Friday, August 11, 2017

ROAD TO PERDITION (New Expanded Novel)



ROAD TO PERDITION
The New, Expanded Novel
Max Allan Collins
Brash Books
239 pages

Some times books and our interest in them take overly circuitous paths to reach us. Such was this case with this Max Allan Collins masterpiece. Bear with me, please.

Back in 1987, the late-lamented First Comics began publishing an English version of a highly popular Japanese manga series called “Lone Wolf and Cub.” Begun in 1970, it was written by Kazuo Koike and illustrated by Goseki Kojima. The series chronicles the story of Ogami Itto, the Shogun’s executioner who uses a dotankuki battle sword. Disgraced by false accustions from another clan, he becomes an assassin and along with his three year old son, Daigoro, they seek revenge on their enemies.

In Japan the story was adapted into six films, four plays and a TV series. With First Comics’ English version, it quickly became a cult favorite; especially among those comic fans familiar with the original manga series. Among these was these was Max Collins whereas this reviewer was new to the series and its history. But that didn’t stop us from becoming devoted fans. Sadly First Comics folded before they could redo the entire manga run.

In 1998, over a decade later, Paradox Press, an imprint of DC Comics, released “Road to Perdition” written by Collins with art by Richard Piers Rayner. Told against the backdrop of the Great Depression in 1931, it tells the story of Michael O’Sullivan, a mob enforcer and his son, Michael Jr., as they seek vengeance against the man who murdered the rest of their family. DC, wanting to promote the project, plastered images of the adult gunman and his young son in all of their titles. When seeing these for the first time, we instantly recalled “Lone Wolf and Cub” and rightly guessed Collins had been inspired by that Japanese comic. In subsequent interviews, he was only to happy label “Road to Perdition” an unabashed homage to “Lone Wolf and Cub.”

Then, for reasons long forgotten, we never picked up a copy of that graphic novel though we’d been devoted followers of Collins comic work from “Ms. Tree” to “Wild Dog.” Eventually, as most of you know, “Road to Perdition” was made into a spectacular crime film in 2002. Directed by Sam Mendes with a screenplay adaptation by David Self. The movie starred Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law and pre-James Bond Daniel Craig. It was a big hit and won several Oscars to include a posthumous one for Best Cinematography. Naturally, it was no surprise that DC immediately re-issued Collins’ graphic novel and after having enjoyed the movie so damn much, we finally got our hands on that comic. Needless to say, it simply blew us away.

Now at the same time that all this was transpiring, Collins was approached to write a novel based on Self’s screenplay. It was only good marketing that the studio wanted a novelization of the movie out on the bookshelves at the same time the film was showing in theaters. Having done many previous such adaptions, Collins took on the assignment and decided to merge elements from both his original graphic novel and the film’s screenplay thus expanding on the entire saga in a way that would provide readers with a richer, more detailed experience rather than simply rehashing what had already been done. Then, to Collins’ chagrin, the film company declined to do the longer version and published an edited edition that conformed closer to the film. Collins did protest but to no avail.

Now, thanks to Brash Books, and Steven Spielberg, his complete novel has at long last been published and every crime fiction buff should be jumping with joy. And there you have the tale of this reviewer’s route to what is perhaps Collins’ most poetic and memorable work. Upon opening the book, we were a bit leery that we’d not be able to get past the actors’ images when reading the story. Happily that pitfall never happens due entirely to Collins’ ability to add weight and substance to these characters; to deftly expolore their tortured souls and offer us a complex, heart rendering tale about the good and evil that resides in all of us. Michael O’Sullivan and John Looney are never more believable than revealed in these pages and at times the anguish they endure becomes unbearable. If you only saw the movie, you’ve only gotten half the story.

In the bible, God warns that “Vengeance is mine.” Woe to those who would wear it as a shield for in the end, they too will become its victims. “Road to Perdition” is at its core a story of good people trying to survive and the sins they commit to do so. Read this complete version and we promise you, it will stay with you for days to come. This is a master’s work and we thank Collins for finally bringing it to us.

Friday, August 04, 2017

I WATCHED THEM EAT ME ALIVE




I WATCHED THEM EAT ME ALIVE
The Men’s Adventure Library Journal
Edited by Robert Deis & Wyatt Doyle
# new texture
124 pages

Ever since launching their Men’s Adventure Library, Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle have taken on the wonderful task of educating pulp fans on the history of Men’s Adventure Magazines. These over-the-top magazines with their garishly painted covers were by their very nature the true heirs to the classic adventure pulps of the 1930s and 1940s. War weary veterans, having survived the horrors of World War II, were ready for periodicals that unabashedly celebrated their courage and sacrifices. It was a time when being macho was norm, and the ideal of the American male. There was none of the angst and politically correct idiocacy that so pervades every facet of our society today.

These magazines were intended for men and were filled with tales of rugged heroism whether taking place on the battlefields of Europe and the South Pacific or pitting the protagonists against the still existing wildernesses of the world. They certainly were not for the squeamish and under that MAM’s umbrella there were many distinct sub-genres; none more gruesome than those featuring animal attacks. Be they rats, weasels, giant sea crabs or slithering, slimy snakes, the Man vs Critters yarns were some of the most violent ever concocted and often stretched the boundries of the truth. Sure it was unlikely that Australia’s flying squirrels would enmass attack and kill humans, but the idea itself was enough to sell a MAM’s editor and soon inspire a startling cover depicting that very scene.

With “I Watched Them Eat Me Alive,” Deis and Doyle have given us a new, slimmer tome with this very theme as its central core. The book is filled with five of the most memorable such tales by veteran scribes Stan Smith, Robert Silverberg, Lylod Parker, Lester Hutton and the amazing Walter Kaylin. Kaylin’s snake-fest is a fitting finale to the book’s fiction and will surely be the source of our nightmares to come.

Peppered between these stories are seven pictorial reproducing some of the most beautiful MAM’s covers and interior art ever produced by classic artists such as Rafael De Soto, Norm Saunders, Clarence Doore and many others who got their start in the pulps. Again reminding us of that evolution.

The MAM’s died out in the early 70s, soon to be forgotten and those issues that survived were relegated to attic boxes. It is a true testimony to Bob Deis and Wyatt Doyle that they have managed to rekindle a genuine historical interest in those titles and together they insure that they will maintain their place in America’s literary history. We soundly applaud them…and this terrific book. If you love pulps, you need to pick this up along with all their previous titles. Believe us, you will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

THE SLEEP DETECTIVES GO TO WASHINGTON



THE SLEEP DETECTIVES GO TO WASHINGTON
By Matthew Bieniek
188 pages

Matthew Bienek has been writing and self-publishing his genre books for the past few years. He’s a regular at the annual Windy City Pulp & Paper Convention and that is where our paths crossed. Several years ago he gave me a copy of “The Sleep Detectives,” the first in a series about a young man named Tony Michalik who has the ability to visit, in his dreams, any event that has occurred in the past. By doing so, Tony was able to help the Acme Detective Agency solved many of the local police’s Cold Cases. It was a fun book and really well written. Bienek has a no-nonsense approach to his writing and he pays attention to details, never ignoring them while being very careful to maintain a specific logic in his narrative.

Since that first book, he’s done a few Sleep Detective novelettes and now he offers us a second full length adventure. The tale starts up a year later with Tony having become a valuable asset to the Acme Detective Agency. Enough so that their unusual success rate at solving crimes has come to the attention of several government agencies, in particular the C.I.A. Through their own means, they discover that Tony is the reason for the company’s successes and approach him with an offer to work for them. To sweeten the deal, they invite Tony, accompanied by his girlfriend Maria and best friend Danny, to Washington D.C. to meet with specialists in the field of paranormal abilities. As Tony has a fear of flying, the trio, along with the agent, opt to travel by train. Hours before their arrival in the nation’s capitol, the operative is murdered in his sleeping car leaving our heroes in a real quandary. They decide to make their way to Fort Meade, where their C.I.A. appointment was set up on their own and hope to discover some answers.

As the plot moves along, Tony and his pals learn that there are Soviet Agents who may be responsible for the agent’s death as they are also trying to recruit Tony. At first he assumes it is for their country but later learns the two foreign spies are working for a private firm made up of former C.I.A. and F.B.I. people who work for rich clients in the shadowy world of international espionage. Eventually Tony encounters representatives of this group and shortly thereafter is involved with another murder.

Bienek never falls into the Hollywood trap of turning his likeable protagonist into some kind of instant superhero. Tony remains very much a sincere young man whose desire is to help other with his uncanny abilities and is very na├»ve to the machinizations of mercenary intelligence agencies. This is another solid entry in a superbly realized series and we liked it as much as the first book. Here’s hoping a third Sleeping Detective is just around the corner.

Monday, July 17, 2017

SENTINELS 9 : Vendetta



SENTINELS 9 : VENDETTA
By Van Allen Plexico
White Rocket Books
290 pages

More years ago than we care to remember, a budding new pulp writer sent us a book called “When Strikes The Warlord.” It was a prose superhero adventure featuring a team called the Sentinels and clearly inspired by Marvel Comics’ own Avengers. The author of that book was Van Allen Plexico and with that one book he launched a series that grew in scope and grandeur with each new chapter.

Initially the stories centered on the earthbound heroes; Ultraa, the powerful team leader, Esro Brachis, the millionaire genius inventor and Wendy Lee, a beautiful young woman with amazing powers. Oh, there were others, but these three made up the core of the group and as time went on their personalities began to take shape with each additional adventure. It was immediately obvious that Plexico’s grand scheme would take these heroes far beyond the boundaries of one lonely planet as a plethora of alien beings began popping up to either threaten the Earth or save it.  From Star Knights to a thousand year old space warrior suffering from amnesia, the scope of the Sentinels broadened quickly.

Eventually we encountered the space faring Kur-bai from the planet Kurizon and their heroes known as the Elites. Soon both teams were fighting side by side against living stars and other fantastical galactic beings, all seeking to rule the universe. And that was all within the confines of the first six books. With the seventh, Plexico set about taking his now mega-cast on an amazing journey to Kurizon itself. The Sentinels and Elites mission  was to rescue the Empire from a tyrant.  What they did not know was shortly after their departure, one of their greatest foes, an immortal known as the Black Terror,  assembled a human space fleet and flew off after them to invade Kurizon and conquer the Kur-bai Empire.

“Sentinels : Vendetta,” opens with almost a dozen plot lines and constantly shifts from one character to another at such a rapid pace, this reviewer began thinking of installing a seat belt on our reading recliner. The action in this epic finale moves at breakneck speed and in such a grandiose fashion, especially for the diehard fans who have been along this ride from the beginning.  Side note – of all the entries in this saga, this one, as brilliantly written as it is, is nothing but one battle after another, each more powerful and dramatic than the previous featuring most of the cast. Ergo, a new reader would most likely give up after the few chapters. Knowing these heroes and villains is crucial to enjoying what a true climatic masterpiece this book becomes. It is the grand payoff all of us have been waiting for and Plexico doesn’t disappoint. All his wonderful and amazing characters get their time on the stage and in the most logical and satisfying ways possible.

In the end an powerful empire’s history is redirected for the betterment of all its people, two heroes wed and the Earth is once again safe thanks to the courage of a handful of heroes, both human and alien.  “Sentinels 9 : Vendetta,” is simply a gift to we readers from a writer who never once lost sight of his goal; to write the ultimate space opera of all time. Well done, Van Allen Plexico, mission accomplished.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

CEARA AMENA




CEARA AMENA
Warrior of the Qumran Desert
By Jamie Evans
Pulpsmack Publishing
88 pages

For the past several years, writer Jamie Evans has been writing and publishing his own fiction in small chapbooks. Released in 2015, this one clearly had no real editing. What appears on the pages is often disjointed and lacking in any structured plot. It becomes obvious Evans is a seat-of-the-pants story teller just jumping in over his head and praying he can paddle fast enough to stay afloat.

And here’s the thing, he manages to actually do just that, despite the overwhelming flaws on display. Thus we’ve no desire to focus solely on his lack of technical prowess but instead applaud his knack for spinning a fast-paced adventure. And with only 88 pages to do it, you have to know there is no fat on these bones; though it might have helped round his characters just a bit more. Skills we hope he learns to cultivate, with the help of a good editor some day.

The lead character Ceara Amena; a blade for hire who often works for the city of Dagon. When she’s asked to spy on a neighboring city, it is because there are rumblings of a possible invasion. She takes the job. But before she can even reach her destination, she is warned by a beautiful stranger that an evil sorcerer named Che Mosh is pulling the strings behind the scenes. His ultimate goal is to marry the rightful heir, Princess Aeveen, and with her at his side, wage war against the other desert people until he rules them all. 

Amena all too soon finds herself collecting a group of misfit warriors; a mining dwarf, a forest scout and a seven tall blue giant. In the end they unravel Che Mosh’s dastardly scheme, rescue the princess and defeat the evil magician. It’s all pretty much by the numbers, but again, Evans has such a wild flair for action, it is as if he doesn’t care as long as he’s having fun. Which in itself is contagious, despite the lack of writing sophistication. This reviewer recalls how many of the early pulp writers were similar “hacks” who managed to grow with their craft. We think Jamie Evans certainly has that potential and we’re rooting for him all the way.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

RISE OF THE SKULL CRUSHER



RISE OF THE SKULL CRUSHER
By Joel Jenkins
Pulp Work Press
269 pgs

Book two of this fast based fantasy series continues adventures of exiled prince Strommand Greattrix as he battles to free his people in the kingdom of Argalas from the tyrannical rule of the Damionite Empire. The action takes place on the planet Carparath where sword and sorcery are the weapons of choice and warring nations battle for power in the skies via fleets of massive balloon ships.

At the end of book one “Skull Crusher,” Strommand had commandeered an enemy scout ship along with three people he had rescued; Shawna a fiery redheaded slave being brutally tortured and then Amber, a beautiful black woman and her warrior ally Roland, who were prisoners of dessert raiders. Together the four of them overcoma the crew of the small airship and barely escaped with their lives, the ship half destroyed and staying aloft with only a few balloons and prayers.

Book two picks up with Strommand guiding the dilapidated half-ship to the mountain kingdom of Covallis in search of his exiled uncle Lance Greattrix. Strommand’s plan is to persuade his uncle, the true legitimate heir to the throne of Argalas, to assist him in recruiting a new air flotilla and return to their homeland to retake it from the usurpers. But nothing is ever simple in a world where politics are constantly changing people’s loyalties and the prince must court favors from several foreign royal families before he can successfully complete his mission. It is a dangerous game as he is uncertain who he can trust and who would betray him to gain favor with the enemy lords.

In the Greattrix saga, writer Jenkins weaves an adventure that is eighty percent Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian tales as if they filtered through George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones.” This volume is a delightful mix of over-the-top action and Machiavellian intrigues all perfectly balanced with a deft touch. Jenkins strength is his imagination and ability to create some of the most memorable female characters ever to grace the pages of a fantasy epic; each is unique and equally memorable. We enjoyed the first entry in this series a great deal and are thrilled that the verve and adventure haven’t let up one single bit in this second installment. If you love original fantasy adventure, you’ll look far and wide before finding anything as good as this saga. So says this reviewer.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

THE ADVENTURE OF THE INGONITA COUNTESS



THE ADVENTURE OF THE
INCOGNITO COUNTESS
By Cynthia Ward
Aqueduct Press
110 pgs

Lucy Harker is the daughter of Count Dracula and Mina Harker, a fact known only to a handful of people. Growing up half-vampire, she is trained to become a spy for the British government and is directed by the mysterious M, in this case that stands for Mycroft Holmes. In her first field assignment, Lucy is told to she is to act as a secret bodyguard to an American military officer traveling back the United States aboard the maiden ship Titantic. The officer carries with him the plans to Captain Nemo’s long lost  super submarine, the Nautilus. It is imperative the plans reach America safely and do not fall into enemy hands. The enemy being the Germans who are once again beating the drums of war.

Now if you love outlandish pulp plots as this reviewer does, then you have to know Ms. Ward’s is so marvelously peppered with such well known fictional characters that we were captivated from the very first chapter. Never mind that once aboard the Titantic, Lucy encounters the Lord and Lady Greyborough; well known throughout the empire for their wealth and prestige. Rumors abound that he, James Greyborough, was actually raised by apes in the jungles of Africa as a babe. Lucy sees him as a possible ally should she need one during the long sea trip.

Whereas there are several German agents also on board; which comes as no real surprise. Having been properly briefed my M, Lucy believes herself ready for anything. Anything that is except for a beautiful young woman named Carmilla Karnstein who happens to be an actual vampire with abilities far beyond her own. Though instantly attracted to the exotic beauty, Lucy suspects her of being in with the spies and must be ever vigilant or else be undone.

But when her passions threaten to override her training, she soon finds herself in more danger than she could possibly have imagined. “The Adventure of the Incognita Countess,” is pure pulp in the grandest style and Ward’s panache in bringing these colorful characters together in such a radical, over-the-top plot is just fantastic. This is one of those adventures one needs to relish and relinquish all attempts finding a rational behind the plot. It’s just fun…and tons of it.  And wait till the iceberg shows up!