A Tale of Two Birthdays

March 6th, 2018 by Max Allan Collins

Before I dig in this week, be sure to check out the incredible Wall Street Journal article on Mickey’s centenary and my role in it.

I was born March 3, 1948. Mickey Spillane was born March 9, 1918. I just turned 70. Mickey is about to turn 100. My friend, mentor and collaborator was almost exactly thirty years older than me.

When I told my agent, the great but always skeptical Dominick Abel, that I was going to do everything I could to get notice for Mickey’s centenary, he had his doubts. I reminded him that Mickey was the best-selling American mystery writer of the 20th Century (possibly best-selling writer of that era period), and he reminded me that the 20th Century was a long time ago.

As we say in comics, sigh.

But I had a plan, involving the first, previously unpublished (unfinished-till-now) Mike Hammer novel (Killing Town) and the very last novel Mickey completed on his own (The Last Stand). I felt those bookends could attract attention, and a PR person at Titan (which includes Hard Case Crime) agreed with me. Her name is Katharine Carroll and she has done a stellar job, and continues doing so. That Wall Street Journal piece is her doing, as is coverage in Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal (see below), Booklist and much more. She also landed a Playboy spot for the opening chapter of Killing Town – that issue of Playboy is on the stands now. If you buy it, you will see how big I like to see my byline (a combination of healthy ego and poor eyesight). I have spent so much time staring at my huge byline that I keep forgetting to look at the nude women.

The Titan news release about the Mike Hammer serialized graphic novel (four issues to be followed by a collection) is all over the Net, as well as the Hollywood Reporter (link provided last week). What Titan’s publisher, Nick Landau, and Hard Case Crime’s editor, Charles Ardai, have done for Mickey and me is fairly amazing.

I just completed a massively long interview with J. Kingston Pierce, who is scary in the knowledge and precision of his questioning. That will, I presume, appear on his essential mystery-fiction site, The Rap Sheet, before long.

So Mickey is 100. And I am 70 (a fact noted fairly widely on the Net also). I admit I find this a sobering birthday. When you are in your sixties, life still seems to stretch ahead some. When you are in your seventies, not so much. I look around and my film collaborator, actor Mike Cornelison, is gone…for some time now. Ed Gorman has passed. Bill Crider is gone. That the universe can reclaim that kind of talent and energy is unspeakably sad.

I now look at the books I still want to write and don’t know if I’ll be able to get to them all. I wonder if an indie film project rears its head if I can still direct. Stress is a motherhumper after you’ve had open-heart surgery. I find myself working harder than ever, and as fast as I can manage without a negative impact on the quality of the work and the state of my health. Barb wants me to slow down, but I quite honestly feel my best when I’m working.

We spent the birthday weekend with son Nathan, daughter-in-law Abby and the preternaturally smart and funny Sam, our two-and-a-half-year old grandson. It is with sadness and humility that I must report to you that Sam is smarter than all of your grandchildren (put together), should you have any. Don’t bother trying to correct me. You might as well tell a Trump voter the truth about their guy.

At my birthday I reflect on how lucky I am and continue to be. Let’s start with the smartest, most beautiful and talented wife on the planet, Barbara Collins. Let’s continue with a great son and his growing little family. Let’s continue with my ability to avoid a real job while making impossible career dreams come true…continuing Dick Tracy after Chester Gould, completing Mike Hammer from Mickey’s unfinished manuscripts (for a dozen years!), Ms. Tree, the unstoppable Nate Heller, the resurrection of Quarry, making an unofficial sort of sequel to The Bad Seed with Patty McCormack herself, finally (with brilliant Brad Schwartz) setting the record straight on Eliot Ness and Al Capone (the upcoming Scarface and the Untouchable), playing in a band with some of the most gifted musicians in the Midwest, and, oh hell…lots of other stuff. Little things, like a Grandmaster “Edgar” from the MWA (did I ever mention that to you?).

It’s always seemed special and (ridiculous, I know) that Mickey Spillane and I have birthdays just a few days apart – his 9 is even divisible by my 3 (and you thought I couldn’t do math). And yet here we both still are, writing books together.

Even if the 20th Century was a long time ago.

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Here’s some nice coverage of The Last Stand and the centenary at Library Journal, by way of an interview with me.

Check out this great review of The Bloody Spur at Gravetapping.

To help celebrate Mickey’s centenary, that gifted writer Raymond Benson has reviewed Mickey Spillane on Screen (by Jim Traylor and me) at the Cinema Retro web site.

Here’s a quirky (I think) positive review of Quarry’s Climax.

You have to scroll down a ways for it, but there’s a nice look at the Quarry TV series at Hardboiled Wonderland.

Finally, I was wished a nice happy birthday by Comics Reporter…and an old friend of Terry Beatty’s and mine.

M.A.C.

Mike Hammer Comics First Time Ever (sort of)

February 27th, 2018 by Max Allan Collins

Titan and its Hard Case Crime line of noir comics has officially announced the Mike Hammer comic book – actually, a graphic novel that will first be serialized as a four-issue comic book series – and word about it is all over the Net.

We even made the Hollywood Reportersee for yourself.

One of the most exciting aspects of all this is having the great Robert McGinnis provide a cover for a comic book – isn’t that a first? As I kid I dreamed of having a book of mine appear with a McGinnis cover – now I’ve had five!

The other covers are great, too, and you can see some of them here.

A lot of the Net write-ups take the angle that this is the first time Mike Hammer has appeared in a comic book. Well…kind of. Hammer was originally conceived by Mickey Spillane as a comics character, first materializing as Mike Lancer in Green Hornet Comics #10, December 1942. Mickey probably wrote this right before going into the Army Air Corps. Mickey re-named Lancer as Mike Danger, with the same artist, Harry Sahle, and tried to market it after the war. The lack of success of the comics version led Mickey into doing a prose version of the character, re-named (do I have to tell you?), Mike Hammer. Hammer’s first appearance in print was in 1947’s I, the Jury.

Two of Mickey’s unsold Mike Danger comic book stories appeared in Crime Detector #3 and #4 in 1954. Mickey didn’t know about this till years later – somebody pulled them from a drawer and sold them…the unsigned artist maybe? Not Sahle, who did not draw the two stories that were published; but Mickey apparently put together an entire issue, so one or two other stories remain lost.

Hammer himself hit the comics in ‘53 – not funny books, but in newspapers as a daily and Sunday strip, written by Mickey and sometimes by Joe Gill and the strip’s terrific artist, Ed Robbins. It ran for about a year and was collected, and edited with an intro by me in a fifty-buck book from Hermes Press. But you can get it here (in digital form) for under $15.

Here’s where we get into technically murky waters in claims that my comic book series is a first for Mike Hammer. I have two issues of an Australian Mike Hammer comic book from the ‘50s doing reprints of strips. Not original material, however….

Remember Mike Danger? Well, some of you know that Mickey and I revived the original character for Big Entertainment. The differences between Danger and Hammer are slight, but the comic book stories we did from 1995 – 1997 were science-fiction-oriented. For most of the run, Danger was thrust up into a politically correct future. Toward the end we returned him to the 1950s for X-Files type s-f. The first cover was by Frank Miller, a longtime Spillane enthusiast, and my pal Terry Beatty worked on the book for the last year or so, inking several other artists. I would love to see these collected.

You can read about Mike Danger’s torturous history in even more detail here, at Kevin Burton Smith’s fine Thrilling Detective web site.

Does this take anything away from the upcoming Mike Hammer four-issue comic book series? Not at all. It’s just that he and Mickey Spillane – who once wrote comic books for Timely and other Golden Age outfits – are not strangers to the medium. And it will be a great, significant part of the Mike Hammer centenary celebration.

My graphic novel, “The Night I Died,” has a basis in an unproduced Spillane screenplay from the early ‘50s, although I have set it in the vague 1960s, around the time of the Darren McGavin TV version. The art by Marcelo Salaza and Marcio Freire has a lot of flair, and I am glad to be part of bringing Mike Hammer more officially to the world of comic books…back again for the first time ever!

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Two quick notes on movies….

Do not come to our house with torches, but Barb and I did not like Black Panther. In fact, we walked out after about an hour. We are not racists (although most people who say they aren’t are), but found it dumb and convoluted and pandering, with a torturously slow set-up. Speaking of racist, I found the central notion of an African country developing advanced technology but hiding it from the world by pretending to be backward tribesman, well, racist as hell. Now ours is obviously a minority (you should pardon the expression) opinion. We are probably wrong. But we don’t sit through anything we don’t like anymore. We have better things to do, and to watch.

Speaking of which, Game Night with Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, both wonderful, is one of the best comedies of recent years. Reminiscent of Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, it’s a crime story and wild comedy about a group of couples going after a shared goal; along the way it pays surprising attention to character. Mostly, though, it’s just very funny. Kyle Chandler and Jesse Plemons of the great TV series Friday Night Lights are among the stars, and both are hilarious. One imagines every time “Cut” was shouted at the end of a Plemons take, everybody on set fell apart laughing. This had two directors, apparently collaborating (as opposed to one of them getting fired and replaced), one of whom is John Francis Daley who was the main geek on the great Freaks and Geeks TV series. Good for him!

M.A.C.

Valentine’s Day Reflections

February 20th, 2018 by Max Allan Collins

I try not to delve into politics much here. Most people know that I am left of center, but not so far left as to have any trouble with writing about Mike Hammer. This week I want to share a couple of things with you.

This cartoon, which appeared in the Quad City Times, is eloquent in its depiction of Iowa’s two senators, Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, who I consider to be embarrassments not just to my home state but the human race.

In another paper, a little thing called The New York Times, A. Brad Schwartz – my co-author on the forthcoming Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness and the Battle for Chicago – contributed an op-ed piece. Take the time to read it – “How the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Changed Gun Laws.” You will among others things see how well Brad writes, and may wonder if in our collaboration I am up to anything more than keeping the pencils sharpened and making sure the printer doesn’t run out of paper.

My contribution to this fine piece, by the way, was to e-mail Brad, on the day the Florida shooting occurred, wondering why no one in media had yet made the St. Valentine’s Day connection. He was already on the case, but maybe I stoked the fire a little.

For the record, I support the Second Amendment. I just have no respect for (a) a hunter who needs an AR-15 or AK-47 to hit a deer, or (b) some guy who gets hard using that kind of weapon for target practice.

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Here’s a link to the Projection Booth podcast, Episode 352: Kiss Me Deadly (1955), a smart, in depth look at that great film with a lengthy, detailed interview with me. My only regret is that I didn’t focus more on the film itself – maybe next time.

Bill Crider is gone, but definitely not forgotten. Here’s a great interview with him.

And finally this lovely Crider tribute from J. Kingston Pierce.

M.A.C.

You Screen, I Screen, We All Scream for…

February 13th, 2018 by Max Allan Collins

Last time here I pretty much just hawked a bunch of books. Seems like it’s time I blessed you with opinions about movies and TV series that Barb and I have viewed lately.

The third season of Fargo arrived on DVD, and I am well and truly pissed that FX has not released this on Blu-ray, after issuing the previous two seasons that way. They are doing the same with Archer. As if I weren’t pissed enough that they didn’t pick up Heller for TV, though they did pay through the nose for my script.


Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ewan McGregor in Fargo Season 3.

Anyway, Fargo Season 3 is wonderful. It certainly deserves a Blu-ray release, because visually it’s unique – the director has dialed down the blue despite the winter time frame, and has created a singular mood. Where do I start? The story has two major threads – a Russian takeover of a parking lot business with strip-mining it in mind; and the rivalry between two brothers (both played by Ewan McGregor) over which of them got the better of their late father’s belongings. The dumb brother took the Corvette, the smart one a valuable stamp collection, the former becoming a parole officer whose charges piss all over his shoes as he collects urine for drug testing, the latter building a fortune around that aforementioned parking lot business. Add into this the underestimated small-town local cop (a staple of Fargo, whether movie or TV show, this time Carrie Coon) who says, “Okay, then,” a lot, and a villain (David Thewliss) as a guy who makes Billy Bob Thornton’s Malvo of Season One seem like St. Francis of Assisi. Other elements include the dumb brother’s squeeze, parolee Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a whiz at bridge, looking to tourneys to build a better future (she came in third once); a dead grandpa who turns out to have been a briefly famous science-fiction writer, somewhat in the vein of Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout; a benign and occasionally meddling Jehovah by way of beloved Twin Peaks actor Ray Wise; the return of a character who appeared in both previous series; and some particularly nasty Russian thugs. Also Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” narrated by Billy Bob, and an animated version of one of the dead grandpa’s s-f tales.

In short, it’s sublime. Unlike that sorta genius filmmaker David Lynch, who has only presented a straight story once (The Straight Story), Noah Hawley can include quirky elements while still spinning a well-structured, coherent narrative. He also knows how to assemble a cast, which has been true of all three seasons. The standout this time is Winstead, who played Joni in the unaired pilot of Quarry. In a beautifully acted series filled with world-class actors, she nonetheless tucks Fargo Season 3 under her arm and steals it. She is now my personal choice for Ms. Tree, if Hollywood ever comes back around to that property (and its senses).

Well, that took a while, so here are some shorter looks, first at TV.

The Tunnel 3: Vengeance turns out to be the concluding season of the British/French version of the Nordic noir, The Bridge. It tells a brazenly over-the-top tale of a couple of activists who punish people they deem bad, particularly Internet trollers; they, shall we say, take things a bit too far. What’s best about this good season of a terrific show is the secondary theme (vengeance being the first) of the effect the loss of a child has on a parent and of a lost parent on a child. Yet another theme explores how the team of compassionate Brit detective Karl Roebuck and his French counterpart, autistic Elise Wassermann (played by Stephen Dillane and Clémence Poésy, respectively) make bad decisions when the partner isn’t around as a counterbalance. Both actors are excellent. For fans of The Bridge (there was also a pretty good American version from FX – damn them – which paired American and Mexican cops), a real benefit is that – after the first season, which every version has done more or less the same – new stories appear. The Tunnel series has a shocking but ultimately satisfying conclusion. I got this from the UK – it won’t show up here for a while.

Looking for good British series, we tried Shetland, The Loch (shown as Loch Ness here), and Hinterland. We didn’t make it through Hinterland, which was humorless and bleak, and The Loch was passable but nothing more. Shetland, of these somewhat similar series with their barren, beautiful settings, is easily the best, with Douglas Henshall a standout as the central detective. None of these, though, are as good as the Nordic thrillers they somewhat ape – like The Killing, Wallander and Varg Veum.

Victoria‘s second season is very short on murders, but it’s a veddy enjoyable Brit soap opera, with a high standard of acting from a cast that, surprisingly enough, seems largely drawn from the UK.

Onto movies…

The Shape of Water is as wonderful as I’d hoped it would be. Directed by Guillermo del Toro and written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, the film is a celebration – and a cautionary tale – of earlier eras and in particular movies. The art direction and lighting, however, creates a mood unique to this film. The only slightly false note is a dance routine that seems straight out of the dreaded La La Land. Otherwise, it’s bewitching and occasionally scary, with dollops of social comment; actors Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, and Richard Jenkins are especially good. So is Michael Stuhlbarg, who is also among the incredible cast of Fargo Season 3 (did I mention how good that is?). I had read quite a bit about the film in advance and yet it was very different from what I’d gathered. That’s because it’s a special experience, oddly reminiscent of Phantom of the Paradise, which it invokes in its opening narration.

Winchester is an Australian-made haunted house movie that has a nine-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Keep in mind movie critics, particularly the younger ones, often don’t know shit. Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke are just fine in a movie that wants to be a ghost story, with an intriguing historical backdrop, and delivers on its promise. Perhaps because of the Winchester’s lack of over-the-top gore, the filmmakers (Peter and Michael Spierig) were encouraged to include so many jump scares, it becomes absurd – but a good basis for a Halloween drinking game, as long as there’s a designated driver.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women – viewed on Blu-ray (like Fargo Season 3 should have been). A compelling if admittedly fanciful take on the creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston, and the two strong women he lived with. I don’t mind the speculation, but writer/director Angela Robinson shows Marston watching in displeasure and disappointment as kids and their parents burn a bunch of comic books because of urging from Dr. Wertham type critics. Trouble is Marston died in 1947 and the comic book purge was mid-‘50s.

The Snowman – also watched on Blu-ray (fill in Fargo Season 3 bitch here). This seems to me a perfectly serviceable Nordic noir thriller from Jo Nesbø’s novel, though it goes over no new ground and ends somewhat flatly. But the savage reviews indicate the Nordic noir cycle may have run its course.

Marshall – another Blu-ray watch. A solid combination of Civil Rights activism and courtroom drama. Leads Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad and Kate Hudson are fine.

I touched on Den of Thieves and Proud Mary before – both very watchable.

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And here’s a very nice review of Quarry’s War #3, which is out now.

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