Crime Does Not Pay: The First issues

Crime Does Not Pay Volume 1

A while back I mentioned Blackjacked And Pistol-Whipped: A Crime Does Not Pay Primer,  a handsome 2011 Dark Horse Books trade pb with a sampling of stories from that notorious early 1950’s pre-comics code authority era title, which also included a detailed, multi-page history by Denis Kitchen.

Crime Does Not Pay: Volume One is a 2012 hardcover reproducing complete intact issues, ads and all. Much of Crime Does Not Pay’s legendary status – and why it attracted the attention of censors and the newly appointed Comics Code Authority — is due to its gruesome covers more than the actual stories and art, some of which can be surprisingly tame. But oh, those covers…yikes! The Charles Biro art shown here is pretty indicative of some. Crime Does Not Pay was packaged by Charles Brio and Bob Wood, the latter coming to a nasty end a few years after Crime Does Not Pay’s demise, doing time for manslaughter (which by all accounts should have been a second-degree murder charge), his girlfriend the victim. Out after only three years, Wood hit the skids, and died in 1961…run over by a truck when drunk, or as the rumor mill tells it, taken for a one-way ride by some former prison acquaintances. Either way, Wood’s story is a Crime Does Not Pay tale in itself, and worthy of its own post later.

This 279-page book is a visual treat, with crisp and vibrant colors throughout that really make the sometimes-stilted vintage artwork pop. Volumes Two and Three were right beside this book when I bought it a week ago. I have a feeling they’ll be going home with me on my next trip to that particular comix shop.

Betty Bates, Lady Lawyer

Betty Bates 2

Betty Bates, Lady Lawyer (AKA Betty Bates – Attorney at Law, Betty Bates – Lady at Law and just plain ol’ Betty Bates) is one vintage female crimefighter comic series that needs no apologies or caveats. Created by Stanley Charbot, pen name for Bob Powell, and sometimes drawn by artists Al Bryant, Nick Cardy and Alice Kirkpatrick, Betty Bates, Lady Lawyer appeared in Hot Comics for ten years from 1940 through 1950. The early issues’ art is, frankly, pretty crude, though no worse than many other comics were at the time (peek at the earliest Batman issues for comparison). But with Cardy and Bryant wielding the pencils, inking pens and sable brushes later on, there are spots in the series that could rival even some of Matt Baker’s fluid panels.

Betty Bates 1

Consider: Betty Bates wasn’t just one more in a long line of assistants, secretaries or girlfriends. Bates was the D.A. In fact, Betty Bates, Lady Lawyer was the longest running series led by a lawyer – man or woman – till Marvel’s Daredevil passed the ten-year mark, and it was one of the longest running non-super powered/non-costumed comic heroes of the golden age.

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But Bates doesn’t spend too much time in the court room, far too busy fighting crooks, looking for trouble or getting caught up in it. Using her wits and falling back on some handy martial arts skills when needed, she normally prevails on her own and without the aid of some hunky cop or boyfriend, though some stories include ‘Larry’, a reporter who’s obviously smitten with the lady lawyer.

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Two things leap out at you: The drawings foregoe the then customary ‘good girl art’ look, with its intrusive peekaboo bathing suit and undressing scenes. Similarly, though Betty falls into some bad guys’ clutches, it’s no more frequent than in any other crime comics or costumed superhero series, and no one could label Betty Bates, Lady Lawyer as a ‘damsel in distress’ or ‘women in peril’ comic. In fact, the stories are really quite good, several stand up well even today, and with ten years of material, there’s a lot to read.

Betty Bates Attorney At Law 2

The Gwandanaland Betty Bates – Lady At Law Readers Collection is a hefty volume, with over 400 pages of Betty Bates stories. Strangely, they’re all black and white, though the comics were full color, of course (I’ve included some online finds here, the book too fat to open in my scanner). A couple came from awful originals, were scanned off of second-generation copies or perhaps just poorly scanned and not corrected, and I was pretty disappointed that the publisher would include such barely readable pieces. But with so many in the book, quantity made up for quality…I guess.

I don’t know why, but they also decided to tack on a few unrelated ‘bonus’ pieces: several Jungle Lil and Miss America stories, also with some mighty uneven scanning and in black and white. I’m not much for adventure pulps/comics, whether Jungle Jane’s, Jill’s or Lil’s, and 1940’s era costumed superheroes aren’t really my thing. But I’ll be bringing up the Miss America stories in another post nonetheless (you’ll see why). No idea why Gwandanaland added this material…the Betty Bates, Lady Lawyer stories really made for a nice fat book all on their own.

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Gail Ford – Girl Friday

Gail Ford

Homicide Bureau Inspector Madson’s able assistant Gail Ford is rarely seen slogging through routine office chores or clerical duties, more typically enlisted to go undercover to help the police solve vexing cases, palming herself off as everything from a greasy spoon waitress to a department store clerk, a personal maid or a fresh-off-the-bus rube just arrived in the big bad city.

Gail Ford – Girl Friday was created by Gene Leslie and first appeared in Crime Smashers in 1950. Or, depending on the source, she was created by Ray McClelland, and also appeared in Smash Detective magazine as one of that crime fiction pulp’s comics features. I’ll have to leave it up to vintage pulp and comics experts to confirm authorship and venues, none of which matters much to a non-collector like myself. But the 15 stories included in this Gwandanaland trade paperback are supposed to be from 15 consecutive Crime Smashers issues running from 1950-1953. A couple are credited to Pierre Charpentier and Keats Petree.

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Unlike some near-contemporaries like Adolphe Barreaux’ well-known Sally The Sleuth or Queenie Starr, Gail Ford – Girl Friday managed to chase crooks and solve crimes without losing all of her clothes. A smart investigator and quite the daredevil, she kept a revolver handy in her purse and knew how to use it, and had to trade blows more than once with menacing thugs, most of whom learned the hard way just what a high heel can really do when there’s a full-force Gail Ford kick behind it. She almost seems like a prototype for Mickey Spillane’s Velda, right down to the shoulder length Bettie Page style hairdo, complete with neatly trimmed bangs.

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The Gwadanaland book includes no intro, front or back matter, just scans of the comics pages themselves. But it’s a nicely printed book and the material is all quite crisp and readable, considering. The firm aims to publish largely forgotten public domain material, and I’ll be getting more from them for sure.

 

Some Vintage ‘Stiletto Gumshoes’

Klassik Komix Holywood Detective Front

Mini-Komix’ (or is it Klassik Komix?) Hollywood Detective is a 100-page trade paperback combining several Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective stories (most of which I already had in other compilations or pulp reprints) with some relative rarities, including genuine ‘stiletto gumshoes’ from the 1940’s – 50’s. Now I’m no vintage crime comics historian, but I think the non-Dan Turner pieces aren’t from Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective magazines, but from the vintage crime pulp Speed Detective, which included (and actively promoted) a comics section in most issues, including Ray McClelland’s “Gail Ford – Girl Friday” and Gene Leslie’s “Queenie Starr – Glamour Girl Of Hollywood” along with Newt Alfred’s “Ray Hale – News Ace”.

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This book includes all of those, plus a “Betty Blake” four page shortie. H. L. Parkhurst’s Betty Blake was a contemporary of Alphonse Barreaux’ Sally The Sleuth, both launched in the Spring of 1934, though Betty only managed to survive for a half dozen appearances while Sally The Sleuth continued (in evolving forms) well into the 1950’s. Additionally, Betty, the daughter of a New York police inspector, somehow managed to keep her clothes on while solving crimes, unlike Sally The Sleuth. I’d tell you more, but Hollywood Detective includes no introduction, back matter, dates, details…nothing. There’s a write-up on this early female detective pulp/comics character from Kevin Burton Smith at the Thrilling Detective site. Check it out.

Gail Ford

For me, the real treats in this slim book are the Gail Ford – Girl Friday story, “Girl Snatchers” (a sample page shown above) and the three Queenie Starr – Glamour Girl Of Hollywood stories. I’d read little snippets here and there about these characters, perhaps seen some random panel art (typically unidentified or credited) at a Tumblr blog, Pinterest or elsewhere. But now I finally got to read a few complete pieces. If you’re into the roots of female detectives, cops, reporters and sundry snoops from the mid-twentieth century, they were a real find.

Queenie Starr

McClelland’s Gail Ford and Leslie’s Queenie Starr (Ms. Starr shown right above) have a bit of the era’s pervy peekaboo Good Girl Art feel to them, no question. Queenie Starr in particular, seems to spend a lot of time posing for cheesecake photos or sunning poolside in a bathing suit…reasonable enough, perhaps for a ‘Hollywood Glamour Girl’. But not unlike Barreaux’ Sally The Sleuth, she spends an inordinate amount of time getting dressed and undressed. Unfortunately for the various Hollywood crooks, schemers and murderers she gets mixed up with, prancing about in negligees or lingerie doesn’t seem to hinder her ability to solve Tinsel Town’s crimes. All in all, quirky retro stuff, but very interesting.

Super Detective May 1950

 

 

Undercover Girl (Well, One Of Them)

Alexi Smith 3

An Academy Award nominee it wasn’t, and labeling Universal’s 1950 Undercover Girl a ‘film noir’ might be broadening the genre’s parameters a bit. Or not, depending on where you draw the line between ‘noir’ and postwar crime melodrama. Pretty sure there’s no connection to the popular comic character Starr Flagg – Undercover Girl from right around the same period, which was created by that human writing machine Gardner Fox with art by Ogden Whitney, first appearing in Manhunt starting in 1947, graduating to her own short-lived comic title in 1952.

Starr flagg Undercover Girl

Still, Canadian born actress Alexis Smith, perhaps best known to noir and crime film fans for The Two Mrs. Carrolls alongside Humphrey Bogart in 1945, wields a revolver pretty well in this postwar era crime-action film as a rookie cop out to nab the narcotics gang responsible for her father’s death. Or at least, she does it handily in the film’s publicity stills.

Alexis SmithAlexis Smith 2Alexis Smith Undercover Girl 1950Undercover girl colored

Blackjacked & Pistol-Whipped

Crime Does Not Pay

The Crime Does Not Pay comic book series debuted in 1942, the first of its kind to publish such unvarnished, gritty, violent crime tales in a marketplace that had become saturated with good-guys and their sidekicks flitting around in capes and tights, following the success of Superman, Batman and other costumed ‘superheroes’. The title lasted till 1955, though it was pretty watered down by then, following the parental and even Congressional scrutiny of the comic book marketplace.

This handsome trade pb from Dark Horse Books includes two dozen beautifully reproduced vintage Crime Does Not Pay tales, along with an introduction by Brian Azzarello and an informative essay by Denis Kitchen, which details one of the comic’s founders (Bob Wood) own criminal legacy: He arrested for the gruesome murder of his lover in New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel. Seriously, it’s a real life story straight out of Crime Does Not Pay comics. Even 70+ years later, these stories are still pretty, rough, tough and violent. Just how ‘true’ they are…well, who cares?

rime Does Not Pay Back

 

Vixens, Vamps & Vipers

vixens vamps & vipers

I adore 1930’s – 50’s crime comics and even some costumed superheroes from that period…well, one at least: Batman. But it was a boys’ club, after all, and it takes some digging to uncover the era’s ‘stiletto gumshoes’, with not a lot to show for the search. Mike Madrid has done a lot of the digging for us, in his first book The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy And The History Of Comic Book Heroines, then Divas, Dames & Daredevils: Lost Heroines Of Golden Age Comics.

supergirls & divas

A year later, Madrid decided to give the villainesses their due, and rightly so, since it may be that crime and villainy were just about the only way mid-twentieth century women in comics could assert themselves, after all. Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Villainesses Of Golden Age Comics is a handsome 250+ page book from Exterminating Angel Press and should be a must-read for fans of vintage comics, and in particular, anyone interested in women’s roles in mid-20th century pop culture. The book reproduces 22 different 1940’s-50’s comic stories along with well researched but very readable background information on the characters themselves, their superhero/crime fighter opponents, and the writers and artists who brought them to life. Notable female villains like Madame Doom, Veda The Cobra Woman And Skull Lady are here, but more prosaic crooks and femmes fatales were the most fun for me. For example, National Comics’ 1943 Idaho, who reminds me of a wisecracking Barbara Stanwyck in a 1930’s screwball comedy or crime caper. As the book states, these characters “both transcend and become ensnared in a web of cultural stereotypes”. Female superheroes and women crime fighters from the capes & tights variety (and demure little skirts, in most cases) to the plucky girl reporters, private eyes and DA’s were few enough. Perhaps the only way for female characters to be allowed to fully assert themselves alongside or against the era’s goody two shoes heroes was as villainesses, and there are some memorable ones in this book that’ll surely send you poking around online and digging in vintage comics bins for more.

madame doom

The Last Comics.

dan turner

Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective: The Last Comics: This is a Fiction House Press trade pb collecting fifteen Dan Turner tales from the late 1950 through March 1953 Crime Smashers comics, all written by Robert Leslie Bellem, illustrated by Adolphe Barreaux (of Sally The Sleuth fame), Robert McCarty, Max Plaisted or Tony Tallarico. Bellem was the creator of the Dan Turner character, originally appearing in a 1934 issue of the pulp magazine Spicy Detective and later having his own title that ran from 1942 to 1950. But these aren’t prose pulp tales — they’re short 8-page comics stories and, no surprise, the mysteries are pretty contrived and sometimes more than a little repetitious. The fun, though, is in the period dialog. To a starlet being framed for a murder, whose only alibi is a secret tryst: “You’re in a jackpot, kitten. To nix a murder rap, you’ll have to confess you were indulging in neckery with a boyfriend”. When Dan discovers the gun used in a murder: “And here’s the croakery weapon, begosh!” Interrogating a female suspect: “I’ll have another chin-fest with the Laverne quail”. And so on.

dan turner - girl fight

Actually, many of the individual panels from these very stories have been circulating all over comics and other sites and blogs for ages, particularly the girl-fight scenes, of which there are quite a few, the stories all set among Hollywood studios, and it is Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective after all. The five-panel piece above, for example, depicts Fifi Valcour (I swear, I’m going to steal that name for something!) and Brenda Lee staging a Paris café brawl for a movie scene they’re shooting, which results in the murder of Monarch Pictures director Baldy Boyd. Fun stuff.

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