BEST CRIME COMICS
A Review By: Comics Village
Ben Dickson’s review of Best Crime Comics originally appeared on the Comics Village website.
If there’s one thing Mammoth Books can’t be criticised for it’s value for money. This thing is huge. The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics has got about 25 stories in it, the shortest one about 6 pages, the longest one over 80.
Of course, quantity is no indication of quality – if anything, I tend to be suspicious of large anthologies like this as it’s not easy to keep the standard high when you’ve got a lot of pages to fill. I must confess I haven’t read any of the other Mammoth anthologies, so can’t speak for them regarding quality control, but what I can say for this one is that it’s edited by Paul Gravett – and frankly, if you know his name, that’s probably all you need to know.
Paul Gravett, along with his longtime design partner Peter Stanbury, used to produce Escape, a groundbreaking and highly influencial anthology comic from the 80s. They discovered talents like Neil Gaiman and Eddie Campbell, and recently produced a series of widely acclaimed coffee-table books about different aspects of comics (including Manga! and Graphic Novels: Stories to Change Your Life). Gravett has a reputation in the industry for knowing a good thing when he sees it (earning himself the nickname “The Man at the Crossroads”, because he’s pointed so many talented people in the right direction). In other words, Gravett and Stanbury’s names are a sure sign of quality.
Letting Gravett loose on a book like this is like asking John Peel to compile a genre anthology album. You will have no idea what you’re going to get, but you know it’s going to be eclectic, surprising, and very good indeed. Gravett has an encyclopaedic knowledge of comics, and it shows. The book has contributions from Mickey Spillane and Dashiell Hammett, two of the godfathers of the crime genre. Did you know they ever did comics? I certainly didn’t but here they are. Industry favourites are present and correct including rarities from Alan Moore (who has two tales in here, bookending the anthology), Neil Gaiman, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Max Allan Collins and Charles Burns, as well as European masters such as Jaques Tardi and Gianni De Luca.
The stories themselves vary wildly in style. Part of this is due to when they were created, many of them as long ago as the 1930s. (Any historian will be fascinated by how the book demonstrates how much the language of comics has changed over the years.) However this is also due to the fact that many of these stories have been picked for the distinctive style in which the creators work. Kirby, famous for drawing Marvel Comics, has a distinctive style that will be recognisable to many readers, but many – particularly the work of the European artists such as Tardi – will be introduced to new audiences through this book.
Story-wise, we have what you would expect – Kirby’s The Money Making Machine Swindlers is a classic Crime Doesn’t Pay! storyline, complete with a not-so-innocent heroine, whereas Dashiel Hammett’s Secret Agent X-9 covers the adventures of agent Dexter as he hunts for a mysterious criminal mastermind in a world where nobody is as they seem. Yet there are also big surprises in here too. Giobe and De Lucca’s Strada is a story about perception, and how people’s descriptions colour a chase to catch a thief. Charles Burns’ El Borbah is about a masked wrestler acting as a private detective. Alan Moore’s second story, I Keep Coming Back, is about ending up back at the Ten Bells Pub once frequented by the victims of Jack the Ripper, and finding himself having to confront his emotions about it. As Moore states, “You have to be so careful what you write about.”
There’s very little to criticise here at all. There really isn’t a dud story in the whole package, each and every story is wildly different from the last, yet all fall very neatly into the crime genre. If you have any interest in comics as a medium and want to see how it can work in different ways and what it’s capable of, buy this book. If you like crime stories, buy this book. If you want to discover something new, buy this book. If you like comics to give value for money, buy this book.
In short, buy this book.