Reprints in Review: The Lurid World of Pre-Code Crime [Column]

by Casey Burchby

How dangerous or offensive were pre-code crime comics – really? Most of us probably agree that the anti-comics hysteria of the early 1950s was ludicrously overblown, and can probably also think of a few current issues that are similarly hyper-inflated by reactionary gasbags. Dr. Fredric Wertham’s claims (enshrined in his ridiculously titled pseudoscientific 1954 screed Seduction of the Innocent) about the ill effects of comic books on easily-corruptible young minds probably said more about Wertham’s Germanic way of seeing the rest of humanity than they did about observable reality. But how do these Golden Age crime comics look to contemporary readers? A couple of new releases collect some of the best pre-code crime comics and prove that they still pack a wallop, both in terms of their swift, punchy visual storytelling, and in their ability to deliver real shocks.