The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics [Running Press; $17.95] is my favorite volume in the series to date. Edited by Paul Gravett, the book collects nearly 500 pages of crime stories from comic books, newspaper strips, and other sources. Some of the great heroes of crime fiction are represented here - Mike Hammer, Ms. Tree, the cops of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct - as well as some of our finest comics creators: Alan Moore, Johnny Craig, Alex Toth, etc.. This is a walk down some very mean streets, but the exercise will be good for you.
Oddly enough, the high point of the book for me is one of its worst stories. I've searched for an affordable copy of the Bernie Krigstein-drawn 87th Precinct #1 for years. While the art is brilliantly frantic, it's the result of his having to work with a monumentally bad script. We're talking insane blind (!) portrait painter who kills his subjects. And, for fans of the original Ed McBain novels, there's the further absurdity of Steve Carella using his wife Teddy as bait for the killer. Sheesh!
There are weak entries - the Kane story doesn't do justice to Paul Grist's series, the Simon and Kirby yarn is hard to swallow, etc. - but most of the stories are quite good and some are first-rate. Among the non-series tales, I'd mention "Old Gangsters Never Die" by Moore and Lloyd Thatcher; "The Murderer of Hung," a moving story by Dominique Grange and Jacques Tardi; "Murder, Morphine, and Me," a psychedelic classic by Jack Cole; EC's "The Sewer" by Craig, and a trio of 1950s short stories by Krigstein, Toth, and Bill Everett.
Among the great characters represented herein are a pregnant-but-hard-as-nails Ms. Tree by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty; Torpedo 1936 by Sanchez Abuli and Jordi Bernet; Commissario Spada by Gianluigi Gonano and Gianni De Luca; Will Eisner's Spirit; and Mike Hammer by Mickey Spillane and Ed Robbins. If I had to pick the best of these tales, I'd pick the Collins/Beatty "Maternity Leave," the first and perhaps the only private eye story in which the hero is nine months pregnant.
After reading the January 7 edition of TOT, my friend Lee "Budgie" Barnett sent along his thoughts on the Joker:
The problem I've always had (well, for at least twenty years) with the Joker is that, notwithstanding some glorious stories, I just can't believe that someone who works best when portrayed as a creature of genuine impulse could ever carry out a detailed plan. I have problems believing he - the current Joker - could ever sit still long enough to actually come UP with a decent plan.
He's the sort of man who, in my view, would start thinking of a plan, get bored after five minutes - or the first time he came across any kind of obstacle - and then go shoot the closest chair because he didn't like the way one of the knotholes in the wood was looking at him.
The only decent thing the writers have done in recent years is show that the other villains are genuinely scared shitless of him. Because he's the one character they can't predict. Which leads me to say that forget about the cops, the bad guys would have knocked him off as being bad for business.
As long as my pal Budgie is in the house, I might as well plug his book, The Fast Fiction Challenge [Lulu; $11.21]. Here's the skinny on said tome:
In the summer of 2005, Lee Barnett gave readers of his blog and other writers a simple challenge: "reply with a title (no longer than four words) about which you'd like me to write a fast fiction of exactly 200 words, along with a word you want me to include in the tale." And the challenges arrived: Stories with titles like "She Killed Me Twice", "The Brain That Exploded", "The Pachyderm Wore Pink" and "Single White Fee Male" with words like ranunculus, vaginate and carronade. 300 stories later, here for the first time in print are 180 of the best.
By the time this column posts, I will have ordered my copy of Lee's book. You can do the same by going to:
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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