Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Specialist #7: The Vendetta

The Specialist #7: The Vendetta, by John Cutter
February, 1985  Signet Books

I’m betting John Shirley's original title for this volume of The Specialist was “Make ‘Em Pay,” as the phrase is repeated a few times by bloodthirsty hero Jack Sullivan, who’s in full Johnny Rock mode this time out – in fact going even further, to the point where he’s practically a psychopath. I’ve said before that Shirley can churn out a great men’s adventure novel when his heart’s in it, and The Vendetta is a case in point.

In an earlier volume we learned that Sullivan had a rocket launcher installed in his war wagon van; this time out we actually get to see him use it, when in an early action scene Sullivan fires it against a group of Mafia thugs. Yes, the Specialist once again goes up against La Cosa Nostra, in particular the family of Don Toscani of New York. Sullivan’s been hired by Janet Springer, a gorgeous (of course she is – and busty, too!!) lady whose brother and father were mudered by Toscani.

Janet wants Sullivan to “make ‘em pay,” and this is what Sullivan proceeds to do…over the course of the entire novel. It’s funny, because in novels like Wetbones Shirley proves his mastery of multiple plot strands, but in The Vendetta and the other Specialist novels he sticks to a single plot until the bitter end. But in this regard The Vendetta again comes off like a throwback to the lurid ‘70s incarnations of the genre, like the The Sharpshooter and The Marksman, with our merciless hero enacting merciless vengeance with single-minded resolve.

And speaking of merciless, Sullivan here could give lessons to those earlier “heroes.” He’s even more unhinged than normal, thanks to a bump on the noggin he suffers early in the book. As The Vendetta progresses and Sullivan fully engages in his war against Toscani, the Specialist becomes increasingly violent and insane. Like the Hulk, if he’s pushed too far he goes nuts, beating people until they’re hamburger. He’s also capable of inhuman feats, like picking up a friggin’ Harley Davidson chopper and crushing someone with it.

Shirley doesn’t waste as much time on plot or development – Janet hires Sullivan, and after he’s hurt in that opening melee she helps him recuperate for a few weeks in a shack Sullivan keeps in the woodlands north of New York. Of course graphic sex ensues, but once that’s done with (as well as a pair of yokels who have the fatal misfortune of sneaking onto the property with the intent of raping Janet), Sullivan calls up his old pal Merlin to come watch Janet while Sullivan goes into town to kill some mobsters. And that’s pretty much it. 

But the demented glee with which Shirley writes the ensuing carnage is almost contagious. This is the most darkly comic Specialist yet, and they’ve all been pretty darkly comic. Shirley also proves his gift with doling out action movie one-liners, like when some hapless thugs try to mug Sullivan on the streets of NYC, and after telling them he left his wallet at home he asks, “You accept bullets instead?” We even get the in-joke stuff, like how Sullivan’s “undercover” name is Rich Stark.

Also the violence and nihilism is through the roof. Sullivan in his increasing madness goes to staggering displays of death and destruction in his intent to spread fear in Toscani and his men. This stuff too goes into the “inhuman feats” realm, like when Sullivan constructs a friggin gallows for one of his victims and times it so the noose drops just as Toscani drives by. The novel is filled with these vignettes of Sullivan going to some insane length to murder this or that Toscani flunky.

Eventually Sullivan too realizes something is wrong with him. After visiting a doctor he discovers it’s a blood clot that’s making him act so crazy, the result of that head trauma he received in the opening pages. The doc gives Sullivan some experimental laser surgery to break it up, but it still lingers a while, with Sullivan only slightly less insane when pushed too far. Meanwhile two of his old ‘Nam pals, both of them FBI agents and reappearing from earlier novels, are hunting for Sullivan, due to his latest acts of mini-genocide: Holstead and Sanson. Shirley works in a little subplot here with Sanson covertly trying to recruit Sullivan for a new Justice Department task force.

Maybe the only problem with The Vendetta is that the villain is so forgettable. We never see Toscani do anything bad; from the opening pages he’s gnashing his teeth over the fact that the Specialist is out to get him, and he spends the entire novel quaking in terror. Meanwhile we read as Sullivan puts various Toscani henchmen through the veritable wringer, and it gets to be that you start to feel sorry for these guys. But I’m assuming that’s the point, as Jack Sullivan himself is the closest thing to a “villain” in the novel.

But anyway despite once again being too long for its own good (surely it was a Signet mandate that these books were so long), to the point where it comes off as perhaps one “Sullivan kills a dude in horrific fashion” scene too many, The Vendetta is still probably my favorite volume yet of this series, mostly because it comes off like an amped-up ‘80s variation of The Sharpshooter or The Marksman, with a “hero” more insane than the “villains.”

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Worshipped And The Damned

The Worshipped And The Damned, by William Hegner
February, 1975  Pocket Books

William Hegner, an unjustly obscure trash fiction master, published several novels in the 1970s, many of them paperback originals for Pocket Books. The Worshipped And The Damned is one of his later Pocket releases, after which he moved over to Playboy Books and then dropped off the map. I think I read an obituary for him somewhere online a few years ago, but I can’t find it now, so I’m not sure if he’s still alive or not. 

But if this novel is anything to go by, all of Hegner’s work bears looking into. In fact, The Worshipped And The Damned is everything I wanted Jacqueline Susann's novels to be – trashy, intentionally campy, and filled with memorably catty female characters who specialize in put-downs and one-liners. (And that cover photo’s awesome!!) Had this novel been turned into a film, it would justly be regaled today. Split into what amounts to three novellas, Damned tells the sordid tale of a fallen actress who “inherits a fortune” when her alcoholic husband leaves behind a manuscript that Hollywood options for film treatment.

Margo Chase is that fallen actress, last famous in the very early 1960s, but in the several years since having spiralled into a booze-filled lethargy. Living in New Jersey under a lazy pseudonym with her uninhibited daughter, Vicki, Margo spends her days at the local bar, where she drinks from opening to closing. Margo is a great character, so cynical and spiteful that each line of dialog Hegner gives her is priceless in its acidity. Lana Turner circa 1975 in all but name, Margo Chase was once a superstar, but now her old films are mostly watched for their (unintentional) humor value.

Somehow Hegner’s able to get a little heart into the novel, amid all of the cynicism and acidic wit. Margo meets Frank, another boozehound, and after a few nights together they end up getting married, Margo’s sixth wedding. Plus Frank’s dying of cirhossis, and only has a few months to live. Margo urges Frank to pursue his long-suppressed desire to write, so he spends his final months of life at the typewriter. When he dies he leaves behind a mansucript titled “The Mall Walkers,” the story of a pair of lonely drunkard souls who find love in the last days of their lives.

Margo moves right on, calling up old Hollywood contacts and insisting they read the manuscript. Meanwhile her daughter gets knocked up, moves in, and Margo herself hooks up with an unknown actor named Larry who is decades younger than herself. Pretty soon the guy is sleeping with both mother and daughter, and we see that Vicki is just as catty as her mom. The melodrama culminates in a pitch-perfect scene in which Margo storms in on Larry and Vicki as they’re together in bed, holds a gun on them, and delivers a death threat which turns out to be a line from one of her old films. And Larry, scanning his brain for the response he knows from seeing that film so many times in reruns, delivers the return dialog, and Margo collapses!

So destroyed by booze that she can no longer separate fantasy from reality, Margo is sent to a rehabilitation clinic and thus, unfortunately, shuffled out of the narrative. Now the second novella begins, this one documenting yet another enjoyably-bitchy actress: Jessica Rivers, a once-famous and “handsome” actress from decades before more known for her intelligence than her beauty (so maybe Katherine Hepburn?). Like Margo, Jessica also has a precocious (and recently knocked up) daughter, Jill, who turns out to be just as quick-tongued as Vicki. But whereas Margo is a wreck, Jessica has moved on from acting (her last picture 7 years ago) and into the world of business; after the death of her third husband, a multimillionaire, Jessica has taken his place as an executive in the company.

Jessica doesn’t have the quick wit Margo is graced with, but she’s just as calculating and cruel. In fact, she’s even more cruel than Margo, as during the course of her own novella Jessica initiates the takeover of her old film studio, Storm Studios, so that she can fire its famously-outspoken head Lionel Storm; she starts ordering her male secretary, Michael, to have sex with her in the office; she shows no interest in the fact that her daughter Jill has had a child, and when she finds out the father is black she nearly disowns her; she has Michael send Jill and “Rastus” (aka Jill’s awesomely-named black boyfriend, Rod Bastion) to Chicago and further has Michael see to it that the baby is put up for adoption, even if it’s against Jill’s wishes.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Jessica also proves herself a capable trash antiheroine, doling out putdowns with aplomb. The only thing connecting her to the Margo half of the novel is the fact that Margo also worked for Storm Studios back in the day, and Jessica too is friends of sorts with Art Land, the boozing, once-famous director who has declared his desire to film “The Mall Walkers;” he intimates in the Margo section that he has Margo in mind for the lead, and in the Jessica section he intimates that he has Jessica in mind fo the lead. But reading the subtext you can see that Art Land doesn’t have anything in the works and his own star has long since faded.

Like the previous section, though, Jessica’s storyline doesn’t feature any big setpieces or action, relegated mostly to Jessica and Michael screwing in her office, in between some pretty great dialog exchanges. In fact, Hegner rarely focuses on the surroundings or the topical details of the groovy era, instead giving all the attention to either the moods of his characters or their catty dialog. But you barely notice the lack of descriptive details when it’s so darkly comedic; let alone Jessica’s reaction to Rod Bastion, but even later stuff, like another black character, this one a “religious rescuer” who Jessica hires (at Rod’s recommendation) to deprogram Jill after she’s run off to join a religious cult.

The plot developed in the Margo section, that of the “Mall Walkers” filming, is for the most part dropped throughout the Jessica Rivers section, not appearing again until the third and final novella that makes up The Worshipped And The Damned. The protagonist this time is Leigh Brackett, basically Shirley Temple-Black: a child star of the ‘40s who, after retiring from showbiz in her 20s, moved into the political realm. Now she’s running for Congress in New Jersey, but more importantly she’s trying to come to grips with her confused sexuality.

We are informed that Leigh could previously only get off via her own hand, but when she discovers that her 29 year-old daughter (the one child Leigh has had after three broken marriages) Dawn is a lesbian, Leigh is first shocked, but then intrigued. Dawn we learn is in love with her attractive and young nanny, Billie West, having carried on an affair with her for the past 14 years. This is the part that intrigues Leigh, as she herself is attracted to Billie. Things quickly become lurid with Billie, who herself is attracted to Leigh, engaging her in an affair…and then promptly arranging a three-way, with herself, Leigh, and Dawn!

Unfortunately though the majority of Leigh’s story is tepid. Like Margo and Jessica she is gifted with a barbed tongue and holds her own against anyone. But the political storyline doesn’t hold much interest for me, and is mostly composed of the fallout that ensues after Leigh lets slip in a televised interview that she’s familiar with the, uh, sexual nature of other women. Despite some 11th-hour assistance from Scatter Thompson, a political wizard, Leigh still loses the election, and meanwhile she’s kicked out Dawn, who has gone and run off with Billie West, Leigh unable to accept the fact that she’s had sex with both another woman and her own daughter.

The main storyline finally returns thanks, once again, to Lionel Storm, who calls Leigh to tell her he has her in mind for the “Mall Walkers” film. Here we finally learn the plot, that it’s about three former actresses who spend their later years in New Jersey, congregating at a local mall. And of course, the film is to star our three heroines (Margo having recuperated in the year since the opening novella), though Hegner telescopes the actual filming, instead focusing more on the internal squabbling, with Jessica taking over Storm Studios and producing the film, but soon being ousted due to plotting among her fellow execs, who succeed in having Lionel Storm returned to the fold.

In truth, this “climax” of the tale plays out very quickly, and isn’t very satisfying. But then, Hegner’s more focused on the trash, and as mentioned he excels in it. After Jessica and Leigh meet one day before filming, sparks soon begin to fly…and wouldn’t you know it, they’re soon sleeping together! A-and then Lionel Storm, who is overseeing the film and noticing how “close” the two ladies appear to be, insists that Margo Chase move in with them (Jessica and Leigh now living together, to make the filming of the production “easier”)…and after plying her with a few drinks, Jessica and Leigh succeed in involving Margo in a three-way!

The image of Lana Turner, Katherine Hepburn, and Shirley Temple-Black engaged in hot lesbian action thus instilled in his reader’s imagination, Hegner rightly suspects his goals have been achieved and brings the novel to a swift close. In short order we learn that the film is a huge critical and box office success, that none of the women reach any sort of resolution with their temperamental daughters, and that while Leigh and Jessica continue on with their romance Margo feels it’s just not for her, and in the quickest wrap-up in history she gives Lionel Storm a call and tells him to come live with her. The end.

The Worshipped And The Damned runs to 253 pages, and it’s got fairly big print. Hegner’s writing is economical, doling out the sex scenes and catty dialog with aplomb. The guy truly understood what made for great trash, and it’s a shame he’s so forgotten. But I’ve picked up several of his books, and look forward to reading more.

In the meantime, here are a few excerpts to give you a glimmer of Hegner’s trash mastery:

Her body cradled and rocked him in a gentle rhythm, evoking more nostalgia for childhood in both of them than the sensuality they sought to achieve. 

“You satisfied?” she asked when the weight of him began burdening her. 

“I haven’t come, if that’s what you mean.” 

She fought back the temptation to question his virility. “I remember when men came at the sight of me,” she said. -- Pg. 34

“Are you mad enough to make love to me now?” 

She opened her legs into a wet yawn. 

“Was he there earlier?” 

“What difference does it make?” 

His penis was now a red bolt jutting from his body. 

“Only a bitch would do it in her own mother’s bed,” he said. 

“Then I’m a bitch. Fuck me.” -- Pg. 104

“Don’t go down on me,” she warned. “I want the meat this time.” -- Pg. 144

In the privacy of her inner office, she lifted her leg and released a low, whining fart. 

There was something deliciously crass and nose-thumbing and antisocial about the act – almost erotic. To extend and complete the latter sensation, she buzzed for Michael to enter its aftermath. 

“You’re sadistic,” he said. There was no necessity for elaboration. -- Pg. 154

Moments after that, all three of them were tangled in a writhing croissant on the thick carpeting, their hands and mouths hungrily seeking one another. For Billie West, it was the ultimate achievement – her vulva under gentle assault from the daughter, her own tongue burrowing deeply into the rich valley of the mother. The culmination of her long-nurtured ambition, so closely bordering fantasy it had often seemed beyond the realm of realization, made her entire body tremble as she neared the first of multiple climaxes. Her spasms of orgasm set off a chain reaction in her partners as well. Together, in what seemed almost an algebraic sequence, each in turn attained similar plateaus of ecstasy. 

They lay together in a speechless heap for long moments, only their labored breathing audible in the candlelit quiet. It was Leigh who finally broke the silence. 

“God,” she said, “if this ever gets out, I’m finished.” -- Pg. 183

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mondo #3: A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die

Mondo #3: A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die, by Anthony DeStefano
No month stated, 1977 Manor Books

It took me four years, but I’ve finally finished the Mondo trilogy. And I’m happy to report that this concluding installment is a big improvement over the previous volume, and is almost as good as Mondo #1. The main reason for this is that Mondo himself is once again a cold-blooded bastard, running roughshod over any who dare get in his way, man or woman.

“Some dumb bastard had the crazy idea he could kill Mondo’s friend,” goes the hyperbolic back cover, which basically sums up the entire novel. Whereas Cocaine Kill was, for me, kind of a bore, overly padded and dull, A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die removes all of the padding and just goes straight for the jugular. It’s all action, all the time, as Mondo tries to kill all of the assassins who have been hired to kill his teacher, Kisaka.

But first, Mondo’s busy screwing “a dark-haired Eurasian beauty from the bowels of hell” named Michi. Not sure about the “Eurasian” part, as Michi clearly seems to be Japanese, but she’s definitely a gorgeous gal with an ice-cold heart, and she happens to be the leader of the assassins. Not that Mondo knows this; Michi insinuates herself into Mondo’s life while he’s vacationing down in Florida (no mention made of how long ago the previous volume was, by the way). Her goal is to distract Mondo while her team kills Kisaka, up in his retreat in Vermont, and to do this she follows her favorite method, using her body.

In fact sex has a stronger focus in this volume than the previous two. DeStefano spares no details as he recounts the many times Mondo and Michi get friendly, which happens throughout the novel. He also works in a “doomed lovers” angle, as Mondo and Michi are perfect for each other, but obviously are on different sides. Michi we gradually learn was hired by Yamoto, whose father was killed by Kisaka years before in a separate revenge scheme, Kisaka’s father having committed seppuku due to the actions of Yamoto’s father. But anyway all that’s backstory, and DeStefano only barely doles it out.

Instead he’s much more concerned with the action, of which there’s aplenty. Michi’s team is one colorful group, from a guy who only uses arrows on his hits, to a former Mafia hitman, to a rogue CIA agent, and etc. Unfortunately, DeStefano does little to distinguish them from one another, and other than a quick introduction with name and speciality, he doesn’t really bring any of them to life. At any rate they have a great track record, and we’re informed that after years of working together they’ve never blown a mission and they haven’t lost a single member of the team.

But now that they’re tangling with Mondo, of course, it’s a different story. Mondo is once again pure badass, with none of the hesitation or uncertainty of the previous book. DeStefano also doesn’t waste time with informing us how Mondo bends the rules or whatever, like he did in Mondo’s overlong fight to the death with a kung-fu asassin in the previous installment; instead, this time out, he just shows Mondo brutally taking out anyone who opposes him. The only stumbling block here is Michi, as Mondo knows she’s part of the assassination scheme and thus shouldn’t be trusted, but can’t keep himself from growing close to her. 

DeStefano follows this theme through in a variety of ways, with Mondo and Michi constantly struggling against one another despite their growing love. This is even mentioned in their many sex scenes, with Michi trying to assume the position of “authority” and Mondo rolling her over so the man can be on top. But truth be told, Mondo kind of comes off like an idiot, because it’s apparent Michi knows more than she lets on – and indeed Mondo is aware of this, even of the fact that she’s more than likely a member of the assassin squad sent after Kisaka. But he keeps going back to her, or hopping in bed with her when she shows up unnanounced.

Meanwhile the plot unfolds in threadbare fashion. It’s like this: Yamoto wants Kisaka to die. Yamoto hires Michi (and has sex with her when possible). Michi puts together her team and sends them after Kisaka while she “distracts” Mondo. But meanwhile Mondo keeps showing up and killing the assassins. The action scenes are nice and violent, though this time there’s more focus on Mondo using firearms than the martial arts skills of the past. He still breaks a few necks with his arms and legs, though, and there’s even a part where he reminds Spiderman, the superfly pimp of previous volumes, of how he once killed a dude by hitting him in the balls (one of the more unforgettable scenes of Mondo #1).

Speaking of Spiderman, he has a much stronger presence this time out. Always a fun character, Spiderman slouches around New York City at Mondo’s threat/request, scoping out places and gathering intel from the underworld. Spiderman himself is pretty tough, but as he sees Mondo and Kisaka in action he realizes that these two guys are in a whole different universe, and soon becomes frustrated with himself, figuring he’s gotten soft from bossing around hookers and not fighting on the streets like he used to. This leads the novel in unexpected directions, culminating with Spiderman issuing a challenge to one of Kisaka’s former students gone bad.

While the pace is better, and the dark comedy is much more pronounced (particularly a recurring “joke” about Spiderman beating his hookers, which actually is pretty funny, the way DeStefano tells it), there’s still something sort of missing from A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die. Actually, it’s moreso what’s there -- namely, too much back-and-forth about Mondo and Michi, with precious little plot development. An assassin will try to kill Kisaka (who gets injured multiple times but keeps on going, like a regular Energizer Bunny), Mondo will kill the assassin, and then Michi will show up to screw Mondo. That’s pretty much how the novel goes.

But as mentioned Mondo’s bad-assery is back in full force. He delivers many darkly comedic one-liners throughout, and his lack of basic hummanity is also pretty funny. But you can tell DeStefano was sort of grasping at straws; one of the subplots here is Mondo trying to reconnect with his feelings, mostly through Michi, but we already know that relationship is headed for a bad end. If DeStefano had not worried about making Mondo “human,” and instead just focused on the dark comedy, he would’ve had a trilogy along the lines of Gannon. But it would appear DeStefano cared too much about his character for that.

Anyway, this was it for Mondo, so it’s moot. There’s no final end for the character (that is, other than his friggin’ death in the first volume), but DeStefano does wrap up the Mondo/Michi deal on the last page. Michi has a recurring “die inside me” bit, where while she’s screwing a dude she’ll inform him how the French think of orgasms as “little deaths,” and as she implores the guy to “die inside” her Michi will reach up and jam the guy with a hypodermic needle. This bit doesn’t quite work with Mondo.

Finally, DeStefano was an artist – in fact he did the covers for the Pinnacle editions of the Richard Blade novels – but for some reason Manor didn’t retain his services for the Mondo covers. But who can complain when Bob Larkin turned in such a great one, with Mondo once again looking like a ‘70s Edward James Olmos after a few trips to the gym?

Monday, February 17, 2014


Festival, by Bryan Hay
June, 1973  Pocket Books

This slim paperback original details the planning and development of a Woodstock-style rock festival. One thing the front and back cover don’t make clear is that Festival actually takes place in Canada; Toronto and a desolate area of western Ontario, to be exact. Another thing the front or back covers don’t make clear is how much of a bore the novel is, despite the interesting concept and awesome cover art.

Bryan Hay, an obscure author if ever there was one, apparently was a Canadian himself, as he seems very comfortable (gradually) doling out his story about small town Millwall, Ontario and how it is impacted by the announcement, late in 1969, that local farmland has been bought by a two-man business calling itself Oracle for the express purpose of hosting the biggest rock concert since Woodstock. Hay doesn’t deliver the story of the festival, though; instead, he details all of the trials and tribulations that go into the actual planning of it. 

In a way the novel is like a shorter and less entertaining version of Norman Spinrad’s later Passing Through The Flame. Make that much shorter, with Festival coming in at a mere 156 pages of smallish print in comparison to the 568-page monstrosity Spinrad delivered. But, again, Spinrad’s tale was just so much better, and so better told. And whereas Spinrad focused on the unusual and memorable personalities who would headline and attend such a concert, Hay instead spends too many pages on boring small-town saps who fight against the “corruption” of rock and the hippies and etc.

And for that matter, his “freaks,” ostensibly the heroes, are just as bland. For example there’s Peter Embry, for the most part the protagonist of the tale; a veteran “rock” reporter for a Toronto paper, Embry is called in to Millwall when the announcement is made that Oracle plans to host a “festival of love” there. Embry is one of the least memorable protagonists I’ve ever met, but then none of the characters here are memorable, Hay doing little to bring them to life or to explain why they do what they do. This only further serves to sap the energy from this listless tale.

The guys behind Oracle are as expected soulless capitalists, despite being young. Their lawyer is even worse, believe it or not(!), and there follows a slightly-memorable bit where he sets up Art Clare, a Millwall notable who is violently opposed to the festival. Inviting Clare to Toronto, Oracle blitzes the poor bastard on acid, has a hooker (or the lawyer’s secretary; it’s never made clear) screw him, and photographs the shenanigans, blackmailing Clare into reversing his position! This has the ultimate outcome of Clare blowing his head off, a plot development that couldn’t come sooner, as far as I was concerned, because believe it or not Hay spends a lot of narrative time on Art Clare and his boring meetings with other Millwall reps as they rage against the festival and the dirty hippies and etc. 

What I’m trying to say is, this book pretty much sucks. So much damn time is wasted on the Millwall locals bitching about the festival, and the planners of the event are either little explored or presented as such halfwits that you can’t stand them, either. As for the girl so wonderfully drawn on the cover, she doesn’t exist in the novel itself – unless that is she’s the artist’s interpretation of Susie Clare, daughter of Art, a 15 year-old who Peter Embry easily picks up while driving around Millwall on his first day there and proceeds to screw in quite explicit detail in the front seat of his truck.

I’ve never understood what the obsession is with “young meat” in pulp fiction, I mean the last time I paid attention to a 15 year-old girl, I myself was that age. And speaking as an adult, I can’t help but think what kind of a nightmare it would be to even become involved in any way with a teenaged girl – and that’s not just including the legal nightmares. Yet for whatever reason, screwing teen or even preteen girls seemed to be all the rage in late ‘60s/early ‘70s hippie trash literature, and thus Festival follows suit, as young Susie Clare is the sole female protagonist in the novel, and features in all of the explicit sex scenes.

Almost as worse is that Susie Clare herself is so boring, not to mention self-involved. Also, like all the other characters in the novel, she is shielded from us in a way, as Hay never really gets into her brain so we can see what she thinks and why she does the things she does. For example, the easy pickup she provides Peter Embry in the opening pages; there’s no buildup or resolution, they just meet and screw. But then, this is set in 1969, so that’s understandable.

What isn’t understandable is how we’re supposed to side with Susie, later in the novel, when after her dad blows himself away Susie runs away from home to Toronto, leaving her now-widowed mother in the lurch, and shows up at Peter’s doorstep, expecting to move in with him. And this wizened reporter, well into his 30s, lets her live with him. All very strange in today’s world. Especially as it continues on, with Peter hooking Susie up with his friends, also in their 30s – Bill and Joyce Henshawe, the latter of which should’ve been the main female protagonist, as with her waist-length hair and gypsy fashions she’s a full-on hippie chick. But Joyce contributes nothing to the tale…other that is than another questionable-but-explicit scene in which she introduces Susie to the delights of lesbian sex.

Things start to get slightly interesting a little over halfway through with the appearance of 3F – Free Festival Forever, a group of radical hippies who begin sending threats to Oracle that the concert should be free. Lead by an American draft-dodger named Norm Phillips, 3F spews out all of that grating stuff about “the people” and against “capitalist pigs” and etc, all of which was already dated by the time the book was published in 1973. But even Phillips is shuffled out of the book quickly, and Hay doesn’t really bring the others to life, other than one named “Pudge” who mails Oracle a letter that they should consider making the festival itself free, but bring in concession stands and whatnot to really rake in the proceeds.

As for the actual festival, Hay doesn’t even get to it until the final pages of the book. Practically all focus is placed on the rigors of booking talent and ensuring all of their demands are met. So then we learn how many high-profile groups have backed out, due to the bad vibes surrounding the event, including Dylan and the Stones. But then the Moment of Truth agrees to play, for ten thousand a set. The Grateful Dead in all but name, the Moment is known for its rampant drug use and backing of radical sentiments, so Oracle knows they’ve found the best headliner they’ll get.

Meanwhile, Susie discovers she’s pregnant. This bizarre melodrama gets more narrative focus, but never with a focus on the fact that she’s still a minor. Even when Susie’s mother visits, after Susie writes her months after running away to let her know she’s, you know, still alive and all, her mom just gnashes her teeth that she “wanted better” for Susie. But strangely enough mom doesn’t make much of a deal over the fact that her just-turned-16 daughter is about to have a child. But whatever; Susie continues to smoke hash with Peter and the Henshawes, all of whom by the way are excited over the prospect that she’s pregnant.

Everything culminates at the Festival, which sees 3F throwing a riot and “the people” storming the gates, during which Susie is kicked in the stomach by a fucking police horse and Embry has to move heaven and earth to get her out of the chaos of the place, as of course little thought was put into emergency situations by the planners. So while Henry Mendez (aka Jerry Garcia) of the Moment of Truth (aka the Grateful Dead) tells the audience that the festival’s a bust, Hay meanwhile cuts over to the hospital, where we learn that Susie lost the baby, but hey, they’re still in love, so she and Peter are going to try to make a life together, anyway. The end.

Another of the novel’s many failings is that Hay captures little of the period’s detail. For this, again, compare Norman Spinrad’s Passing Through The Flame, which was positively brimming with period detail, from the stylish clothing on the characters to the psychedelic posters on the walls. Hay rarely brings his scenes to life with any sort of topical details, and in fact he writes with such disdain about everyone that ultimately you have no idea whose side he’s actually on.

So then, an instance where an obscure book is justifiably obscure; Festival is not worth the effort it might take to track down. In fact I’m guessing the book had a scarce print run, as at the time of this writing no copies are even listed on, and those few copies to be found elsewhere on the web go for exorbitant prices. Save your money.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Steele #2: Cold Steele

Steele #2: Cold Steele, by J.D. Masters
November, 1989  Charter Books

Two weeks after the first volume and Lt. Donovan Steele is still in shutdown mode, being repaired and partially rebuilt after suffering so much destruction in the previous book. And while he’s given new cybnetic accessories with which to kill people, Simon Hawke (aka “J.D. Masters”) is once again more focused on plumbing the depths of the human soul and turning out a piece of “intelligent sci-fi” rather than the men’s adventure the great cover painting promises.

Hawke opens the tale from the perspective of Dr. Dev Cooper, a Texas-born psychiatrist with a specialization in cybernetics. Dev’s here to replace Dr. Susan Caromdy, who as we’ll all recall was blown away in the finale of Steele #1; Dev is understandably shocked to discover that Dr. Carmody was in a romantic relationship with her patient Steele. Dev Cooper takes up a goodly portion of the narrative, as he serves as the medium through which Hawke obsesses over his favorite topic for this series – Can a man with a cybernetic brain truly be human?? Yes my friends, the exact same conundrum obsessed over so endlessly in the previous volume is obsessed over again in this one!

In fact this scientific/metaphysical/”what makes us human??” pondering takes up the brunt of the novel, just as it did in the previous book. Meanwhile Steele is hooked up with all kinds of new tech, mostly I’m guessing in accord with the publisher’s request – I’m betting that cover painting was commissioned before Hawke wrote his manuscript, or at least at the same time. Because the weaponry Steele’s given seems to come from the mind of a publisher who wanted to capitalize on the Terminator or whatever, but Hawke really doesn’t do much with it.

Anyway, Steele now has detachable hands which he can hook on his belt and replace, Evil Dead style, with various weapons. But also built into each arm he also now has internal weapons – a “10 m.m. gun barrel” in his right forearm and “ten 45 m.m. nysteel rocket darts” in his left. If he bends his hand back, the barrels will poke out of little holes in his palms. He’s also got a laser-locking system in his eyeballs, so they glow red (again, per the cover) when he’s targeting something. Finally, various parts of his body have been reinforced, so he can take more damage than previously.

But wait…Steele’s still human!! We must not forget this. But really there’s no danger of forgetting, as Hawke ponders the question throughout the entire friggin’ novel. This obession does lead to an interesting area; Dev, realizing that Steele is reluctant to fully open up to him, gets hold of Steele’s full consciousness, which was downloaded to software in the previous volume. Now all Dev has to do is boot it up on his PC and he can ask Steele whatever he wants, and “Steele” will answer him. This by the way proves to be Dev’s full interraction with the novel; once he gets this software Dev just sits in his room, becoming progressively frazzled over the unethical nature of it all as he continues to plumb the depth’s of Steele’s separate psyche. 

But hold on…is Steele still human or not?? Seriously though, at least Steele himself has mostly come to grips with his new life. He also seems to pretty quickly move on from the death of Susan Carmody; revenge is his new focus, as he’s determined to bring down Victor Borodini, the New York-based kingpin who not only caused the death of Susan but also ordered the hit which destroyed Steele’s human body in the previous novel. Steele wasn’t the target of that failed hit, though; it was Ice, the muscle-bound former boss of black inner-city street gang the Skulls.

As introduced in the last page of the first volume, Ice is now going to be Steele’s partner; this per Higgins, the shady operative who commands Steele. This entails the usual banter between the two, as Steele doesn’t want to work with Ice and etc. Ice of course gets to prove himself in the first of the novel’s few action scenes, though again Hawke dispenses with the action quickly and they’re almost written in an outline format, barely given any depth or description – like, “Steele fired at the two men and they fell to the ground.”

The team extends to three people when Raven is brought into the fold – a 22 year-old hooker who looks much younger, Raven exudes a “trashy sexuality” and is in the process of being raped by several members of Ice’s old gang when Ice and Steele drop in on the scene. Saving the girl (who later brushes off the gang rape, saying it wasn’t really anything new for her!), the trio repair back to the opulent skyscraper/fortress which serves as Steele’s home, Ice now living there as well.

Steele has Raven stay with him while she recuperates, eventually leading to an unusual arrangement where the hooker (who of course has a heart of gold) ends up living with him. Raven’s sob story has it that she once dated Tommy Borodini, son of Victor, and after Raven got sick of his shit, slicing his face after his latest attempt at beating her around, Tommy had Raven tossed on the streets and forced into prostition.

It’s this past relationship with Tommy Borodini that allows Raven to stick around, as she implores Steele to let her help, as she wants vengeance on the bastard. While the narrative heads in this direction at first, Tommy B. himself soon puts things in a different gear by abducting a congressman and issuing his demands to the government (which is now based in New York). The abduction is really a gambit to kill Steele, as Tommy B. puts Steele on a wild goose chase, running around the city and getting to certain phone booths at the right time to answer his calls, or else the congressman dies.

But thanks to a handy gizmo which allows a CIA agent named Sharp to mimic Steele’s voice, our protagonist is able to suit up in riot gear and go solo into Borodini’s enclave. Another outline-style action sequence ensues, with Ice and Raven helicoptering in to join the festivities. Hawke gets a bit lurid here, with the revelation that Victor Borodini is in an incestual relationship with his son, Paulie! Meanwhile Tommy Borodini still holds the congressman captive, and even after his father demands that he give up, Tommy refuses, ending up being bumped off by another of the Borodini boys.

For the most part, though, Cold Steele is made up of long dialog exchanges, or static scenes in which the characters plumb the depths of their own souls. Plot takes second place to character, and the action scenes are few and far between. Given this, I’m still willing to bet that Simon Hawke was the author behind the Psycho Squad series, which shared the same weaknesses. Again, I don’t mind any of the above stuff, but we’re talking about a volume of an action series with a cover showing a gun barrel-handed cyborg with glowing eyes. Given this, I don’t want to read endless debates on the nature of humanity.

I often wonder about how publishers made these writer choices. I mean, it’s obvious from the cover that Charter intended this series to be a violent cash-in on Robocop and the like. And yet, they hired a dude who could care less about writing action scenes…and when he did write them, he dashed them off quickly and moved back into the soul-searching stuff. I can’t help but feel that Steele would’ve been a lot more enjoyable if Charter had gotten a writer more suited to the men’s adventure genre.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Immortal

The Immortal, by John Tigges
No month stated, 1986  Leisure Books

John Tigges published several horror paperbacks through Leisure Books in the ‘80s; I’ve picked up a few over the years, but this is the first I’ve read. Like most other Leisure horror novels The Immortal runs to a fat 400 pages, but it’s got super-big print and Tigges’s writing is so pulpy and melodramatic that you’ll finish the book in record time.

Thumbing through my other Tigges books, it looks like they’re all the same – big books, big print, and fairly lurid, with a strong focus on horror exploitation, pulpy thrills, and explicit sex. What more could you ask for? The Immortal concerns itself with a Satanic group -- not a cult, as the members stress -- whose leader turns out to be the titular “immortal,” granting himself this extended life through mysterious means.

It takes a while to get to the good stuff, though. Our hero is Riley Larson (misspelled “Laron” on the back cover), a freelance writer/high school janitor in his early 30s who lives outside of Chicago. His live-in girlfriend is stacked redhead Melanie, 24, a free spirit with the mouth of a truck driver; the couple are in an open relationship. Then there’s Vicki, Riley’s blonde and elfin ex-wife. The first hundred or so pages of The Immortal are really given over to detailing the melodrama of Riley’s life as Tigges takes his time getting to the plot. 

Riley writes articles for the local paper, and when in the opening pages he thinks he witnesses a late-night occult ritual out in the woods (complete with a topless woman with “large breasts” and what appears to be the sacrificial knifing of a man on an altar), Riley figures he’s got instant article material. The next day he finds a sacrificial knife near the grounds (with a goat’s head on it, as shown on the cover), as well as the burnt remains of a Bible. Riley keeps these things to himself, as well as the fact that he thinks he witnessed a murder, and just writes about the possibilities of cult activity in the area.

The article opens up doors for Riley, thanks to the apearance of Leeanah Thorndyke, a super-hot brunette who claims to be from the “group” Riley saw performing that rite in the woods; indeed, it was she with the large breasts Riley oggled from afar. (The way Tigges describes Leeanah, with her raven hair, pale skin, and enormous breastesses, it’s hard not to think of Elvira!) Leeanah invites Riley and Melanie to attend the group’s meeting later that night, and after being chaffeured to his mansion in a Rolls Royce, the couple are introduced to Sebastian Synn, the elderly leader of the group.

Truth be told the exploitative Satanism stuff gets off to a slow start; their first meeting with Synn entails Riley and Melanie disrobing in an egg-shaped temple in Synn’s mansion while the old man recants some Latin and ritualistically fondles each of them in turn. But by the next day the couple sees an upswing in their life; Riley’s offered a job as a full-time writer on the paper, and Melanie is commissioned to do some high-paying portraits. It’s all pretty humdrum. Only the next ceremony points to the direction things will go, as this time Riley gets to have sex with gorgeous Leannah on the altar while Synn chants a vengeance ritual against a gay sorceror who opposes him. Tigges spends about a paragraph on the ritual sex, and doesn’t make much of it. 

But in a precursor to Maury Terry’s The Ultimative Evil, Riley’s called by the cops next day as an “expert” on what appears to be a cult murder. Two headless bodies have been found, their severed heads crushed in the same manner as the wax dolls Synn mutilated during the previous night’s ritual. But as usual with a character in a horror novel, Riley refuses to believe that these two men are the “gay sorcerors” Synn was out to get, let alone that they’ve been supernaturally decapitated.

At least Riley and Melanie begin to suspect Synn enough that they refuse to come over again that night. Some of the lamest “threats” I’ve ever read ensue, as Leannah keeps calling to see if they’re going to come over, and Riley and Melanie tell her they’ve got the flu, and an increasingly-frustrated Leannah tells them she hopes nothing “bad” happens to them or whatever. Eventually this “bad” stuff emerges when Riley gets a call from his editor, who tells him that “the banker” said the paper can’t afford a new fulltime employee, and Melanie too finds out that her portraits have been cancelled. The horror!!

Things get a bit worse when the following morning Riley discovers his home office destroyed…and his poor old dog dead and crucified to the wall! Neither he nor Melanie heard anything all night, and as they’re puzzling over this, Riley receives another call from the cops…turns out his ex-wife, Vicki, has friggin’ internally combusted!

From one of the few scenes from Synn and Riley’s perspective, we see Synn do yet another ritual, this one entailing Melanie having sex on the altar with all six of Synn’s male acolytes. Synn’s aim is to kill Riley’s wife, who Synn believes was interfering with Riley’s desire to join the group, Synn under the impression that Melanie and Riley are married. But due to Synn’s vague wording, Vicki, Riley’s true wife, instead is the one who blows up real good. (At least Satanic prayer is effective!!) 

After Synn buys off Melanie with a palm-sized diamond, Melanie agrees to get Riley to go back to the mansion…for whatever it is Synn wants Riley for. It should be obvious they’re walking into a trap, but our protagonists blithely eat dinner with Synn and Leannah, and promptly head off to their appointed bedrooms, where they’re nonplussed to discover attire suited to them in the wardrobe. Turns out Synn plans for them to stay for the long haul. Oh, and Riley enjoys a long and explicit sex scene with what appears to be a succubus, a “Stygian form” which appears in his room that night and proceeds to screw his brains out – Tigges serving up all the details on how this mystery woman has such firm command of her “internal” muscles, if you catch my drift.

And yet for all that, the book’s kind of boring. I should mention by this point we’re 300 pages in; all this stuff could’ve happened 200 pages ago. But Tigges is in no hurry whatsoever to tell his tale, and is not above wasting your time with redundant and needless scenes. Characters endlessly ponder things that would be easily solved by glue-sniffing kids. And the sleaze quotient, while there, isn’t all that outrageous, limited to a few moments in the Satanic temple and Riley’s nightly visits from his “Stygian” guest, whose true identity turns out to be one of the novel’s few surprises.

Another positive thing to be said about The Immortal is that it doesn’t end on the happy note I expected. Tigges serves up a downer of a finale which, despite being memorable, does seem at odds with the rest of the book. And also as is to be expected from a piece of horror pulp, too many pages are wasted on inconsequential things and too few important things are explained or resolved. Also, too little is exploited; the novel could’ve been a lot better if Tigges had focused more on the Satanic sleaze and less on the mundanity of Riley and Melanie’s relationship.

In other words, The Immortal doesn’t have a thing on William W. Johnstone’s The Nursery. I’ve got more Tigges books, as mentioned, and I’ll surely read them, but here’s hoping they’re more along the lines of the lurid trash I demand in my horror fiction.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Hitman #3: The Girls Who Came To Murder

Hitman #3: The Girls Who Came To Murder, by Kirby Carr
No month stated, 1974  Canyon Books

Things get a bit more lurid with the third installment of the Hitman series; a bit more lurid, but also a lot more messy. According to the Catalog of Coypright Entries this volume was also written by Kin Platt (aka “Kirby Carr”), but the prose style isn’t much like that in the previous two volumes. So if it really was Platt, he was either A.) Rushing to meet a deadline, B.) Drunk, or C.) Drunk and rushing to meet a deadline.

In fact the plot is practically a rerun of that in the previous volume: a group of hippies are going around California, randomly murdering people in the most sadistic of ways. In other words, The Girls Who Came To Murder plays on the Manson fears of the time (and as for that exploitative title, the back cover has it that young women in “miniskirts” are behind all of the killings, but really it’s both male and female hippies). But whereas the previous volume at least stuck to its main plot, this one jumps around to all sorts of arbitrary stuff.

Action scenes are also drastically reduced, with what few of them there are doled out quickly, Mike “Hitman” Ross blowing away knife-wiedling hippies with his Mauser and Luger. But as mentioned the lurid element is much increased here; for example there are many unsettling instances in those “action” scenes in which Ross will blow away a female hippie, and Platt will describe how her face blows off or her eyes pop out. The lurid factor is even more increased in the sex scenes, which are given greater focus this time out.

But as mentioned this novel is just incredibly messy, and Platt obviously made it up as he went along. For one thing, the hippie threat when the novel begins is widespread, with murders happening all over the country, and Ross is concerned that there are too many of the hippie killers to find. But by novel’s end, the hippie killers are reduced to a mere ten or twenty people, and they’re just hiding out in the canyons outside of Los Angeles! Not only that, but Platt isn’t above wasting your time with redundant and repetitive scenes, the most egregious example being a long subplot about an Indian “guru” which turns out to have no bearing whatsoever on the novel.

Ross himself doesn’t do much this time around, other than stalk hippies, debate with himself if they’re “good ones” or “bad ones,” and if they’re the latter he waits to see if they’ll try to murder someone…and when they do, he kills them before they can! No mention of his ninja training or varied arsenal this time, and even his pulp superhero-esque costume (ie the “cowl with eye-slits) is rarely mentioned. One thing that remains though is Ross’s stupidity in certain areas, namely how he just straight up kills every hippie murderer he encounters…and then wonders later if he’ll ever be able to figure out where they all are hiding or who their leader is! I mean, never once does the guy spare one of them for later interrogation!

More narrative space is given over to hippie loser Harvey Keller, who turns out to be the “leader” of the hippie murderers. You’d figure Keller would be a Charles Manson-type, molding his acolytes into wild-eyed killers via drugs and sex, but Platt’s imagination is a lot more lazy…no, we are informed that Keller, due to his boyish good looks, has always been able to get women to go for him, and over time women started coming to him for advice. Soon he had a flock of followers, including men, who’d come to hear his mystical blatherings, which Keller made up on the spot. Then one day he made a random statement about killing “the man,” and two of his girls went out and did that very thing!

Now we’re told that some of the women in his flock will carve a “Z” on their forehead (for how they’ve “zapped” the enemy – seriously!), and also how the females are more violent than the males. But even this shit is soon forgotten, as Platt spends more time focusing on 14 year-old Raj Bab, who is taken from his home in Calcutta by shyster Sri Jildi and turned into a Maharishi-esque guru, who soon becomes globally famous for spouting off mystical blatherings, most of which he comes up with on the spot.

Yes my friends, Kin Platt writes the same exact story twice in this novel! Keller’s story and Raj Bab’s story are basically the same. And as if this in’t enough indication of how disinterested Platt is in writing the book, he repeats himself throughout the text…like for example, a middling sequence late in the novel where Raj Bab gives a conference in LA. We read on as Keller, Ross, and one of Ross’s girls each attend the conference separately, and Platt writes practically the same descriptions each time.

Even the lurid stuff is repetitive, like an explicit sequence where that young hippie girl, Fran, leaves Raj Bab’s conference and gives a random college guy a blowjob; just a page or two later, we read as Keller himself is given a blowjob by Mara, the young Indian courtesan who has been brought along to keep Raj Bab happy. (Ross himself by the way goes celibate this time – but then, the last time we read about him having sex, back in the first volume, he strangled the chick!)

Indeed the Raj Bab stuff takes central stance in the narrative, with Platt serving up long sequences in which he meets with the press and delivers pages of mystical blather for their pleasure. We’re told how the wealthy soon flock to Raj Bab, and how Sri Jildi gets very rich as a result. Meanwhile the hippie killers are for the most part forgotten, save for a scene or two where Ross will stalk a few of them, witness them about to kill someone, and then promptly blow them away…and then go home and wonder how he can find out where they’re coming from or who is commanding them!

Platt also page-fills with lots of arbitrary flashbacks to Ross’s time in ‘Nam, and also he opens up the character a bit with Ross getting into these soul-baring dialogues with himself, like how can it be right for him to murder, but wrong for the hippies to do the same thing, and etc. To Platt’s credit this does actually lead to an unexpected finale, where Ross just happens to see Fran murder that aforementioned college guy on the beach (apparently the first person she’s murdered, as Platt states that Fran is a “new” girl in Keller’s “Family” and not one of the murderers) and follows after her.

Rather than a gun-blazing climax, it all plays out on more of a melodramatic level, with Fran literally stabbing Keller in the back after Keller tells her he’s leaving the Family and going to work with Raj Bab. Then Ross shows up, gets all the answers from Fran in a long dialog exchange (at least he’s finally learned to interrogate his enemies, I guess)…and then puts her on a plane for London! Apparently Ross feels bad for the girl, realizing she’s had some bad knocks in life and got involved with the wrong people. I guess the murdered college kid was just collateral damage.

And the kicker here is that ultimately the Raj Bab/Sri Jildi stuff has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the novel! This is probably the biggest red herring of a “subplot” I’ve ever read in a book. But seriously, all those pages devoted to Raj Bab have zero payoff or resolution…Platt makes a small attempt to make it that Keller’s master plan in the final pages is to record an album for Raj Bab(!), but even this is so lazily developed that it makes the waste of the reader’s time all the more obvious. 

But how about that cover? Jimmy Page and Golgo 13!!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Doomsday Warrior #9: America's Zero Hour

Doomsday Warrior #9: America's Zero Hour, by Ryder Stacy
November, 1986  Zebra Books

A month after the previous volume and things are still much the same in the Doomsday Warrior series; Century City is rebuilding itself, the Russian army is slowly reoccupying its former posts after Killov’s KGB sadists have been ousted, and Ted “The Ultimate American” Rockson is still stuck in the middle of a love triangle.

This installment opens with a veritable bang – three bangs, in fact. First there’s an underground explosion as Rockson and his pals try to clear out a tunnel beneath Century City and nearly get squashed. The second “bang” arrives when hotstuff Rona comes to Rockson that night, telling him she’s sick of staying away from him due to her agreement with Kim, and Ryder Stacy gives us one of his patented sex scenes. Indeed here we learn that Rona goes into a “special kind of mutant frenzy” when she orgasms!

As if making up for the fact that the previous volume didn’t have a single sex scene, Stacy immediately delivers another, as Kim comes into Rockson’s room moments after Rona has left. (The two women sneaking around behind each other’s back, we’re informed.) Apparently Century City must have a cosmetic surgery wing, as Stacy mentions Kim’s “large breasts,” whereas in previous installments we were informed how small they were! At any rate Stacy delivers yet another of his fun sex scenes here, where the prose gets nice and purple.

Another returning element in America’s Zero Hour is all of the little details the author(s) used to dole out. For example, we learn that Rockson’s night light is a pair of “twisted elk horns” which glow, softly illuminating Rockson’s room in red. But anyway trouble soon rears its head when security chief Rath informs Rockson that Killov, as he escaped the US, has gotten hold of a few nuclear missiles…ones with antimatter properties, even! Last seen venturing into Canada, Killov is expected to go all the way to the North Pole, where he’ll likely fire the missiles at both Denver (to destroy Century City, as he still doesn’t know where exactly it is) and Moscow.

Rockson puts together his usual team, accompanied by the usual redshirts. Stacy doesn’t even fool around with the Rona/Kim scenario this time, with Rockson saying flat-out he doesn’t want to hear their shit on the road again. So the ladies stay, and we get no more of Ryder Stacy’s patented sex scenes this volume. From here America’s Zero Hour returns to the feel of every previous installment, with Rockson et al trekking along the nuke-blasted terrain of the US and encountering all sorts of setbacks.

Along the way we have another teleconference between Rockson and Soviet Premiere Vassily, who agrees to send over a specialist who will be able to help Rockson track Killov’s stolen missiles. This turns out to be dumpy Majro Scheransky, who arrives to much fanfare, bantering with Rockson’s pals and even tossing some racist remarks at Detroit (whom Stacy reminds us is black every single time he mentions him), but soon enough per tradition Scheransky is shuffled right out of the narrative, just there in the background until the finale.

More new characters arrive with a group of Eskimos somewhere in Canada, who again per tradition challenge Rockson to a death match before believing he really is “The Ultimate American” and thus pledging their alleigance to him. Tinglim is their leader, and lots of Jack London stuff ensues as we learn about riding dog sleds over the ice and snow, on into the brutally cold North Pole. Meanwhile Killov rides in a vehicle armada which is somehow able to go right over the icy lakes which crack beneath the weight of the Rock Squad’s dogs…

The Killov sections introduce a new character to the series: Chrome, the “metal man,” a former SS commando from #5: America's Last Rebellion who now fights for Killov; we are told his face was “blown off” in that volume's climatic battle, after which he was rebuilt into a cyborg with “a face and skull of chrome steel” and “yellow synthsteel eyes,” and he’s so scary-looking that even Killov, who worships death, fears him. So in other words, Ryder Stacy had recently seen The Terminator.

More of those interesting touches appear with a nighttime battle during which the aurora borealis glows above as friggin Sasquatches attack Rockson’s party and steal away with some of them, roasting them over spits and eating them! From here a fantasy element comes in with the introduction of Ice City, a sprawling medieval-style city in the North Pole, built over a frozen lake and made up of spiraling towers and buildings, all made of ice. This sequence doesn’t have much to do with anything, though it does feature the “Ice Shaman,” who informs Rockson that the Sasquatches are the descendants of mutants created back in Atlantis…!

The finale occurs in the Arctic Circle on December 22nd, the Winter Solstice, Rockson timing his attack with the endless night that will ensue. His war party is drastically reduced by this point, with even juggernaut Archer out of commission, recuperating in the hospital back in Ice City after taking an axe to the head(!). But with Scheransky’s aid they’re able to sneak onto Killov’s makeshift fort and track down each antimatter nuke, dismantling all of them save for one, which blasts off – headed south, and thus likely for Century City. 

Stacy delivers a positively endless fight between Rockson and Chrome, with Rockson using any weapon he can get his hands on against the impervious cyborg. It just goes on and on and on. Only after using water to fry Chrome’s internal circuits (surely this is something the programmers would’ve thought of?) so that he’s weakened, and then smashing his joints, Rockson’s victorious and commandeers one of the two jets sent to evacuate Killov (the KGB leader escaping once again, of course).

Here the finale plays off like a retread of #4: Bloody America, with Rockson using voice commands to fly a Russian fighter jet in hot pursuit as he chases after the missile. This entire sequence is very unbelievable to say the least, and breaks the laws of aeronautics, physics, and reality. Plus it isn’t very exciting, as it’s just Rockson sitting in a jet and trying to catch up with a missile. But of course he’s successful, with the side effect that his jet is destroyed and now Rockson is alone somewhere in the Midwest after parachuting out, his team all the way back in the North Pole.

So as per usual this volume of Doomsday Warrior ends on a cliffhanger, and despite the goofy finale you can be sure I eagerly await the next installment.