Friday, October 24, 2008

PULP HEROES - More Than Mortal

PULP HEROES – More Than Mortal
By Wayne Reinagel
Knightraven Studios
413 pages

I’m not a big fan of pastiches; writing a thinly disguised character based on another popular figure. People have been doing it for years when frustrated at not being able to obtain the rights to one iconic hero or another. There have been pastiches of every famous fictional hero from Sherlock Holmes to Tarzan and Flash Gordon. It is clear that there is an obsessive need that compels these writers and it won’t be denied. Such is the case with Wayne Reinagel’s massive tome that pays homage to great classic pulp heroes of the 1930s and throws in a few Victorian figures for good measure. In doing so he has written the Gone With The Wind of all pulp pastiches, an monumental achievement envisioned in the mind of a truly devoted fan.

What if Doc Savage, the Shadow, the Spider and the Avenger, arguably the most popular pulp heroes ever created, were to team up for one epic adventure that would test all their amazing powers and skills? It was this pulp fanboy dream that Reinagel bravely set out to write and make a reality. From page one of this gargantuan saga we meet Doc Titan, the Darkness, the Scorpion and the Guardian, and their myriads aids and colleagues as they find themselves under attack from mysterious and lethal forces. Within hours, all of them are set upon by gun wielding armies of gangsters in the employ of foreign agents. Using their honed fighting skills, our heroes defeat their enemies but not without suffering personal loses amongst their ranks.

The year is 1945 and World War II is quickly reaching a climax that will determine the fate of mankind. It comes as no great surprise to our band of heroes that the source of the villainy they are combating leads to a megalomaniac Nazis agent known as the Black Skull and his Russian ally, one Victor Kaine, whom Doc Titan believes to be his illegitimate son. Where this book works so marvelously is how the characters interact with each other throughout the story. Where Doc and the Guardian are adverse to violence and believe in the possibilities of criminal rehabilitation, not so the blood thirsty Scorpion and his gun-toting pal, the Darkness. Their brand of justice is the final kind dispensed from the barrels of smoking .45 automatics. With such different modus operandi you’d except some clash of personalities and that’s what we get. But it is laced with a sarcastic dark humor that allows each hero to compromise his position and work with his peers towards one common objective, the salvation of democracy and the destruction of the Third Reich.

Now the only critique here is the same that applies to all pastiches. If you aren’t familiar with the originals upon which these clones are based, you are simply not going to have a clue as to what is going on here and or who the hell all these folks are. That’s a big Achilles to any book and it’s unavoidable. So, if you aren’t familiar with the Shadow, Doc Savage or the others, I would strongly recommend you find some decent reprints and discover the fun of pulps. You’ll be happy you did. Then come back to this truly amazing book and buckle up for the ride of your life. This book is a roller-coaster of action adventure that packs more thrills than any other five modern thrillers combined. It’s a grand literary achievement and I tip my fedora to Mr. Reinagle for pulling it off so magnificently. Pulp enthusiasts are going to adore this book.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


(A Novel of World War II)
By Patrick Culhane
A William Morrow Book
331 pages

Life aboard a Navy ship in the South Pacific during World War II was never a picnic but for the men of the Liberty Hill Victory, it is ten times more dangerous. Their newly launched ship carries tons of live ammunition intended for the fighting U.S. forces going toe to toe with Japanese troops along a string of tiny islands none of the crew had ever heard of before Pearl Harbor. And if their cargo of bombs and bullets wasn’t enough of a threat to their survival, the Liberty Hill Victory also has the dubious distinction of being one of the first integrated ships to sail into harm’s way.

Set in 1943, RED SKY IN MORNING, follows young ensign Peter Maxwell, a choir director form Iowa, who signs on to the newly christened ship along with four buddies unaware that ninety percent of the crew are black. No sooner is this discovered than Maxwell and his pals meet the skipper, Captain Egan, a bigoted seadog who despises snot-nosed college boys as much as blacks. Save for the five officers and four petty officers, the entire crew is made up of mostly illiterate young negroes eager to defend a country that considers them second-class citizens. While abhorring the senseless ignorance of racism, Maxwell is afraid that with the added nature of their cargo, those tensions will create a recipe for disaster.

Fortunately one of the black seamen is a former Chicago Police Detective named Ulysses Grant Washington, Sarge to his friends. Both he and Maxwell are musicians and share a passion for jazz. It is this bond that brings them together and becomes the foundation upon which Maxwell and his friends hope to create an atmosphere of cooperation and teamwork that will keep the Liberty Hill Victory on an even and steady course.

Things are going well until they encounter a fierce ocean storm and are separated from their convoy escort and left vulnerable in hostile waters. Then the body of one of the white officers is discovered in the ship’s bowels, his throat slashed. Captain Egan orders Maxwell to investigate and find the killer, convinced it is one of the crew. Realizing he is in way over his head, the young Lieutenant (jg), persuades Sarge to take over the investigation as he is the only man on board with any real experience in such grisly matters.

Inadvertently the two begin stirring up racial tensions anew as old feelings of mistrust rise to the surface amongst passionate accusations and denials. And while they methodically set about unraveling their murder mystery, the Liberty Hill Victory is spotted by enemy fighter planes and is soon under attack. As Jap zeroes descend on them with claws of hot lead, any single hit capable of igniting their floating powder keg, a killer roams the decks ready to strike again to protect his identity.

Max Allan Collins, writing as Patrick Culhane, expertly weaves history, social mores and a gripping mystery into a suspenseful story that never lets up. His characters truly evoke a different time and place when patriotism and self-sacrifice for God and country were the norm. They are also human, with faults and fears, each caught up in a war they never asked for, but are too stubborn and brave to flee from. RED SKY IN MORNING is a classic war drama that is rich in its authenticity and emotional honesty.

As a post-war baby-boomer myself, I often listened to my late father’s stories of his years in the South Pacific as an anti-aircraft artilleryman. I know he would have loved this book as much as I did.