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 fiancĂ©e, 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.