Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Johnny Dynamite - Wild Man Of Chicago!

As Max Allan Collins explains in the expansive introduction to this Yoe Book collection of Johnny Dynamite, the story begins with Mickey Spillane. Spillane wrote comics from the very beginning of the genre. But he made his reputation in 1950's with the novel I The Jury which introduced rough and tough Mike Hammer. 

Versions of Hammer had appeared in comics before as Mike Danger and Mike Lancer. But the essence of the Mike Hammer character was arguably best captured by Johnny Dynamite from Comics Media in their series Dynamite. While there is no doubt what inspired the character, the question of who created Johnny Dynamite is an open one. 

(Announcement of the character in Dynamite #2)

It might have been an editor at Comic Media, or writer Ken Fitch, or perhaps it was artist Pete Morisi, better known to the world as P.A.M. There is no question however that it is the work of Morisi, using a style evolved from that of George Tuska, which causes the character to resonate still in a modern comics arena. There's something absolutely stylish and compelling about Morisi's work.

It's in the third issue of Dynamite that we first meet "The Wild Man from Chicago", who in three heavily written tales confronts the mobsters and molls of that inhabit his morally challenged world. Johnny still has two good eyes when we first meet him, designed to resemble John Garfield. 

One of the more distinctive aspects of the character is that he is more than capable of shooting and killing a woman. Generally, "heroes" eschew such behavior, but for Johnny it's almost a defining quality.

One woman he's eager to kill is the dame who took out his eye. In the very first story of the second issue, he gets shot in the face and loses a "lamp" as he puts it. It's not surprise he eventually finds the woman pays her back. But Johnny also tries to help women who come to him for such things, but he's not all that successful as more than few fall victim to mobsters, either being killed outright or falling under the spell of hard drugs. In the second issue also, the text diminishes somewhat and while we still get the classic first-person perspective so prevalent for noir, the artwork does more of the lifting in the narrative. 

In the fifth issue we get a story narrated by Hennessy the cop who Dynamite calls often after he's plugged a few mugs. It's a tale of a mobster trying to go straight and failing. We also get a two-page text story about Johnny by Fitch which not only satisfies the post office, but also showcases the hard-nosed hero in the format from which he sprang. Morisi's artwork gets more refined as he continues to present these tales. 

In the sixth issue Morisi takes over the writing as well as the art for the series. Or at least he now gets credit for the work, it's hard to know to what extent he was already doing this. Most hard-boiled dicks have a sexy secretary and Johnny Dynamite is no exception. She's named Judy Kane and one of the two stories in the seventh issue of Dynamite deals with her kidnapping. The second story is a brutal tale which ends with Johnny meeting a woman he actually trusts enough to cover her crime. 

Morisi is really in the swing of things in the next issue which is one longer story. This helps out nicely as the compression of three tales was damaging to the drama. Two was pretty good, but one is even better, and allows for the cinematic feel to develop. There are call girls and stole diamonds in this yarn which sees Johnny consummates his "Vendetta". 

There's no doubt these are brutal stories. The phrase "Exciting Adult Reading" is perfect for the kind of no-holds violence which bristles on these well-honed pages. Love this red cover, it really pops. The first story gives us a glimpse of Johnny's past when he was a boxer called "Kid  Dynamite". This manager and friend gets caught up in crime when his beloved wife is killed, and he vows to gather mob might to get his revenge. We then get a one-page text story. This is followed by a second tale that has Dynamite get involved with yet another gorgeous but dangerous dame. 

The ninth issue of Dynamite is the final one from Comic Media. It's a got a great cover and the best Johnny Dynamite story yet. He goes up against the Mafia and it's a beautifully rendered and paced tale of deceptions and secrets. This one was the most like a film noir film, with the narration beautifully aligned with the imagery. 

The leftover material produced by Morisi for Comic Media finds its way over to the folks at Derby Connecticut where the Charlton Comics operation was located. The first two issues of the renamed Johnny Dynamite series (it continues the originally number) have one Pete Morisi story in each of the first two issues. They also feature less impressive Morisi covers. The two stories take Johnny overseas, first to Germany where he confronts an old nemesis from World War II, and then to Vietnam to assist with the fight against the Commies. 

(Cover by Dick Giordano and Vince Alascia)

The series wraps up with issue twelve with stories written most likely by Mickey Spillane friend Joe Gill and art supplied by the rock steady Bill Molno. 

The collection closes out with a story from the Ms. Tree series by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty titled "Whatever Happened to Johnny Dynamite". We learn that Johnny and his secretary Judy Kane were both instrumental in sending a particularly deadly mob boss to prison and have been in witness protection for many years. Now to save them both, Mike Mist is called upon to join forces with Ms. Tree. The original stories from the Comic Media series would be reprinted as back-up features in many of the subsequent Ms. Tree issues for Renegade Press. 

(Officer Pete Morisi aka P.A.M.)

If you would like to read the original stories from Comic Media by Pete Morisi and others check out this dynamite link. 

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  1. In that first cover, in the small picture in the lower right, it looks like the baddie is doubling over clutching his gut or groin before Johnny has even got his knee up far enough to have connected yet. (He surely wouldn't already have punched him in the groin.) And the picture on the left looks like a Kirby swipe.

    1. With Morisi it's sometimes hard to tell if the action is over or not. I think we are supposed to think his knee is dropping down after making contact. And I agree, there is a bit of a Kirby vibe to the other image, though I wouldn't go so far as to say it's a swipe.

    2. Highly unusual to portray action that way, though. It's like drawing someone punching a guy's face, the guy looking like he's just been hit, but the hitter's fist is still a foot in front of the guy's face. (Unless there are motion lines indicating that the guy is recoiling backward from the punch.)

  2. I had no idea that Spillane wrote comics until I read your blog, it seems surreal to me in some ways that he did that. I was aware of this character but have never read any of these comics although I do seem to recall Dark Horse published a series with that name (not sure if it was the same character).

    1. Dark Horse did indeed publish a four-issue limited with Johnny Dynamite by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty which mashed up the noir with some supernatural elements.

  3. In the Charlton (issue 11) cover Johnny looks like he's wearing lipstick lol.