Brief History Lesson: “Stop…You Can’t Beat the Law!”

DC Special #10 Stop…You Can’t Beat the Law!

It was just another day, back at the comic book shop, where this boy finds all kinds of inspirational material for stories, when I noticed a comic book upon the wall that I had never seen before. It had a striking cover of a police officer, his hand outstretched, holding back curious onlookers from a murder scene, while his other hand gripped a service revolver. In the background is a body. A murder victim laid out on a rain-soaked street. The title of this comic book: Stop…You Can’t Beat the Law. I had never heard of it. I had no idea what stories resided within its pages, yet they sounded like fantastic little crime vignettes with titles like Swamp Dragnet, The Two Faces of Mr. X, and The 3-Foot Sleuth. I asked if I could take a closer look and I had the owner of the shop pull it down from off the wall and open it’s packaging. With only a few turns of the pages I was sold.

Stop…You Can’t Beat the Law is a DC Special that was published in 1971. It is a compilation of stories that were originally published in the golden age (an era of comic books published between the late 1930’s and the late 1950’s) by DC Comics in a comic book titled Gang Busters. Your grandparents might remember a radio program called Gang Busters that aired on NBC and CBS radio from 1936 to 1957. The comic book was a continuation of that radio program, portraying the heroics of police officers, deputies, and detectives as they routed criminals and rounded up the morally depraved. These dramatizations were hand-picked by the FBI’s director, J. Edgar Hoover, showcasing the successful exploits of this nation’s crime-fighting organizations with real closed cases.

SYCBL pages
Pages from the stories Nightstick (artwork by Curt Swan) and The Hostages in DC Special #10

However, on the other side of the spectrum was Crime Does Not Pay, another golden age comic book by Lev Gleason Publications, which showcased the stories of criminals and their ill-fated adventures of murder and mayhem. Despite that the criminals never escaped the long hand of the law in these stories, Crime Does Not Pay glamorized the exploits of the criminals and shunned the law as an over-bearing system of bureaucrats and fascists. It was a dark and cynical joke played by the comic’s creators, Charles Biro and Bob Wood. But from 1947 to 1959, DC Comics used the Gang Buster title to paint a very clear picture of the fine line that divides the criminal from the crime-fighter. Gang Busters portrayed the world as a simple, black-and-white world where criminals must pay in the end (as was the code set forth by the Comics Code Authority).

Justice will prevail. The law will not be stopped. Criminals beware.

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