Showing posts with label Johnston McCulley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Johnston McCulley. Show all posts

Friday, October 28, 2022

Zorro: Zorro's Pacific Odyssey #01

Johnston McCulley's Zorro character first appeared in “The Curse of Capistrano” (aka “The Mark of Zorro”), a five-part serial that debuted in All-Story Weekly on August 9th, 1919. For decades McCulley authored stories starring the caped crusader. Spinning off the pulps, Zorro became a pop-culture phenomenon in international television shows and films. Additionally, many authors have taken turns writing Zorro stories and novels, including Susan Kite. The Indiana native authored a trilogy of Zorro novels called Zorro's Pacific Odyssey. The trilogy's first book, Zorro and the Outward Journey, was published by Bold Venture Press in 2022 as both a paperback and ebook. 

Don Diego de la Vega, son of the wealthy caballero Don Alejandro, lives in Mexican governed California in the early 1800s. By day, Diego displays a bit of cowardice to disguise the fact that he is the famed vigilante Zorro. After a series of attacks on prominent citizens perpetrated by terrorists, Zorro rescues a kidnapped child in the mountains. However, days later Diego is captured by the terrorist group, drugged, and then sold into slavery to a British ship headed to Singapore.

When Diego realizes what has happened, he is faced with his fate. The ship's Captain, a horrible individual named Beatty, explains that Diego is an indentured servant that has been purchased for two years of hard labor aboard the ship. When Diego explains the unfortunate incident of the terrorists, his background as an aristocrat, and the kidnapping, Beatty dismisses it as a fabrication. He soon realizes that Diego is quite different and places him as a trustee of the Spanish workers. Additionally, Diego is placed in care of the ship's Supercargo, a man named Bowman. Diego is fond of Bowman and the two quickly establish a father-son type of relationship.  

As the first of a three book series, it is clear that this book is simply the journey. Zorro is being transported from A to B and must contend with the nefarious elements of the ship's crew and his limitations as a slave. I love prison-styled stories and this one certainly fit that sub-genre of men's action-adventure. What makes this such a compelling narrative is the fact that Diego can't transform into Zorro to fight his way out of the situation. He's trapped in a small space without the ability to don a disguise or do battle with a sword (he does later, but I'm not spoiling your enjoyment here). The fact that Diego is ultimately the hero makes this a unique Zorro story. 

While Zorro on the high seas has been done before, Kite's version of this “fish out of water” adventure is very entertaining. It was also an emotional charge reading about the human condition - a panicked, desperate father hunting for his missing son. It was a really effective part of the whole story. There's also an expected cliffhanger that demands the reader to quickly buy the next book. Needless to say, my account has been debited and Bold Venture Press is shipping it out to me as I write this. Money well spent.

 Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Zorro #01 - The Curse of Capistrano (aka The Mark of Zorro)

Johnston McCulley (1883-1958) was a prolific author for the pulps. He created characters like The Crimson Clown, The Green Ghost and Black Star. On August 9th, 1919, All-Story Weekly presented the first of five installments of "The Curse of Capistrano" (aka "The Mark of Zorro"). It was the first appearance by the Western hero Zorro. McCulley kept writing Zorro stories for decades. The hero became a phenomenon of pop culture with TV shows, movies and graphic novels all dedicated to the masked man. 

In 2016, Florida's Bold Venture Press began reprinting all of the pulp adventures of Zorro. These have been compiled in 6 massive volumes. I'm staring with Zorro: The Complete Pulp Adventures Vol. 1. It contains an original serial "The Curse of Capistrano" plus two short stories, "Zorro Saves a Friend" (Argosy, 11/02/1932) and "Zorro Hunts a Jackal" (Argosy, 04/22/1933). In addition, two informative pieces are included regarding the series location as well as Zorro's appearances in cinema and television.

"The Curse of Capistrano" takes place in the early 19th century in California. This was before California joined the United States. As a result, the state was governed by Mexico. In the story, the Spanish missions and ranches are often terrorized by Mexican soldiers, notably Sergeant Gonzales and Captain Ramon. A masked man dressed in black and calling himself Zorro (The Fox) assists the people in their fight against the tyranny. 

When Zorro helps a young woman named Lolita, the story starts to tighten. Lolita's parents have requested that she locate a proper suitor to marry. Don Diego Vega, a wealthy man living with his father, attempts to swoon Lolita and asks if she will marry him. The problem is that Lolita has her eyes fixed on the dashing Zorro and now her heart is beating for him. However, Lolita doesn't realize that Vega is Zorro. When Captain Ramon forces himself on Lolita, Zorro comes to the rescue, further emphasizing her attraction for the lone hero. Later, Zorro comes to the aid of his friend Fray Felipe while also being hunted by the Mexican army. 

McCulley's story blends romance with action into a Western-style story. The dry and dusty Pueblo of Los Angeles is the perfect place, further enhancing Western themes. Zorro's mission to assist the downtrodden and fight government politicians is crucial to the plot. The first half was a bit slow but the second half was ripe with action, violence and a frantic pace as Zorro performs hit and run tactics through the city. It was interesting that McCulley doesn't reveal that Vega is Zorro until the end of the story. It's no surprise to the reader as there are so many clues that signal Zorro's identity.

If you are a dedicated Zorro fan or just a casual reader, this omnibus is essential reading. The thrilling adventures of this masked hero showcases everything we know and love about the pulps. Buy a copy of this volume HERE.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Ghost Bullet Range (aka Blood on the Saddle)

One of the most collectible pulp magazines of all time is the August 9, 1919 issue of All-Story Weekly. This publication featured the first of a five-part series called "The Curse of Capistrano". It was the first appearance of the wildly popular western hero known as Zorro. The character and story were created by Johnston McCulley (1883-1958), a World War I veteran from Ottawa, Illinois. Not only did McCulley create Zorro, but he excelled in the pulps by creating characters like The Crimson ClownThe Green Ghost and Black Star. Additionally, McCulley wrote hundreds of short stories and novelettes including Ghost Bullet Range. This novel first appeared in the September, 1942 issue of West. In 1944, Avon released the book as a paperback titled Blood on the Saddle. The book is now available in both softback and ebook version through Florida independent publisher Bold Venture Press.

Ghost Bullet Range features an experienced and highly respected trail boss named Phil Banniton. When readers first meet Banniton, he's in a firefight on the Kansas plains just outside of Dodge City. The fight stems from a quarrel the prior night over beer, poker and a gallon of testosterone. After Banniton won some money off of Sid Boyd, he becomes a target on the range. This gunfight is just an introduction to Banniton to insure readers that he's of the “admirable white-hat traditional western hero” variety. 

Later, one of Banniton's old friends shows up with a message. The Diamond W ranch, owned by Andy Walsh, is being bullied by a nest of land baron vipers. Banniton's reaction to this emotional message is mixed. Walsh raised Banniton and had groomed him as the ranch's successor. But the two had a falling out and Banniton resigned his position at the ranch. Banniton not only severed ties with Walsh, but also extinguished the romantic relationship he was having with Walsh's daughter Ella. Banniton still feels a sense of obligation to Walsh. Additionally, one of Banniton's best friends was murdered on the ranch. These emotions all play a part in Banniton's participation to defend the Diamond W.

McCulley's narrative moves at a brisk pace and is loaded with nonstop action. Banniton's investigation into who is killing off the Diamond W ranch hands is an interesting part of the story. As the body count grows, the only clue seems to be the vague words "spotted steer" that is often whispered by dying men. The trouble comes in waves as Banniton faces this mysterious killer, a rival ranch and a nemesis that's pressuring Walsh to sell the ranch cheaply.

There's nothing to really dislike about Ghost Bullet Range. As an early 20th century western, it contains all of the likable aspects of the genre - noble hero, savage range war, damsel in distress and the evil rival rancher. The spotted steer clue resulted in a rather disappointing revelation, but this wasn't a deal breaker. McCulley's propulsive pace placed these characters in many different locations throughout the story. As a reader, I never found myself confined to a saloon, ranch, prairie or house. The action is a spread out to deliver a more epic presentation.

If you like classic westerns, Ghost Bullet Range is sure to please. Buy a copy of the book and support independent publishing HERE.