In his introduction to this collection, Max Allan Collins describes the crime comics of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby as “kinetic.” Certainly after reading all 300 plus pages of this collection that description is what sticks out in your mind. The fast flowing, brightly colored pages of these two-fisted tales have an energy of their own, and become uniquely a Simon and Kirby production in terms of their feel as you roll through the book. The Simon and Kirby Library: Crime is the latest entry in the Simon and Kirby Library from Titan Books, which also includes other swank books like Simon and Kirby Superheroes and Joe Simon: My Life In Comics. This beautiful 300 plus page hardcover produces the crazy cool and today largely unseen crime comics by the Simon and Kirby duo, originally printed in the books Clue Comics, Real Clue Crime Stories, Headline Comics, Justice Traps The Guilty, and Police Trap.
The majority of these comics are headline comics, meaning that Simon and Kirby pulled them from real life stories in newspapers, police records, and FBI files. The duo wouldn’t be the first to do this, but certainly the way they did it with their slightly almost pop art feel and lay outs makes them stand out from others doing the same. Also, they didn’t just tackle what was happening recently from these headlines, but provided us with a variety of fascinating real life tales from the 1890s to wild west settings. They went all over with their real life crime tales, giving us a variety that never gets boring, and always picking odd cases. The few crime tales included in the collection not based off real stories are just as interesting and 100% Simon and Kirby originality, with slight plot twists out of the norm from some typical cop vs. robber mag at the time.
Every single tale is great, and this book is a must read for those who like Simon and Kirby or crime comics. Stories that stuck out to me included Let Me Plan Your Murder!, which tells the story of H.H. Holmes, an evil man in Chicago who had several sets of construction workers build himself a small castle, with secret rooms and passages, which he used trick people into faking their deaths and splitting the massive insurance money with them, but then murdering them for real and hiding their bodies away after the check came in. Burned at the Stake tells the story of Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up the English King over 400 years ago, certainly a period crime piece at its best as the writing and colorful art blend together into an addictive grouping of graphical telling. Grim Pay-Off For the Pinball Mob is a short classic feeling tale of cops and robbers set behind the colorful gambling rackets, and the artwork by Kirby is grade-A, making it a gem in its own. A Phantom Pulls the Trigger is a tale of a character named the Phantom who has been shooting people dead, and then disappearing into thin air, with a cool twist and even a diagram of how the murder weapon works. The “Head” in the Window is a bizarre crime tale from 1891 New York, where after a gentleman blew himself up at a bank trying to get money, the police, desperate to find out who he was, found the bomber’s head perfectly intact and displayed it in the morgue window to see if anyone knew who he was. Finally, The Debt is a great tale where an Officer’s son is about to be hit by a car and is saved. Turns out the guy who saved him is also a criminal at large who the cops are hunting down, and now the Officer must choose between feeling in debt to the criminal for saving the life of his boy or handing the villain in and doing justice.
These are fascinating, and the chunk of comics included here that were published before the comic code are gold and have a more adult edge and tone, certainly showing us what comics in the United States were once developing towards, creating theories that could fill an article itself. I keep coming back to how the artwork is crazy good on these, something about the colors and layouts just does it for me. Some of them you can see Kirby just put his heart into, and both him and Simon out did themselves on a few of these stories, giving them a ranking amongst some of the best of their works. This collection as mentioned includes an intro by Max Allan Collins and a cover gallery for the handful of covers they did for these crime titles. Titan Books has done a great job with the reproductions of these classic tales, the art and colors looking just as amazing as the day they were published years ago. Priced at $49.95, the quality of work on these 300 plus pages is worth it in this wonderful presentation. Highly recommended to pick up and read.