Saturday, May 16, 2009

THE AVENGER CHRONICLES

THE AVENGER CHRONICLES
Edited by Joe Gentile & Howard Hopkins
Moonstone Books
361 pages

One of the most original and enduring pulp heroes was a character known as the Avenger and another product of the successful Street & Smith publishing house. This was the same company that had given the world both the Shadow and Doc Savage, by far the most famous pulp characters of all time. The Avenger came about when the folks at Street & Smith came up with the idea of creating a new character who would combine both the mystery elements of the Shadow and the globe-trotting adventures of the Man of Bronze. The result was the dramatic story of Richard Henry Benson, a famed adventurer whose beloved wife and daughter are murdered by a ruthless gang of killers. Benson suffers a traumatic breakdown that not only turns his hair prematurely white, but at the same time deadens the nerves in his face so that it takes on a putty-like malleability thus allowing him to shape it in any manner he desires. Suddenly, with a little make up and a few wigs, Benson can become anybody. Seeing this bizarre ability as a sign, he opts not to wallow in self-pity, but to devote his life from that moment on to the cause of righting wrongs for other victims like himself. He soon recruits a band of loyal follower, each of them with their own personal history of loss at the hands of criminals, and thus is born Justice, Inc.

The series was written by pulp veteran Paul Ernst and although the stories were extremely well done and very popular with the fans, the title was doomed to a short run. It had the misfortune of coming on the scene as the door was closing on the pulp era wherein economic hard times and paper shortages were forcing all the major publishers to cut back on their output. The Avenger was one of the early casualties of this media demise.

Now pulp fans can take rejoice, as the Avenger and his entire team are back in a terrific anthology featuring eighteen brand new adventures by some of today’s finest action writers. Here are Nellie Gray, the spitfire blonde, Smitty, the veritable seven foot electrical genius, Fergus MacMurdie, the Scottish chemist, Josh and Rosabel Newton, the African American husband and wife team and the debonair Cole Wilson; all of them willingly racing into danger at their leader’s bidding. The stories themselves pit them against assassins, mad scientists, and killer robots all penned by today’s modern pulp scribes to include Mark Justice, Martin Powell, and Ron Goulart amongst others.

This reviewer would be hard pressed to pick a favorite in this collection, as all eighteen are truly great, fast paced action yarns. Kudos to editors Joe Gentile (a true pulp enthusiast and promoter) and Howard Hopkins (an authority on the Avenger) for putting these pulse pounding new chapters in the life of one of pulpdom’s greatest heroes. This is one of the best pulp anthologies ever produced. Here’s hoping there are future volumes in the works. You can never have too much of a good thing.

4 comments:

barryreese said...

The Avenger is possibly my favorite pulp hero of all time -- I love the concept of Doc Savage more but the stories in the Avenger series are just so much better. This is a great collection and I'm holding out hope that it can spur a resurgence in Avenger-related comics, novels and maybe even a movie.

Ron Fortier said...

We're on the same page here, Barry.
I believe Moonstone is going to do a second Avenger anthology and supposedly Sam Raimi, who bought the film rights to all of the Street & Smith heroes, has said he will eventually be doing an Avenger's movie. After he completes one on the Shadow (now in pre-production) and Doc Savage. Keeping all fingers crossed.

Tim Mayer said...

I really wish I could say favorable things about this anthology, but I just can't get through it. I'm afraid I think of The Avenger as a novel and not short stories. Just my opinion.

Ron Fortier said...

Which you are entitled to Tim. And most likely there are lots of other pulp fans who feel the same way. It's not easy having a set experience of certain characters, ala the novel length, the having to readjust that to these much smaller episodes. Whereas some characters like Sherlock Holmes worked much better in the short story format. That you even were willing to give this book a try is to your credit.