Sadistic and murderous, Kriminal was nevertheless a hugely popular comic book character in the 1960s.
Italy’s most beloved super-criminal antihero comic book character is, of course, Diabolik – but there was an equally impressive rival who, while playing second fiddle in all ways, nevertheless deserves to be more remembered than he is. Kriminal remains comparatively unknown outside Italy, but his comic book was one of the great fumetti neri of the era, as well as one of the most controversial.
Created by artist Magnus (Roberto Raviola) and writer Max Bunker (Luciano Massimiliano Secchi), Kriminal was very much in the style of Diabolik – perhaps not a copycat, but certainly coming from the same inspiration that gave birth to the fumetti neri (‘black comics’) movement in Italy at the start of the 1960s. Taking their influence from the same Edgar Wallace crime novels that spawned the giallo movement, gothic horror, James Bond movies and Batman, these digest comic books were pitched at a more mature readership than traditional comics – and like their American and British horror comic equivalents, they would cause outrage and hysterical public campaigns, with some books even being seized by the police and charged with obscenity.
Kriminal was Englishman Anthony Logan, who waged a Batman-like war on the sort of criminals who had pushed his father to suicide. Logan, however, was a criminal himself – a master thief who was not above killing his opponents, making his moral crusade a bit more ambiguous and dubious. He’s arguably a more realistic costumed avenger than Batman, who you suspect would not really be quite as morally upstanding while trying to avenge his parents’ death and dealing with criminal scum. Kriminal’s costume, a striking back and yellow affair topped with a skull mask – perhaps not the best thing to wear while lurking in the shadows, but definitely one of the great comic book creations of all time. He made his first appearance in 1964, just two years after Diabolik was launched, and the two would remain rivals for the next ten years.
Logan has a female companion, Lola, who he later marries and has a child with – this does not end well. While his adversaries from issue to issue are an increasingly wild collection of oddballs, his main continuing enemy is Scotland Yard detective Patrick Milton who – understandably – wants to put Kriminal behind bars.
Unusually for the genre, Kriminal told a continuing story, with each edition picking up from there the last ended rather than simply being self-contained tales. This allowed for some character development, but the real changes in Kriminal – his gradual softening from a sadistic killer into a more traditional superhero – came as part of a general softening of the strip (in common with Diabolik and other contemporaries) in the face of public outrage and legal threats – while Kriminal was never successfully convicted of obscenity, the book was confiscated by the authorities and the decision was made to cut back on both the violence and the sex – barely-dressed young women were a regular fixture in these books.
Kriminal proved hugely popular in Italy (and in French reprints), and for a while seemed to be outdoing his great rival – the character made the jump to the big screen in 1966, two years before Mario Bava shot Danger: Diabolik, and the Kriminal film was popular enough to warrant a sequel, Il Marchio di Kriminal, two years later. Both films are great fun, but they have failed to maintain the sort of cult following that Bava’s film has – once again, Kriminal finds himself playing second fiddle.
The Kriminal comic books had a great run throughout the 1960s with two editions a month appearing and the character becoming a mainstay of Italian culture. Later in 1964, his creators launched Satanik (which should not be confused with the Italian photo comic book Killing, published in France as Satanik but unrelated to Kriminal, other than being a similar character – it’s all very complicated). Issue 90 of Kriminal saw the two characters appearing together in a crossover story, and years after the book’s cancellation, Kriminal popped up in the pair’s spy-themed Alan Ford comic book. You can’t keep a good character down.
In the new decade, it would start to fall apart. Things initially took a turn for the worst with issue 360 in May 1972, which established a new uniform cover design that would remain with the book for the rest of its run. The new red covers pushed the artwork into a square window, which might have given the series a certain continuity but which immediately reduced the impact of the cover art. Worse, the artwork itself became more cartoonish, the stylish painted covers replaced with louder, more overtly comic book imagery that might have more accurately reflected the contents but had none of the impact of the earlier editions.
If the cover changes seemed like a bad sign, then the writing was definitely on the wall when the book began reprinting old stories – and continuity be damned – with issue 388 in December 72, and continued to do this every few issues for the rest of the run. Reprints are never a sign of a healthy comic book, and while Kriminal carried on for another two years, the glory days were long over. The book was finally cancelled in November 1974 with issue 419 – an unimpressively random issue number, you might think.
Inevitably, in subsequent years, there have been assorted Kriminal reprints and revivals – and we might well see the influence of Kriminal in American characters like Deadpool, showing just how ahead of his time he was. English language translations of his classic adventures remain elusive, though.
Here are the covers to every copy of the original Kriminal run. Just look at how magnificent some of this art is.
Thanks to comicsbox.it
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