (????), a gun with ammo included (a toy? The ad’s copy doesn’t specify), a violin (?), or a live canary. Damn! And the Lancaster Company assures the lucky reader, “SEND NO MONEY NOW! We TRUST you!” Wow, those guys! This page of pure avarice is followed by a house ad for both Daredevil Comics and Boy Comics—the latter featuring Crimebuster and his nose-picking monkey Squeeks. And after all of those gems, we are treated to yet another great Charles Biro cover for CDNP #41.
And then there is Dick Briefer. Is he a one of the underrated greats? I haven’t quite read enough of his work to offer it purchase in the fertile ground of the comic creators’ Elysian Fields. There is plenty of room, but the membership qualifications are rather stringent. However, with each story I read by this cartoonist, the more I admire his work and (more importantly) the more I look forward to reading more and more. Briefer’s brief (ahem) CDNP presence amounts to only about 18 pages, but they are all terrific. The first “Who Dunnit”story is a kind of classic in its own right.
And a lot of these stories aren’t half bad; they are just all the same. I do like Mr. Crime, CDNP’s spectral narrator—years before the EC Crypt-Keeper. He resembles Caniff/Sickles’ ad villain Mr. Coffee Nerves (though not rendered as well) and can be a pretty nasty commentator as he hitchhikes along on the story’s action.
So is the book worth buying for the covers and Dick Briefer? Absolutely not. While I’m grateful that Dark Horse offers the buying public a seemingly unending volume of hardbound archive editions, I can’t help thinking their Star Wars/Transformers/Conan/Mignola profits can be better spent by adopting the blueprint perfected by Fantagraphics with their EC library. Why not just offer a hardcover or two of Dick Briefer or Charles Biro’s work from the first three dozen issues (and all of the covers!), then start the complete reprint properly with issue #45 and see where it takes us strapped-for-cash denizens of classic comic fandom?
In fact, Marvel and DC should follow Groth and company’s lead as well. Imagine a Jack Cole Midnight collection. The same goes for the work of Mort Meskin. I’d love a run of his Vigilante and Johnny Quick, but I don’t need to shell out for the rest of the back-up features in Action Comics and More Fun.
Why am I spending so much time ranting and raving about this instead of focusing on the book at hand? Because Crime Does Not Pay Volume 5 is a mediocre read. The stories range from fun to not-so-fun and a lot of the art is amateurish at best. Nothing against these journeymen, but the cream of the comic artist crop was still in Europe and the Pacific. I admire their effort, but I don’t applaud it just for the sake of completeness. This is an industry built on the solid foundation of collector’s OCD. I just don’t have the money to support every book from the Golden Age.
But bring on volume 8 through 11. Unless Paul Gravett and the rest of professional fandom lied to me, we are being set up for quite a treat.
Andy Mansell lived in Chicago for over 40 years until his doctors advised him that he would die soon unless he got as far away from the land of Italian combo sandwiches and soft serve frozen custard. He is currently growing rather old rather quickly in Charlotte, NC as a member of the Waistline Protection Program. He lives for four things: his family, baseball, opera, and of course great comics. He is also looking for a ride back to Chi-town for just one more breaded steak sammich. He will provide gas, guaranteed. Contact him at this address.