Monday, October 09, 2017

ARCHIE IN THE CROSSHAIRS



ARCHIE IN THE CROSSHAIRS
A Nero Wolfe Mystery
By Robert Goldsborough
A Mysterious Press Original
215 pgs

Back in 1986 writer Robert Goldsborough took on the task of writing new Nero Wolfe mysteries based on the characters created by the late Rex Stout. Obviously these new pastiches were met with both joy and derision from devoted Stout readers. After reading the first of these seven, “Murder in E Minor,” we were clearly among the crowd happily applauding the return of the overweight, beer guzzling armchair sleuth.  After Bantam Books released the “The Missing Chapter” in 1994, Goldsborough took a hiatus to concentrate his efforst on his own series of mysteries starring a newspaper reporter named Steve Malek.

All well and good, but honestly, we still missed Wolfe. At one point we actually wrote Mr. Goldsborough urging him to return to that familiar brownstone on West 34th Street and he was most cordial in his reply that maybe one day he would so. In 2012 Otto Penzler of Mysterious Press added his voice to those many fans and Goldsborough relented and did so with a bang. His first new offering was the untold story fans had long clamored for, “Archie Meets Nero Wolfe.” If you haven’t read it yet, we urge to you do so immediately.

It was followed by four others including “Archie in the Crosshairs” which we recently enjoyed.  This one opens with a bang both figuratively and literally as Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe’s operative and confident, is shot at one night as he is returning home. Considering how bad the shooter’s aim was, the bullets missing him by a wide margin, Archie suspects they were actually intended to warn him rather than hit him. The following day, in Wolfe’s presence, he receives a threatening call from the supposed assassin claiming he is going to murder Archie in retribution for a harm done to him by Wolfe in the past.

Having accumulated a large number of antagonists during their years as successful private investigators, Wolfe and Archie begin a systematic search of their recent cases to pinpoint who among these villains would be most likely in a position to strike back at them. As if that puzzle wasn’t time consuming enough, the pair is approached by a perspective new client. A wealthy young socialite, Cordelia Hutuchinson, is being blackmailed for her romantic indiscretions while on a recent trip to Italy. Engaged to be married soon, the blackmailer threatens to expose her dalliances to her fiancée, her family and the public by releasing incriminating photos.

At Archie’s insistence, Wolfe takes the case and directs the young lady to comply with the extortionist’s demands with the stipulation that Archie be her agent in delivering the cash payout. Several nights later, while complying with the blackmailer’s specific directives to bring the money to an isolated spot in Central Park, Archie is shot. Luckily he’s accompanied by two of Wolfe’s other agents, Saul Panzer and Fred Durkin, who waste no time in getting him home and immediate medical attention. Still, the attack by their unknown nemesis occurring in the midst of the blackmail affair raises Wolfe’s suspicions that both matters may be connected. If such is the case, then it makes their efforts twice as complicated and deadly.

“Archie in the Crosshairs,” is a deliciously fun mystery that moves at a good but relaxed pace. In the footsteps of Rex Stout, Goldsborough plays fairs and peppers clues throughout the tale all culminating in a grand meeting of the suspects in Wolfe’s office. As ever, in any Nero Wolfe outing, the careful reader must examine the facts carefully and in the end see if they can beat the Master to the mystery’s solution. Of course, we’ve always maintained, much like the Sherlock Holmes tales of Arthur Conan Doyle, most fans read Nero Wolfe because he and Archie Goodwin are such colorful, amiable fictional characters, it is always a delight to be in their company; the actual mysteries secondary.  Here’s hoping Mr. Goldsborough has at least another dozen stories yet to tell.  Trust me, when they are this good, we never tire of them and neither will you.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

JUNGLE QUEENS & SPACE RANGERS The Complete Comic Book Covers Vol 1



JUNGLE QUEENS AND SPACE RANGERS
The Complete Comic Book Covers Vol 1
Edited and published by Todd Frye

Earlier in the year we had the extreme pleasure of reviewing super pulp & comics fan, Todd Frye’s book “Amazing! Astonishing! Weird Tales! Complete Pulp Magazine Covers Vol 2” and we ranted and raved at how much fun that treasure chest of visual delights truly was. Well, now comes this new huge collection of cover reprints and this time Frye is shining his spotlight on early comics whose theme was jungle queens and space rangers.

He starts the book focusing on three Fiction House titles; Fight Comics, Jumbo Comics and Jungle Comics in dealing with those series that dealt jungle adventures. It is important to note that all three titles where in fact anthologies and aside from their jungle heroes, who often hogged the covers, they also included strips of various genres that offered up fast, action paced yarns to keep young boys turning the pages. Among these pre-war titles that would continue into the early 1950s you’d find the art of such notable artists as Will Eisner, Matt Baker, George Tuska and Jack Kamen.

From its start in Jan 1940, Fight Comics featured a bunch of great, brawling heroes who easily lived up to that title. Each monthly issue offered up the exploits of Shark Brodie, Kayo Kirby and Chip Collins and others of the same mold. The October 1941 issue even introduced a new star-spangled, shield carrying hero named the Super American. By the war years a majority of the book was given over to combat stories featuring American GIs in both Europe and the South Pacific theaters of operation. Then in 1947 Tiger Girl appeared; a blond haired hellcat in a leopard print bikini whose jungle adventures would grace the covers from that point on until the books demise in 1954. Armed with either a knife or spear, Tiger Girl fought every imaginable jungle threat one could envision, from beasts to cannibal tribes, voodoo witch doctors etc.etc. It was heady stuff indeed.

Still, Tiger Girl would take a back seat to yet another jungle beauty with golden tresses, that being Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, whose comic home resided in Jumbo Comics. Appearing on the newsstands in 1938, Jumbo was a whopping anthology book that advertised 64 full pages in color all for a dime. It still boggles the mind. The first eight covers were a hodgepodge of cramped images giving the readers a tease of every single character that appeared in that particular issue. Sheena was most certainly among that gathering but it wouldn’t be until the March 1940 issue that she would grab the full cover spot and from that point on there was no looking back. The ultra sexy Sheena’s covers were dramatic and totally eye-catching. During the titles’ run, she battled monstrous lions, tigers, giant snakes, bizarre bug-creatures and even dinosaurs…while never looking at the least bit unglamorous. We should also note that all these jungle comics existed pre-code and so there was often lots of blood-letting on display. One cover has Sheena repeatedly stabling a gorilla and its chest is smeared with oozing blood.

Sheen would eventually cement her role as a cultural icon when she jump to television on the 1950s and many years later appeared in a full length feature motion picture. It is also interesting to note that the size of Jumbo, by the early 50s was already down to just 52 pages and would shrink even further as time went on.

Of course sexy blonde females weren’t the only larger than life heroes in the jungle comics lore. In Jan. 1940 Fiction House launched the appropriately titled, Jungle Comics and on its very first cover it feature a male Adonis with blond hair named Kaanga, Lord of the Jungle. This yellow haired Tarzan clone would be the book’s main feature throughout its entire life culminating with its final issue, # 163 appearing the summer of 1954. Whereas in this series it was the buffed Kaanga who was the blond, then it seemed natural that his own lovely vine-swinging mate in a leopard bikini sport long raven colored tresses ala Jane Russell. Like the other pre-code titles, violence ran rampant on the covers of Jungle Comics. One has an arrow piercing through the chest of a native warrior as shot by Kaanga in the background as the villain was about to stab the Jungle Lord’s mate. Not for the squeamish and faith of heart were these grand and glorious four color mags.

The second half of this volume is devoted to two of Fiction House’s most popular titles ever. Planet Comics was the first such ever devoted solely to sci-fi and from 1940 through to the winter of 1954, it published some truly amazing covers that are highly sought after by collectors today. Featured where many scantily clad ladies firing ray-blasters at all kinds of alien bug-eyed creatures. Some of the more popular ongoing series features within its pages were Space Rangers, Lost World and Mysta of the Moon. Along with the previously mentioned golden age artists, Planet Comics also showcased the early efforts of the great Murphy Anderson.

And finally, this amazing treasure trove ends with the complete covers of Wings, another Fiction House title that had begun its life as a popular aviation pulp and morphed into a very successful comic. It featured some truly dramatic air-combat scenarios and naturally during the war years, each pitted brave allied pilots against either German or Japanese fliers. Skull Squad was a recurring strip along with Captain Wings and Phantom Falcon. After the war, the antagonists battled by these stalwart heroes were mostly Commies. It’s also interesting to point out that during the war years, few females appeared on its covers but after 1946, more and more, in typical “good girl” cheesecake fashion were featured. Obviously with peace time, it was once again okay to ogle a shapely leg, even if the poor lass was falling through the sky at the time.

How Todd Frye manages to find and reproduce these hundreds of wonderful comic book covers is truly a wonder and we fans are the richer for his Herculean efforts. “Jungle Queens and Space Rangers : The Complete Comic Book Covers Vol. 1” should be in every serious collector’s library. Mine now rest on my shelves where we plan to pick it up again and again just to flip through those pages and soak in the fun that was the Golden Age.  You will too.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

TARZAN - The Greystoke Legacy Under Seige



TARZAN
The Greystoke Legacy Under Siege
By Ralph N. Laughlin & Ann E. Johnson
ERB Inc.
301 pages

Most fans of my generation will have first been introduced to Tarzan of the Apes via the movies beginning with arguably the most successful of them all, “Tarzan the Ape Man” starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan. It of course wasn’t the first cinematic portrayal of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ fantastic hero but again, clearly the most recognizable and economically successful up to that point in the character’s history. From that one movie would come many sequels to keep an ever growing audience entertained and such actors as Lex Barker, Gordon Scott, Jock Mahoney and Mike Henry would pick up the vine swinging action. This stretch extended from the mid 1940s through to the 1960s and culminated with a highly successful weekly TV series starring Ron Ely.

Having been born a post-war baby in 1946, this was most of the exposure we were given and actually enjoyed until the age thirteen when we discovered the original Burroughs’ novels in paperback. You can well imagine our surprise on discovering the “original” character was far removed from the monosyllabic wild man portrayed by Weissmuller. Rather we were introduced to a remarkable human being who not only survived being raised by apes in the mysterious jungles of an untamed Africa, but also a brilliant intellect who, along with physical prowess, was able to teach himself to read and ultimately master half a dozen languages. We learned he was heir to a vast British fortune; his real name was John Clayton and eventually, as the saga played out, would ultimately claim his title and the vast amount of wealth that accompanied.

We’ll also hazard that most of you reading this review will have read many of those classics plus other pastiches, some good, some not so good, offered up by various authors over the years. Which brings us to this current series being produced by ERB, Inc. under the umbrella title of “The Wild Adventures of Edgar Rices Burroughs” with this title kicking off Series # 4.

The story takes place in the 1980s and deftly mixes fiction with reality. Authors Laughlin and Johnson immediately establish the Clayton Clan as existing among four generations. There is Tarzan and Jane, their son Korak and his wife Meriem, their son Jackie and his wife Irene and their son Jonathan (Jon) Clayton. Jon is one of the primary plot drivers in the adventure, as it is his desire to follow in his great-grandather’s footsteps that leads us through his ordeals throughout the book. At the same time one of Tarzan’s oldest enemies reaches out from beyond the grave to attack his family both in Africa and in London where the estate’s billion dollar Trust is managed by Jackie. A physical assault is directed at the Claytons’ beautiful African plantation at the exact same time that spurious charges of treason and illegal financial dealings are leveled at the Trust.

And as if this double assault wasn’t vicious enough, Korak’s dear friend, gorilla specialist and advocate, Diane Fossey, is brutally murdered in her jungle home and the blame is directed at Korak.

This book is a brilliantly conceived extension of all that Burroughs created during his career, expanding on these marvelous characters in such a fresh and original way while maintining their authentic personalities throughout. Thus Jon Clayton, as the new generation, becomes the central lynchpin upon which the adventure barrel forwards and to its credit never once is muddled as its various subplots alternate taking center stage.
Each of the Claytons comes to life within these pages as never before and the central theme of family and loyalty to such is a powerful one skillfully employed.

“Tarzan – The Grestoke Legacy Under Siege,” is a terrific book and one every Tarzan fan, young and old, should pick up and add to their library.  As for this reviewer, all we can say is that we are eagerly awaiting the next chapter in this exciting new series.

Monday, September 18, 2017

ROUGH RIDERS Vol # 1



ROUGH RIDERS
A Graphic Novel
By Adam Glass - Writer
Patrick Olliffe - Artist
A Graphic Novel
Gabe Eltaeb - Colorist
Sal Cipriano - Letterer
Mike Harris – Editor
Collects the first 7 issue of regular series.

It has been a while since my subject was a graphic novel and as most of you readers know, that doesn’t happen often. We reserve only the best of the best such comics for this column. Meaning quite simply, this is one of the finest graphic novels we’ve ever enjoyed in a life time of reading comics.

For nearly ten years now we’ve argued that the finest comics work being produced in America today is coming from the independents. Both DC and Marvel long ago gave up the ghost in regards to doing comics for comics’ sake, becoming the tails of their corporate owners who keep them around (demanding no major changes ever) simply to maintain the copyrights on their characters for the purposes of movies, toys and whatever other merchandising potentials they can mine. Ergo, the comics reader surviving on the big two alone, is basically digesting the same old pablum over and over and over again. It’s baby-food, people. Nothing more.

Whereas when you have a writer like Adam Glass with a genuine love of history and allow him to make that the basis from which to create a fantastical adventure, then anything is possible. And that’s exactly the sense of wonder that permeates this series. What if Teddy Roosevelt was a bonafide action hero and was charged by the financial moguls of the time to go to Cuba and investigate the sinking of the U.S. Maine? And what if that sinking wasn’t perpetrated by Spanish terrorist looking to strike back at the U.S., but a third party with deeper, world shattering goals? Realizing this mission is beyond the scope of one man, Roosevelt proceeds to assemble his own special team consisting of four amazing individuals.

In this unit is the incredible new stage magician, Harry Houdini, the electrical Wizard of Menlo Park, Thomas Edison, soon-to-be champion prize fighter Jack Johnson and finally, adding a dash of feminine dazzle and energy, the one and only little Miss Sure Shot, Annie Oakley. Together, Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders” travel to Cuba with the military expeditionary forces and under the guise of being part of that military operation, seek out the real villainy at work on that tropical island.

Glass is a master of pacing and knows how to keep his tale moving forward while ingeniously injecting personal moments that reveal each hero’s torturous past and what has led them to this particular point in time…and history. It’s a terrific story from start to finish and deserved only the best in artwork.  Veteran craftsman Patrick Olliffe delivers that and then some. He elevates Glass tale to a higher level by delivering visuals so beautiful and dramatic, each page is a jewel of artwork that propels the reader at the same time entertaining them. His layouts and and compositions are old school, and we say that in the most reverential way. This is classic comics delivered with sequential grace and blends so effortlessly with the script it would be inconceivable to imagine this book without either element. And there’s the magic of comics.

And let’s not forget the deft colors of Gabe Elteab and expert lettering of Sal Capriano. The older we become, the more we’ve learned that great lettering is in fact what takes two vastly different sensibilities and brings them together flawlessly into something singular, i.e. the letterer makes it a comic book. Period.

In the end it’s been a long, long time since we’ve truly relished a comic adventure this much.  “Rough Riders” is brilliant, genius, fun…and every other positive adjective one can whip up. Please, if you truly love comics, pick it up a copy now. You can thank us later.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

RV



 
RV
By Keith Suek
Self-published
244 pgs.

Being a book reviewer can at times be a maddening challenge with absolutely no rhyme or reason. Keith Suek, who hails from Wyoming, sent us his book, RV, after meeting us at a comic convention in Cheyenne. In the accompanying letter, he mentioned not getting any response via Amazon and hoping a review from us would help shake things up. Well, we have no idea if that will happen, but then again we do know the damn book did in fact shake us up…radically.

It is almost impossible to accurately review because no matter how we approach it, there is the reality we’ll be leaving behind negative conations in what we are about to say. So, dear readers of good, solid action fiction take what we say with a huge grain of salt…and be wary. Keith Suek is not a bad writer at all. In fact, underneath the editorial mess this book is, we truly believe there exist a very talented storyteller. So, before going much further in this review, let’s talk story.

The American/Mexican border. An oilman named Ian D’eath teams up with a Border Patrolman named Hector Munoz to take on a deadly drug cartel called the Arana. These South of the Border thugs are merciless and have no qualms in killing whoever stands in the way of their making money; be it flooding the country with illegal drugs, kidnapping young teenage American girls and selling them to Arab millionaires or cutting up Mexican natives from the hills to sell their body parts. Again, as we said, these are really bad hombres that Ian and Hector have, through various life choices, found themselves opposing. When they learned of six recently snatched girls, they put together a posse of their own, cross over into Mexico and attempt to rescue them.

The bullets fly fast and furious as Suek obviously knows his firearms and is not the least be squeamish in describing what hot lead of various calibers will do to the human body. There are parts in this book that read like masochistic poetry, the violence is so in your face. On this front, as a pure, unadulterated actioner, RV is like a racing Grayhound that has broken its leash and escape. The pages almost turn themselves.

So what’s the problem? The problem is no page in this entire book ever saw the scrutiny of an editor, pro or amateur. The book is a grammatical nightmare filled with so many typos, and punctuation sins that they mimic the shells spitting from the weapons in the story. It’s as if Suek can’t be bothered with that bread of his sandwich and just wants to get to the slice bologna between it. All well and good for the author, but not so for the hapless reader who opens that cover.

We truly wish we could give this book nothing but high marks, but that wouldn’t be fair to our readers who expect a modicum of polish in a published book. Maybe RV is in itself what is good and what is bad about today’s self-publishing market. On one hand, Suek was able to get his manuscript in print…on the other hand, it got into print as a mess and that is unacceptable.  Final word here.  Kevin Suek, you know how to write…find an editor on-line and pay them to work with you. You have so much potential, don’t let it go to waste.

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 naïve 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!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

RESTLESS




RESTLESS
(An Anthology of Mummy Horror)
Edited by Jim Beard & John C. Bruening
Flinch Books
187 pgs

Once again the good folks at Flinch Books have put together another terrific anthology filled with top-notch stories. This one’s theme all about the classic Mummy monsters found in black and white movies and turn of the century horror novels. The writers are among the best of New Pulp today and they do not disappoint even the most jaded of readers.

Barry Reese kicks it all off with his “Love’s Deadly Kiss.” When a British explorer Thomas York returns to England after his latest adventures in Africa, he discovers that his old friend has acquired a unique mummy and appears to be under its influence somehow. When that gentleman is cruelly murdered, York investigates only to learn he too has fallen victim to the sway of this ancient, immortal temptress.

“To Rise and Conquer” by Teel James Glenn follows next. During the Japanese invasion of China, an America flier finds himself fleeing with several escapees through the rugged terrain of Mongolia. They find a hidden cave in which to hide from their pursuers only to discover it holds the remains one of history’s most lauded conquerors.

“The Weighing of the Dead,” is by Sam Gafford and introduces us to a British occult detective named Dr. Greenwood and his first meeting with Claire Montgomery, an archeologist looking into mysterious occurrences in the London Royal Museum. Plenty of horror and action ensue.

Duane Spurlock then offers up “Spirits From the Dread World.” An ancient Aztec mummy is revised to wreak havoc on the citizens of Mexico City unless a once famous luchador named El Puno can regain his courage and come to their rescue.

“The Warrior and the Stone,” by John Bruening has archeologist Jake Bennett and his Turkish guide, Haluk deep in the mountains between Tibet and China looking of a lost magical stone said to bestow immortality. Instead what they uncover is an ancient warrior trapped in time and awaiting his last battle.

Nancy Hansen wraps up the volume with her story, “Sacrifices.” When the mummified remains of a warrior women are found intact in the wilderness of the Russian steppes, Marcela Ramos is called in by a Russian colleague to help investigate. But no sooner does she set about bringing the frozen corpse back to the United States when a serious of mysterious accidents befalls the crews involved with the transport process. Enough so that Marcela soon realizes she’s taken on a horrible curse that could spell her doom.

It isn’t often when reviewing an anthology that we have such a difficult time choosing our favorite entry. That’s how great all these stories in this collection truly are. Whereas if given no other recourse, our needle with point to Teel James Glenn by the narrowest of margins. Truthfully, this there isn’t a bad apple in the bunch and our fedora if off to Flinch Books once again. If you love old fashion horror, pick up “Restless,” dim the lights and sit down for an evening reading pleasure. You can thank us later.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

FACES OF FEAR



The Black Bat-The Purple Scar
Faces of Fear
By Ron Fortier
Illustrations by Rob Davis
Moonstone Books
86 pgs
Guest Reviewer – Michael Housel

                                                                                               
Just finished the novella, THE BLACK BAT/THE PURPLE SCAR: FACES OF FEAR, the latest crossover adventure from Moonstone Books. Gotta say--whoa!!! This one sure overflows with action and intrigue. It's also written by Black Bat raconteur and Airship 27 Publications founder, Ron Fortier (a good sign, if ever there was one, for no one weaves a New Pulp yarn quite like Captain Ron). The adventure is also graced by gripping illustrations from his creative pal, the legendary Rob Davis!!!

Faces of Fear deals with the evident rise of dead criminals within Black Bat/Tony Quinn's NY turf. It appears that the insidious, porcelain-faced Mr. Mask is responsible. Naturally, Black Bat (accompanied by his faithful assistant, Silk Kirby) leaps in to tackle the situation. However, as the weirdness mounts, another enigmatic figure enters--that hard-hitting, rubber-masked avenger, the Purple Scar, aka Miles Murdoch. 

After the Black Bat rescues the Purple Scar from a sticky situation, the crusaders decide to join forces to untangle the perplexing manifestations.

As with Fortier's Black Bat comic-book entries, Faces of Fear moves at a rapid clip, but the blistering action never blurs the characterizations, which remain distinct throughout, courtesy of the author's crisp, engaging style. The story also does an excellent job probing concepts of identity and the secrets people tuck beneath their various facades. 

Davis' wonderful illustrations give a film-noir ambiance to the tale: each image projecting a moody, almost three-dimensional depth that pulp fans will relish. 

By the adventure's conclusion, one side triumphs over the other, but I won't reveal exactly how. Experiencing the way Black Bat and Purple Scar (or more precisely, Fortier and Davis) make it click is all part of the fun. 

Incidentally, the stunning hardback-cover artwork is by Davis, with Eric Enervold having rendered the dynamic, softcover version. Cool!!! 

Give Faces of Fear a try. You're guaranteed a rousing treat, with either edition you buy. Heck, why not splurge for both? 

Sunday, June 04, 2017

THE GUNS ABOVE



THE GUNS ABOVE
By Robyn Bennis
Tor Books
351 pages

We love this book! The reasons for this overwhelming reaction are many and we’ll happily elaborate for your edification. Years ago, while still in high school, we discovered the works of British writer C.S. Forster and his clever navel hero, Horatio Hornblower. It was a romantic saga filled with action and heroes; the stuff teenage boys dream of. Then along about that same period in our creative evolution, we discovered the grand airships of old, from the German made Zeppelins to their American Navy counterparts, the Los Angeles and Macon. We began promptly collecting everything we could in regards to these fantastic clippers of the cloud.

Thus is should be no surprise to anyone that when we began our own publishing venture, we labeled it Airship 27 Productions. Now, we report all of this because in lieu of the ever increasing popularity of steampunk, more and more books have been written dealing with airships; including “The Guns of Above.” When we saw an ad on-line for the title, we immediately reached out to Tor Books and asked to receive a review copy. They were gracious enough to respond and last week it arrived, wrapped in a truly beautiful cover by artist Tommy Arnold.

Lt. Josette Dupre is an executive officer on a Garnian Army’s Aerial Signal Corp airship during the bloody war with their enemy, the neighboring nation of Vinzhalia. As the book opens, her ship, the Osprey has crash landed in the middle of a savage battle and her captain killed. Dupre takes command of the survivors and rallies the ground forces to salvage a victory from sure defeat. As a reward for her gallantry, she is promoted to Captain and given her own ship, a small scout christened the Mistral.

Now in the grand tradition of steampunk, we must explain these are not the more recognizable airships of our own reality, but actual steam powered rigid crafts containing multiple gas bags and armed with canons locked into wheeled tracks. The airmen fire powder and flint rifles. Considering this level of technology, it becomes all too clear within the first few chapters that life aboard these airships are fraught with peril, if not from enemy airships, then the very fragility of the ships themselves. And it is in this world where life and death waltz together in the heavens that Captain Josette Dupre finds her calling.

Whereas the mores of the time are not as advanced as the sciences and though women are allowed to serve in the aircorp, they are forbidden to participate in actual combat. Dupre’s promotion has nothing to do with her skills or heroism, but rather the fact that the war has decimated the ranks of qualified officers and that is why she is given Mistral; there was no else available. A fact she is all too aware of. But it doesn’t deter her from recruiting other women for her own crew and treating them as equals. 

She even has a spy to contend with.  The Commander of the Garnian Army, one General Hinkal, wants to see her fail and so orders his aristocratic nephew, Lord Bernat Hinkal to fly with the Mistral and there write up a secret report detailing Dupre’s failings so as to provide the General with the evidence he requires to have her dismissed and removed from command.

All of which would be easy enough to accomplish if not for two things. The first being Josette Dupre is very much a capable leader and skillfully leads her new ship into one hazardous mission after another gradually inspiring her crew and gaining their loyalty. While at the same time winning over Bernat, a spoiled dandy who, for the first time in his life, is given the opportunity to act like a man, to find his own self worth and in the process become Dupre’s most unlikely ally.

“The Guns Above” is a rousing adventure from first page to last and what is even more unbelievable is the fact that it is the author’s debut novel. It has been a long time since this reviewer has been so enamored with a fictional character so brilliantly conceived and realized. Captain Josette Dupre is such a figure and when you’ve read her adventures, you’ll add her to the ranks of such heroes as Hornblower and James T. Kirk.  When Jan. 2018 rolls around, we will be nominating “The Guns Above” for the Pulp Factory Awards in the Best Novel category. Now go grab a copy and join us.