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Here’s a quick quiz for those who think they know something about crime comics:

Who Is Next #5How many anthology crime comics--that is, those not devoted to a primary character, such as Dick Tracy or Mr. District Attorney--ran as many as 25 issues?

Crime Does Not Pay from Lev Gleason, which had the anthology crime comic genre to itself from 1942-46, had the longest run from #22 in 1942 through #147 in 1955. (I always thought the name of this comic was terribly odd. Does this mean that if crime did, indeed, pay, that it would be OK?)

Gleason’s other crime title, Crime and Punishment, ran 74 issues from 1948-55.

Prize/Crestwood published the second-longest running title, Justice Traps the Guilty, with #1-92 from 1947-58. The company also published a companion crime title, Headline Comics, #23-77.

The other long-running crime titles were:

Marvel’s All-True Crime (Official True Crime for its first two issues) #24-52 and Justice Comics (Tales of Justice for the last 16 issues) #7-67.

Hillman’s Real Clue Crime Stories and Crime Detective, which ran 72 and 32 issues, respectively, in volume numbers.

Our Publishing’s Wanted Comics #9-53; St. John’s Authentic Police Cases #1-38; Ace’s Crime Must Pay the Penalty (just Penalty for its last two issues) #33 and #2-48.

DC’s Detective Comics (26 issues before Batman) and Gang Busters #1-67.

EC’s 27 issues of Crime SuspenStories.

Quality’s Police Comics #103-127 (following the abandonment of Plastic Man and other heroes).

Cross’s Perfect Crime #1-33.

No single comic book publisher ever really succeeded with more than two crime titles!

Headline Comics #70

To be sure, there were many short-lived crime comics. The only major reference work on the subject, Benton’s Crime Comics from Taylor Publishing, lists some 115 anthology titles published from 1947-59. But their combined output was less than 700 issues! In other words, most crime comics were dismal financial failures.

One company, Dell, published many, many more funny animal comics during this same period.

Fox, the firm infamous for publishing many of the sleaziest crime comics, published only 70 such comics from 1948 until going out of business in 1951 (unless you want to count a few issues of Blue Beetle and Phantom Lady or the jungle titles).

The influence of Fox in Wertham’s 1954 book attacking virtually all comics, Seduction of the Innocent, was far, far out of proportion to Fox Comics’ marketplace influence on the youth of America.

Murderous Gangsters #4Do you begin to see a pattern here?

As far as crime comics devoted to a single character, they were generally a flop. Benton lists some 44 of these through the 1950s, the vast majority of them based on characters first introduced in other media including the comic strips.

The only long-running single-character crime comic in history was Dick Tracy, which ran #1-145 from Dell (#1-24) and Harvey (#25 on) from 1948-61, following several earlier one-shot appearances. I’m convinced the only reason Dick Tracy ran so long was because of the immense popularity of the newspaper strip, which led to hundreds of newspaper Sunday comic sections.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dick Tracy might have been one of those comic books read as often by adults as by children. However, I remember that I enjoyed it during the 1950s, although the continued stories often irritated me and made collecting back issues a problem.

Ironically, DC Comics (then known as National Comics) published the No. 2 and 3 longest-running characters, both of them based on radio and television shows: Mr. District Attorney #1-67 from 1948-59 and Big Town #1-50 from 1950-58.

DC’s crime comics rarely departed from good taste, although a few of the early issues of Gang Busters were pretty gamy by DC standards. I can’t imagine too many parents objecting to them; I know mine did not, letting me keep old issues of Mr. District Attorney even while I was forced to return the likes of EC’s Crime SuspenStories to the second-hand bookstore. (All of my pre-Code “finds” had to pass the parent test.)

Mr. District Attorney and Big Town (starring the adventures of Illustrated Press editor Steve Wilson) are two of the most underrated of all comics in any genre. Their plot-heavy stories were always filled with gimmicks rather than violence and are still a joy to read. They are also among the few comics from the 1950s that still seem fresh today.

Only one other single character, newspaper strip detective Kerry Drake from Magazine Enterprises and Harvey, ran as many as 33 issues--unless you want to count that wonderful plague of spies and saboteurs in T-Man from Quality Comics.

Pay-Off #1

The T-Man, Pete Trask, starred in 38 issues of his own title, running from 1950 until Quality folded at the end of 1956. He also starred in Police Comics. He was one of the characters not picked up by DC when it bought the rights to Quality, with his time apparently having passed with the diminished feeling about the Red Scare in the United States.

T-Man was the longest-running series based on an entirely original comic book character. Another such outstanding character from Quality, Ken Shannon, ran in Police Comics #103-127 and in 10 issues of his own title.

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