Posts Tagged ‘Batman’

Goodbye, Jerry; Hello, Nashville

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

I already did a brief post on Facebook about the passing of Jerry Lewis. I predicted that along with the tributes there would lots of snark, as some people feel the right moment to dis somebody is right after that person dies.

I understand Lewis was both a complicated man and an inconsistent artist. My late friend Bruce Peters used to say, “The only thing funnier than Jerry Lewis at his best is Jerry Lewis at his worst.” And there’s some truth in that. He could be such a putz when he got in self-trained intellectual mode on talk shows (Martin Short, a fellow Lewis lover, could nail that perfectly). He could be notoriously thin-skinned with interviewers and he indulged in outrageously politically incorrect humor right to the end – Barb, Nate, Abby and I saw him in St. Louis not long ago, and he told an Asian joke that was in terrible taste (but I laughed at it, because at 69 I already understand what it is to be of another era and feel the urge to make your own generation smile and younger people squirm).

But I wasn’t always 69. Once I was six, and seven, and eight, and all the ages along the way through junior and senior high school, years when at the Uptown Theater in Muscatine, Iowa, I saw every movie Jerry made. I saw many of Dean and Jerry’s movies that way, too, but also saw them tear it up on TV, manic magic as performed by no other comedy team in history. Nobody could make me laugh harder, and I still find Dean and Jerry a perfectly mismatched pair. I remember seeing Pardners and being so relieved that Dean and Jerry were obviously still pals and partners and, despite what we’d been told, would never ever split. Right up till the day Dean Martin died I was hoping for a genuine reunion of the two. They were, as I said elsewhere, the comedy Beatles.

Jerry could be cloyingly sentimental in his films. This made some otherwise interesting movies – Cinderfella, for example – occasionally unbearable. And he had a thing for clowns that misses me entirely. On the other hand, his infamous unreleased The Day the Clown Cried seems pretty good to me, based upon the clips and readings from the script that were assembled a while back, despite its legendary reputation as an embarrassing disaster. A guy who could be as overbearing as Jerry, and who represented show business at its most phony/traditional, made a great target for smug people of my generation who turned on the whole Rat Pack crowd as part of our general anti-Establishment stance.

It was easy for us to forget that Jerry was an anarchic presence in a dull decade, he and Dean perhaps the first sign of the rebellion that was to come, a bridling against the cookie-cutter post-war world that would soon know Brando and James Dean. Like Elvis and Spillane, Jerry Lewis – and in his way, Dino, too – were rebels serving up gleeful chaos even as they let us know that all was not calm beneath the pablum-paved Arthur Godfrey surface of ‘50s America.

And when the sixties kicked in – really kicked in – it was tough on Jerry. He famously considered his screen persona to be eternally nine years old, and this worked for a long, long time, because of his naturally youthful looks. But when the hippie era asserted its glassy-eyed self, and the sexual revolution changed movies, he started looking like a guy approaching middle age, and his brand of traditional show biz was soon attracting derision from the Baby Boomers who had loved him. He started making some truly dreadful movies with sex farce aspects – Three on a Couch, for example, and Way…Way Out.

And when he took on the Nazis in Which Way to the Front? (not long after Mel Brooks and The Producers), his comic timing seemed oddly off – as a director, his usual mastery of cutting was absent. And yet there are very funny moments toward the end of that generally dire film – Hitler has never been funnier, not even when Dick Shawn was playing him. Jerry’s willingness to do whatever it took to get a laugh would, even in those misjudged circumstances, shine through. Even his comeback comedy, Hardly Working, for all its sketchiness and awkward product placement, had sublime moments of Lewis hysteria, as when a porthole in an art gallery issues gushing water, with Jerry breaking the fourth wall to ask us if we’d seen that, too.

I always watched the telethons selectively. I wanted to see the parts where Jerry himself was performing or interacting with guests. (I saw the Dean Martin reunion, orchestrated by Sinatra, as it happened.) And I sat through Jerry’s excruciating yet strangely thrilling performance of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at least a dozen times.

So, yes, he was not perfect. But I’m here to tell you that he will join the pantheon of great screen comics. He’ll rank with W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, Chaplin, and Keaton. He’s already outdistanced such contenders as Danny Kaye and Red Skelton (meaning no disrespect to either – I am a guy who adores the Ritz Brothers, after all). I hope Abbott and Costello will last, and Bob Hope, too (his pre-1960s comedies and the Road pictures with Crosby remain hugely entertaining). The Stooges seem impervious, which for Baby Boomers is a sweet surprise, though when we’re gone that may not continue. But I don’t think there’s any doubt that the best of Jerry Lewis will endure.

Like what, you ask?

Well, while the Martin & Lewis films don’t always capture the boys at their best, a handful do – Artists and Models (the comic book movie), Sailor Beware, You’re Never Too Young, The Caddy, Living It Up, The Stooge, Hollywood or Bust and Pardners. That’s quite a few, actually.

For Jerry at the top of his game, try The Nutty Professor, The Ladies’ Man, The Bellboy, The Patsy, and The Errand Boy, all of which he directed and co-wrote. His collaborations with Frank Tashlin are mostly worthwhile: It’s Only Money, The Disorderly Orderly, and Who’s Minding the Store among them. And of course there’s The King of Comedy.

Fanatics, like myself, have everything of Jerry’s on DVD and Blu-ray – including things you can only acquire from overseas. I even have bootlegs of the two (terrible) movies he made in France.

Nonetheless, France was right: he was a genius. Not everything I’ve said here is flattering about him, but make no mistake – I loved this man and his work. For probably twenty years I’ve dreaded the day when I would learn of his passing. I knew part of me would die with him.

So I’ll be as cloyingly sentimental as Jerry and say that he won’t be gone as long as his films are with us, including moments like this:

* * *

I am a guest of honor at Killer Nashville this weekend (Aug. 24 -27). Barb will be along, and we’ll be very active, doing scads of panels. It’s our first time at this event.

I’m receiving a life achievement “Legends” award – read about it here.

Here’s where you can get more general info about the conference/convention.

And here are the panels one or both of us are on:

Friday, Aug 25
2:20pm panel: M.A.C. Bad Boys and Girls (Hickory 20)
4:40pm signing: M.A.C.
5pm Author Readings (Birch MM)

Saturday, Aug. 26
12:30pm Road to Perdition interview; M.A.C. (Birch 34)
2pm panel: Barb; How to Write Cozy Mystery Series (Hickory 37)
3pm panel: M.A.C./Barb; Art of Collaboration (Sycamore 43)
5:10pm signing; M.A.C./Barb (Azalea S8)
7pm Awards Dinner (Birch KNA)

Sun. Aug 27
9:50am panel; M.A.C. Writing the Scene (Sycamore 49)
9:50am panel; Barb One Night: Lovers, Minor Characters (Redbud 50)
10:50am panel; Barb That’s Funny (Sycamore 54)

I have been in Nashville twice before. In 1967, to record “Psychedelic Siren” with the Daybreakers. And in 1994, to scout locations for The Expert with director Bill Lustig.

* * *

Take a look at these nice comments about Scar of the Bat, my Eliot Ness/Batman Elseworlds graphic novel, with a suggestion that it should be animated.

This nice look at Road to Perdition is, as usual, based on its being derived from a comics source.

Finally, here’s a nice review of The Pearl Harbor Murders (actually of Dan John Miller’s audio of it) with an overview of the entire “Disaster” series.

M.A.C.

Holy Supper, Batman!

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

When the Batman TV show was announced in late 1965, I was ecstatic. It would have been a dream come true had I ever thought to dream it. In January 1966, I was the only comic book fan in my high school in Muscatine, Iowa, and certainly the only person who had been reading the BATMAN comic since around 1954.

Perhaps there were others around me, closeted in four-color shame, but I didn’t know about them. I was open about it. Everybody knew I was into comics, just as everybody knew I was a Bobby Darin fanatic. That I was driven, intense, and wanted to be a writer or a singer or a cartoonist or something in the arts. I was cheerfully humored, although I’m sure this status was no help in getting me laid.

When I got into comics – trading two-for-one at a local antiques shop, or buying them used for five cents or new for a dime – MAD was still a comic book, the original Captain Marvel was still being published, and H.G. Peter was drawing Wonder Woman in a style so eccentric even I knew something was wrong, yet very right, about it. I saw MAD turn into a magazine and the EC horror comics disappear just as I was laying hands on them. Captain Marvel just disappeared, as if a super-villain had taken him out.

For a long time, I had an allowance of ten cents a week, which meant I could buy one comic book a week. Dick Tracy and Batman were the only certainties. The rest went to Dell comics like the sporadic Zorro comics and various movie tie-in issues, filled in with Superman and his “family” – Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane.

Later I bought Amazing Fantasy #15 off the stands, as well as Fantastic Four #1 and Spiderman #1, and probably the first ten years of both. Sold the valuable issues for hundreds of dollars when I was a college student because, well, I was a college student and the money I got from playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band only went so far.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In January 1966, a senior in high school, I was delighted and amazed and astounded by the prospect of a Batman TV show. To say I was looking forward to it is an understatement of super-heroic proportions.

Then a disaster happened: on the night Batman would premiere, my church group (the MYF, which I believe stood for Methodists Youths getting Effed) was throwing a supper to raise funds for something or other (certainly not the poor or disadvantaged – probably to go on some trip). I had to serve. Define that any way you like, but it entailed bringing hot plates of food to the waiting victims in the church basement’s dining hall.

Understand that there were no VCRs or any other recording devices to “time-shift” a TV show you wanted to watch. That was as far-fetched as time travel itself. For days I tried to think of a way out. I was past being able to fake sickness for my parents, and the notion of saying I wanted to skip a church function to watch a TV show was as crazy as thinking that someday I would no longer be a Republican.

So I schemed. My parents would be at the church supper, too, which meant the house would be empty. Batman was only a half-hour show. We lived across town, a trip I could recklessly make in under ten minutes. It was possible. It could happen. A laugh oddly like the Joker’s echoed around inside my brain, bouncing off the walls, currently decorated with photos of Elke Sommer.

Wednesday, January 12, 1966. Arriving early at the church, I found a parking place near the kitchen’s side door, went in, and began being conspicuously (suspiciously?) helpful. Hungry Methodists arrived. I began serving. In the kitchen door at right you would go in, pick up your food, then carry a steaming hot plate of who-the-hell-remembers out the other door, at left. Deliver food, maybe get a smile and a thanks (usually not), and repeat the process. At 6:20 P.M., I began the process, entering the kitchen at right, then – not missing a beat – slipped out the side door into the alley and got behind the wheel of my Chevy II.

Like a madman I drove across down, and by 6:29 was seated Indian-style on the floor in front of the TV. The nah-nah-nah-nah-nah theme plays over cartoon credits, my mouth drops open and stays there as I witness a comic-book world awash in color, Adam West and Burt Ward portraying Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson (SPOILER ALERT: the secret identities of Batman and Robin). Frank Gorshin appears as a manic, cackling Riddler, with whom I could identify. The Batusi is danced. Mesmerized, delighted, I watch as the comic book I had loved since age five comes alive in an amazingly deft manner that at once honored and spoofed it – I knew immediately a little kid could enjoy the adventurous, colorful surface, and an adult could enjoy the tongue-in-cheek spoof of it. Since I was both a little kid and an adult, I was the perfect audience.

As the episode (sort of) ended – “Same Bat time, same bat channel!” – I ran from the house to my car like West and Ward headed for the Bat-Pole and the waiting Batmobile, and headed back to the church, where my fellow Methodist teens (and my parents!) (choke!) awaited. I parked, ran to the side door, slipped into the kitchen, picked up a plate of food and exited the door at left, into the dining hall.

Some friend of mine frowned at me and said, “Where have you been?”

I smiled devilishly – more Riddler than Joker. “Home. Watching Batman.”

For a good 48 hours, I was legendary at Muscatine Senior High.

Then, two decades later, I would write the Batman comic book for a year and become perhaps the most reviled writer of the feature in history – because I didn’t take it seriously enough, according to fans who take it too seriously…who think the sixties TV show was the worst thing that ever happened to Batman, when in fact it was what made the (sometimes too) Dark Knight a pop-cultural phenomenon.

Who know more about Batman than the seventeen year-old who raced home to see the premiere of the TV show and risked not going to heaven for it. Or at least catching hell from his folks.

Farewell, Adam West.

* * *

There’s a nice review of Bibliomysteries, the Otto Penzler collection that includes the Hammer story, “It’s in the Book.”

Fun review of Supreme Justice here.

Here’s an interesting if patronizing review of both the novel and graphic novel of Road to Perdition by someone who loves the movie and came to the source later.

M.A.C.

“Please Sir, I Want Some More…”

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers has announced the Scribe Award Nominees for 2017, and I pleased to have three nominations.

Acknowledging excellence in the tie-in field, the IAMTW’s Scribe Awards honor licensed works that tie in with other media such as television, movies, gaming, or comic books. They include original works set in established universes, and adaptations of stories that have appeared in other formats and that cross all genres. Tie-in works run the gamut from westerns to mysteries to procedurals, from science fiction to fantasy to horror, from action and adventure to superheroes.

The Scribe Award winners will be announced at ComicCon San Diego in July. The exact day, time and location of the Scribes Panel including the award ceremony will be announced once it’s known. I am weighing whether or not I’ll be attending this year – if I am, I will host the panel. If not, I have a distinguished author lined up to take over for me.

Here are the nominees:

Adapted – General and Speculative
Assassin’s Creed by Christie Golden
Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins
Suicide Squad by Marv Wolfman

Audio
Dark Shadows: Blood & Fire by Roy Gill
Torchwood: Broken by Joseph Lidster
Torchwood: Uncanny Valley by David Llewellyn
Doctor Who: Mouthless Dead by John Pritchard

General Original
24: Trial by Fire by Dayton Ward
Don Pendleton’s The Executioner: Missile Intercept by Michael Black
Murder Never Knocks by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Robert B. Parker’s Slow Burn by Ace Atkins
Tom Clancy’s True Faith and Allegiance by Mark Greaney

Short Fiction
“A Dangerous Cat” by Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
X-Files “Drive Time” by Jon McGoran
X-Files “An Eye for an Eye” by George Ivanoff
X-Files “Love Lost” by Yvonne Navarro
X-Files “XXX” by Glenn Greenberg

Speculative Original
Assassin’s Creed: Heresy by Christie Golden
Warhammer: 40,000 Warden of the Blade by David Annandale
Star Trek: Elusive Salvation by Dayton Ward
Supernatural: Mythmaker by Tim Waggoner

* * *
Edgar winners 2017
Edgar winners 2017

My thanks to all of you who wrote comments here or dropped me e-mails, or even called, to congratulate me on the MWA Grand Master award.

Your kind thoughts, and this award, mean a great deal to me. My career has included so many different kinds of things that an award for the body of work is especially meaningful. For example, no Edgar category is available for a graphic novel like Road to Perdition; no category acknowledges something like the long-running Ms. Tree. A series like Nate Heller or Quarry, however well-received and influential, rarely has one of its entries singled out for an Edgar nomination.

So this feels especially gratifying. Thank all of you, including the MWA.

Thank you, too, those of you who requested books in our recent giveaway and are starting to post Amazon (and other) reviews. For the rest of you, Amazon and B & N reviews (and they can be very brief) would be much appreciated for the new books – Executive Order, Antiques Frame (Barbara Allan), The Will to Kill, and the paperbacks of Murder Never Knocks and The Big Showdown.

* * *

I know what you’re thinking – what movies have you walked out of lately? Well, Barb and I have been trying to be smarter, making our movie selections more discriminately.

That doesn’t mean we skipped Fate of the Furious – we just went in with our eyes open. And it was the big, dumb fun we expected, if even bigger and dumber. Dumbest thing? The great Jason Stratham phoning Vin Diesel to report the latter’s kidnapped baby boy has been saved before the gunfight to do so begins. Well, that and just about every law of physics being broken. Best laugh: the sincere family prayer at the end from Diesel. Yes, I enjoyed the film, but I hated myself in the morning. No – in the parking lot.

Needing no apologies for liking it is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, one of the best films of its kind I’ve ever seen. A perfect continuation of the first installment (in which this one is carefully set up), Guardians 2 combines thrills and laughs with offhanded skill – whenever it threatens to get sentimental, the movie quickly slaps us silly with a cynical pay-off or aside…somehow never undercutting the growing affection the characters have for each other. What director/co-writer James Gunn has done is draw far less on Marvel’s convoluted universe and more on Firefly/Serenity and classic Star Trek, which was a very good call indeed.

* * *

Check out this great review of The Big Showdown at Gravetapping.

I receive a nice mention at this Detectives Without Borders posting.

And this one, too.

Here’s a piece about villains who had balls enough to visit the Batcave, featuring my Tommy Carma.

Finally, here’s a nice review of Better Dead, posted a while back that I only just ran across.

M.A.C.

New Mike Hammer Novel

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

Hardcover:
E-Book:

Available March 14, The Will to Kill is the ninth Mike Hammer novel I’ve completed from material in Mickey Spillane’s files.

Most people taking the time to read this weekly update already know that Mickey, in the last weeks of his life, asked me to complete his final Hammer novel in progress, The Goliath Bone, and that he told his wife Jane to round up everything in his files that wasn’t completed and give it to me – that “Max would know what to do.”

No greater honor has ever been paid me. Mickey’s work, which I discovered at age 13, was what made me transfer my enthusiasm for becoming a cartoonist to an obsession with becoming a writer…specifically, a writer of tough mystery fiction. Ironically, Mickey had been a comic book writer before the Mike Hammer novels turned him into a superstar, and one of the major projects we did together was a comic book – a science fiction variation on Hammer called Mike Danger (the original name for Hammer in the unsold comic book Mickey created right after the war that he turned into the novel I, the Jury).

I had six substantial Hammer manuscripts to deal with – usually around 100 pages (of 300) and sometimes notes on plot and character, and even roughed-out endings. In some cases Mickey had told me what ending he had in mind for an uncompleted book. (Mickey’s shocking surprise endings were his trademark, or anyway one of them.)

A number of very short (two to five page) fragments became short stories, published in various magazines, and were collected last year as A Long Time Dead: A Mike Hammer Casebook. If you’ve never read a Hammer story, that’s a great place to start.

Another half dozen significant unfinished manuscripts remained, and so far they have become the novels Kill Me, Darling; Murder Never Knocks; and now The Will to Kill. Both Darling and Knocks are out in mass-market paperback now – Knocks came out in that format about a week ago. (I am contracted to do three more.)

The Will to Kill is an unusual Hammer, as Bill Crider’s review indicates. (See link below.) Before the success of I, the Jury, featuring what was then a shocking amount of sex and violence, Mickey appeared to have in mind for his private detective a more traditional approach. But the vengeance aspect of the surprise bestseller-list response to I, the Jury sent him down a path of Hammer rarely taking a client, and usually being on a mission of I’ll-find-the-killer-and-kill-him (or her).

I had only the first couple of chapters of The Will to Kill to deal with from Mickey, and while the opening is shocking, the set-up is like something out of Agatha Christie – a bunch of spoiled rich grown kids chasing their late daddy’s fortune in the mansion they share. In about thirty pages, Mickey set up the entire book and its characters. There are aspects that aren’t anything you’d find in Poirot or Miss Marple – a serial killer targeting young women who are on vacation in the Catskills (the setting of the story) – but Hammer is doing a favor for his cop pal, Pat Chambers, looking into the wealthy man’s “accidental death”…not seeking vengeance for a murdered friend (tip: don’t be Mike Hammer’s friend in a Mickey Spillane novel, unless you’re Pat Chambers).

I like the book a lot. It was fun and somewhat challenging to keep the novel and its main character feeling right in a story unusual for them. This is not to say that a bad guy or two don’t get bumped off by the impetuous hero, who also thumps some nasties who deserve it, here and there. And beautiful women come along, too, so…so it’s still Mike Hammer, and I hope you’ll also think it’s a lot of fun.

By the way, the murder victim that starts the story up is the rich man’s butler. So this may be an old-fashioned mystery, but the butler definitely did not do it.

* * *

The new Quarry novel – Quarry’s Climax – has been delivered to editor Charles Ardai at Hard Case Crime. Charles is crazy fast and has already read, and approved, the book.

Usually I take a few weeks off between projects, but because of my various health issues last year, I fell desperately behind, and now must move immediately from one project to another, until I catch up.

Well, I still plan to take a few days off between finishing one project and starting another. We spent the weekend – my 69th birthday weekend (!) – with our son Nate and grandson Sam and daughter-in-law Abby. A lovely time. Sam is the cutest child I’ve ever seen, and I’m sure his resemblance to me hasn’t colored my opinion.

This week I start Scarface and the Untouchable, the massive dual bio of Al Capone and Eliot Ness. My co-authors, A. Brad Schwartz and George Hagenauer, have delivered their rough drafts of their respective sections (Brad, Ness; George, Capone) reflecting incredible, groundbreaking research on both their parts. My job: not screw it up.


Nate and Sam Collins
* * *

Here’s Bill Crider’s lovely Will to Kill review.

Check out this nice review of the early Quarry novel, Quarry’s Deal, from the UK.

Here’s an article about fifteen people other than Bruce Wayne who have been Batman – and wait till you see who’s number one! Hint: more late-coming unexpected love for my Batman work.

Finally, more nice words about the Quarry TV series.

M.A.C.