Crime Does Not Pay Volume 4

Reprinting Crime Does Not Pay #34-37 (Jul 44-Jan 45)

Editors: Charles Biro, Ed Wood

Writers and artists: Biro, Wood, Diverse Hands

Dark Horse, $49.99, color, 264 pages

It's evident in the books collected in this volume that Biro and Wood have really hit their stride with the series, which in turn explains -- at least to me -- the popularity and longevity of Crime Does Not Pay. While previous volumes were entertaining, they were pretty spotty in quality. These issues are all of a fairly high standard in both writing and art -- not great, but good, and usually fun.

"Fun" may be a strange word to apply to these stories of mayhem, but that's exactly what they are. Biro and Wood are clearly having the time of their lives telling stories of ne'er-do-wells who always make the wrong decision and generally have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Both of those qualities tend to color these so-called true tales, in that, yes, there is a childlike glee in the violence and cruelty these guys (and sometimes gals) commit, but they are also depicted as complete and utter tools. They think they're smarter than the other guy because they have figured out a way to get money without working -- by robbing, looting, murdering, threatening, blackmailing, and so forth. And, without fail, as the title indicates, this scheme proves not to be as clever as they think, as their inevitable fate is the hoosegow or the grave. So much for being smarter than everybody else.

So, yeah, despite the snickering that most people do when referring to CDNP, these stories really do show that crime does not pay. But the snickering is also justified, because these tales go over the top with gusto almost every time, showing just how much fun crime can be. It's a two-pronged approach that Biro and Wood have mastered to where the men behind the curtain are never seen. It's a smooth ride, and a fun one.

The art, as mentioned, is usually pretty much the same, all slightly above average for the time. There are hints of a Will Eisner influence, as if Biro and Wood were shooting for an Eisner-like house style, or perhaps they had a bullpen inker (or Biro himself) who tried to ape the master. Whatever, it remains only hints, in a facial expression or fold of clothing, and never really comes to fruition.

As bland a recommendation as this may be, the comics reprinted here are still superior to previous ones in that many of the mostly unnamed bigfoot artists of previous issues have been mostly weeded out. Artists who used the cartoony approach seemed not only out of place in Crime Does Not Pay, not only inappropriate for the topic, but they also tended to jar the reader and bring the whole project down a notch in quality. With their disappearance, these issues rise to a slightly higher level.

One suspects that Biro and Wood stopped using journeyman artists because they could afford to after CDNP took off in sales. But it's possible they did it for quality reasons as well. We'll never know.

The one major exception are the "From the files of Dick Briefer" shorts in each issue, which are pointedly NOT "true stories" -- seriously, Biro and Wood make a point of establishing that -- but are instead Briefer (of Frankenstein fame) telling what he thinks are amusing whodunnits. The characters are literally caricatures, whose characterization goes little further than their descriptions ("The girlfriend." "The playboy." "The reporter."), going through their paces in parlor-room murder mysteries. One even goes so far as to use Jimmy Durante, a popular singer/comedian of the time who would be unfamiliar, I'd think, to anybody under 40. (I'm old enough to have seen him on variety shows in the early 1960s.)

At any rate, my complaint about bigfoot artists above applies doubly here, because I know from his other work that Briefer can do serious stuff, but opted for a "comedic" styling here. And it's out of place.  Hopefully by Volume 5 this feature will have been dropped.

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