Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Swampmaster #02 - Hell on Earth

“Hell on Earth” is the second novel in Jake Spencer’s (real name Jerome Preisler) post-apocalyptic trilogy ‘Swampmaster’ and was released by Diamond in 1992. Often compared to the ‘Mutants Amok’ series by David Bischoff (under house name Mark Grant), ‘Swampmaster’ is a senseless no-brainer, complete with mad scientists, Native American commandos and tumor covered mutants waging war in the Florida Everglades. It’s boneheaded Neanderthal action that makes very little sense to the reader…and author. But it exists, and by that fact alone I feel obligated to read and review it for the men’s action and adventure fans.

The series debut, “Swampmaster”, explained that nuclear war has devastated what was once the US. Since then, civilization as we know it has changed dramatically. By 2009, the country has been fragmented and now consists of 16 states that have unified to form The National Front (TNF). This TNF union is tyrannical and backed by big military. To live in one of these states is to ultimately sacrifice freedom and liberty; slavery and labor for food and shelter. While this is an umbrella theme through the series, the trilogy only focuses on Florida’s coastline and a small pocket of resistance led by a Seminole martial artist named John Firecloud…or Swampmaster depending on scene and page.

In the first novel Firecloud liberates a train carrying circus performers and uses the passengers as allies in his battle against The National Front in St. Augustine. “Hell on Earth” picks up a month or two later with Firecloud, acrobatic twins The Marcuses, Zeno and love interest Saralyn ambushing a convoy of heavily armed TNF troopers in the Everglades. In one outrageous scene, the Marcus twins handspring across the battlefield to draw fire away from Firecloud’s crew. Unbelievable. In another early scene a Dodge Colt station wagon emerges through the jungle carrying a carload of mutants dressed as clowns and wearing women’s wigs. These “White Trash” mutants are covered in tumors and festering sores and serve as slave mercenaries by TNF. It is this sort of stuff that carries “Swampmaster” into the realms of the ridiculous. I’m not sure if it propels the action or unintentionally serves as a distraction.

The premise for “Hell on Earth” is the TNF are setting up a new military compound off of Long Pine Key called Life Harvest. This is a laboratory sitting on an enormous oil well platform in the Gulf of Mexico. There’s a Dr. Guderian there who is playing mad scientist and allowing soldiers to remotely control mutants through brainwaves. Firecloud’s white stepbrother Bill Coonen is featured as a hired mercenary for TNF and proves to be a worthy opponent. Senior leader Groll, a recurring vile villain from the series’ opener, is in charge of the operation and routinely curses and kills his own men to show superiority while playing video games like ‘Hitler’s Legacy’ and ‘Auschwitz’. Opposing the over-the-top antagonists is the likable good guys. There’s Firecloud’s band and a cool little shopkeeper named Joe that just wants to help people.

Swampmaster learns of the existence of Life Harvest and leads The Marcuses and Saralyn in a high-speed assault featuring armed boats and jet skis. Both Saralyn and Swampmaster get captured and taken back to Life Harvest for the obligatory torture sessions. After strenuous and brutal exercises, Swampmaster is led to an arena where he must battle a seven-foot mutant that is controlled by Groll remotely. Saralyn attempts to free herself simultaneously as The Marcuses attempt to blow up the platform. It’s a climactic and awarding finale that sees all guns blazing in a rescue attempt, sea battle and a surprise twist that reveals itself to the shock of the reader. All of these elements play an important role in the book’s upgraded quality when compared to its predecessor. While certainly not top-tier literary fiction, “Hell on Earth” is enjoyable and rescues the series from the ‘Mutants Amok’ and ‘Roadblaster’ occupied cellar.