Tuesday, August 11, 2020


This handsome 290-page paperback combines two earlier Gwandanaland collections, each documenting the four-issue run of a grim, violent Avon crime comic book: POLICE LINE-UP ran four issues from August 1951 through July 1952, while GANGSTERS & GUN MOLLS ran four issues from September 1951 through June 1952. Any issue of either goes for big bucks nowadays, and with good reason….this is about as hard-hitting and brutal as crime comics got. Some punk goes on a crime spree, killing random people for a quick score, or because he didn’t like their look, or because he’s working his way up the crime totem-pole and wants to show his boss he doesn’t mess around and the boss should fear him. He winds up getting blown away by the police, or caught and sent to the chair.

GANGSTERS & GUN MOLLS uses a lot of actual known criminals, telling their stories in over-the-top, highlights-only five to eight page blasts that don’t stop to take a breath. For instance, here’s the come-on line for JUANITA PEREZ, THE GYPSY KILLER! :”Gypsy thief, embezzling clerk, dance hall girl, gun-toting gang lookout, dope pusher, corrupt ward assistant, underworld queen—the career of this thrill-crazed murderess seems incredible.” What fan of low-budget crime films and pulp crime magazines and Mike Hammer novels could NOT plunk down his ten cents on the drug-store counter for a comic book like this.

POLICE LINE-UP is even better, if that’s possible. Let’s start with the first issue. THE LINEUP tells the story of Andy “Squint” Sheridan, who is so mean his parents try to turn him in when he’s 12. By that time, he’d already got the “squint” from throwing lye in the faces of his crime victims and getting a bit of it in one of his own eyes (and when looking up his true story online, I see that’s not at all how he got the eye damage, but it makes for a much better sensationalized experience than the reality would). It’s one brutal killing after another here, with an occasional short prison term spreading the crime spree over multiple years. His end? Death row. The story is told in such a way that we never see the actual squint and a clear view of Sheridan’s face until the final panels of the comic—it’s always hidden by cigarette smoke, or he’s at an angle where it’s not seen, or someone’s shoulder or arm is in the way. It’s very effective storytelling, the kind you’d get in some late 40’s bottom-of-the-bill Eagle-Lion crime programmer that someone who’d buy this comic book would love. Next is KILLER, the story of Wally Marvin, church-going Midwestern boy who wants the finer things in life and to impress his girlfriend. He blows away various local merchants and thinks he’s clever by wearing borrowed suits for each one. His girlfriend is surprised how quickly he has a down payment for a place to live, a car, etc. In the final scene, they are strapping him into the chair at the state prison. Next is IRENE SCHROEDER, also known as the Keystone Hellcat. With her clinging and easily-influenced boyfriend Glen, she began her crime spree in Western PA, north of Pittsburgh and south of the palatial BTC offices in Sharon/Hermitage (she’d earlier been a waitress in Wheeling, West Virginia, and always swears she’ll never work in a hash-house again!). In the comic book, she’s hanged in some western state, but in real life, she was the first woman to be electrocuted in the state of PA, wearing (according to online sources) “a gray dress of imitation silk with white collars and cuffs, beige silk stockings and black satin slippers" as she was strapped into the chair. And we’re not even halfway through issue 1 of POLICE LINE-UP yet!

The original pages of these rare and expensive comics are well-transferred by Gwandanaland, with none of the computer re-coloring you see in more highbrow reprints. A case can be made for that technique—I adore my computer-recolored PHANTOM and TARZAN hardback archival reprints—but somehow the fading of the original comics, often going a bit into a pinkish red or a greenish yellow, totally fits the grimy and unpleasant stories being told. These are the kind of comic books that led to the moralists’ shrill outcry against comics and eventually the dreaded Comics Code Authority. Although a number of publishers never followed the Code, comics were never the same after.

There is no mystery element in these stories, no police procedural details, no psychological insights, and fortunately no bleeding hearts telling us how they were misunderstood souls. No, these are the human equivalent of rabid dogs, and when they are put down by a police revolver or the electric chair, there’s no drama and no tears are shed.

Forget origin stories and story arcs and comic-cons….forget the first time someone used the term “canon” when discussing comics…. something like GANGSTERS & GUN MOLLS and POLICE LINE-UP reminds me of how great comic books can be. 70 years after their publication, they STILL deliver a lean, efficient, stinging CHEAP THRILL….the same kind of cheap thrill they delivered to the pimple-faced teenager whose worn copy may well have been reproduced here. I can imagine him sitting behind his parents’ apartment, smoking corn silk and sipping a little bourbon he took from his father’s bottle on the mantle, watering it back the same level and hoping Dad would not notice, looking forward to the next time he could steal some change from his mother’s purse to buy MORE mind-rotting comic books….because after all, COMIC BOOKS ARE YOUR BEST ENTERTAINMENT VALUE!

1 comment:

Alvin Bishop said...

I've known a few gin molls in my day. Keep 'em comin', Bill! Cheers!