Crime Must Pay the Penalty

Classic Comic Books Home Page (with many articles on comics)

Recommended Stories

Crime Must Pay the Penalty

The above is not a complete list of Crime Must Pay the Penalty stories. Rather, it consists of my picks of the best tales in the magazines, the ones I enjoyed reading, and recommend to others.

These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.

Crime Must Pay the Penalty

Crime Must Pay the Penalty started out by retelling true stories of gangsters and other criminals. These early stories are lurid and terrible. Eventually it moved on to more modern material. The later stories still claim to be based on actual events. This is hard to confirm or deny, but one suspects that the later and better issues are pure fiction.

Crime Must Pay the Penalty is a transformed version of the super-hero comic book, Four Favorites. When super-heroes lost their popularity in the later 1940s, many such comics were converted over to genre material, such as Westerns. The first issue of the new crime format continued the numbering of Four Favorites, and was #33 (February 1948). The next (and second) issue was then labeled #2 (June 1948). The new magazine ran through #48 (January 1956). The last two issues simply had the title Penalty. The logo of the comic had long featured the word "Penalty" in vastly bigger letters than the rest of the phrase "Crime Must Pay the", so this is not that much of a change.

The Gang of a Thousand Faces (1950). Art: Mike Sekowsky. A criminal wears masks as disguises. This is one of several stories which deal with ingenious methods crooks come up with to baffle the law. The stories put us through a complete development of the ideas. We see how the methods are first stumbled on by the crooks; the initial successful attempts to use the new clever methods; and the final unraveling of the approach, as it shows flaws and snowballing problems. This whole development is typical of many comic book tales, which emphasized thorough investigation of the full plot possibilities of a story's key ideas. This maximalist aesthetic will play a powerful role in comic books throughout the decades. It also serves in these crime tales to de-emphasize gore, and replace it with plot ingenuity instead.

This tale, like others in the series, employs another comic book convention: the ability of characters to don convincing disguises. Disguise, impersonation and doubles are ideas that are more fully employed in comic books than in other media.

Pathway to an Early Grave (1952). Art: Bill Walton. Gangster Duke Norbert organizes a phony witness racket to protect criminals.

The Killers Who Wouldn't Forget (1952). Art: Fred Guardineer. Small town cop Al Ronson tries to protect Fred Lewis from his former criminal associates. This story takes place over a long period of time; it includes life histories for its characters. Comics were very flexible in their use of time. Writers and artists could recreate their characters at any age, and the medium's flexibility seemed to encourage stories like this. One stylistic feature: Even though we see the crooks in this tale over a ten year period, they are wearing the same suits and ties throughout. Giving a character a distinctive look is a comic book convention, here pushed to an extreme. It helps make the character instantly identifiable to the reader.

The way that the policeman hero narrates the tale in flashback, recalls the elaborately narrated film noir works of the era.

The small-town atmosphere recalls the Smallville setting of the Superboy stories.

Police Sergeant Al Ronson is notably handsome: comics tended to make their heroes good looking. He is broad shouldered and muscular (last panel p2).

Big Gun of the Goon Squad (1952). Al Furnell is a professional strike-breaker who attacks dock unions. This story mixes sympathetic pro-labor union commentary, with one of the ingenious methods of evading the law found in several stories in Crime Must Pay the Penalty. One can recall few such pro-labor union tales in any medium. Al Furnell is essentially a gangster; he is like the big time professional crooks who are the sinister protagonists of other stories in this comic book. Like the others, he has a special criminal racket: in this case, strike-breaking for sinister management figures.

Cover (#22, October 1951). Art: Ken Rice? The cover shows a cop in profile, fighting a fur storage company robbery. He is wearing a spiffy uniform, with Sam Browne belt, visored cap, patch pockets and badge. The uniform is exceptionally elegant and refined. The profile view is unusual: most of the cop's face is turned away. We see a "man in uniform", where the uniform largely replaces his individual appearance or face.

Cover (#24, February 1952). Art: Ken Rice? The cover shows a similar view of a policeman in elegant uniform, with his face turned away from the viewer. Only here, we see the policeman in full figure. Two other cops in full figure are in the background. The uniforms are full dress: tall boots, Sam Browne belts, jackets with patch pockets, flared trousers, peaked caps, badges, flashlights.

A crook is lying in ambush in a culvert. He too is sharply dressed, in a good suit.