Monday, June 29, 2020


By Loren D. Estleman
Forge Books
271 pgs

There are writers who are so damn dependable, you can pick up anything they’ve done and know before even opening the cover you are going to be entertained to the max. One such pulp scribe, is Loren D. Estleman. Though known primarily for his mysteries, Estleman is also highly regarded for his down to earth, folksy westerns. His knowledge of history is spot on and as wild and colorful as his western characters may be, they always appear on a realistic stage to tell their tales.

Such is the case with this wildly insane comedy from 2015. Cowboys turned gunslingers, Randy Locke and Frank Farmer are feuding but neither can remember why. The only thing they know is each wants to shoot the other dead. And thus begins this chase after one another that goes from the 1880s up through the start of the new century. From all over the west, to Barbary Coast of California, to the Oklahoma Territories, the gold fields of Alaska and the oil fields of Texas. It is a journey both men will endure numerous hardships and deprivations to eventually satiate their obsessive goal; to kill the other in a fair gunfight.

If you think the plot is outlandish, you are correct but Estleman’s way with the times, the birth of a nation and the people who parented it are part of the magic he imbues in Randy and Frank. In them is the good and bad in all of us, fighting to achieve even a modicum of purpose in this mystery we call life. “The Long High Noon” is one of the most unforgettable books we’ve ever read. If you like originality, so will you. Count on it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020


By Mark Allen Vann
Xepico Press
147 pgs

The real pleasure of writing this blog is discovering talented New Pulp writers like Mark Allen Vann. This, his first book, is a collection of eight stories all debuting a new pulp hero created from the familiar tropes of the classics from the 30s and 40s. In these pages the reader will find a Warrior Prince, Victorian Agent, Mentalist, Adventurer, Witch Hunter, Sky Pirate, Masked Vigilante and of course an Occult Detective.

Vann, in his insightful afterwards to the collections, makes no apologies for using those tried and true hero molds as he was raised on the super-charged tales of Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, Johnston McCauley and Walter Gibson, among so many others. Rather, he is wise enough to put his own personal twist to each character and very effectively makes them new and fresh. No small achievement, believe us. We’ve seen lots of other young writers attempt such only to fail miserable with their copycat inventions.

Corr maybe related to Conan, but except for swinging a mean sword and being one hell of a bruiser, that’s where the similarities part ways. Alistair Synne may have gone to school with Solomon Kane, but he clearly graduated with his own peculiar skills, including to flintlock pistols that fire bits of his soul every time he shoots them. Then there is the beautiful steampunk sky pirate, Red d Havick, captain of the Scarlet Mistress adventuring on a world where massive islands float.

We would be hard pressed to name a favorite among the eight action packed tales in this collection. What we will say is, all of Vann’s heroes totally deserve lots more stories; each is that much fun and exciting to follow. This is one of the most audacious new pulp debuts in a long time and if Vann is thinking of a sequel, we’d really like to see his take on a western. Bottom line Mark Allen Vann is a name you will soon be hearing a whole lot more and that, dear readers, is a wonderful thing. Count on it.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

By Warren Murphy and Gerald Welch
Destroyer Books
454 pgs.

In our last review, we were reminded how Pinnacle books appeared on the scene shortly after we came home from Vietnam in 1968. They released two paperback pulp series; The Executioner by Don Pendleton and Created – The Destroyer by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy. As we discussed Mack Bolan last time, with this review we’re going to take a look at a new spin-off series that sprang from the elements of the Destroyer saga. But first, let’s give you some background.

The Destroyer novels were about a U.S. government agent named Remo Williams. The hero first appears as a Newark cop framed for a crime and sentenced to death. His death is faked by the government so he can be trained as an assassin for CURE, a secret organization set up by President Kennedy to defend the country by working outside the law. The head of CURE is Harold W. Smith, a man selected by the President not only for his brilliant mind but also because of his integrity. Remo’s trainer father-figure is Chiun, a deadly assassin and the last Master of Sinanju, a Korean based martial art far superior than any other such fighting techniques.

Unlike the realism of the Mack Bolan adventures, the tales of Remo and Chiun were outlandish escapades bordering on fantasy. Remo could dodge bullets and Chiun walked on water. This was pulp exaggeration to the max and the books never took themselves seriously. They were spot-on satires jabbing at political tomfoolery under the thin veneer of action stories. In time, Sapir and Murphy parted ways and ghost-writers were brought on to continue the series which would run to 150 books. There was even a movie which starred Fred Ward as Remo and Joel Grey as Chuin. Though a box-office bomb, it struck a nerve with fans and remains a cult classic.

Eventually Pinnacle sold the series to Tor books. Sapir passed away in 1987 and the rights reverted back solely to Murphy. Once he had control of his creation, Murphy set about expanding the Destroyer concept and began working with young writers to assist him in launching both a new Destroyer series continuing the exploits of Remo and Chuin, but along with young writer Gerald Welch, he produced a spin-off titled Legacy which would introduce the world to Remo’s two children, Stone Smith and his half-sister Freya. After Murphy’s passing in 2015, Welch continued to sibling stories maintaining the same style and effervescences associated with the characters.

Having read and enjoyed those early Destroyer paperbacks, we were actually taken by surprise upon receiving “Legacy – Omnibus” as we had no idea that series had been revived and evolved in this exciting new version. The giant sized omnibus collects the first three Legacy titles, “Forgotten Son,” “The Killing Fields,” and “Overload.” All are terrific and expand upon the new characters from Stone and Freya to their grandfather, “Sunny Joe Roam.” It also fleshes out an historical back-story about Sinanju and its splinter group, an actual Native American tribe living on a reservation in Arizona. Now if that isn’t wonky pulp fare, we don’t know what is. “Legacy – Omnibus” is a grand introduction to the new world of The Destroyer and not only has those first opening chapters but is packed with bonus “extras” that enrich the entire reading experience. It is an awesome package any pulp fan would treasure. It now has a special place in our own library. If like this reviewer, you are an old fan of the series, then this is cause for celebration, The Destoryer(s) is back!

Sunday, June 07, 2020

ONE MAN ARMY - The Action Paperback Art of Gil Cohen

The Action Paperback Art of Gil Cohen
Edited by Robert Deis & Wyatt Doyle
# new texture book
134 pgs.

We came home to civilian life in the summer of 1968, leaving Vietnam far behind. We were all of 21 at the time and the future seemed one giant mystery. Several months later, while browsing a paperback spinner rack, we discovered two titles published by a new outfit calling itself Pinnacle Books. One was called The Destroyer and written by the team of Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy; the other The Executioner written by Don Pendleton. Upon reading both, we came to the conclusion that they were in fact a new, modern version of the pulps. One told the tale of a super-spy with crazy martial arts skill. It was as over the top as any of the original pulp heroes from the 30s and 40s.

Now the Executioner was a bit more grounded in the real world. It told the story of an American soldier named Mack Bolan sent home from Vietnam to bury his family; presumably killed by his own father. The story, as Bolan would learn, dealth with the old man’s outrage upon learning his daughter, in order to pay off a debt to the local mob, was turned into a prostitute. Bolan senior couldn’t deal with the disgrace and so shot her, his wife and then turned the gun on himself. That was the tragedy the weary soldier was confronted with. So why was he fighting a war in a foreign land when America had its own savages to battle? In the end, Bolan goes AWOL and swears a vendetta against the Mafia and all such criminal organizations. Using the skills Uncle Sam taught him, Bolan launches a one man war and operating outside the law, he become the mob’s worst nightmare.

With each new book in the series, Bolan, nicknamed the Executioner, continued to rack up his body count laying waste to every single mob family in the country. And as he did so, his popularity among the readership grew in leaps and bounds. The appeal of this lone wolf hero unencumbered by the law was strong and Pinnacle realized it had a huge winner on its hands. In fact Bolan’s exploits were so popular they soon spawned spin-off series, ala Able Team, U.S. based agents getting together under Bolan’s direction, and Phoenix Force, another squad created and assembled to take on foreign threats to the USA. And like the Executioner, they too were immensely successful. Eventually Harlequin Books would buy out the Mack Bolan series and they are still published to this day.

One of the elements that contributed in great part to all this success were the beautiful, action orientated painted covers. Like the old classic pulps, they featured the hero battling for his life against tremendous odds, protecting a beautiful sexy gal, or going it alone deep in enemy territory. Although other talented MAM artists, ala George Gross, contributed artwork, in 1972 Pinnacle hired Gil Cohen to take the reins. He would be involved with both Mack Bolan and then the Phoenix Force for the next fifteen years turning in his last Bolan assignment in 1987.

Now MAM historians Bob Deis and Wyatt Dolye have produced a truly gorgeous book collecting so many of these astounding paintings. Each is a visually dramatic scene representing the action within the paperback’s pages. Cohen has an uncanny ability to freeze a kinetic moment but without losing the power it contains. That is the hallmark of a great illustrator. Another aspect of all Deis and Doyle volumes is their sharing the subject’s memoirs through recorded interviews. Reading Cohen’s own thoughts about Mack Bolan and his look was fascinating. In retrospect, we found his own depiction of the Executioner, especially around the eyes, reminded us a great deal of one-time James Bond, actor George Lazenby. We imagine each reader had his own mental casting for the role.

Another element to pay close attention to is Cohen’s authentic aircraft throughout the book. Since leaving MAMs and paperbacks behind, he has become one of the leading aviation artists in the world today. All in all, this is as yet another true artistic treasure that will highlight any pulp reference library, including yours. A sincere thanks to Deis and Doyle. Please, keep’em coming, fellahs. We’re the richer for them.