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Revel in the antics of hooligans, hoods, gangsters, bootleggers, pimps, pickpockets, rakehells… – Crime Does Not Pay #77

July 24, 2012

Look at the mug on Mary Sullivan, the Crime Does Not Pay Editorial Consultant pictured in the cover’s lower left-hand corner. Man, does she have the fierce mien of a born ball-buster. That cinder-block jaw looks like it could crack nuts — maybe yours. If stern Irish morality ever took human form, it was hers.

Crime, like the Golden Age Daredevil a Lev Gleason publication, was the brainchild of that superhero’s creator, Charles Biro, and Bob Wood. It had violent pre-Code stories that luridly told tales of gangsters and petty criminals going on rampages and then, thanks to their own stupidity and the relentless efforts of law enforcement, meeting justice. While the gangsters and murderers and petty thieves all got their just deserts at the close of each story, that these shady characters were the stars of the show was inescapable. The earnest, dogged cops that hunted them down like dogs could never compete. This it’s-good-to-be-bad aspect was surely what gave the book its sustained run of success (we’re in issue 77 here, after all), but was what led to its downfall when the Wertham’s of the world got their panties in a twist. (And this subtext was something that probably flew over the heads of the Mary Sullivans of the world.)

Though the cast of characters changed with each story, some still had a spectral narrator. Mr. Crime was an apparition that would pop in and out to comment on the goings on in tales now and again. He was the only character that carried over from issue to issue in this anthology (itself an innovation) series, and his leanings seemed to vary. Sometimes he’d approve of the wanton criminality, sometimes he’d marvel at the ultimate stupidity of the criminal mind. I’ve seen others compare him to the Man in Black Called Fate, and those comparisons aren’t off base. He’s in this issue, but I didn’t pull any scans of the story in which he appeared. Trust me, you’ll survive. If you want to know what he looks like, he’s out there on the internet. LURKING.

Now. Some samples…

I liked this full-page C.H. Moore bit, which is a nice little window into 1940s crime-fighting advances:

Ever seen Michael Mann’s original Hopkins-free Hannibal Lecter (Lektor) film, the magnificent Manhunter? There’s a great scene in there where FBI agents race against time to work over a scrap of (unused) toilet paper that has a secret message from one serial killer to another. The take it from station to station, from special lights to everything else, but no fancy whiz-bang computers. It was all state of the art in the 1980s when it was filmed, but now it all looks rather quaint. WHERE ARE MY FLASHY CSI EFFECTS AND CARUSO’S SUNGLASSES? This isn’t really anything like that, but it reminded me of it. “Television — The Greatest Threat Evildoers Have Ever Known.” (Also, if you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor and watch Manhunter.)

The cover story is interesting for some of its violence and a stunningly glib ending (and above-average artwork). Some teenage hoods break into a packing company and rough up the wizened old watchman (complete with pipe and potbelly stove):

They scared the pipe right out of him.

After this their spree hops to a new level, as they try to rob a grocery store, only to have their crime interrupted by the grocer’s younger brother. SHOTS FIRED:

Ned, though looking like a goner, lives. But the hood who gets hit dies. His father is contacted by the cops — who’ve been tailing this gang — and he tearily fills them in on his son’s friends. This gives the gumshoes the clues they need to track them, which is right back to the packing company and our night watchman pal. But the old s.o.b. has a trick up his sleeve — shocking them with live wires attached to the safe. Which ties in to the glib ending:

I’m not a strident opponent of capital punishment, but the old man’s a little to happy for my taste, especially as two young lives are condemned. WAIT TILL YOU GET TO THE COURTHOUSE STEPS FOR THAT, GRAMPS. (Also, the hoods are wearing the same clothes they were on their rampage. Maybe they have something in common with Twilight Zone hippies.)

Dark Horse has started reprinting the old Crime books in lush hardcover tomes. I don’t know that they’d be something that I’d personally go out of my way to buy, but if you can take a heavy dose of Lurid in each sitting, they might be something to check out. The stories are neat, and a step above the standard Golden Age fare.

Back to Mary Sullivan. I opened this post mocking her grim visage, but now I should pay some homage. A cursory scan of internet entries on her (thinly sourced ones, granted) reveals that she was a quite accomplished policewoman back in the days when there was no such thing — they were patronizingly called “police matrons” back then. She was a homicide detective, an undercover operative, a crusader for the rights of women within the cop fraternity, and any number of other stew ingredients. She even wrote an autobiography documenting her rather remarkable career, one published in 1938 and reprinted in the earl 1980s.

Anyway. No offense intended, Ms. Sullivan. Please don’t rise from the grave and whack me over the head with a nightstick.

Finally, should any young or youngish readers stumble across this post and want to one day grow up to be like Mary Sullivan or any other police officer, here’s a “Police Detection Quiz” to test your mettle:

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