Showing posts with label Rambo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rambo. Show all posts

Friday, May 19, 2023


Lester Virgil Roper (1931-1998) graduated from the University of Oklahoma and became a teacher. He later served in the Kansas House of Representatives for nine years. In his spare time, Roper authored 11 total novels using the pseudonyms L.V. Roper and Samantha Lester. Action-Adventure fans may recall his 1975/1976 two-book series starring New Orleans private-detective Renegade Roe. My first experience with the author is his paperback novel Rampage. It was originally published by Curtis Books in 1973 and remains out of print. 

Roper's idea for Rampage was simply to re-write David Morrell's 1973 novel First Blood. Obviously, names and places have been changed to protect the innocent, but Rampage is First Blood, or First Rambo, or whatever we are calling it these days. Here's how Roper's version of Rambo shakes out:

Somewhere in a tiny mountain town in Alabama, a young white school teacher defiantly decides that the region's barbaric racism must end. She orders the black and white kids to sit together in class instead of being divided by the invisible segregation barrier. The town's KKK warns her to stop, but she persists. Off the page (thankfully), four KKK members enter her house, chain her to a bed, and then rape her to death.

Not quite First Blood, but just hang in there.

In Vietnam, Mark Hastings reads a letter from his wife that suggests she may be in danger for combining the black and white kids in her class. He takes an emergency leave (AWOL) and heads home to screw his sister. No, wait, that was Brother and Sister. He goes home to kill the mobsters that have ransacked his family. No, wrong. That was War Against the Mafia. He comes home to become entangled in small town injustice from a bigot cop and his posse of cops and friends. That's First Blood. Also Rampage. Sort of.

Hastings, an Army Green Beret, hitchhikes into a small mountain town in Alabama and discovers that his wife has been killed. He then targets and kills the four men responsible by using hit-and-run attacks from his wilderness hideout in the hills. He also uses a special knife (I suspect a plain 'ole K-Bar) to gut his victims.

Eventually, the town's sheriff, who is a KKK member, organizes a posse to hunt and kill Hastings in the mountains. But, Hastings uses some deadly snares to trap and kill his opponents. He also has a .22 Colt Woodsman that he puts to good use. Needless to say, there is a huge body count in this one. After the police fail to apprehend Hastings, a Colonel from a local National Guard unit comes in to sympathize with Hastings. The end has a delusional Hastings being hunted by his fellow Green Beret A-team. 

There are no doubts that Rampage is a First Blood knockoff, like 1987's Black Moon by Ron Potts. I can't fault Roper because First Blood, and the Rambo films, inspired countless profitable pop-culture ventures. Despite being unoriginal and repetitive, Rampage is pretty darn good. Roper is an excellent writer who had a knack for this sort of suspenseful, cagey action formula. He also tackles a number of deep psychological issues of the era - Vietnam, social inequality, poverty, and plain 'ole everyday abuse of power. I can't remember the page, or the exact wording, but Roper has a character cleverly comparing Hasting's possible arrest for murder in Alabama coming at a time that he's been awarded for murder in Vietnam. These statements are essential to the storytelling, as borrowed as it may be, and adds a little extra emotional "oomph".

If you love these outdoor wilderness survival novels, or enjoy a great small town vigilante romp, then Rampage is worth pursuing. Keep in mind that it is a copy of First Blood, so be sure to read Morrell's classic, more superior novel first. Rampage is a blue-light special version of it that still possesses a level of nostalgic enjoyment.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Rambo: First Blood Part II

In 2016, Gauntlet Press, in collaboration with Borderlands Press, re-printed David Morrell's novelization of Rambo: First Blood Part II. What's interesting about the reprint is the author's lengthy, detailed explanation of how he became involved in the project. I highly recommend reading, or listening to the audio book edition, if you love books. You don't need to be a Rambo enthusiast or fan. It's a spellbinding commentary if you love the films as much as I do, but for a casual reading fan Morrell's involvement and writing experiences about creating a novelization of the script was just so captivating. 

Morrell authored First Blood in 1972, the book from which the 1982 blockbuster film was derived from. That book is much different than the film, as I explained in my review. Mostly, Rambo is a more arrogant, cocky kid in the novel and at the end of the book ***spoiler alert*** Rambo dies. In the film, he doesn't. 

In the author's introduction of Rambo: First Blood Part II, Morrell explains that he had no idea a film sequel was in development until he read it in the newspaper (authors seem to be the last to know). Shortly after, the film's development team, Tri-Star Pictures, contacted Morrell about writing the novelization of the film. Back then, films were seen at the cinema or on network television. Streaming didn't exist and VHS/laser disc wasn't mainstream (or affordable). Novelizations became important because they presented that middle ground between theatrical release and the “Sunday Movie of the Week.” The average consumer may have missed the theatrical release, so reading a novelization was an appealing alternative.

Morrell politely turned the project down because he was already writing a novel, 1984's Brotherhood of the Rose, and his version of the character ***spoiler alert *** died. But, Tri-Star kept encouraging Morrell to get out in front of the film because it was going to be BIG. Tri-Star had no other option than Morrell simply because contractually no one else at the time could write a Rambo related novel.

Needless to say, Morrell became involved (a decision that included a conversation with his friend Max Allan Collins), but was only presented a VHS tape with one scene from the film. Finding it impossible to write a novel based on a film he's never seen, Tri-Star provided Morrell a rough draft of the script written by both Sylvester Stallone and James Cameron (Terminator). That draft is what Morrell used to write the novelization. However, that draft was heavily modified by Stallone due to creative differences with Cameron. Thus, Morrell's book is an alternate version, one that I had never seen before. As a fan of the franchise, reading this book seemed mandatory.

In the novel, John Rambo is in a prison labor camp breaking rock by day and huddling in the dark shadows of his cell at night. His former Commander, Col. Sam Trautman, pays Rambo a visit to offer him a deal. The U.S. government has authorized a mission into Vietnam to take photos of a prison camp reportedly containing American P.O.W.s. With the Vietnam War over, the public had become infatuated with the idea that these P.O.W.s were still alive and being held as political collateral. The unit running this solo mission is a contracting company led by a guy named Murdock. 

Rambo later learns that this Vietnamese prison camp is the same one he was held at. This was the home of pain, a horrific place where Rambo was tortured. Because he was able to escape, the contracting company feels that Rambo is the best operative for the job. He knows the area, the camp layout, and other important details. Soon, Rambo is piloting a chopper into Thailand to meet up with Murdock and Trautman. He's provided a sophisticated portable satellite and a camera (ancient tech today), but Rambo wants weapons and the chance to break the prisoners free. This is strictly forbidden, and Murdock explains that the photos will be used to authorize a clandestine Delta Force unit to retrieve the prisoners.

Mostly all of this follows the final film version, but once Rambo enters Vietnam, it changes. After surviving a parachute fiasco, Rambo enters the thick jungle to meet up with an undercover Vietnamese ally named Co. Together, the two of them negotiate a boat ride up river to gain an access point to the camp. The romantic spark between Rambo and Co isn't the same as the film. Co does ask Rambo to take her back to the U.S., but it isn't based on a romantic interest. 

Once Rambo and Co have a vantage point to the camp, Rambo advises Co that the camera was lost and that the new deal is to rescue a prisoner found tied to a cross. It's here that Morrell absolutely shines. The author provides a brief history on archery, how the weapon has evolved over the centuries and why Rambo prefers the weapon over a more capable tool like an M-16 or AK-47. I found this so intriguing and Morrell's detailed explanation of the importance of archery, and Zen, helped define the hero even more. There's also some history on Rambo's upbringing, his abusive father, and Native American heritage. Again, these are book details that really made Rambo a more dynamic character as opposed to film.

When Rambo is captured by the Vietnamese, there's a brief backstory on a torturer named Tey, the same soldier that tormented him years ago. Obviously, the two have a heated rivalry, but the main antagonist is a Soviet interrogator named Podovsky. The torture sequences are mostly parallel to the movie - slime pit, leeches, and electric shock. The book's finale is similar to the film, but Co's importance and the dealings with a double-dealing pirate captain are modified. The film's intensity, rugged action sequences, and overall violence transcend to the printed page in the same fashion. Morrell brilliantly conveys the movie's emotion and exhilaration. 

If you love the film or if you're just a casual fan, David Morrell's novelization is a thrilling action-adventure experience. In my opinion, it really just exists on its own. Details regarding the movie or franchise aren't important in the grand scheme of things. Rambo: First Blood Part II is just an awesome story and a pleasurable reading experience. If nothing else, I highly recommend reading the author's introduction. It's an introspective revealing of what goes into creating a novelization and a must read for anyone interested in the concept.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

First Blood

David Morrell's First Blood (1972) is probably one of the biggest influences on men's action-adventure literature behind Don Pendleton's War Against the Mafia (1969). The novel eventually launched a blockbuster film franchise starring Morrell's main character. I've seen the Rambo films and I'm quite fond of the film version of First Blood. I was curious to read the differences between the film and book. With a few extra dollars, I bought a used Fawcett Gold Medal printing of this classic action novel.

First Blood begins with Rambo (no first name) walking into the rural small town of Madison, Kentucky. With his thick beard and long hair, Rambo stands out in this quiet God-fearing community. Wilfred Teasle, the town's sheriff, is a decorated Korean War hero that is highly respected by Madison's residents. Wanting to shield his little town from danger, Teasle forces Rambo out of Madison. Rambo defies Teasle by walking back into town to dine on burgers and a coke. Once again, Teasle escorts rebellious Rambo out of town only to find him returning again. Three strikes and you are out.

Teasle arrests Rambo and the judge books him for a 35 day stay in jail. When the deputies attempt to shave him, Rambo has a flashback to his military service in Vietman. Rambo grabs the straight razor and disembowels one cop before blinding another. He then steals a motorcycle and flees into the mountains. Teasle, wanting control, doesn't want the state police involved in the manhunt. Instead, he leads his own task force to hunt Rambo through the Kentucky wilderness.

First Blood in novel format is much different than the film. Examples: Rambo isn't in town to visit a friend. Rambo doesn't have a close relationship with Colonel Trautman. Sheriff Teasle isn't a scummy villain. But beyond all of that, the film version depicts Rambo as a humble, quiet, reserved man that has a lot to say about Vietnam veterans and the poor homecoming they received. The novel showcases a loud-mouthed, sarcastic, and defiant Rambo as a psychotic veteran battling voices in his head. Perhaps the most striking difference is that Morrell's story reveals that Rambo has killed at least one homeless person in a park prior to arriving in Madison. It's also hinted that he previously killed another man as he attempted to escape by car. 

I would be remiss if I didn't state that this original version of Rambo weirded me out. There are some similarities (Rambo is a proficient warrior) and then odd moments (Rambo drinking moonshine with hillbillies) that made me question which version I liked. The book's end result effectively squashed any opportunity for book sequels. However, after the film's popularity, Morrell performed a quasi-retcon to write the novelization of Rambo II and III. I'm okay with that. At the end of the day, I can comfortably say I really enjoyed the book and Morrell's writing is top-notch. Plus, one can never truly have enough Rambo, right?

Monday, June 15, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 48

On the controversial Episode 48 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, we discuss the history of Barry Sadler’s CASCA books and investigate allegations of plagiarism that plague the series today. You don’t want to miss this one. Listen on every podcast platform, stream below or download directly HERE: Listen to "Episode 48 - The Casca Controversy" on Spreaker.