Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer #1
Writers: Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
Artists: Marcelo Salaza & Marcio Freire
Letters/Editor: Tom Williams
Publisher: Titan Comics/Hard Case Crime imprint
Price: $3.99 US
I’m of two minds when it comes to this revival of a classic detective character. Writer Max Allan Collins, apparently adapting an original Mickey Spillane story, certainly captures a classic period private-eye piece. Elements that would otherwise come off as cliche instead feel campy and nostalgic. On the other hand, the effort to stay true to the original character and material belies a tone that just doesn’t feel entirely appropriate for 21st century pop entertainment. There’s a blatant misogyny at play that’s understandable given the source material, but it’s also clear there’s a clear choice not to evolve. Combined with some stiff artwork, and I was left feeling a bit let down.
A year after he made an enemy of one of the top crime figures in the city, Mike Hammer get s a new case that draws him back into the underworld domain of that enemy. But before he can meet the new client, Hammer is thrust into the role of dashing hero to a damsel in distress at an illegal casino catering to the super-rich.
How the art duties break down between Salaza and Freire isn’t at all clear. The linework is inconsistent enough that they could be alternating, or it could be that one is mainly the colorist. Who knows? I will say they do a good job of capturing a fairly classic, noir private-eye-genre atmosphere without resorting to overly dark or inky visuals. However, the figures are rather stiff throughout the book, and there’s a fair bit of action, which makes that problem all the more apparent.
In a different time, female characters in such stories were always femme fatales, damsels in distress or some other one-dimensional take on women. That’s pretty much the case here, and in that respect, there’s a certain classic, genuine quality at play. There are three female characters in this issue: the first is a duplicitous opportunist, and the third is a conveniently ditzy victim whom the title character manages to grope even as he rescues her. The second – Hammer’s “secretary,” Velda – is more interesting, as the narration acknowledges she’s a resourceful, intelligent and fierce figure in her own right. But that doesn’t stop the writer and artists from treating her as an object, as she displays herself inexplicably on her boss’s desk as she relays vital information.
Now one could argue that this is exactly what one ought to expect from a Spillane detective story, that Collins is being true to the source material. But that’s not necessary. Collins is a talented writer with a solid track record for crafting strong female protagonists (see Ms. Tree). It was within his, the editors’ and the publisher’s ability to evolve these characters. It’s not about political correctness, but rather about offering better realized, more engaging characters for a modern audience. At the same time, there’s a certain level of entertainment to be had in observing what is essentially an artifact of 20th century American culture, a sense of nostalgia from drinking in a different time.
One of the more frustrating aspects of this comic is the fact that it opens with the tail end of a previous plot and no clear indication of what Spillane’s new case is all about. He heads to an underground casino to meet a new client, only to be sidetracked by a desperate dame in need of a shining knight. I’m sure the two elements are connected, but Collins doesn’t really provide enough plot here to get me interested in whatever new drama is unfolding in the title character’s life on the periphery of regular society.
While I’ve been exposed to Mike Hammer stories sporadically in the past, I have no memory of the material, so this comic forms the foundation of any familiarity with the property at this point. Judging from the plot and script here, Hammer’s an investigator that relies on brutality to get answers rather than his wits or observations. He’s not so much a detective than a bruiser. The latter is an inherent aspect of the classic genre, but I’d rather have seen more intellect from Hammer here than instinct and violence. Collins’s script also paints Hammer as someone who cares nothing for other people; he’s even brusque with someone he trusts and respects. I don’t much like Hammer here, so that makes it harder to cheer him on in this adventure. 5/10