Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, December 13, 2019


Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer:  The Day I Died by Max Allan Collins, with art by Marcelo Salaza & Marcio Freire and lettering by Tom Williams (2018)

I spent the week reading various short stories and graphic novels, not novels.  I thought I'd use this space to discuss a neat graphic novel from Titan's Hard Case Crime Comic Library, an offshoot of Charles Ardai's Hard Case Crime book line.

The Night I Died was originally an unproduced radio script by Spillane for the early fifties radio show That Hammer Guy.  Some three and a half decades later, Spillane and Collins collaborated to turn the script into a short story for their 1998 anthology Private Eyes.  As most of you know, shortly before Spillane died in 2006, he gave his permission for Collins to go through his papers and prepare/finish his drafts and notes for publication; the result being nineteen novels, two audio books, one collaborative short story collection, a collection of short vignettes written for comic books early in Spillane's career, a collection of Mike Hammer comic strips penned by Spillane, this book, and counting...

Both Spillane and Collins know comics.  Spillane started out writing stories for the comic books in the Forties.  Mike Hammer was originally designed as a comic book character named Mike Danger.  As noted above, Hammer had his own newspaper comic strip.  In 1995 Collins took Mike Danger and propelled him into the future for a science fictional tough guy mash-up; although Collins did the writing, I assume Spillane had some input since his name is splattered throughout the covers.  Collins' pedigree in comics is also pretty solid.  He took over writing the Dick Tracy comic strip from creator Chester Gould in late 1977 and continued into 1992.  With Terry Beatty, he created Ms. Tree, a female Mike Hammer-type P.I. whose adventures are currently being collected in five volumes.  The pair also created Wild Dog, a character that was later adapted for (and shoehorned into) the television show The Flash.  Collins' graphic novel The Road to Perdition made into a well-known film and spawned a series of novels and graphic novels.  He has written for Batman and has published one graphic novel and has written dialogue for another from the Japanese (there's also one collection from his Batman comic book days that D.C. published to his surprise).  He created tough-guy Johnny Dynamite, and has written four CSI tie-in graphic novels.  His series character Quarry found his way into Quarry's War, another graphic novel from Hard Case Crime.  Both Spillane an Collins have had long careers in comics.

Spillane's original radio script for The Day I Died made it a natural to be adapted for a comic book:  fast-paced, action-oriented.and with enough twists and turns to keep the reader hooked.  Collins set his adaptation early in Hammer's career:  late Forties, perhaps; maybe early Fifties.  Hammer is young, somewhat impetuous, sometimes naive, quick to anger and not afraid to dispense his type of justice.  For some reason beyond my comprehension, Hammer's hat is not his trade-make pork pie.  Velda is a patient, loyal secretary and nursemaid with her own P.I. license and a tough as nails attitude.  There's a lot of sex in this one -- more detailed than Spillane would have been able to get away with back in the day -- and the artist have a great time drawing a nekkid Helen Venn and a nearly nekked Velda.

A prospective client calls Hammer's office and says he needs a bodyguard the next day.  He asks that Mike meet him that night at the Zero Club, a mob-owned joint run by Carmen Rich, a gangster with a grudge against Hammer (Mike had shot him in the knee).  The client does not appear but Mike is approached by a beautiful blonde who recognized him and needs protection, saying two men are after her.  Two bouncers from the club try to stop Mike (bad idea) and Mike leaves them lying on the floor and takes a .38 from one.  As Mike escorts the woman from the club, two thugs try to run both down (again, bad idea) and Mike uses the .38 to take out the driver; the fire after the car crash does the rest.

The blonde is Helen Venn, one-time mistress of a now-deceased crime boss who was one step up the ladder from Hammer's nemesis Carmen Rich.  Before he was murdered, the crime boss skimmed ten million from the mob and no one knows where the money is.  Carmen Rich thinks Helen has it and is determined to find it.  Hammer tells his new-found zaftig friend not to worry, he'll sort it out.  There's some drawn-our roly-poly in the hay, then Mike leaves Helen in Velda's capable hands and goes to convince Rich to leave Helen alone.  Outside the Zero Club he meets his buddy, homicide cop Pat Chambers.  Seems a legless bum whole had hung outside the club cadging money was beaten to death.  Inside the club, Hammer not so politely asks Rich to leave Helen alone; this chat was interrupted by Rich's second-in-command Buddy Whiteman who objects to this conversation (yet another bad idea); Whiteman ends up with a broken arm

Mike then goes to the motel where Velda has Helen stashed.  He sends Velda home and there's some more nudge-nudge-wink-wink calisthenics.  The next day Velda is missing (OMG, another bad idea; will the bad guys never learn?) and Mike finds Buddy Whiteman in his office.  Whiteman swears he doesn't have Velda but that Carmen Rich does.  He wants Mike to kill rich so he (Buddy) will become top dog.  Mike goes to Rich's house and, after leaving a bunch of bodies behind, he rescues Velma, who had been trussed up, spread legged, with only some dainty black underwear to cover up any naughty bits.

Then things get violent.  Mike learns that the dead beggar was a Medal of Honor winner he had met back in the war, making that death personal for Mike,  There are betrayals and counter-betrayals and a lot of gunfire and a few more bodies before things end up in typical Hammer fashion.

Collins has got the early Hammer spot-on, and manages to flawlessly incorporate modern day sensibilities into a mid-twentieth century timeframe.  Great fun.

As a bonus, the book also includes two of the text comic book stories that Spillane had written back in the Forties.  These tales were taken from the expanded edition of Primal Spillane (2018), edited by Collins and Lynn F. Myers, Jr.  (Another must-have for Spillane fans.)

Oh.  And today is Friday the thirteenth.  Not that I'm superstitious or anything, but perhaps you should really check out this book.  Otherwise, who knows what might happen?

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