Friday, July 20, 2018

Number 2209: “Dam the rotten luck!” Murder morals in a crime comic

Joseph Federal is a very bad man. He strangles women for money. In “Joseph Medley Lady Killer,” from Murder Incorporated #3 (1948), he curses his luck after killing a young woman: “She wasn’t lying I know! That money is nowhere in this room. Dam the rotten luck!” Yes, the word “damn” was deliberately misspelled.

The story was reprinted four years later in Shock Detective Cases #20,* and “dam” was replaced by a standard comic book “#*@*”, using symbols to replace cursing. Showing murder wasn’t forbidden...just some mild swearing.

 Original printing, 1948

Censored, 1952.

The original version was published by Fox, and came from the height of the crime comics boom in 1948. It was the sort of thing that got parents, teachers, and guardians of public morals in a dither. I don’t think Dr Wertham ever saw this, because if he had he could have easily used several panels in his book, Seduction of the Innocent, to show how brutal crime comics could be. Sexy, too. L.B. Cole, editor of Shock Detective Cases, in a couple of panels had the dresses extended to appear more modest. This is the world of editorial decision-making: what an editor thinks goes too far, and how to fix it.

Artwork, signed by Carter, is actually by Rudy Palais. Palais, who died in 2004, was an early comic book artist who had work in various genres, including crime and horror. His artwork for Harvey’s horror comics line is known for the sweat drops flying off characters’ faces, although his style is so distinctive I don’t need sweat drops to identify it


Darci said...

I should know better than to ask, but is there any truth behind this? His string of murders seems like it would have hit the papers.

Pappy said...

Darci, I did a cursory search online, but did not do a detailed search, and didn't come up with anything. That's not to say he was not a real person, just that I didn't find him.