Friday, November 19, 2021

DEAD JACK and The Old Gods

 

DEAD JACK and The OLD GODS

By James Aquilone

Homunculous House

255 pgs

Unlike the overwhelming majority of our colleagues in the pulp community, we have never been fans of writer H.P. Lovecraft. His elaborate myth of the Cthulu and the Old Gods always seemed too grandiose a concept to be effective as good old fashion, gut wrenching horror. Gives us a creepy Edgar Alan Poe tale anytime. Obviously we are the minority and over the years have had to endure countless stories wherein various popular occult detectives battled the cosmic deities with their giant batwings and elephant snouts ad infinitum. Everyone one of those left us bored silly.

Which brings us to James Aquilone’s third Dead Jack adventure in which, you guessed it, our cynical Zombie detective and his Pillsbury Doughboy homunculus pal Oswald, must save the world of Pandemonium from the Ancient Gods. Apparently someone has gotten their hands on the dark magic tome known as the Necronomicon and is all set to open up a dimensional portal by which Cthulu and company will make their appearance. At this point we were ready to stifle a yawn. That never happened in this instance is due to Aquilone’s brilliant solution to the whole Lovecratian mythos; make it funny. Which is exactly what does work.

Amidst their quest for the book, Dead Jack and Oswald are attempting to work out some very serious relationship issues left over from their last adventure. It seems Oswald has swallowed a magical Jupiter Stone which gives him amazing powers. Though unwilling to admit it, Dead Jack is envious. Succumbing to that emotion, he begins to verbally abuse his little buddy to the point they seek out couples-therapy. Somewhere in the middle of this merging of insane plots, it suddenly dawned on us who the two of them brought to mind. Jack and Oswald are the horror/fantasy versions of the classic Hollywood comedy team of Bad Abbott and Lou Costello. It’s all there, from their sniping attitudes towards each other in the midst of danger, to the underlying true sense of friendship and loyalty.

All of which plays itself out by the book’s cataclysmic no-holds-barred battle between their unified avatar and the alien God of Doom. Honestly, Aquilone surprised us again with another entry twice as much fun as the first two. With Dead Jack, things are never dull for a second. Oh, and before we forget, the writer offers up two bonus short tales that are mini gems. The hardest part of reading a Dead Jack novel is reaching the end and having to wait for more. Now that’s cruel.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

MYSTERY AT WINCHESTER HOUSE

 

MYSTERY AT WINCHESTER HOUSE

(A Hollywood Cowboy Detectives Mystery)

By Darryle Purcell

A Buckskin Edition Western

163 pgs

This is the twentieth offering in this fanciful series starring many of the classic movie cowboy stars of the 30s and 40s. The primary characters featured throughout most of the adventures are Sean Curly Woods, public relations flack for Republic Pictures, Nick Danby a studio chauffeur and younger brother to Excecutive Producer Rick Danby and  one-time cinema western hero, Hoot Gibson. The three often work as the studio’s trouble-shooters heading off whatever problems might arise to plague a particular production.

In this outing, the studio has rented the supposedly haunted Winchester Mansion in which to film their new Man of the Mist cliffhanger starring the once Singing Cowboy, actor Dick Foran. A few days before shooting is to begin, the Mr. Danby receives a threatening note warning of disaster should Republic go ahead with their filming at that locale. Undaunted, Danby sends his Hollywood Cowboy Detectives to oversee the production. Which is when Curly is contacted by a ghost from the future. In fact it is the ghost of Dick Foran. Considering his past experiences, Curly takes this appiration in stride though he has a bit of trouble accepting the fact that ghosts can travel through time.

Foran’s ghost not only adds his own warnings but tells Curly the recent Winchester hauntings have become infested with alien beings from another dimension. See what we mean by complicated. Curly does his best to keep his head above water, while vainly relating these facts to Nick and Hoot who are never far away from a fresh bottle of beer.

Purcell’s imagination is unique to say the least and in this caper he pulls out all the stops. He even has a lovely young Dolores Cansino show up to add some exotic loveliness to the weird goings on. Needless to say, but the time our three roustabouts get to the bottom of things, they are knee deep not only in ghosts and monsters, but also a sinister Nazis plot to employ powerful occult forces to attack America. Did we say this one has it all, including the kitchen sink?  “Mystery at Winchester House” is a madcap fun ride with a colorful cast and is chock full of non-stop action. Once again Purcell hits the bullseye square.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

EPITAPH - A Novel of The O.K. Corral

 

EPITAPH

A Novel of The O.K. Corral

By Mary Doria Russell

ECCO books

577 pgs

All nations have their cultural myths. Fantastic stories from their histories that helped define their national personas. In the Scandinavian countries it was the myths of the Norse Gods that inspired the Vikings. Great Britain was founded on the tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table whereas in America, the post Civil War era of the Wild West would forever shape our future character. And no single event from that period was more poignant in myth-making that the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

From books to movies, that thirty second gun battle on a dusty street in Tombstone, Arizona on Oct 26, 1881 has continued to spellbind us a hundred and forty years later. In her long and brilliantly written novel, Mary Doria Russell paints an all encompassing narrative of both the characters and the tumultuous times in which they lived. Her primary character through most of the tale isn’t either the Earps or their Cow Boy enemies, but one Josephine Sarah Marcus who would eventually become Mrs. Wyatt Earp.

Born in 1862, Josephine, called Sadie by her Jewish immigrant parents, grew up in Brooklyn and then San Francisco where the family moved when she was a teen. Her father was a baker and she learned the skill from him. Still Sadie had an obsession with the stage and at the age of 16 ran away with a theater group. It toured hundreds of cities throughout the west and ultimately landed her in Tombstone where she soon became the mistress of the Irish Town Sheriff, Johnny Behan.

In reading “Epitaph” we were constantly reminded of scenes from the wonderful film “Tombstone” which starred Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday. Yet Russell’s story rips away the sanitized Hollywood version for a more historically accurate portrayal of the Earp wives to include Sadie. She also delves into the psychological backgrounds of Wyatt, a quiet solitary figure, and the tragic melancholy Doc, a dentist turned gunfighter. In doing so she fills in so many gaps no mere two hour movie could ever reveal and offers up a very real, haunting story. One we thoroughly enjoyed and won’t soon forget.

Friday, October 15, 2021

THE NINE NATIONS - Book One - The Sliding World

 

THE NINE NATIONS

Book One – The Sliding World

By Jim Beard

A Becky Books Production

192 pgs

The truth is we are not big fantasy readers. Oh sure, being involved with pulpdom, we’ve read our share of Robert E. Howard’s Conan and Charles Saunders African mythology books but not a whole lot more. In fact, we tend to avoid the genre these days in the place of masked avengers and noir mysteries. So why this one? Well, in all honesty because the author is someone of unusual talent whose past efforts have always entertained us. We opted to give it a go.

At the start of the tale, we learn that things are rather bleak in the world of the Nine Nations. Apparently the land mass upon which the varied countries are situated is actually sliding over the edge of a bottomless abyss. It’s as if Mother Nature has decided to destroy human kind and nothing can stop this slide to oblivion. Amidst this dismal predicament, something happens in the land of Complin that predicates an unusual quest. A notorious thief has stolen a pendant that is somehow mystically connected to the land and its retrieval becomes King Green’s singular goal. To that end he assigns his General Ketch to put together a small group of warriors and take the Warrior’s Road through other nations on a quest to find the pendant.

Ketch chooses an odd assortment of male mercenaries and a group of fierce maiden Horse Wardens of Uzzlin.  As this is transpiring, the King orders his chief law enforcer, High Warrant Jon Torck to accompany a magician named Stoan and a separate mission. It is the King’s belief that the mage may be able to divine a way to end the slide and save civilization. Torck, who abhors any kind of idol worship and mumbo-jumbo, is reluctant but acquiesces due to his staunch loyalty. Their journey leads them to the mysterious uninhabited zone known as the Graylands where nothing lives; not animal, vegetation or human. There, Torck will meet his destiny head on.

As ever, Jim Beard has woven a totally original story unlike any other sword and sorcery adventure. It is filled with intriguing, complex characters and the pace is relentless from beginning to end. Oh sure, there are the required fantasy elements, but it is how he weaves them into his narrative that we found refreshing. Like all good sagas, Book One ends on a cliffhanger and we are looking forward to it with relish. Don’t let us down now, Mr. Beard. We’re having too much fun.

Friday, October 08, 2021

Derrick Ferguson's DILLON - The Odd Jobs

 

Derrick Ferguson’s
DILLON The Odd Jobs

Edited by Derrick Ferguson, Ernest Russell, Michael Hintze, HC Playa

Pro-Se Press

173 pgs

Created by the late Derrick Ferguson, the modern day adventurer known as Dillon was one of the very first black pulp heroes to arrive on the New Pulp scene. Over the past decade Ferguson gave us lots of books, short stories and even a comic strip starring his stalwart hero. In the process, as most writers do, he created lots of amazing supporting characters along the way while building up a huge and devoted fan base. Thus it was only logically when one day he openly invited his writing colleagues to contribute stories to Dillon’s world. Four daring, and super talented scribes accepted the challenge and this wonderful book is the result of their efforts.

“Dillon and the City of Stone,” by Erik Fromme is the longest tale in the collection and a really terrific adventure. Fromme’s handling of Dillon is wonderful as he clearly knows the character and his nuances and is obviously having a great deal of fun with this story about Dillon’s running off to a small Mexican village for a little R & R. Isn’t often the globe trotting hero gets to simply chill with good, decent people living dull, unexciting lives. Right. Of course this idyllic vacation is interrupted when several of the village’s women and children up weird looking night raiders and carried off into the surrounding jungles. All of which leads Dillon and two brave villagers to a trail that will take them into a long lost underground city. Oh yeah, this Dillon pulp all the way.

Up next is “Dire Learning” by Russ Anderson Jr. reintroduces us to Mrs. Allie Pierri and her teenage son, Shon. Allie works for as an agent for the French Ministry of Defense and Shon, having been trained from an early age, often assist on her mission. They first appeared in the Dillon comic strip “Escape From Tosegio” and then had a major part in the book “Dillon and the Pirates of Xonira.” In this outing, Allie disappears while investigating a prestigious French secondary school. Unaware his mother is being held by a former ally turned assassin, Shon manages to get into the school as an exchange student to try and find her. In the end, both of them uncover embezzlement on the part of the Head Mistress while at the same time foiling a political assignation. This is another gem with both teenage hijinks and espionage mixed together well. Shaken, not stirred, Mr. Anderson. Bravo.

In “Dillon and the Sisters of the Machine,” Joel Jenkins picks up our hero Xonira after its bloody civil war hoping to find a little piece and quiet. Instead he’s the target of a self-aware computer calling itself the Great Machine. It unleashes four sexy female Terminator-like killers to eliminate Dillon before he can thwart the Great Machines world domination. It’s James Cameron country and Jenkins does it justice.

“Dillon and the Devil’s Mercy,” is the final tale as written by Mark Bousquet and has Dillon traveling to Zurich, Switzerland to help Idell Creed, the son of his beloved mentor, Eil Creed. There he encounters an ancient Russian myth, a plot to capture rich oil fields and a claustrophobic underwater adventure that would make James Bond proud. All in all a dandy fast paced thriller and marvelous addition to the volume.

“Dillon and the Writer’s Circle” is a look at the contributors’ bios and an informal history of Derrick Ferguson’s career focusing on the creation of his greatest character Dillon. It is a reminder of what we’ve lost with his passing. Though he may no long with us, his Dillon books are still out there. Do yourself a big favor and go read them now. You’ll be happier for it.

Monday, September 27, 2021

SATURN'S CHILD And Other Tales

 

SATURN’S CHILD And Other Tales

By Mark Allen Vann

Xepico Press

211 pages

Writer Mark Allen Vann has the marvelous talent of spinning old familiar genres around until they appear like something totally fresh and new.  He does this to perfection in his latest collection of stories, “Saturn’s Child And Other Tales.” There are a total of seven and each is wonderfully presented with seven new and original heroes battling all manner of villainy.

Saturn’s Child kicks off the collection wherein Vann does a flip on a classic Edgar Rice Burroughs off-world yarn. In this case it is the beautiful Saturn Princess Xian Xenn who, while fleeing assassins, is magical transported to the planet Earth. Specifically Los Vegas in the 70s where she encounters mobsters, berserk bikers and ultimately has a meeting none other than the King. We’ll be nominating this one for a Pulp Factory Award.

Secondly “Bad Medicine at Blackstone Gulch,” is a weird western that introduces us to Marshal Hollister Payne charged with bringing the deadly four Yancy Brothers to Silver City to be judged for their many crimes. Along the way they encounter the ghost of an Indian Shaman set on delivering his own blood-oath vengeance.

“Dented Halos and Dirty Faces.” Angel City was once a thriving metropolis protected by the Justice Squadron. Then the vampire invasion fell upon it and the heroes were defeated. Now the citizens cower in fear every night as the blood suckers seek out their new victims. Private Eye Jana Dhark, the former super-hero Jett, is hired to find a missing teenage girl by her father. But to do so will mean assembling a new team with the courage to enter the Dead Zone and confront an army of the undead.

“They Call Him…Iron Mask” is a really charming twist on the Superman origin, only this time the rocket ship that crash lands in Martha and Elroy’s farm backyard is carrying a humanoid shaped robot with good intentions. What happens next is both amusing and endearing. A story we personally love and will to be another award nomination for sure.

“The Lion of Llanaxa” begins well enough but simply doesn’t deliver by its conclusion. It’s a tale that goes nowhere and thus is the weakest one in the book.

“Through Fog of War” has World War II Navy sailor Colton Kendricks shipwrecked on a strange deserted island somewhere in the South Pacific. What he discovers on that island defies all reason and logic, but proves to be a very good opening chapter to what we hope is more to come.

Finally Vann wraps it all up with “Stalker in the Shadows,” the tale of Rick Mordane who lives in a world where the dead have come back to life. Well at least as visible, interacting ghosts if you will and he’s a private eye better identified as a Poltergeist Negotiator. What a hot looking redhead comes to him saying she’s being stalked by a former lover, Rick finds himself unable to resist her charms even though the case itself has more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese. A really wonky, fun story.

And there you have it, four terrific yarns, two genuine gems and one lackluster affair. Meaning this is another well crafted Xepico Press offering by a writer whose talent is only growing with each new collection. You don’t want to miss it.

 

 

 

Friday, September 24, 2021

MEN'S ADVENTURE QUATERLY Vol 1 # 3

 

MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY

Vol 1 No 3

Edited by Robert Deis & Bill Cunningham

Pulp 2.0

153 pgs

We came home from Vietnam in July of 1968. We were only too happy to return to civilian life and put that last year behind us. By March of 1969 we were working in a shoe factory and attending college at night. Sometime in that month we picked up a paperback novel called “The Executioner – War against The Mafia” by Don Pendleton. It was to be the first in a series from a new publisher named Pinnacle. A few weeks later they released, “The Destroyer” by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy. After reading both of these initial adventures, we had one thought – the pulps were back! After having been a comic book reader since childhood, we eventually picked up some knowledge of those 30s and 40s yellow paged magazines that had entertained folks during the Great Depression. Reading Mack Bolan and Remo Williams, it was only too evident that they were new, modern “pulp” heroes for a new generation.

Sure enough within months, the drugstore racks were overflowing with new “hero” series ala the Death Merchant by Joseph Rosenberger, Piers Anthony’s Judomaster, Marc Olden’s Black Samurai, Paul Kenyon’s The Baroness. It seemed every possible classic pulp genre was covered to even include the occult ala Frank Lauria’s Doctor Orient books. Oh yeah, for the next decade, we readers would be the benefactors of the newest incarnation of pulps, which had morphed from the classic 40s volumes into the MAMs of the 50s and 60s and now the paperback boom of the 70s. We loved the stuff.

Whereas The Executioner books were by far our favorites and we followed them loyally from Pinnacle to Gold Eagle. Even enjoying the spin-off series as they emerged. At one point we actually corresponded with one of the ghost writers on Able Team. In the end we’d amassed well over two hundred paperbacks with name Pendleton painted across the covers before selling the lot in a yard sale to an employee of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire, whose purpose was to divvy them up amongst his co-workers there. So we were delighted they’d found a new and worthy home.

Now Bill Cunningham and Bob Deis have turned their magnificent creative spotlight on The Executioner phenomenon with the third issue of their “Men’s Adventure Quarterly” and it is by far their best issue so far. The volume is jammed packed with not only the history of this amazing ground-breaking series and its creator, but includes several excellent articles and pictorials. The piece on action-adventure writer Chuck Dixon is great and details his own work on such iconic characters and the Punisher and Batman in the comics to his own Levon Cade paperback adventures. There are also several short stories in the same vein such as the over-the-top “The Amputee Vengeance Squad’s Mafia Wipeout” by Jack Tyler. They also feature not one, but two “book bonus” reprints of the first two Executioner novels in their entirety as they appeared in two different MAMs.

As always Cunningham has an artist touch with his beautiful layouts; our favorites being the spread of Gil Cohen cover paintings and further into the issue the reproduction of the first dozen Executioner covers from Pinnacle. Seeing those unleashed a flood of great memories for this reviewer. Linda Pendleton’s memoir of her life with Don relives the early days when Mack Bolan was just an idea that had to be born. Wrap this all up with a little Bettie Page spread and you end up with one of slickest, expertly produced magazine packages ever assembled. Kudos to the Deis – Cunningham team. You boys are 3 for 3 at bat. Now that’s a damn impressive record.