|Mickey Spillane's From the Files of Mike Hammer |
by Mickey Spillane, Ed Robbins (Hermes Press, 2013)
The Mickey Spillane revival rolls along. His early books are returning to print; the ones left unfinished at his death are being completed by Max Allan Collins and published to good sales and better critical acclaim than Spillane ever got when he was alive; there is talk of a new Mike Hammer TV series (he's been played on the small screen by Darren McGavin and Stacy Keach in two previous series); and now, the complete newspaper comic strip has been published.
The graphic version of Spillane's anti-hero's tales was syndicated in daily and Sunday newspapers for a year (1953-54). Written by Spillane himself, the art was done by Ed Robbins, who had an eye for the over-the-top hard-boiled characters the writer created and the talent to bring them to life on the page. Reading it is like watching a noir film from the '40s; everything is light and shadows, the action is abrupt and plentiful and, as was true of most of Spillane's fiction, people are rarely who they appear to be.
Given the three-panels-per-day format that newspapers imposed, the action has to come quickly -- each day has to build suspense that will bring readers back the next day. The constant cliffhanger approach will not allow for character development, so the bad guys are unredeemingly bad, the good guy -- Hammer -- is quick to move into physical action and is not exactly what you'd call ruminative. This constant need for action keeps the story moving forward, but it also occasionally makes Hammer seem like an idiot; he continually barges into danger where a moment's thought would warn him that a little caution is in order. The format also demands that he get out of trouble quickly and easily, and he does -- even if, once or twice, there's a hint of deus ex machina in his escapes from danger.
The fact is, the stories are not sophisticated, but newspaper comic strips rarely achieved full credibility; who expected truth out of Dick Tracy or credibility from Li'l Abner? Comic-strip readers wanted solid action, and Spillane and Robbins were quick to give it to them.
From the Files of Mike Hammer is social history, a picture of a time and place, when newspaper were still a mass communications medium and the comic strip was still a place where Americans went to help satisfy their need for pulp fiction. It's a great reminder of who we were. The fact that reading its text and admiring its art is possible is a bonus.
Michael Scott Cain
3 August 2013
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