Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Crime, Crime, Crime... See What's Become of Me* ~~ A "Comical Wednesday" Post

(*And you get extra points if you know what line of what song inspired my title!)

Comic books have long had their detractors, and I could devote several posts to just one of them, Dr. Fredric Wertham. The basic theory behind his 1954 book, Seduction of the Innocent, was that comic books caused juvenile delinquency, criminal activity, and other sorts of psychologically deviant behavior. Among other things, he claimed that the lifestyle of Batman and Robin represented “a wish dream of two homosexuals living together” (and of course, at that time in history, homosexuality was still thought of as a mental disorder), although Wertham never actually claimed that the characters were meant by their creators to be gay.

A couple of pages from Seduction of the Innocent.

Wertham went about "proving" that comics were responsible for twisting the minds of children by finding adult criminals and mentally or emotionally warped individuals who had read comics in their youth. He also pointed out that when raiding the home of a murderer, bank robber, or other lawbreaker, the police would often find comic books in the home. To Wertham, examples such as this were proof of his theories. Of course, comic books at that time were immensely popular, and thus were likely to be in a lot of homes. For that matter, he could have just as easily claimed that the Bible was a cause of juvenile delinquency, because so many homes have them, too.

He was great at providing dubious points to convince his readers that he knew what he was talking about.

At the time of his book's release, comic books had several popular genres, as opposed to now, when so damned many comics showcase superheroes. There were a plethora of romance comics, war comics, crime-related comics, so-called "funny animal" comics (the kind featuring anthropomorphic characters like Donald Duck, Woody Woodpecker, Bugs Bunny, etc.), Western titles, horror comics, movie and television adaptations (no DVDs or even videotapes for home viewing back then), and superheroes, among other types of stories.

Today I'm going to give the briefest of descriptions of "crime comics." By Wertham's definition, a "crime comic" was anything which described a criminal act. So that would include titles like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, or a series like Classics Illustrated, as well as... well... almost anything! If someone wrote and drew a book illustrating nursery rhymes like "Tom, Tom, the piper's son, stole a pig and away did run," that would be a crime comic!

The actual crime comic titles, the "true crime" genre (although these comics certainly included a lot of stories were were not true), started in 1942 with a title called Crime Does Not Pay. The title was a huge success, which naturally means that in fairly short order, there were scores of imitators.

The crime comics were ostensibly in support of law and order, and various titles featured cover blurbs like "crime can't win," "crime never pays," and the like, but such platitudes were usually overshadowed by the fact that words like "crime," "criminals," "guilty," "lawless," etc. were usually the largest words on any given cover.

In fact, if you scroll down quickly and take a gander at the random covers I've chosen below, you'll see just what I mean.

In hopes of drawing a slightly older audience, comics often featured
women clad in lingerie or skimpy swimsuits, or falling from a great height
with their skirts flying upwards, or bathing in a bathtub or lake (with
strategically-placed visual obstructions of the "naughty bits"
adolescent boys really wanted to see, of course), and so on.

The crime comics were often bloody and gruesome, and although the standards of the times prohibited anything truly pornographic -- especially in what was considered primarily a "children's medium" -- the stories occasionally showed or at least suggested sexual elements, drug addiction, rapes, and the like... or displayed the scantily-clad beauties mentioned above in the caption to the cover of Famous Crimes. True, despite the stories' tendency to be violent, the creators did show a little restraint now and then... but not often.

Here is only one scene that illustrates the intensity of  the "kiddie comics" that were on sale at everybody's local newsstands.

(And I really should mention that as bad as the crime comics could be, the horror comics could be even worse! Tales of dismemberments, stabbings, beheadings, and other kinds of mayhem filled the shelves.

Again, to digress just a moment from my dissertation on crime comics, here's the end of a particularly disgusting horror story called "Foul Play," originally published in The Haunt of Fear #19 in 1953. EC Comics, the publisher of this one, usually turned out a classier product, but in this one, they really went over the line.

Well... So much for the "restraint" I mentioned earlier!)

Such was the state of the comic books of the 1950s. Well, many of them, I should say. Parents and authority figures loved having a scapegoat like this to rant and rave against. The outrage resulted in a congressional hearing at one point.

Eventually, several publishers banded together and formed an entity called the Comics Code Authority. Rules were drawn up that prohibited titles containing the words "terror" and "horror." The word "crime" could no longer appear so much larger than any other words. (The word "crime" even as part of a title was discouraged anyway, as were stories which showed lawmen dying on the job.) Stories about vampires, werewolves, zombies, cannibals and the like were prohibited. Nothing sexual could be implied. Criminals always had to be unsuccessful in the end and must always be punished. Women had to be modestly dressed -- absolutely no nudity, of course -- and couldn't be drawn in a way that exaggerated their anatomies (No more of what Dr. Wertham called "headlight comics," where breasts were large and prominent, generally straining against a woman's outfit.). And that's only the tip of the iceberg. The complete list of do's and don'ts can be found here.

Many of the comic publishers went out of business in no time. Most of the remaining comic companies complied with the code. There were notable exceptions. EC Comics cancelled its horror and science fiction comics, but took its humorous comic book title, MAD, and turned that into a hugely successful magazine (making it outside the reach of the CCA) which continues today. Dell, which published mainly movie and TV adaptations, and titles starring cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse, Daffy Duck, Tom and Jerry, and Andy Panda, had such a wholesome image that they didn't feel the need to submit their books to an outside agency like the CCA. Gilberton, which published Classics Illustrated, felt the same as Dell.

Several of the titles that remained were toned down quite a bit. Occasionally, stories would be reprinted by their publishers, and several of those stories were forced to make alterations that were often ludicrous.

Note that on the following illustration of a post-code Crime Does Not Pay cover, every word of "Does Not Pay" is larger than "Crime!"

And here are the covers of two different issues of Phantom Lady, one published before the code (and pictured in my Seduction of the Innocent pages shown above), and one published after! Note the change in outfit and bust size.

When I started reading comics a few years later, the Comics Code Authority was still very much in effect. That made for some interesting stories.

For example, when Marvel Comics introduced the Scorpion in The Amazing Spider-Man #20 (1965), the tail of his costume had a blunt end, making it somewhat of a club as opposed to a stinger like a real scorpion has. Even at the tender age of eight I thought that was odd. And I assume that the interference of the CCA caused that difference.

Much later, as time passed and the Comics Code Authority became less powerful, the Scorpion got the tail he should have had all along!

And here's an interesting issue of Tales of Suspense, which was the title that introduced Iron Man. In this 1963 issue, Iron Man fights one of the most idiotically-named villains in the Marvel Universe, Mister Doll. His claim to fame was this... well... doll that he carried around, similar to a voodoo doll. (But I don't think they were allowed to even refer to voodoo!) Mister Doll would quickly rearrange the doll's features to look like his intended victim, and then whatever happened to the doll would happen to the victim, too. Simply squeezing the doll would cause intense pain.

Mister Doll's super-villain suit wasn't too impressive, either!

Anyway... Really? Mister Doll? Is that the best name Stan Lee could come up with?

Well, apparently not.

The artwork for the original, unpublished cover to Tales of Suspense #48 still exists, and shows that the stupidly-named Mister Doll was initially going to be called Mister Pain.

Who's the culprit here? I say that the Comics Code Authority thought that "Mister Pain" was too potentially scary for the kiddies, and Marvel came up with "Mister Doll" at the very last minute. I mean, if they hadn't been fighting a deadline, would they have used such a ridiculous name?

I'll be honest with you, fellow babies. This was supposed to be one of my infrequent short posts, but I oh-so-characteristically got carried away. My congratulations to anyone who made it this far, and my apologies to anyone who didn't!

Thanks for your time.


  1. haha Mr. Doll is such a dumb name. Some of those scenes are rather gruesome and suggestive for kids. Stupid about the stinger though. Pathetic that some board had to put rules in place, as always, parents are just too lazy and whine about everything but themselves. Movies and videogames get the blame these days. Pfffft.

    1. A lot of the "gruesome and suggestive" stuff you mention was designed for an older audience, but naturally, since the titles were on the stands right beside the cartoony stuff and other titles geared for younger kids, the gory books could and would be snatched up by the little children, too. And regardless of how many comics were read by teenagers, servicemen, etc., all the authority figures considered comics to be a children's medium. So much of the outrage could have been prevented if the publishers had shown a little more restraint.

  2. Now we know that it's your addiction to comic books that turned you into the criminal mastermind that you are. Apparently you can launder money by buying cars at auction and then selling them. I learned that yesterday. Best wishes for committing more crimes. I have no idea what song inspired your title.


    1. I'm surprised that you didn't recognize the song I based my title on. I thought you'd know the 1966 original, even if you didn't know the 1987 remake.

    2. Darn! Now I feel stupid because I don't know what song it is.

    3. Aieeeeeeee! I know! I know! I know! You confused me crime. It's time time time. Hazy Shade of Winter. Simon and Garfunkel. Who remade it?

    4. Right, I changed "time" to "crime," which is why I said "what line of what song inspired my title!" I knew you'd get it!

      The Bangles did the song in the late 1980s.

    5. I feel considerably less stupid now.

  3. Phantom Lady...she's pretty but she sure isn't Wonder Woman. :)

    And you made Pat say, "Phhht". That made me laugh! Haven't seen him say that in ages.

    Very interesting post...you put a lot of time into this one, I can tell!

    1. Yes, plenty!

      And you're right, she's pretty, but no Wonder Woman!

  4. Wow. Not a comic book reader as a kid, but some of this is insane. I'm always impressed at your thoroughness, though! And yes, of course I read through to the end.

    1. If I'd taken time to list other types of comics that had parents pulling their hair out, I'd still be writing the post! Glad you got through what I did write.

  5. Well, now I have that song looping in my head..

    time, time, time
    see what’s become of me

    Ha I found an old comic book vol.1 based off the Bible or something in my mom’s pile. I am not sure what it is worth. Who knew they made religious comic books??? Not I.

    I need to recruit you to help me with all these comic books. Lol..

    1. There've been comics devoted to all sorts of subjects. One Catholic comic book was called Treasure Chest, and it ran for many years. There was a title called Picture Stories from the Bible, published by a company called EC Comics (Educational Comics). The owner of that company was killed in a boating accident in the late '40s, saving a little kid, and his son took over the company, keeping the "EC" but defining it as Entertaining Comics. That's the company that published a lot of those horror titles I referred to briefly in my post!

    2. I wanted to get back with you on the comic book. It is God’s Smuggler #1 edition. Have you heard of it?

    3. IIRC, God's Smuggler was released in the mid-1970s by a company called Spire Christian Comics. It's worth about $5, depending on condition.


I strongly urge you to sign up for follow-up comments, because I (usually) reply to your comment! Comments left for me more than two weeks after a post is published will not appear until I approve them, but they will be answered eventually!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...