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BEST CRIME COMICS

A Review By: Kevin Burton Smith

The following review by Kevin Burton Smith appeared on his Thrilling Detective Blog on 27 December 2008.

This hefty brick of a paperback, edited by Paul Gravett, is like a warning tossed through the plate glass window complacency of all those skinny, over-priced little graphic “novels” that offer a lot of overblown pretentious artwork and precious little actual plot.

You want story? This collections offers a virtual who’s who tour of crime comics from the forties to the present, offering samples of everything from Will Eisner’s The Spirit to Collins’ and Beatty’s Ms. Tree. The earliest selection is a dry run of Spillane’s Mike Hammer (“Mike Lancer and the Syndicate of Death” from 1942) and winds its way to the present, offering mostly complete stories (or story arcs, in the case of strips) of such familiar classics as Dashiell Hammett and Alex Raymond’s Secret Agent X-9.

Sure, even clocking in at close to 500 pages, there are some glaring omissions (No Dick Tracy? No Slam Bradley? No Johnny Dynamite or 100 Bullets?), but the spattering of off-beat choices and outright rarities they offer instead (a 87th Street Precinct tale from 1962, a 1975 Alack Sinner vignette, a 1948 Simon-Kirby short) more than make up for it.

Please, please, please may this be an annual collection.

BONUS RANT: This is real deal crime—not some dubious “noir” homage featuring some musclebound, spandexed doofus with a fedora slapped on his noggin, like Marvel’s recent X Men Noir. Hell, the only spandex in evidence is worn by Charles Burns’ El Borbah, the Mexican professional wresler turned private eye. And that’s supposed to be a joke.

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

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