EDDIE MULLER, the bourbon-voiced host of “Noir Alley” on the Turner Classic Movies channel, relishes watching Bogey and Robert Mitchum play classic gumshoes. But before he discovered their characters, it was the Spirit, the shadowy crimefighter from vintage newspaper comic pages, who really left him riveted.
Noir films, detective fiction and chiaroscuro comics are “all a big mix,” Muller says in a phone interview. “And growing up, I was a comic-book guy.”
Which is why he is getting a jolt of pleasure over his latest appearance: In addition to your Sunday screen and cable app, Muller is now also popping up in a new issue of Batman.
The Czar of Noir and the World’s Greatest Detective join forces for “Batman in Noir Alley,” a free comic book coming to select shops and next week’s New York Comic Con, thanks to a partnership between DC Comics and TCM.
In the new tale, as penned by Stuart Moore, the TV host and the Caped Crusader team up to crack a case after the Moroccan Raptor — think “the Maltese Falcon” — disappears from the Gotham City Museum. The cover art for this hardboiled story is by Dan Panosian.
For a guy who grew up reading Batman, Muller says, his cartoon cameo in this comic is “immensely cool — I still haven’t wrapped my head around it.”
A second-generation San Franciscan, Muller grew up reading DC and Marvel comics, then discovered the syndicated feature “The Spirit” and became a big fan of its creator, the legendary Will Eisner — helping to pave the future host’s way toward noir. “At 10 and 11 years old, I was drawing superheroes,” he says. “By age 19, I was drawing my own adaptation of Raymond Chandler stories. … It was my aspiration to be a comic-book illustrator.”
Instead, Muller studied film and wrote crime fiction (he loves the lean, timeless style of Dashiell Hammett, he notes). But he never lost his appreciation of comic visuals, especially when meeting such comics creators in the Bay Area as Bill Griffith and Art Spiegelman, who had befriended Muller’s cinematic mentor, George Kuchar.
Muller wrote a few short stories that were initially intended to be illustrated, and he art-directed a book by cartoonist friend Mark Zingarelli. But he cites the eye-popping art style of Jim Steranko as a crucial link for him between film and comics.
“Steranko triggered my early imagination,” Muller says of the Eisner Hall of Fame artist, who first rose to comics stardom in the ’60s. “He was controversial — they said he was a show-off — but I completely tapped into that [work].
“I would say that part of my initial understanding of film came from that — how he would open a montage of Captain America and show quick little cuts of what was happening. … Jim taught me how comics and movies correspond on the page, and how comics spatially imitate the time sequence of film,” continues Muller, who next month will also unveil augmented-reality features for “Noir Alley.”
Flash-forward to 2000, when Muller finally met Steranko at a San Francisco comics convention. Muller confessed his fandom, and Steranko replied that he was a fan of Muller’s books.
“It was the greatest moment in my life,” Muller says. “That, and being in a Batman comic.”