Anthology collections of comics have been appearing from Mammoth for the past couple of years, amongst them the very successful, Ilya-edited Mammoth Book of Best New Manga series which has seen two titles in print and a third due in November 2008. David Kendall has edited The Mammoth Book of Best War Comics and the upcoming Mammoth Books of Zombie Comics and, to hand, we've perhaps the best of the bunch, Paul Gravett's Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics.
The best anthologies are in equal parts wonderful and frustrating: wonderful to be able to dip into a wide variety of comic strips that you might not otherwise see; frustrating that you only get a taste of something when you want to read more.
Paul's anthology is full of goodies: I'm a crime noir fan so I've dipped into quite a few of the strips on offer but I've still come away from the book with an overwhelming desire to see more. More of Dashiell Hammett's 'Secret Agent X9', beautifully drawn by Alex Raymond, because the 240 daily strips reprinted here have whetted my appetite. More of Will Eisner's 'The Spirit' because one 7-page story is never enough. More of 'Torpedo 1936' by Sanchez Abuli & Jordi Bernet because their little 8-page yarn makes me want to find the 17 albums that have appeared in Europe (the first two drawn by Alex Toth, also present), not one of which is available in the UK (although the first seven were reprinted by Catalan in the 1980s).
Even with 479 pages to play in, Paul has had to be mightily selective. So while you won't find, say, a Frank Miller 'Sin City' story—which I would have thought an obvious choice and probably precisely the reason Paul avoided it—you will find a couple of short examples of work by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, good names to have on any cover. Both stories appeared in the It's Dark in London anthology, although Moore is also represented with a very scarce (and here remastered) strip that has only previously appeared as a fold-out cover for The Sinister Ducks' single, 'Sinister Ducks'/'Old Gangsters Never Die' (1983). From crime fiction there's Mickey Spillane's 'Mike Hammer' and 'Mike Lancer', Ed McBain's '87th Precinct' (drawn by Bernie Krigstein) and Hammett's aforementioned 'Secret Agent X'. Max Allan Collins—champion of Spillane—is present with a 'Ms. Tree' yarn. From the much-maligned crime comics of the late 1940s and early 1950s there are a handful of tales (including the classic 'Murder, Morphine and Me' by Jack Cole) and, from the UK, a Denis McLoughlin 'Roy Carson' tale that imports American gangsters to Blackpool plus an episode of Paul Grist's 'Kane'. There are stories by Simon & Kirby, Sanchez and Munoz, Charles Burns, Grange & Tardi... it's an amazing line-up of talent and the quality of the stories justifies every inclusion.
Like all good compilations, you're definitely left wanting more by this selection. Let's hope it takes off in the same way that the New Manga series has and, next year, we can look forward to a second volume... and then a third...