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BEST CRIME COMICS

A Review By: Bookgasm

The following review appeared on the "_blank">Bookgasm website edited by Rob Lott in July 2008.

Unlike the previous comics collections in the Mammoth line, The Mammoth Book Of Best Crime Comics features a ton of big names instead of unknowns and never-weres. That’s no slam against the others, but it’s amazing to see rare graphic work from the likes of Ed McBain, Mickey Spillane and Dashiell Hammett under one roof, not to mention alongside Will Eisner, Max Allan Collins, Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore.

At nearly 500 pages and less than 20 bucks, this is one of your better book values of the year. Edited by comics historian Paul Gravett, the heavy tome of heavies is a colorful tour of black-and-white stories from the gutter, dating as far back as the 1930s.

It’s bookended by two brief bits from Moore, both adult in nature. Set in the worlds of gangster and strippers, they’re like little tone poems, serving as the perfect appetizer and dessert. Sanchez Abuli and Jordi Bernet’s Torpedo 1936: The Switch is the first find - a hard-boiled revenge tale from 1982 with curvy waitresses, shots to the head and viable threats.

Marvel vets Joe Simon and Jack Kirby are represented with 1948’s The Money-Making Machine Swindlers, a true-confessions-style account of a woman who pays the price by getting involved in a con-artist’s scheme. She tells her story from the confines of prison, of course.

McBain wrote a ton of procedural novels set in the 87th Precinct, but who knew there was a short-lived Dell comic based on his characters? From 1962, the first issue, Blind Man’s Bluff, from the first issue is here, and it’s a semi-surreal gem. It has nothing in the wacko department, however, compared to Plastic Man creator’s histrionic Murder, Morphine and Me!, featuring the infamous needle-toward-the-eyeball panel and more overwrought melodrama packed into 14 pages than you thought possible.

The great Charles Burns — whose recently re-released Black Hole is a masterpiece — spotlights his masked-wrestler detective El Borbah in the delightfully insane Love in Vein, while none other than The Spirit inhabits the pages in Eisner’s The Portier Fortune. No crime comics anthology would be complete with him.

Hammett collaborated with Flash Gordon artist Alex Raymond for the Secret Agent X-9 daily comic strip, and here we get a complete story arc from 1934 - nearly five months’ worth - running 80 pages. It’s everything you’d expect from Hammett, who seemed not confined by telling a story in four-panel chunks.

After hearing about Collins’ and Terry Beatty’s Ms. Tree character, it was nice to finally actually read one, and 1992’s Maternity Leave from DC is a riot. The female detective is nine months pregnant, yet that doesn’t stop her from getting into trouble, as someone’s trying to off her. It ends with a slam-bang finale and her genius line of “I just killed two morons… and my water broke.”

From 1948, Who Dunnit? is a curosity and a novelty - a mystery in which the reader is given all the clues, and must flip the last page over for the solution. The only problem is that the panels are crammed with so much dialogue, the characters threaten to drown under their own word balloons.

Spillane’s first comics sale is reprinted, with 1942’s Mike Lancer and the Syndicate of Death, a Mike Hammer prototype that’s unpolished. It’s followed by Hammer himself in his Sunday strip from 1954 - a stark improvement. Another crime icon - that of EC Comics - gets its due with Johnny Craig’s The Sewer, from the pages of Crime Suspenstories.

With such name talents, true grit and real bang for your buck, this collection is an absolute winner that future Mammoth graphic volumes will be hard-pressed to top. Book it!

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