Mickey Spillane was one of the best known American crime novelists, and many of his stories featured the character of “Mike Hammer”, a detective so hard-boiled that if you dropped him from a building he’d put a hole in the sidewalk. So to speak.
Titan Comics brings us “Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer” Chapter One “The Night I Died” which seems to bear little resemblance to the short story of the same name, being instead based on one of Spillane’s unproduced television scripts from the 1950s. The adaptation is brought to us by Max Allan Collins, who wrote Road to Perdition along with various TV and movie tie-in books such as CSI, Criminal Minds and The Mummy.
We open in media res, with Hammer pursuing a man along a rooftop. It is here that we get our first indication of just what sort of man Mike Hammer truly is, with this interchange when his target slips from the roof and ends up dangling above a ten story drop:
Unnamed Man – “I tell you who, you let me go, right? Right?”
Hammer – “You got my word.”
Those of you familiar with these kinds of stories will have immediately noticed the potential double meaning there, which proves to be true moments later when Hammer helps the man up and then, just as he promised, lets him go to fall to his death. While other such noir-esque detectives are hard-bitten and cynical, Hammer takes things a step further. He admits later on in this issue to breaking someone’s kneecap when they refused to give him information he wanted, he pistol whips those who get in his way, and shows that when it comes to crime he takes no prisoners and nothing is off the table in the pursuit of justice.
We then skip forward in time a year when Hammer is given another case: to act as a bodyguard for a jeweller. His meeting with the prospective client does not go exactly as planned and instead he finds himself defending a woman in a red dress who claims men are after her and intend to kill her. From here things spiral quickly into violence, leaving Hammer to wonder just who this woman really is and what he’s got himself into.
This first issue crams a whole lot of action into not a lot of pages, with plenty to keep an audience engaged. Hammer’s dialogue and narration is especially entertaining.
“My Mother always told me I was special. You’re not contradicting my mother, are you?”
“Nice thing about using somebody else’s gun – lots of questions don’t get asked.”
The art style emphasises the noir elements here, with lots of smoky, shadowy alleyways, run-down offices and rainy nights contrasting with opulent, swanky clubs and their well-dressed occupants. The first three pages are completely dialogue free, leaving the reader to concentrate on the action and the atmosphere. We also have lots of close-ups of faces, mouths and guns, a lot of leaning dutch-angle style panels and shots from below, looking up at our characters faces. It’s drawn as I imagine the script would have been filmed and it is all the more interesting for it.
This first issue is your classic noir set-up. Our hard-bitten detective, the femme fatale, possible involvement of a crime boss, gunfights, rooftop chases, it has something for everyone. Roll on issue two!