The Simon And Kirby Library: Crime by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (graphic novel review).

The Simon And Kirby Library: Crime’ is another fine volume in the Titan books series collecting old works by these stars of Golden Age comics. Most readers will be more familiar with Kirby’s super-hero stuff, but super-heroes were not as popular in the era after World War II and creators turned to other genres. As Kirby grew up in New York’s rough lower east side during the roaring twenties, crime suited him just fine.

This volume contains thirty-four tales in nearly three hundred pages of powerful panels. Most of the work is from 1947-48 and originally appeared in ‘Clue Comics’, ‘Real Clue Crime Stories’, ‘Headline Comics’ and ‘Justice Traps the Guilty’. Those used to Kirby’s vast panels of muscular heroes, complex machinery and Kirby Krackle may be interested to see how he drew real life. There’s plenty of fighting and gunfire but quiet interior shots, too. These show his composition skills in getting a foreground, middle ground and background into a small space and making it visually attractive. Some of the art is sloppy, but that’s the nature of fast production and deadlines. Opinions differ on how much of the drawing Joe Simon did but I think he scripted some of these text-heavy stories, usually in the hard-boiled first-person narrative style popular at the time. He did it well, too.

There’s an introduction by crime writer Max Allan Collins, a friend of Mickey Spillane. Collins tells us that Spillane started his writing career in the early 40s at Funnies, Inc. alongside Simon and Kirby. Also, Collins has featured some true life gangsters in his own fiction, including a few characters used here and he lets us know which parts of their stories are genuine.

There’s the rub. Most of the stories here purport to be true. Many are sort of true. Just for fun, I looked them up on Wikipedia. It would be tedious to check every real-life fact against an eight-page comic story and there’s no doubt that a lot of ‘artistic licence’ went into the tales. They also excluded adult content like abortion, adultery and bigamy that happened but would have been unsuitable for the medium. Even so, there is truth at the core of many, including these.

‘King Of The Bank Robbers’ is about George Leonidas Leslie, who studied architecture and used blueprints to plan his bank robberies. The eight-page short story gives a brief overview of his career and death.

‘Come With Me And Die!’ is another fact-based yarn about a Jack the Ripper style lady killer who operated in London during the Blitz. Max Allan Collins wrote a novel about this case, ‘The London Blitz Murders’.

‘Gang Doctor’ is anonymised here as Doctor Black, but in real life was Joseph P. Moran. When alcohol addiction ruined his legitimate business, he became an abortionist and served time in jail. The criminals he met there became his future clients and he had close ties to the mob in Chicago. His end was as portrayed, but no one’s sure who did it.

‘The Terrible Whyos’ were a real-life gang in 1880s New York led by Danny Lyons and Danny Driscoll, who stipulated that a man had to kill someone to become a member. They were all Irish and I think the film ‘Gangs Of New York’ was based on this era.

‘Let Me Plan Your Murder’ is the true story of H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer who did indeed build a murder castle in Chicago.

Headline Comics’ stories all ended with the warning caption in big black letters: ‘Crime Never Pays!’ They even did this on the Guy Fawkes story, just in case any American kids were planning to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Putting poor old Guy on a par with John Dillinger and Babyface Nelson is a bit unfair. He wasn’t in it for the money.

The stories are often very short and, at first, I found it hard to get into the book. When I did, I more or less read it straight through and liked it. There are surprisingly brutal scenes for one who grew up in the age of the Comics Code Authority, which these tales predate, but nothing terrible by modern standards. Full of flying bullets, gunplay and gangsters, ‘The Simon And Kirby Library: Crime’ is an action-packed endorsement of the second amendment to the United States constitution. Remember kiddies: ‘Crime Never Pays!’

Eamonn Murphy

March 2021

(pub: Titan Books, 2011. 320 page graphic novel hardback. Price: £35.00 (UK), $49.95 (US), $57.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-84856-960-7)

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