First, a little bit about Crime Comics
Comic publishers would often “devour their own young”, creating knockoffs before the competition would, saturating the market on the very genre that they helped trail blaze or in response to other publishers saturating their market. “If any title is going to steal sales, let it be one of our own.”
In this case, Lev Gleason / Comic House had established the Crime genre with Crime Does Not Pay in 1942, with their title going over 1M in sales in 1947 and 1948. Of course, the rest of the industry took notice. Jack Kirby and Joe Simon launched Headline Comics in 1947. Marvel/Timely and National/DC launched Official True Crime Cases and Gang Busters, respectively in the same year. Comic House responded by launching Crime and Punishment in 1948.
By the end of’48, nearly thirty different crime comics were on the market. Needless to say, none of them sold a million copies by the end of the year. The infamous Dr. Wertham and The Comics Code Authority attacked this genre even more fanatically than horror. They suggested that these comics were a guide to young delinquents on how to commit crimes and encouraged criminals to resist arrest and create a general disrespect from law enforcement, glorifying the criminal lifestyle and brutality. (see, every generation has its vices that the last generation points to as the reason why things aren’t like they used to be). One of the many complaints was that Crime titles overemphasized the word “Crime” on their covers.
One of my favorites in the genre was Crime SuspenStories which hit the newsstands in October 1950 from Entertaining Comics (EC), purveyors of legendary horror titles like Tales from the Crypt and Haunt of Fear. Comic House used the phrase “Illustories” on Crime and Punishment no.10, Jan 1949 more than a year before EC used the phrase “SuspenStories” on their titles. Crime SuspenStories was unrivaled in its story and art quality. I’m hoping to do a series on this title over the next few weeks. Stay tuned.
Now on to Crime and Punishment
I’ve always liked the masthead and logotype design of Crime and Punishment. Its one of the boldest and highest contrast designs of the era. The March 1952 issue was no exception. Many covers in this title had either a red or black background in the masthead. Very striking.
Al McWilliams does a great story and art in “Murder at the Masquerade”. A mobster, Madson, and the owner of Casa Cabana, “Tops” Sedgman, clash over a pretty showgirl named Gloria. The mobster is used to getting what he wants and Gloria doesn’t want anything to do with him. At first “Tops” just wants him to leave her alone at work, but soon, Gloria asks “Tops” for help, and “Tops” falls for the lithe dancer. The two lovers are soon on the run as a hit is put out on the casino owner’s head. They face off during a masquerade party where everyone seems to know who’s under which mask. Funny to think of a big-time mobster dressing up in a clown suit. I just hear Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito from Goodfellas “…but I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you?”
“Henry Darpis Public Enemy No. 1 (1931-1936)” was called “Old Creepy” in West Plains, MO in 1931. (He appears to be named after Alvin Karpis who was really on the FBI’s Most Wanted List and was caught by Hoover and FBI agents in 1936. The comic has Hoover shout “Put the cuffs on this yellow rat, boys!” but in real life, an even funnier scene took place afterwards: out of the dozen FBI agents, none had brought handcuffs. The last of the big-name Depression Era criminals had to be restrained with an agent’s necktie! Oh and the real-life Karpis was nicknamed “Creepy”. Of course, “Creepy” Karpis rolls off the tongue a bit better than “Creepy” Darpis.
Tony DiPreta’s “Caught in a Web” has a dogged detective unconvinced that the prime suspect with no alibi committed the crime. When he relentlessly seeks justice, his search puts him in the gun sights of a mob of ruthless killers.
Lastly, Fred Gardineer’s “Death on Wheels” has a fix in at the Grandchester Speedway in 1933.