Tuesday, February 27, 2018


Had I been around in the 1940’s and early 1950’s and been of comic book-buying age, I surely would have spent many of my precious adolescent dimes at the local drug store comic-rack on various Hillman Periodicals products. Best known for FROGMAN and AIR FIGHTERS/AIRBOY, they also offered REAL CLUE CRIME STORIES, PIRATES COMICS, CRIME MUST STOP, DEADEYE WESTERN, and the comic book under review today, CRIME DETECTIVE COMICS (they also had a wide variety of magazines, and continued the magazine division after shuttering the comics side in 1953).

CRIME DETECTIVE COMICS had a good run, 32 issues from 1948 to 1953. I can’t speak for the entire series—I’ve read only this issue—but this entry is not at all a typical crime comic. Perhaps the other issues are. Certainly, the exploitative cover, with gangsters dropping off a corpse at the city dump, is typical for a violent crime comic. So is the statement on the cover, “This magazine is dedicated to the prevention of crime. We hope that within its pages the youth of America will learn to know crime for what it really is: a sad, black, dead-end roads of fools and tears,” which reminds me of those solemn, do-gooding messages you’d find at the beginning of a sleazy 1930’s exploitation film.

However, the image on the cover appears nowhere in any of the stories within (I guess it was too good NOT to use!), and surprisingly, hardly any of the stories are set in the usual crime environment. Every story except one is either set in the past or in another country….or both! The quality of the storytelling is high, and the art does a good job of representing the historical periods and the foreign settings, while being action-filled, and the clever plots build suspense as the criminals seem to be getting away with their schemes and scams, but one little slip-up sends everything falling down for them, and justice triumphs!

The first story, THE MAN FROM ANGEL COURT, is set in England in the time of Dickens….and indeed, the villain is lifted from Dickens, Fagin, of Oliver Twist fame. Charles Peace’s father is killed while working with circus animals, and the crowd cheers his death on, thinking it part of the act! Young Charles then goes on a vendetta against humanity, posing as different characters in different towns and using that front to case the area and pull of some big heist. Next is the only modern American story, THE CAN OPENERS, about two guys who meet in prison and use their prison education time and the prison library to educate themselves about metallurgy and the like and then train themselves to be safe-crackers, but with a radical new technique where they extract the lock and then replace it, rather than blowing the safe or cutting a big hole in its front. SOMETHING FOR THE LADIES is set in 1870’s New York and has a rather odd plot. A crook’s wife wants a fancy coat for some ball she’s attending, but he can’t afford one. So he steals a long police officer’s coat, she uses the material to create a unique creation that impresses everyone by looking police-ish, and then everyone is knocking cops on the head during their shifts and stealing their coats! And one of the criminal gang writes poems about what’s happening! Next is THE TORCH, set in 1920’s London, about a disgruntled insurance salesman who sees how much money could potentially be made through arson, particularly when the items burned are “faked” and replaced with cheap items which will pass as the originals. He gets away with this on a bigger and bigger scale until he gets SO successful, he brings in a partner….and the partner’s loose lips sink his ship for good. The final story, THE STOLEN SHIP, is set in Scotland (and then on the high seas), is very satisfying, and is like an entire B-movie crammed into 8 pages, with an aggressive pair of crooks who steal a ship, re-name it, use it in some scam, repaint it and rename it again, use that one in yet another scam elsewhere, etc. They essentially keep the original crew hostage (the first mate was easy to buy off and get on their side), but they slip up slightly in the creation of their false papers needed for the ship’s registry and the various cargoes, and they too are taken down. As is written at the top of the page at the start of every story, and on the front cover, in boldface, THE ONLY SURE THING ABOUT CRIME IS PUNISHMENT!

The late 40’s were a Golden Age of crime comic books, and you had to deliver the goods to stay in business. This issue of CRIME DETECTIVE COMICS manages to be a bit creative while still delivering those goods. I’ve been reading a few other Hillman comics recently, and I may review some of those here. You can read this issue…and the entire run of the magazine…for free at comicbookplus.com, and Golden Age Reprints also offers a handsome exact reproduction. Even copies in lousy condition of these Hillman comics go for big bucks nowadays, and you’re unlikely to stumble across them in your junk-store shopping, so the online public domain comics sites and re-printers are doing a great public service for those of us who still care.

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