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A Review By: Andrew A. Smith

This review by Andrew A. Smith appeared in October 2010 on his web-site here.

I was prepared to unload a couple of barrels of snark on The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics (Running Press, $17.95), but was pleasantly surprised.

I sneered at the idea of an anthology collection calling itself ‘best’, when it would obviously be barred from printing anything currently under copyright. So it would have little or nothing from any existing publisher - Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, etc. - or any other comics whose rights were spoken for. And I was right that most of that material is excluded. But editor Paul Gravett came perilously close to ‘Best’ anyway.

That’s because Gravett has a less parochial view than I do, and thought outside the box - and outside the U.S. Gravett, a London-based comics historian, journalist and publisher, came up with a number of European stories that truly are excellent. I don’t know why Europe loves American noir so much, or why they’re so good at it, but Best includes a Torpedo 1936 story by Sanchez Abuli and Jordi Bernet and an Alack Sinner tale by José Muñoz and Carlos Sampayo.

I did expect to see some of the famous over-the-top 1940s and 1950s material that was partly responsible for the Comics Code of 1954, because much of it belongs to defunct publishers or is in public domain. And sure enough, there are a couple of those, including the infamous Murder, Morphine and Me by Jack ‘Plastic Man’ Cole, originally published in True Crime Comics in 1947. That story was made infamous by anti-comics crusader Fredric Wertham, whose book Seduction of the Innocent used a panel showing a hypodermic needle plunging toward a woman’s eyeball to illustrate his (largely imaginary) ‘injury to the eye motif’. The heralded team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, which created Captain America, kid-gang comics and romance comics, contribute a tale from Justice Traps the Guilty from 1948.

Best includes a lengthy Secret Agent X-9 comic-strip sequence from 1934 that’s much better than the hokey name would lead you to believe, because it’s written by Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) and drawn by Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon). Others gems include stories starring modern gumshoes El Borbah, Mike Hammer and Ms. Tree, or written by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. Gravett somehow includes a 1951 EC Comics story by Johnny Craig and a 1946 Spirit episode by Will Eisner, whose rights are very much locked up.

As must be obvious by now, Gravett’s book lives up to its name in another way, in that it truly is mammoth. Best clocks in at more than 470 pages - all of it in black and white, but with crime comics that’s actually a plus.


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My Books

Comics Unmasked by Paul Gravett and John Harris Dunning from The British Library

Comics Art by Paul Gravett from Tate Publishing

1001 Comics  You Must Read Before You Die edited by Paul Gravett

All contents © Paul Gravett, except where noted.
All artwork © the respective copyright holders.