Following up on the success of The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics, Running Press delivers another spectacular comics anthology. The focus this time is on crime, which like horror has a long sinister tradition within comics, being partly responsible for the creation of the self-enforced censorship board known as the Comics Code Authority. Besides the essentials of guns, drugs, gumshoe detectives, femme fatales and seedy underworld criminals, this anthology also packs a winning combination of some two dozen stories ranging from the 1930s to the 1990s.
However, unlike the horror anthology, this collection overflows with well-known artists and writers, some of the best within comics and fiction today. The author/artist list reads like a “great storytellers of the 20th century” who include but are not limited to Alan Moore, Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Charles Burns, Will Eisner, Dashiell Hammett, Alex Raymond, Alex Toth, Max Allan Collins, Bill Everett, Mickey Spillane, and Neil Gaiman. While the claim of “24 of the greatest crime comics ever” is a bit hard to prove, editor Paul Gravett has collected a significant range of talent and impressive mix of stories and art styles.
After a quality introduction in which Gravett lays out the context of the “crime comic” in the larger history of comics, he jumps right into the fray by delivering a story from the always compelling and intriguing Alan Moore, with whom Gravett also closes the anthology to provide an intriguing sense of “there and back again” to the book. With Moore bookending the collection, the rest of the stories oscillate back and forth in time, contrasting the different periods, topics, and styles among the comics. Again, this creates a sense that as much as times (or crime) changes, it still remains the same. The collection also contains selections from ongoing comic book series, comic strips, and comic shorts, while also including both single-issue characters and title characters such as Eisner’s The Spirit, Burns’s El Borbah, and Spillane’s Mike Hammer.
Like other anthologies in the series, the entire selection of stories are in grayscale regardless of whether their original print was full color or not. In most cases, this proves no problem whatsoever, and it’s not entirely clear that many of these were in color - it might have been a conscious effort by Gravett to find black-and-white or grayscale comics to use for this collection. Regardless, even for colored comics, the application of grayscale works well with this collection since it is so evocative of the classic film noir style.
As anthologies go, readers will be significantly impressed with the quality and attention given to this collection. Given the theme of this collection, it goes almost without saying that it’s not for the weak of heart but will definitely be enjoyed by a great many mystery/crime readers and comic fans alike.