In his introduction to the volume, Matt Fraction points out that crime and horror were the bread-and-butter of the early, lurid comic books (the ones that didn't feature funny animals), and were also the medium's downfall, as cranky psychologists and sensationalistic congressmen blamed comics for juvenile delinquency and every other social evil they could imagine. Crime Does Not Pay stands as an example of the sick, warped, twisted, and titillating (in other words, fun!) stories that supposedly influenced the adolescents who devoured comics during the 1940s.
Crime Does Not Pay, vol I reprints the first four issues of the comic, beginning with issue 22 (the numbering followed the demise of Silver Streak, another Lev Gleason comic that was retitled Crime Does Not Pay with issue 22). In the first story -- probably the goriest in the volume -- strike-breaking thugs beat up striking workers, gangsters shoot each other with tommy guns, gangsters splash acid in a merchant's face, gangsters engage in a shootout with cops, and gang wars terrorize the city before Lepke, the "mad dog of the underworld," learns that crime does not pay. That story sets the tone for the series.
Some of the stories focus on "crime kings," supposedly true stories of gangsters like John Dillinger (they even have the flavor of truth, albeit sensationalized, as gangsters have always been). There are westerns and stories about heroic cops who, naturally enough, are preyed upon by the bad guys. There are mysteries that ask the reader to play detective and puzzle out the killer's identity. Most of the stories are about killers -- serial killers, old lady killers, heroic killers like Pancho Villa -- but there are occasional oddities like the story about a boy inventor who wants everyone to buy war bonds and a superhero called War Eagle.
By modern standards, for kids raised on slasher movies and video games that feature exploding torsos, Crime Does Not Pay is actually rather tame. The artwork is about average for the era in which it appeared. The writing ranges from so-so to pretty good. I think the stories probably have more value for their historical interest than entertainment value, although I did find many of them to be entertaining. Each issue also includes a short story and -- to some extent the most interesting part of the comics -- the original advertisements that appeared in each comic. I don't know if many modern readers will get excited by Crime Does Not Pay, but any serious student of comic book history should at least give it a look so they'll know what was making Frederic Wertham so upset.