Saturday, April 20, 2013


(A graphic novel.)
Script by Paul Storrie
Art by Rob Davis
Letters by Michael Larson
Redbud Studio
96 black and white pages

Thanks to modern technology, we live in an age where unfulfilled dreams of the past have a new chance of being realized by creators.  Such is this case with this marvelous graphic novel which first saw the light of day several decades ago as a four issue mini series from Caliber Press.  In his introduction, writer Paul Storrie, relates the start and go problems the series had and how everyone involved was frustrated that it didn’t materialize as well as they had all hoped.  A series of accidents forced a change of art teams and in the end, though completed, the project left the team unsatisfied.

And so for over twenty years Storrie lived with an itch he just couldn’t scratch; until print-on-demand arrived on the scene.  He slowly began to realize it just might be possible to redo the book.  But this time collected as a one-shot graphic novel and so approached artist Rob Davis with the idea.  Davis agreed to help out. Over the past five years Davis worked meticulously from old original art or, when such was not available, drawing entire new pages all to make the book look and read as it was always intended.  Storrie credits him with doing the “heavy-lifting” and never giving up on the task.  This reader is damn glad he didn’t.

The tale takes place many years after both Robin and his Maid Marian have passed away as has King Richard.  Now John sits on the throne of England.  Unlike his brother, John he is a cruel and petty despot and inflicts burdensome taxes on the people that will forever keep them in abject poverty.  When the new Sheriff of Nothingham, on orders from John, attempts to hang the former outlaw, John Little, at a May Day celebration, a mysterious archer appears to save the old freedom fighter and soon word through the greenwoods spreads that the “ghost” of Robin Hood has returned.

In truth it is Robin and Marian’s only child, the lovely Robyn who born in a convent and then sent to live with her uncle, Will Scarlett, after Marian death.  She has returned to Sherwood to take up her father’s cause, to reassemble those of his loyal men who remain, ala Little John and Friar Tuck and to add a few new fighters such as Little John’s boisterous son, Thom Little.  Storrie’s fiction is set against a historically authentic background which makes it all the more entertaining.  The politics of the time play a part throughout the action as does a very complex mystery surrounding the villain responsible for Robin and Marian’s destruction.  He brings vibrant life to old and new characters and gives a timeless legend a fresh infusion of action adventure that made this a pleasure to read.

Whereas the art by Rob Davis is equally up to task of capturing these beloved heroes.  Davis’s research in clothing and armament is impeccable and his deft hand at portraying facial emotions is second to none in the graphic world.  In fact there is a sweeping, grandiose feel to his layouts that is reminiscent of the great Hal Foster’s work on Prince Valiant.  It is all too clear Davis has a true fondness for this classic and he has returned to it on several occasions providing gorgeous interior illustrations for Airship 27 Productions’ Robin Hood pulp book series.

We have only one critique and it is clear that this singular sour note was beyond the control of the creators.  Upon finishing “Robyn of Sherwood,” several major plot lines were left unfinished, including Robyn’s quest to avenge herself on the culprit responsible for her parent’s murders.  It is obvious those threads were to have been addressed in future volumes had the series continued at Caliber.  Now that it has been reborn in this stylish new format, maybe some day Misters Storrie and Davis will find their way back to Sherwood Forest and the beautiful Robyn to spin those untold escapades.  As we said at the start of this review, in this day and age, anything is possible.

Finally, self-published independent gems like “Robyn of Sherwood,” can only be obtained in one of two ways; either from the creators if you are fortunate enough to cross their paths at a comic con or can be ordered directly from the printers at Indy Planet.
(See the link above.)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Vol II – Cold Wars
By Michael Panush
Curiosity Quills Press
217 pages

One of the most enjoyable aspects of New Pulp Fiction has been the creation of memorable new heroes by today’s pre-eminent pulp writers.   Derrick Ferguson has given us Dillon and Mongrel to name a few.  Barry Reese has created a bunch of awesome characters, the most recognizable being the Rook and Lazarus Gray. And the list goes on and on.  Which is why this reviewer has become so enamored with Michael Panush’s series, STEIN AND CANDLE : Detective Agency which features two of the most original new pulp heroes ever to grace a page of purple prose.

Mort Candle is an ex-Army sergeant tough-guy private eye who is parts Sam Spade and Mike Hammer.  Candle’s fist often speak louder than his words.  His partner is a teenage boy named Weatherby Stein, a German youth whose parents were killed by the Nazis.  Weatherby’s father was one of the world’s leading authorities on the occult and Weatherby was raised studying arcane lore thus making him, even at a young age, an expert in the dark arts.  Thus this duo travels the post World War II globe tackling all manner of bizarre adventures.  This is the second volume of their cases and like the first is jammed packed with memorable scenes that assure Stein and Candle a reserved niche in the halls of New Pulp Fiction heroes.

“Tiki Terror,” has the guys flying to Honolulu, Hawaii to solve a bizarre murder of a hotel magnate who was apparently eaten by sharks in his high-rise office far from the sea. While on the island, Weatherby is reunited with his older sister, Selena, a college student studying anthropology.

“Crimson Catch” takes our duo to the mysterious New England fishing town of Innsmouth where they cross paths with Lovecraft monsters from the deep.  Panush audaciously swipes the plot from “A Fist Full of Dollars,” having Candle play the part of the instigator pitting two occult clans of fishmen against each other.

With “Mort Candle’s War,” Panush continues the origin saga began in the first volume returning back to the Black Forest where Sgt. Mort Candle and his squad of Screaming Eagles fight a desperate battle to save young Weatherby Stein and deliver safely to General Patton’s Third Army.  Great combat sequences reminiscent of DC Comic’s old Sgt.Rock series.

In “Pharoah’s Palace,” Mort and Weatherby uncover an ancient Egyptian mystic operating a casino on Los Vegas and team up with legendary hero, Doc Dearborn and his daughter, Evelyn, to combat this ancient evil.

The fifth tale is called “The Hallow,” and has our heroes visiting rural Appalachia to rescue a miner’s daughter kidnapped by a coven of witches.  But before they can formulate an effective strategy, the witches snatch Weatherby and its left to Mort to rescue his young partner with the aid of a con artist turned preacher man.

“Business Proposition,” picks up on the episodic origin story of how the gruff former army sergeant and the special trained teenager hook up again in Brooklyn after the war and what leads them to form their partnerships as detectives who specialize in the bizarre. Easily our favorite tale in this collection.

Finally the book wraps with “Crypt Chasers,” a high-balling confrontation between Weatherby and malevolent distant relative who has returned from the dead and plans on unleashing his particular brand of sadism on the modern world.  Panush leaves the story open ended, having created what looks to be a recurring arch-enemy for our duo.  Making us all the more anxious to dig into the next volume of this terrific series.

We’d also like to applaud Curiosity Quills Press for a gorgeous design package here, from a beautiful cover to fitting interior illustrations that truly enhance each story.  “Stein and Candle Vol II Cold Wars” is a fantastic, thoroughly enjoyable book we cannot recommend strongly enough.  If you like New Pulp Fiction, Stein and Candle are you kind of heroes.  Move over Dillon and the Rook, you’ve got company.

Sunday, April 07, 2013


An Isaac Bell Adventure
By Justin Scott (& Clive Cussler)
Berkley Novel
434 pages

After four fast moving thrillers which had turn of the century Van Dorn ace detective Isaac Bell pursuing terrorists and spies aboard battleships and overland on America’s rails, this fifth outing sends him soaring through the clouds with history’s first daring young men and women in their flying machines.

It is 1909 and San Francisco publisher, Preston Whiteway, is sponsoring the first ever cross continental air race from New York to San Francisco with the winner getting a prize of  $50,000.  Whiteway’s motives aren’t all altruistic as he has become enamored with the female aviatrix, Josephine Frost whom he has christened The Sweetheart of the Air.  But there is a major wrinkle in Whiteway’s plans.  Josephine’s husband, Harry Frost, a self-made millionaire, is wanted for the murder of her aircraft’s designer, Marco Celere.  Frost discovered his wife and her flying mentor were having an affair and after shooting the Italian, vows to do the same to Josephine.

Whiteway hires the Van Dorn agency to hunt down Harry Frost and bring him to justice at the same time protecting Josephine during the race.  The man put in charge is Isaac Bell, the Van Dorn’s best detective.  From the start, Bell’s own instincts warn him that the entire affair is skewered.  Celere’s body was never recovered from the woods of upstate New York where he was supposedly shot by the irate Frost.  Authorities dismiss this lack of a corpse telling Bell it most likely fell into the river beneath the ledge where the body fell and most likely washed away into the wilderness to become fodder for wild animals.   But Bell doesn’t like loose ends.  The entire shooting incident continues to plague his thoughts all the while he is following Josephine and the other half-dozen fliers from around the world all vying for the Whiteway prize.

When several airplanes are purposely sabotaged during the early stages of the race, Bell and his men begin to realize they have a second foe on their hands.  But who is it and what is this mysterious agent’s objective in ruining the air race?  In the end, Bell realizes he only hopes of successfully protecting Mrs. Frost is that he pilot his own aircraft and shadow her throughout the race from in the air. 

Once again, Justin Scott delivers a fantastic, brilliantly researched adventure that perfectly captures the sense of wonder and awe as the miracle of aviation arrived bringing it with it unimaginable potential, both good and bad, for the future of America and the world.  Here are flimsy contraptions made of balsa wood, painted canvas and untested engines all soaring on the courage of a handful of daring pioneers who reached for the heavens and took the rest of us along for the ride.  If you like action and adventure set against authentic, historical backgrounds, you cannot do any better than the Isaac Bell series by Justin Scott.  Sure, Clive Cussler’s logo is plastered over ever title, but save for the initial book, Justin Scott is the author and deserves all the praise we can give him.  Please keep’em flying, Mr. Scott and we’ll keep reading them.