Earlier this year, there was quite a stir of attention (and appropriately so) for author David Hajdu’s latest book, “The Ten Cent Plague: the Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America,” which delved into the quirky and alarming crusades against comics in this country that reached their shrill peaks in the 1940s and 1950s. In a piece I wrote in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, I admired the research but had some problems with the focus in the final analysis. That said, the book and its tale really stuck with me, and I think it should be on the bookshelf of anyone who loves comics history. And you know what should go right next to it? “The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics” and not just because both have oddly long and stilted titles.
If Hajdu gives us the motivation for the pop-culture offenses, this book, edited by Paul Gravett, gives us the crime-scene photos, so to speak. The book arrived in the mail the other day and the first thing I noticed was the heft; you get your money’s worth with 480 pages of two-timing molls, square-jawed cops, doomed losers and booze-soaked ciphers. There’s an impressive array of talent surveyed here, too, with classic names such as Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Bill Everett, Joe Simon, Jack Cole, Bernie Krigstein and Johnny Craig. More than that, “Best Crime” brings its lurid mission well into the contemporary decades, with comics work by Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Charles Burns and mystery novelist Max Allan Collins (whose “Road to Perdition” comics spawned the film of the same name).