Goings and Comings

August 15th, 2017 by Max Allan Collins

Dick Locher passed away last week.

As many of you know, I worked with Dick from 1983 until 1992, having taken over the writing of the Dick Tracy strip from Chester Gould in 1977, working first with Chet’s last assistant, Rick Fletcher. My relationship with Fletcher was occasionally rocky, due to my continuing friendship with Chet after Rick fell out with his former boss and father figure. But we did some very good work together.

I felt privileged to work with Locher, another former Gould assistant – one who went on to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist. Our relationship was generally a positive one, and we were friendly, though never really close. We lost contact when I was fired from the strip and I was somewhat resentful that he had not gone to bat for me. In my incredibly biased opinion, the strip under Dick never recovered from my exit.

A few years ago I joined Dick at Woodstock, Illinois (Gould’s home city), for the screening of a Tracy documentary we were both a part of. We re-bonded very nicely and any bumps in our past road was smoothed. It became clear he was equally unhappy with the editor who’d fired me, but as a company man he’d kept that to himself. We stayed in touch and exchanged e-mails, artwork and books. It was a nice way for our collaboration to evolve into a professional friendship.

The Tribune did a nice write-up about him, but I’m too petty to give you a link, because the Trib has conveniently written me out of Dick Tracy’s history. So I’ll give you this nice link instead.

Here’s one last fond fedora tip to my partner Dick Locher.

* * *

I think I’ve quoted this before, but where Tracy is concerned I often recall what Dean Martin reportedly said about Jerry Lewis: “The two best things that ever happened to me were meeting Jerry Lewis, and splitting with Jerry Lewis.”

I hated getting fired off Dick Tracy. I felt I had revitalized the strip. Friends, like Mike Gold, told me I should only do ten years, since it wasn’t my creation, and Chet Gould himself advised me not to let Tracy dominate my career, since he would always be the creator.

But Tracy was my childhood obsession and I would be still be writing it, had I not been fired by an editor who despised me almost as much as I despised him.

And yet, just as getting Tracy was the best thing that happened in my early career, losing it was the other “best thing.” Road to Perdition came about because I was scrambling to find a new comics project. The dust had barely settled on my Tracy firing when Andrew Helfer approached me to create a noir graphic novel for DC. Off the top of my head I pitched Gun and Son (which became Perdition), combining my love for Lone Wolf and Cub with the real-life story of John and Connor Looney and a betrayed lieutenant in Rock Island’s mob scene of the early 20th Century. The latter had been something I ran across researching my novel True Detective but couldn’t find a way to use, except in passing.

The rest, as they say, is history. No Tracy firing, almost certainly no Road to Perdition. For a lot of years, the famous thing I was known for was Tracy. Now the strip has receded into something of an interesting footnote and “author of Road to Perdition” is the famous thing.

I am leading up here to a wonderful review by that talented writer Ron Fortier about my prose novel version of Road to Perdition. You need to read this review, and if you have not yet purchased for your reading pleasure and edification the Brash Books edition of the complete version of the novel, what are you waiting for?

* * *

Yesterday Crusin’ performed for a late afternoon concert on the patio at Pearl City Plaza in Muscatine.

It could have been a nightmare. A couple of weeks ago our guitarist walked out on the band at rehearsal and I had a very limited time to decide whether to cancel our remaining two gigs of the year, or find a replacement.

My way is not to roll over and die, however, and with the recommendation of our drummer, Steve Kundel, I approached a well-known area musician, Bill Anson, to fill in. We rehearsed four times, one of them a marathon session, and Bill proved to be a great guy as well as a skilled, gifted guitarist/singer. What we do is not really his genre of choice, but I am hopeful he will stick around for a while. (I have offered him the position of Permanent Temporary Guitarist, perhaps channeling “Permanent Latrine Orderly” from No Time for Sergeants.)

How did the gig go? The audience was large and appreciative, and while there were occasional train wrecks, there were also no fatalities, and I can say in all honesty I haven’t had a better, looser time on a band job in years.

Thanks, Bill. And thanks to Brian Van Winkle, our bassist extraordinaire, for sticking with us in a sticky personal situation.

We play at least one more time this year, at Ardon Creek Winery on September 1, 6 to 9 pm. It’s a wonderful outdoor venue. Check it out, if you’re in the area.

* * *

Here’s a lovely piece on the Quarry TV series.

Here’s a nice write-up on the new Bibliomysteries collection that includes “It’s in the Book” by Mickey and me – my favorite of the Hammer short stories.

Scroll down and read nice things about the forthcoming Quarry’s Climax.

M.A.C.

Toe Hold

August 8th, 2017 by Max Allan Collins

This will be a brief update, because I have just returned from having Cortisone shot into my arthritic big toe. It doesn’t hurt but I am woozier than usual. Yes, after defeating open-heart and lung surgery, not to mention whooping cough (but I guess I did just mention it), I am facing defeat at the hands of a toe.

But it takes more than excruciating pain to stop me from entertaining my public. My wife will, however, tell you that living with when I am not just a pain but am in pain is no effing picnic. Just yesterday she lovingly reminded me that I am more trouble than I’m worth.

I knew that, but an occasional reminder comes in handy.

I’m preparing to get back to writing the new Mike Hammer comic book mini-series (issue #1 delivered) and fighting that just-stepped-off-the-merry-go-round feeling from having shipped Scarface & the Untouchable, co-written by Brad Schwartz. What an incredible collaborator! The level of research into Eliot Ness that Brad pulled off is staggering. Very proud of this – almost 150,000 words, not counting end notes!

A quick note on a movie that you should seek out, either streaming or on Blu-Ray (it’s available cheap, lots of places): Train to Busan, a South Korean film that’s on the list of all-time high-grossers (in several senses) in that country. I avoided this for a while because it’s a zombie movie and I’m kind of zombied out.

But this rivals any zombie movie I’ve ever seen, including Romero ones, and has a lot more going on that just the undead trying to catch a train, or claw their way off one, either. The story is about a business-oriented father and his neglected child, and the theme is our responsibility to each other. It’s always scary as hell. I found it more reminiscent of John Carpenter’s great Assault on Precinct 13 than any zombie film, and that’s high praise indeed.

* * *

For the month of August, Supreme Justice, Fate of the Union, and Executive Order are $1.99 each on the Kindle Store. Check them out at these links:

* * *

That top-notch scribe Ron Fortier likes Murder Never Knockssee what he has to say about it!

Here is JournalStone’s announcement of The Will to Kill on audio.

And here is their announcement for Hardboiled Horror, an anthology of noir horror yarns that includes a new one by me and my frequent cohort in crime, Matt Clemens.

Check out this terrific piece on tie-in writing (from the Atlantic, no less!) that includes sage wisdom from an expert (humility prevents me from saying more).

Here’s a podcast on Wild Dog that I haven’t had a chance to listen to yet.

Finally, here’s a new review of The Baby Blue Rip-Off, which I wrote forty or fifty years ago (the book, not the review….).

…I Spoke Too Soon

August 1st, 2017 by Max Allan Collins

Remember how last week I talked about how good the summer movies were, and how Barb and I didn’t seem to be walking out of movies anymore?

Then Atomic Blonde happened.

This was one I was really looking forward to – Charlize Theron as a spy in ‘90s Eurotrash-ville, showing off stylish clothes of the era, a popcorn flick with lots of action and a striking visual sense. Based on the trailer anyway.

And Charlize looks great. The visual style and the ‘90s fashions also look great. Lots of style, plenty of style, oodles of style.

No substance.

But you know what? I don’t care as long as I’m entertained. Hold me past my popcorn and I’m yours. But after forty-five minutes, Barb and I bailed. Life is too short.

Here’s the thing. The script sucks. It sets up a convoluted structure, where Charlize is getting debriefed (and not in the fun way) by solid actors Toby Jones and John Goodman. But the flashback-and-forth stuff tries to disguise a shopworn espionage set-up. Guess what the Maguffin is? Somebody has stolen a list of all the Western secret agents and if it’s found and they are exposed blah blah blah. Oh, and agent Jane Blonde…you are also try to uncover the traitor in our camp.

Then when you get to the airport, Jane, be sure to climb into the suspiciously waiting car not driven by the guy who’s supposed to pick you up. If you’re confused, just watch the start of Dr. No. You remember Dr. No, don’t you? It was released in fricking 1962!

Then, kids, stay tuned for mindless carnage and Charlize taking lots of baths in tubs full of fake ice cubes between stints of trying to convince you she’s a martial artist and…whoops, the popcorn’s gone.

Us, too.

* * *
The Prowler

So what have I seen that I liked lately?

Bizarre as it may seem, I caught up with two very well regarded films noir that I hadn’t gotten around to seeing yet. Both looked splendid on Blu-ray.

The Prowler, directed by the sometimes obtuse Joseph Losey, is a terrific 1951 crime movie ghosted by blacklister Dalton Trumbo, also responsible for the script of the great Gun Crazy. Van Heflin plays against type (he’s not the friendly rancher of Shane here) as a sort of male “femme fatale” who ensnares lonely housewife Evelyn Keyes in a Postman Always Rings Twice variant. Heflin is a sleazy, smirky cop, and we don’t even see the husband/victim till the murder – previously just been a disembodied voice on the radio. Wonderful.

On Dangerous Ground is from 1952. I can’t believe I never saw this before! The stars are Robert Ryan, Ida Lupino and Ward Bond, and the direction is by Nicholas Ray, produced by John Houseman. Despite this pedigree, the key credits are writer A.I. Bezzerides (who penned the screenplay for Kiss Me Deadly) and composer Bernard Herrmann, who for this low-budget B offers up a haunting score that prefigures every major noir/crime score of his to come. Ryan is a tough cop, as beaten down by his job as the punks he batters confessions out of. Bezzerides is clearly taking Spillane on, three years before Kiss Me Deadly (!), lambasting both tough-guy brutality and eye-for-an-eye justice, by way of Ward Bond’s out-of-control bereaved father. Ryan encounters blind Ida Lupino, a gentle soul who reveals his own metaphorical blindness. The narrative moves a little too fast to be credible, but forget it, Jake – it’s melodrama-town.

* * *

With luck, when you read this, I will have delivered the manuscript for Scarface & the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness and the Battle for Chicago by M.A.C. and A. Brad Schwartz. Almost 900 pages, including end notes and bibliography.

So today’s update is brief.

I have things to do.

M.A.C.

Walk Out! Girl, Don’t You Walk Out….

July 25th, 2017 by Max Allan Collins
Quarry's War

The Quarry comic book mini-series (which will later be collected as a graphic novel) was officially announced at San Diego Comic Con, where I was not in attendance. The splendid cover is included here for your enjoyment, although my enjoyment is hampered by the fact that my name isn’t on it.

I trust this is an oversight that will be rectified by Hard Case Crime Comics, though I admit it rankles when the writer of the other comic book announced did make the cover of that number one issue.

I will leave it to you whether to file this under “What am I, chopped liver?” or sour grapes.

In the meantime, here’s the Booklist advance review of Quarry’s Climax:

Collins, Max Allan (Author)
Oct 2017. 240 p. Hard Case Crime, paperback, $9.95. (9781785651809). e-book, (9781785651816).

Chronology is always a little tricky in Collins’ Quarry series. Take this one. It’s a new entry, but the story is set in the 1970s, when the first Quarry thrillers were written. The hit man with a heart of steel (and a skewed sense of, well, just desserts) is working for the Broker, a murder middleman who farms out hired kills to his operatives. This time it’s a little complicated: Quarry and his partner, Boyd, must first dispatch the hitters sent to eliminate the publisher of the Memphis-based porn mag, Climax; then determine who hired the hitters; and, finally, get rid of them, too. All in a few days’ work for the resourceful Quarry, of course, who developed his killing chops as a Vietnam sniper, but along the way Collins treats us to a wonderfully vivid look at the pornography industry in its heyday. From publishers to centerfolds to strippers to feminist protesters, he cuts through the stereotypes with quick bits of subtle characterization (but, please, don’t say you read a book with ‘Climax’ in the title only for the characters).

— Bill Ott

* * *

The title of this week’s update is a line from the Monkees’ “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You,” which Crusin’ covered for a Monkees tribute CD some years back. But the subject is not rock ‘n’ roll – rather, the now legendary tendency of my wife Barb and myself where walking out of movies is concerned.

We were walking out of so many movies, readers of this weekly update were wondering what movies I might actually be able to tolerate, or perhaps even (choke) like. But others have noticed that there have been no reports of such walk-outs lately.

One possible reason for all the walk-outs has been a spate of overblown, mediocre would-be blockbusters, frequently cribbed from comics or otherwise pop-culture retreads. The Great Wall and Kong: Skull Island are typical. CHIPs and Baywatch are the kind of movies where you consider walking out during the trailer, which is all we saw of them.

The truth is, though, something strange happened this summer, at least so far: the blockbuster movie releases have been…how can I put it…good. Here’s a rundown on them, just little mini-reviews to pop like Milk Duds. And what part of the cow is the “dud,” anyway? A few of these I’ve already commented on, in passing.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. A lot of care went into making sure the quirky humor of the first film was maintained, and it paid off. Casting Kurt Russell was a very good move. These movies know exactly how to walk you up to sentimentality and then drop the trap door on you.

Wonder Woman. Chris Pine, channeling William Shatner in the manner of the recent Star Trek movies, contributes humanity and humor while lead Gal Gadot brings provides charm, beauty and athleticism in an epic origin tale craftily set in a vivid Great War setting. And it’s surprisingly faithful to the Golden Age comic book.

The Mummy. The weakest of the non-walkout-worthy summer blockbusters is nonetheless a lot of fun, with Tom Cruise (no matter what you may think about Scientology) bringing his genuine movie-star charisma and skill to the party. A female mummy (Sofia Boutella) is a nice twist, although too much back story and the clumsy inclusion of Jekyll/Hyde (Russell Crowe) is a lame attempt to build a franchise nobody is waiting for.

Baby Driver. A reminder of what it felt like to go to the movies in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, this is a slick, fast-moving crime film that is propelled by music and moves from one phenomenal, and mood-changing, set piece to another. It’s an outrageous melodrama, with compelling, often larger-than-life characters. Not sure the proposed sequel is a good idea, though.

Spiderman – Homecoming. It took some doing, getting Barb to go along, and she wasn’t won over immediately. But this third reboot (who’s counting?) manages to both re-imagine and yet be quite faithful to the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko original (how I wish I had hung onto Amazing Fantasy #15). Tom Holland is a winning Peter Parker/Spidey, though the heart and soul of the movie, oddly enough, belongs to the villain, the wonderfully cast Michael Keaton. Only real flaw is how hard the film works to invoke other aspects of the Marvel film franchise universe, with much more Avengers and Iron Man stuff than necessary. It’s too much salt on an already well-seasoned popcorn.

War for the Planet of the Apes. This may be the best Planet of the Apes movie of all, and as good as the two previous ones are (Rise and Dawn), that’s saying something. There is a grandeur and even majesty to this one, and the believability of the apes is complete and stunning. But it’s also emotionally wracking, action-packed and even frightening. Give Andy Serkis an Oscar already, would you, Academy?

Dunkirk. I’ve never been a Christopher Nolan fan, but I am now a convert. This is the year’s best movie so far. It’s demanding – for Americans, the various Brit accents may mean losing this line or that one, and there’s no Pearl Harbor back story: you’re just thrown right into four or five storylines that crisscross over the running time. The Hans Zimmer score is ruthlessly relentless, and a relaxing time at the movies this isn’t. A few have complained that the film lacks any overview, but the situation is simple: the Germans have driven the British and the French armies to the coast of France with the Channel between the Brits and home. Hundreds of thousands of allied soldiers are trying to get home, and the advancing German army as well as their fighter pilots are trying to stop that, while British civilians in their own little boats are heading across the Channel to take soldiers home by the handful. That’s all you need to know. There is heroism and cowardice and various other shades of humanity, but also a sense of patriotism in a just cause that today somehow seems remote. Churchill’s famous speech, read by a soldier from a newspaper, is a reminder that giants once guided government.

* * *

My pal Bud Plant has found a supply of the first Ms. Tree trade paperback. It’s cheap and it’s here.

The Hard Case Crime announcement of Quarry’s War made at SDCC was picked up all over the Internet.

Finally, here’s news of the live performance of Mike Hammer: Encore for Murder next January in Florida. It stars my buddy Gary Sandy, who appeared in Mommy’s Day.

M.A.C.

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