Crime Does Not Pay

Crime Does Not Pay: Blackjacked and Pistolwhipped: A Crime Does Not Pay Primer: edited by Denis Kitchen, John Lind, and Philip Simon; written by Bob Wood; illustrated by Charles Biro, Jack Alderman, Dan Barry, George Tuska, Carmine Infantino, Dick Briefer, Bob Montana, Fred Guardineer (1943-49; collected 2011): Once upon a time, there were mass-market comic books that featured stories that didn’t involve superheroes, and these comic books sold millions of copies a month. That is, each title sold that amount. It was the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Superheroes were on their way out after World War Two. Crime, horror, and romance comics were on their way in.

A juvenile delinquency flap in the U.S. and Canada would ultimately do in comic books when they seemed poised on the brink of becoming, as they would in France and Japan, something with a much broader readership base than children. Superheroes would come back. And some of the finest American comic books ever created would die on the vine.

Crime Does Not Pay was the most popular comic book of the late 1940’s, selling as many as five million copies a month (for the sake of comparison, the best-selling monthly American comic book now clocks in at around 125,000 copies a month). Its violence and its creepy narrator, Mr. Crime, looked forward to the violent, brilliant EC comics of the 1950’s and the creepy narrators of EC’s horror books, the Cryptkeeper being the one who remains in the popular consciousness thanks to HBO’s Tales from the Crypt series of the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

These short tales, all ‘based on a true story’, still pack a kick today. Their graphic violence would get them targetted by censorship groups looking to protect children from violence in the media. And as a terrible bonus, the head writer of the series, Bob Wood, would himself be involved in a lurid murder trial for his killing of his lover with an iron and, once released from jail, would eventually be murdered himself. Wood’s downfall occurred after Crime Does Not Pay had been forced off the market.

Anyone who thinks today’s kids are exposed to an unprecedentedly violent media universe would do well to read this compilation. Heads are mashed into flames, brains are blown out, babies are killed in their cribs — and at the end of each story, we’re informed that crime doesn’t pay because these criminals were finally caught and/or killed. But I don’t think most readers were there for the moral uplift at the end. Boy, though. Boy, wow. Highly recommended.

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