The black exploitation phenomena of the 1970s captivated theater audiences nationwide, so I t's only natural that iconic characters like Shaft, Willie Dynamite and The Mack would influence men's action-adventure fiction. Los Angeles publisher Holloway House had a successful marketing run by introducing African-American characters and culture within the backdrop of the urban 1970s. Along with Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines, Joseph Nazel was among the publisher's most prolific authors.
Nazel authored over 60 literary works ranging from biographies, romance and action-adventure. While serving as an editor for Holloway House, Nazel also edited African-American magazines like The Wave, Players, The Sentinel and Watts Times. But, his work with hard-hitting, violent series' like 'Black Cop' (written under pseudonym Dom Gober), 'My Name is Black' and 'Iceman' catered to men of any color. These were grimy, intense street thrillers that readers historically loved or hated. My first experience with Nazel is the debut installment of 'Iceman' entitled “Billion Dollar Death”. It was released by Holloway in 1974 and features artwork and fonts that are clearly marketed to 'The Executioner' and 'Penetrator' consumers.
First and foremost, kudos to both Holloway and Nazel for including the book's cover scene in the actual narrative. There really is a dueling helicopter fight in the skies over Las Vegas featuring two bikini-clad martial artists and the turtlenecked Iceman himself, Henry Highland West. In reality, this whole book carries that same sort of zany, over the top feel shown on the book's cover. It's often ridiculous, unintentionally funny and left me debating why my David Goodis collection remains unread while I spend hours flipping through books like this. But, Paperback Warrior covers a lot of ground no matter how slippery the slope is.
Essentially, West is a rags to riches drug dealing pimp who's graduated from a petty, street level gig in Harlem to a West Coast crime king. His empire is built on drug money, prostitution and corruption, all of which are the pillars of his Las Vegas fortress city aptly titled The Oasis. Think of Nevada's Bunny Ranch as a frolicking pay to play haven spaced out over 10-square miles. The Oasis is a self-contained city run by West.
In the opening pages, a mafia kingpin is blown to pieces by a half-ton of TNT. West's reputation of elaborate, high security host is blown and he wants answers. “Billion Dollar Death” then settles into West and his two kung-fu kittens cracking down on sparring Mob families, a crooked politician and a former friend of West's who may or may not be the middle man in a backdoor coupe to dethrone the Iceman.
Based on my small sample size, the Iceman series isn't very good. Nazel's writing is one-dimensional and often I found myself mired in deep discussions without any real payoff or connection to the real story. There's some gun-play, a fun fight scene in a garage and of course the aforementioned helicopter scene. But even these small slivers of joy are ruined by the overall drivel that refuses to deliver anything noteworthy. I'm putting Iceman in the deep freeze.
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