RARA-AVIS: Nuh-nuh-nuh-ne-nuh-ner-nuh BATMAN! And other stuff...

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@colba.net)
Date: 06 Jan 2000

Whew. All this talk of early influences and how old we are! Funny how someone originally divided the list into those born before 1958 and those after. Being the contrary, annoying, fence-sitting guy I am, of course I'd be born smack dab in the middle, right between you old farts, and you young whippersnappers...

It was also interesting to see how many of you people mentioned Batman. Coincidentally, I just finished reading BATMAN: NO MAN'S LAND, Greg Rucka's new novel. I really enjoyed it, even though it merely filled in a few blanks in the last year's comic continuity
(which Rucka also wrote a big chunk of). It's a big change from his Atticus Kodiak books, but there's the same hard-boiled tone involved, and I don't think I've ever seen the Joker so matter-of-factly described. When it comes to out and out evil, Hannibal Lechter ain't got nothin' on the J-Man. I'm not sure how the book will go over for someone who's unfamiliar with current comic continuity, though. If you haven't read Batman since you were a kid, it may be a shock--Batman is still Bruce Wayne (though for a while he wasn't), but Robin hasn't been Dick Grayson for a long, long time, Batgirl is a parapalegic and Gotham City has gone post-acolyptic. Oh, and stately Wayne Manor and the Batcave are toast...

And I should point out DC has just published a reprint of Detective Comics #27, the first appearance of Batman. What's really cool is that the other stories in that issue are included, as well, including a Fu Manchu story, and a tale about Siegel and Shuster's Slam Bradley. Imagine Black Mask as a comic book, and you've got the general idea what DC was aiming at, way back then.

Batman was an early influence, but not the first. In roughly chronological order, my influences were

Cowboy movies Roy Rogers on TV Quick Draw McGraw Daniel Boone on TV Classics Comics Some little booklets, relating the Leatherstocking tales of James Fenimore Cooper, found in Post Alphabit cereal The Bobbsey Twins The Adventures of Radisson on TV (tales of a real life Canadian frontiersman/trapper/courier des bois, who helped found the Hudson's Bay Company) Batman on TV A lot of books about animals, esp. dogs-Lassie, Big Red, Lad Mannix on TV (I was allowed to stay up late on Saturdays) Batman comic books The Hardy Boys-a race was on in Grade five to see who could read 'em all first. Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators (this is who Stephen asked about. There's a file on my site, by the way) Sherlock Holmes books-assigned one in school, read another found in school library, and did a book review for class, relating in loving detail his cocaine habit. The teacher was not impressed, and the book disappeared from the school. The comic book years: Batman, Spider-Man, The Rawhide Kid (cowboys!), Dracula, House of Secrets, House of Mystery, Tarzan and Sgt. Rock
(Joe Kubert rules!) Tarzan, John Carter and all that ERB stuff, in paperback Cannon, Harry-O and The Rockford Files on TV (an argument could be inserted here that I was still watching cowboy movies). Then I discovered girls, and my reading and TV viewing dropped off, although I made it a point to watch Sunday night late movies on the CBC. They were hosted by a real movie buff, who worked her way through all the Tarzans, then the Bogeys, then the Marx Brothers, then the Thin Man movies. Great commentary and the fact she was kinda cute in an older woman way ensured Monday morning classes were always rather snoozy... Around this time (Grade ten?) I received a Hammett omnibus for Christmas, and read 'em all that Christmas break. A few years later, intrigued by the paperback covers, I worked my way through Chandler one winter, while a really bad case of flu worked through me. That might have been the end, until I picked up a The Wycherly Woman by Macdonald to read on the bus (I was commuting to college/art school by now. I was intrigued enough to read all the Archers in the next year. But again, that would have been it. Hammett, Chandler and even Macdonald seemed to be writing about stuff in the past (I know, I know. Theoretically, Archer was in the seventies, but Archer always seemed like such a fuddy-dud). I thought that was about it in the genre. Then I read The Promised Land by Robert Parker, and I suddenly realized people were still writing private eye books. Since then I've read backwards and forward in the genre, going back to Norbert Davis and John D. MacDonald and Jonathan Latimer and forward to Crais and Liza Cody and Paretsky and Grafton and Mosley and sideways, I guess, to Pronzini and Estleman and Greenleaf and Joseph Hansen and various Collins (Mike and Max remain two of my all-time favourites, even though they may have a teeny-tiny difference of opinion about Spillane).

Well, that's it. Oh, and this list, which has convinced me I'm not really that plugged in and well-read in the genre, after all. God, I only hope we all live long enough to read everything we want. Though, come to think of it, that might be a curse, too. Who wants to live with nothing to read?

Kevin Burton Smith The Thrilling Detective Web Site http://www.colba.net/~kvnsmith/thrillingdetective/ There's still time to vote for the 1999 Thrillies.

And check out fiction by Don McGregor and Mark Coggins!

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