Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Star Wars. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Star Wars. Sort by date Show all posts

Friday, June 2, 2023

Star Wars - Heir to the Jedi

Author Kevin Hearne is an established author that landed on the USA Today bestseller list with his debut hardcover Shattered. As an urban fantasy author, Hearne has authored nine installments of the Iron Druid Chronicles series, three novels in the Oberon's Meaty Mysteries, and countless novellas and short stories. My introduction to his work is his Star Wars novel Heir to the Jedi, published by Del Rey in 2015.

I am mostly a casual fan of the Star Wars media bonanza. I've seen the nine feature films repeatedly, and watch some of the spin-off shows. I can't quote you serial numbers on spaceships, but I know enough to just get by. I have only tackled one prior Star Wars book, and didn't care for it. But, as a Luke Skywalker fan, I was immediately drawn to the book's cover. I also liked the era in which the book is placed, snuggled between Episode IV A New Hope and Episode V The Empire Strikes Back. The book is considered canon, meaning it fits directly into the current Star Wars franchise owned and operated by Disney.

In the book's opening pages, Luke is provided a mission from Princess Leia and Admiral Ackbar. He must fly to Rodia in an effort to open a secret supply line to the Rebels. The idea is that the Chekko clan there might work with the Rebels and also manufacture weapons for them. Luke is assigned a floating yacht called the Desert Jewel for the mission, and pairs with the yacht owner's daughter, and deadly sniper, Nakari for the mission. 

The plot is a series of action-adventures ranging from Luke's monster fight on a jungle island, rescuing a cryptographer, contending with an infestation of skull-borer aliens, flying through an Imperial blockade, and of course fighting with other numerous enemies. As each side-story is resolved, it conveniently opens up another side-mission. For example, upgrading weapons by performing a task, locating a missing research crew to earn money, identifying a spy, etc. It reminded me of a modern video game where players work through checkpoints by solving problems. There is an emotional surprise near the end that I felt was a bold move on the author's part (hint - someone dies). This made the book conclude with an impact. More authors should do this. 

As a men's action-adventure reader and fan, the book is like a Nick Carter: Killmaster installment as the action jumps from mission to mission. Ultimately, Luke Skywalker could be any paperback warrior and these planets could be Russian or China when the Cold War raged. It's an espionage spy-thriller with a science-fiction twist that seemed both familiar and nostalgic. As a Star Wars novel, it offers a glimpse into Luke's examination of the Force and his early efforts to use Jedi mind tricks to move objects around. An interesting addition was Luke's disassembly of another lightsaber to see how it actually works. 

Heir to the Jedi is an action-packed novel complete with everything I love about adventure paperbacks. Whether you will love it or not shouldn't be dependent on your Star Wars knowledge or level of love. It's just an enjoyable book and I recommend it. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Conan - Wolves Beyond the Border

I questioned whether to place “Wolves Beyond the Border” in the Conan category. Technically, it's in the same fictional universe and mentions the hero, but Conan doesn't actually appear in the story. Yet, it first appeared in the 1967 Lancer paperback Conan the Usurper, alongside other Conan classics like “The Scarlet Citadel” and “The Phoenix on the Sword”. By association alone, it seems mandatory. In fact, Howard began the story in the 1930s, but it went unfinished and unpublished. It was located in 1965 by Glenn Lord and then passed to L. Sprague de Camp to finish writing the story based on Howard's notes and summaries.

“Wolves Beyond the Border” takes place along the Pictish border. For Hyborian Age rookies, the Picts are similar to the Native American tribes of the North American continent in the 1500-1800s. If you read early frontier novels by the likes of James Fenimore Cooper (Leatherstocking Tales) or later, traditional westerns by Zane Grey (his Border Trilogy for example), the narratives mostly consist of early settlers and pioneers struggling to live in the same territorial regions as Native American tribes. So, Robert E. Howard used this as a blueprint when creating Conan stories like “The Treasure of Tranicos” and “Wolves Beyond the Border”. The Pictish borders are similar to the surrounding areas of North America's early Ohio River Valley.

This story is told in first-person narrative by a border ranger. In the early pages, this ranger (unnamed and referred to as Gault Hagar's son) witnesses a bizarre ritual by the Picts, where they torture a man and then magically place him in the body of a snake. It is a disturbing, horrific passage that surpasses even the mad-scientist terrors lurking in “The Scarlet Citadel”. This ranger sees that an Aquilonian named Lord Valerian is conspiring to secretly ally with the Picts. This is important because the story is set during a time when Conan was attempting to overthrow Aquilonia's leaders and become the new king. An alliance of Picts and Aquilonian noblemen doesn't promise success for Conan. 

At nearly 60 paperback pages, the story becomes bogged down and convoluted in the middle. The ranger hero confronts Lord Valerian and Pictish leaders at a swamp cabin and there's a fight and a capture. The beginning and end are exciting skirmishes and chase sequences, but overall I found the story to be of middling quality. From what I understand, Howard wrote the story up to the cabin meeting, and then the reigns were handed to de Camp to complete the manuscript from there. 

In the big picture of the Conan mythos, “Wolves Beyond the Border” is like the Star Wars film Rogue One. It is a separate story without the major heroes like Skywalker and Solo, but adds to the trilogy that began with Star Wars. Same principle here. While Conan isn't around, this is a behind-the-scenes political/military strategy that contributes to the events leading to Conan capturing the Aqulonian throne. If that's your type of story or if you are a Conan collector, then I'm sure there is plenty of enjoyment to be found here. Otherwise, skip it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Planet of the Apes #01 - Planet of the Apes

My childhood consisted of watching the Planet of the Apes movies, and the television show, on cable syndication repeatedly. My parents saw the original 1968 film at the drive-in and became big fans of the franchise. As I write this, I just finished watching War of the Planet Apes (2017) with them while on vacation and I’m headed into the theater shortly to see the newest film, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024).

As much as I love this series, my fandom has strictly been dedicated to the screen. I’ve never delved into the labyrinth of literary presence the franchise commands. I decided to try the original novel that launched this blockbuster franchise, Planet of the Apes, authored by Pierre Boulle and published in 1963.

The book was written in French with the title La Planete des singes, which translates to Planet of the Apes in English. The book was published in the UK as Monkey Planet. As one can imagine, the book differs from the movie. Surprisingly, the adage of “the book is better” doesn’t fit this scenario.

The book begins with Jinn and Phyllis, wealthy lovers, living in a far-flung future where space travel is available. Phyllis discovers a floating bottle containing a manuscript and the two begin reading it. From there, the narrative becomes an epistolary novel as the manuscript is presented in a first-person narration by the main character, French journalist Ulysse Merou.

In 2500, Ulysse is invited by a French scientist named Antelle and his protegee to join a long star trek through the galaxy to a place called Betelgeuse. The trip takes two years and because of the time difference, these years are the equivalent of centuries passing on Earth. As they get into the vicinity of Betelgeuse, they land their ship on a planet called Soror. The bulk of the story takes place here as the three explore the planet and become accustomed to its unique lifestyle.

The book and the film version are very similar in the first act. The three men are shocked to discover a naked human female running through the lush forest. They deem her “Nova” due to her golden sheen. Fast-forward a few pages and readers get the iconic scene where gorillas arrive on horseback and begin netting Nova and other naked human “savages” in what appears to be a wild-game hunt. Ulysse and the professor are captured and the protegee is killed. Unfortunately, the narrative’s only action is terminated as well.

The rest of the book is a slow-burn as Ulysse is placed in a laboratory and ran through a series of tests by a combination of apes, chimpanzees, and orangutans. On this planet, humans are like animals with no language skills and very little intelligence. The “monkeys” run the show and are in the place of humans in a weird reversal of evolution. Thankfully, Ulysse’s wherewithal puts him in a situation of impressing his superiors with excellent speech and physical prowess. The professor declines to a Neanderthal state after months of caged life. Ulysse also develops a romance with Nova, who is a fellow prisoner.

Like the film, a chimpanzee scientist named Zira takes an interest in Ulysse and is eventually able to free him. In the book’s finale, Ulysse, Nova and their young child escape the planet and return to Earth to discover…well I can’t ruin the surprise for you. In fact, the author has two surprises at the end, one of which I wasn’t aware of.

Circling back to my original statement, the movie is better than the book. I believe that is a popular opinion shared by many. To be fair, if I read the book with no knowledge of the films, then it is a satisfactory science-fiction novel that has a lot to say about the human condition and the decline of civilization. It’s a cautionary tale that has a mix of social commentary, a small dose of action, and an emphasis on character development (and refinement?). In that regard, the author’s vision is superb and his writing acceptable.

Living with the curse of seeing nine of the series’ high-budget films, the book left me a little winded. I still want to read more novels associated with the franchise, but keep in mind that the later novels aren’t written by this author and are all based on the film and television productions – similar to other big franchises like Star Wars, Alien, Star Trek, and Predator.

Get the book HERE

Friday, June 22, 2018

Last Ranger #10 - Is This the End?

Jan Stacy (using Craig Sargent) died from the AIDS virus in 1989. That same year, he finalized and released the 10th book in the 'Last Ranger' series, “Is This the End?”. I've said this before, but I really think the prior book, “The Damned Disciples”, was Stacy's own personal reflection on hospitals and drugs (which I'm thinking was a majority of his 1988-1989) period. In that book, an entire town is drugged out of their minds and forced to do nasty things they otherwise would never do. So, with this last book and it's title, one has to believe this is the author's personal question. Is This the End? Yes, sadly for Stacy it was. 

The book picks up a couple of days after events in “The Damned Disciples”. Martin Stone is weary, beaten and starving, making his way across dusty Texas on his Harley while toting his wounded dog Excaliber. Just a few pages in, all Hell breaks loose with a Texas tornado misplacing Stone, dog and hog. Once the three re-align, Stone finds a biker running from some baddies in the desert. After coming to the rescue, he learns the biker is Rasberry Thorn, a fiery blonde with eyes and a smile that's begging for pole action. In some wild chapters, Stone is taken hostage by the woman and taken to an all-female biker gang called The Ballbusters where they rape and eat men. No shit. 

Rasberry Thorn claims Stone as hers, takes him into her underground bedroom and screws his brains out. The others simply wait until their turn, knowing that after sex is a grand cannibal feast. Wild, wild stuff. Luckily, Stone is the only man that can bring Rasberry to orgasm, and because of this miraculous feat she allows him to escape through a secret tunnel. But, Stone doesn't get far before he's captured again. This time by his evil arch enemy...The Dwarf. 

In an underground base, The Dwarf is running a hodgepodge of medical torture, kinky sex, bizarre experiments and...the control panel for the entire Star Wars defense system (in other words he can nuke the planet a hundred times over). Stone is brought in, strapped to a table and electrocuted for pages and pages. Later, he learns that The Dwarf is actually marrying Stone's kidnapped sister April and plans to make Stone watch. In wacky scenes, a mad scientist promises that he will combine Stone and Excalibur, making a Dog Man that can help rule the world. But first, Stone and his mutt have to battle wild dogs and giants in arena combat. Will they survive? Will Stone and April finally find each other? Will Earth survive The Dwarf's bombastic nuking? That is your "stone" to flip for fun. 

This book and series is just one extremely entertaining post-apocalyptic run. Not all of the books are great, and there are a few turds, but at the end you can look back at the whole series as a really good effort by a talented writer. 'The Last Ranger' isn't for everyone – it is crude, violent, funny, stupid, perplexing, convoluted and ultimately senseless. But that's the whole point, right?

Friday, July 5, 2019

Stark #01 - Funeral Rites

UK publisher Sphere launched in 1966 and rose to prominence with the 1976 printing of “Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker” by Alan Dean Foster (as George Lucas). But, action-adventure readers know the publisher's work through the myriad of 'Conan' and 'The Executioner' releases. The publisher gained the rights to release Don Pendleton's Executioner series, beginning with “War Against the Mafia” in 1973. Losing the series to rival English publisher Corgi, the company emulated 'The Executioner' motif for a new series entitled 'The Revenger'. 

The Revenger would run for 12 total books, the first ten written by Terry Harknett ('Adam Steele', 'Edge', 'Apache') and the last two by Angus Wells ('The Eagles', 'Jubal Cade'). The house name used by Sphere is Joseph Hedges. Later, Pyramid Books acquired the rights to reprint the books in the US but changed the series name to 'Stark' to avoid confusion with another The Revenger series written by Jon Messman. 

“Funeral Rites” is the debut novel of the series and was released in the UK in 1974 with a printing in the US a year later. The book introduces us to the criminal John Stark, a prison inmate in England. He robbed an electronics company while being employed by a criminal organization called The Company. To keep Stark quiet behind bars, they promise to continue the heroin drop into Stark's lover Carol. The Company henchmen aid Stark in his escape from prison so he can continue to do jobs for them.

After these events transpire in chapter one...this book turns into a real turd. 

Stark is brought to sea and reunited with his arch enemy Ryan. Oddly, Ryan provides Stark a bedroom and a nympho named Sheri. In my opinion, Stark loses credibility when he pounds away at Sheri while thinking of the love of his life, Carol. This just seems incredibly selfish, but considering the lack of depth in the book it makes sense the character is easily disliked. Shockingly, Ryan leaves Stark alone so he can set fire to the boat and escape with Sheri.

The author completely loses direction and focus and dedicates the next 100-pages to Stark sleeping, eating...and sleeping and eating. He goes on tangents about how Stark is ravished from hunger but there's no reason for it. He has money and there's food all over London! Ryan, being the book's villain, does nothing. Instead, the author has our antagonist thinking about his lover Jay and how he misses his vibrator. Ugh. In one astonishing, scene Ryan has a mistress flail him with a tree branch before “impaling” herself on him. It's absolutely bonkers.

Action? Well, there's a little here and there. In one wild scene we have Stark's Colt Python against the bad guy's Tommy – with Stark obviously the immortal hero. In a hilarious scene Stark accidentally elbows Jay, knocking him into a sink where he bleeds to death. To get answers to some question (I stopped following the senseless plot), he thrust Sheri's face into the wound while threatening to drown her in the gash if she doesn't tell the truth. Ridiculous.

I hated this book. And it isn't because the English spell “Pajamas” as “Pyjamas” or that they insult the good guys here by calling them a “Tinker's Cuss” (?). No, it isn't that. This character has absolutely no talent. Stark is a thief who was caught. End of story. There's nothing else to it. The Company wants to capture him, there's a bad guy named Ryan, a lover named Carol Burnett (!) and an effort on the author's part to bury 120+ pages in dialogue and trivial descriptions of tea cups and wall d├ęcor. 

How this series lasted 12 entries is beyond me. Why Pyramid felt the need to reprint it, God only knows. For me, this series lasted one book.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 22, 2022

Resident Evil #01 - The Umbrella Conspiracy

Resident Evil is arguably the greatest survival horror media franchise of all time. The Capcom video game, known as Biohazard in Japan, began its life in 1996 on the very first Sony Playstation. Countless sequels were created across multiple generations of gaming systems. Six live-action films were produced, a television show, animated films, comic books, and novels. With novels as our primary focus, I picked up a Pocket Books paperback called The Umbrella Conspiracy, the first of a seven-book Resident Evil series published between 1998-2004 and authored by S.D. Perry, daughter of Steve Perry (Conan, Star Wars, Matador).

The first thing you need to know about The Umbrella Conspiracy, and this book series, is that you don't need a Resident Evil education to read and enjoy this. This series starts at the very beginning and mostly consists of novelizations of the video games. This first book is a novelization of the very first game, so those of you unfamiliar with the franchise can start right here. Don't be intimidated.

Raccoon City is a small town with an urban area, lots of dense forest, and rural fields. But, this quiet little community is experiencing an unusual number of vicious homicides. People are found dead in the Victory Lake area, mutilated as if mauled by a savage animal. Rumors run rampant, the police have no solid leads, so a special force is brought in to help solve the case - S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics and Rescue). This division is made up of highly trained, paramilitary specialists that are privately funded.

The S.T.A.R.S. unit is divided into two teams, Alpha and Bravo. While there are a lot of members in the unit, the ones that really matter to this series are Alpha's Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Rebecca Chambers, Barry Burton, and Albert Wesker. If you enjoy all of those 70s and 80s team-commando paperbacks, then this group should be easily likable. The members realize that everything has been searched at Victory Lake, but there is a large abandoned mansion, the Spencer Estate, at the foothills of The Arklay Mountains that may hold some answers.

Wesker sends the Bravo team in by chopper, but soon they radio back that the helicopter has crashed in a secluded area. Alpha team is sent in by chopper and immediately discover that some of Bravo have been attacked and mutilated. Soon, the team is attacked by ravenous, skinless dogs. In an effort to stay alive, Chris and others flee through the forest to the Spencer Estate. Inside, they find that it isn't abandoned at all. Instead, the mansion is filled with research equipment, labs, and evidence of hideous experiments. When Chris is attacked by a zombie, the proverbial sh#t hits the fan.

I absolutely loved this book. I immediately finished the last page and hopped online to order the second installment, Caliban Cove. From an action-adventure stance, this book is loaded with firefights in all parts of the mansion. There's the undead to contend with, a traitor in the group, and monsters galore as the team navigates the cavernous house in search of clues. As a horror novel, it works on a violent, gory level as the survival horror introduces puzzles and traps for the squad to solve. 

While there isn't much to really complain about, I did get confused often as the point of view changes to different squad members throughout the house. Rarely are they all together in the same room. Instead, the book feels slightly “epic” at 260 pages due to the constant change in characters. I really enjoyed both Rebecca and Jill, and from what I understand they make a big impact in future books. In researching the series, it appears that Wikipedia has the series listed as:

1 The Umbrella Conspiracy (1998) Novelization of Resident Evil (1996) video game

2 Caliban Cove Original novel (1998)

3 City of the Dead (1999) Novelization of Resident Evil 2 (1998) video game

4 Underworld (1999) Original novel

5 Nemesis (2000) Novelization of Resident Evil 3 (1999) video game

6 Code: Veronica (2001) Novelization of Code: Veronica (2000) video game

0 Zero Hour (2004) Novelization of Resident Evil: Zero Hour video game 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Zanthodon #03 - Hurok of the Stone Age

Lin Carter's third installment of the Zanthodon series, also referred to as the Eric of Carstairs series, is Hurok of the Stone Age. It was published by DAW Books (423) in 1981, and features illustrations by Josh Kirby (Krull, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi). If you aren't familiar with the series, I encourage you to read my reviews of the first two installments before reading this review. 

The prior novel, Zanthodon, ended in a cliffhanger as Darya was captured by Barbary Coast Pirates. In this novel's beginning, both Eric and Professor Potter (both men from our present-day USA) have been snatched by what the folks of Zanthodon refer to as Dragonmen. They earned this title because they wear magic armbands that allow them to telepathically control dinosaurs! So, these Dragonmen capture Eric and Professor Potter and take them across miles of Zanthodon's baked Earth to the Scarlet City of Zar. There, the two meet the Sacred Empress of Zar, a woman named Zarys (who is like the twin-sister of Darya).

Meanwhile, Hurok and Jorn the Hunter embark on a rescue mission to retrieve their friends from the Dragonmen. This side-story adventure has the two facing near-death experiences as they cross a treacherous mountain pass called the Wall of Zar and an inland sea known as the Lugar-Jad. Additionally, there are other side-stories that involve a guy named Garth searching for his daughter Yualla, and Tharn searching for Darya. 

Make no bones about it, Hurok of the Stone Age is a convoluted novel packed with alternating side-stories within chapters that make up “parts” of the book. Often, I lost track of who the characters were, which tribe or type of people they represented. When you have characters that are Zarian, Drugar, Sagoth, Cro-Magnon, Thanadar, Gorpaks, etc., I nearly needed an organization chart to just figure it all out. At one point, I decided to just enjoy the adventure and let it all just sort of flop over my head on the who's who battle for clarity. In doing so, I found I really enjoyed the book, particularly Professor Potter's participation in the narrative and his quest to bring gunfire to this bizarre world. 

If you enjoy Lin Carter's absorbing, self-indulgent storytelling – high on character count, exotic locales, plot holes a mile wide – then this is a really fun read. Punt the logistics, suspend disbelief, and look over the convoluted meshing. In doing so, you'll not only love this novel, but appreciate the entire series. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Wasteworld #03 - Angels

Laurence James and Angus Wells were both prolific UK authors that were at the core of the Piccadilly Cowboys group of western, action and science-fiction writers. The four-book series entitled 'Wasteworld' launched in 1983 to capitalize on the nuclear hysteria of the 1980s. It's a post-apocalyptic series written by James, Wells, or a combination of both. While the verdict is still out on who actually authored the series, it was certainly a great run of action-adventure titles. After a rough start with the debut, I enjoyed the subsequent novel “Resurrection” immensely. Does the third book capture that same enjoyment?

1984's “Angels” begins with hero Matthew Chance gathering supplies to continue his journey to Salt Lake City. His wife and kids are residing in a spiritual encampment, and Chance has traveled from New Orleans to Texas throughout the course of the first two books to free them. Still in Texas, Chance has now met up with a scraggly scavenger and his snarling dog. After an intense encounter, the two agree to work together to secure a souped up Dodge Charger across town. Unfortunately, its guarded by the Nightpeople (think of those sand creatures from Star Wars). I won't ruin the fun for you, but the authors inject some terror into this car heist.

However, the bulk of the narrative revolves around a sadistic group of Hell's Angels bikers and their ill-will towards Chance. Like a twisted scene from David Alexander's 'Phoenix' series, the bikers force Chance into a motocross nightmare featuring spikes, chains, traps and guns. It's an exhilarating sequence that propels Chance into another adventure that reaches fruition by the book's finale. I was surprised to find that “Angels” climaxes in a cliff-hanger requiring top dollar for the fourth and last paperback of the series.

I've ran the gauntlet of 80s post-apocalypse paperbacks like 'Swampmaster', 'Phoenix', 'Roadblaster', 'Deathlands', 'Survival 2000', 'Last Ranger', etc. I'd say I've enjoyed this series more than any of them. You will too.

Note – Wells/James inserts a reference to Cuchillo, an Apache warrior that starred in the 'Apache' series of 1970s westerns penned by a combination of Laurence James, Terry Harknett and John Harvey. This mirrors the cameo appearance that Cuchillo makes in James' 'Deathlands' series. Wild!

Monday, July 31, 2023

The Bridges at Toko-Ri

James A. Michener (1907-1997) was a bestselling author who never knew the identity of his biological parents, or when and where he was born. He attended Swarthmore College and University of Northern Colorado, earning degrees in English, Education, and History. He was employed as a teacher, served in the U.S. Navy during WW2, worked as a campaign manager for U.S. Senator Joseph S. Clark, and as an editor for Macmillan Publishers.

Michener's first novel was Tales of the South Pacific (1947), a book based on the author's own experiences in the war. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1948 and was adapted into the hit Broadway musical South Pacific. His writing career flourished, eventually selling around 75 million copies with popular historical sagas like Hawaii (1959), Centennial (1974), and Caravans (1963). 15 of the author's books or short stories were adapted to the screen.

My first experience with Michener is The Bridges at Toko-Ri, a 1953 novella that was adapted to film by Paramount Pictures one year later. The film was directed by Mark Robson and starred William Holden, Grace Kelly, and Mickey Rooney. My copy of the book is a 1976 Corgi paperback, a sixth printing that shows prior publications by Bantam in 1962 and Secker & Warburg in 1953.

At 106 pages, Michener's novel explodes with tension, drama, and action as American pilots aboard the USS Savo (named after the real USS Savo Island) plan and execute bombing routes during the Korean War. The book's main character is Brubaker, a frustrated Naval Reserve officer and Naval Aviator who is an attorney back home. He isn't happy about his participation in the Korean War, but understands his talents and the contributions he can make to the war effort. In the book's opening pages, Brubaker's carrier-based jet is downed into the ocean, forcing a fellow aviator named Forney to assist in a rescue.

Both Brubaker and Forney have deep conversations with Admiral Tarrant regarding their missions, brotherhood aboard the ship, and the fact that their assignment – bombing bridges in a heavily fortified position – is a delicate, highly dangerous run that may cost them their lives. Michener injects three endearing side-stories concerning Brubaker's shore leave with his wife and kids, Forney's discovery that the love of his life is marrying someone else, and Tarrant's own struggles with the loss of his son during battle in WW2. 

The book's climactic bombing run was like something out of Star Wars or Top Gun: Maverick. The pilots must fly at low altitude through a slim valley protected by cannons and guns, destroy the targets, and then escape before the Korean fighter jets can intercept them. While the mission is mostly a success, the ending was quite surprising and left me with tears in my eyes. Michener's narrative is such a moving patriotic look at the horrors of war and the unnecessary eternal struggle that humans wage against each other. 

The Bridges at Toko-Ri was simply fantastic and the pages breezed by. It's rare to find military-fiction that is set during the Korean War, so the locale and discovery of facts and data regarding the campaign was really enjoyable. Michener is an excellent writer and I'm stoked to learn more about the man and his 40-book bibliography. According to Wikipedia, State House Press published James A. Michener: A Bibliography in 1996, compiled by David A. Groseclose. I'd like to read more about him and discover some of the real highlights of his literary work. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Savage Sword of Conan #02 (Curtis)

The Savage Sword of Conan #2 was published in October, 1974. For a complete history of the making of this magazine title, including reviews of the contents of issue one, check out my review HERE. This installment of the series has an awesome Neal Adams cover and once again features content inspired by the works of Robert E. Howard. This issue features:

“Black Colossus” - Roy Thomas/John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala
“Chronicles of the Sword” - Lin Carter/Al Milgrom, Alan Weiss, Joe Staton
“Black Mark Chapter II” - Gil Kane
“The Beast from the Abyss” - Steve Englehart/Howard Chaykin 

In addition to the stories and articles, this issue's stand-alone panel is illustrated by Mike Zeck.

The lead story is “Black Colossus”, a 36-pager that is broken down into three parts. The inspiration is Robert E. Howard's story, which originally appeared for the first time in Weird Tales, June 1933. It has been reprinted numerous times in print format with and without the minor edits made by L. Sprague de Camp. To my knowledge this issue features the first adaptation of the story in comic format. The adaptation was reprinted again by Marvel in their Marvel Treasury Edition #15 as a colorized edition. I won't go into the details of the story because I already covered it in great detail HERE

The story's short intro is simply “Black Colossus”, the second chapter of the story is titled “Hordes of the Veiled One” and the last chapter is “Chariot of the Man-Demon”. Each title insert is a one-page panel carefully constructed by Buscema and Alcala. I love the title page to chapter two with Princess Yasmela, partially clothed, crawling towards the darkness of the pit-spawned incubus. It is just an incredible mix of light and dark with a lot of lines in the foreground to make it look more chaotic as the scene shifts to the dark right corner. As I mentioned in my review of Dark Horse's first issue of Conan, “Out of the Darksome Hills”, that Cary Nord's depiction of an armored Conan slightly resembles page 18 of this issue as Conan is fully decked out like a gladiator. 

The story stays true to Robert E. Howard's version and it's a great read. This is on par with “The Frost Giant's Daughter” (reviewed HERE) in terms of this magazine's most iconic moments. I may sound like a broken record but the art is just spectacular. Page 27's Thugra Khotanlike on the skeletal black camel is awe-inspiring and seems to draw influence from the 1865 painting by Gustave Dore, “Death on the Pale Horse (Revelation)”. This story gains a sequel in the next issue. 

Some fans dislike author Lin Carter, but I have genuinely enjoyed his literary work and the contributions he made to science-fiction and sword-and-sorcery/fantasy. His informal history of the sword-and-sorcery genre, “Chronicles of the Sword”, is just fascinating. Carter points to early literature like Beowulf and Hercules mythology as a catalyst to what would eventually form sword-and-sorcery. He also examines Lord Dunsay's “The Gods of Pegana” and “The Sword of Welleran” among others, citing the “at the Edge of the World” as a sort of gyroscope utilized for the genre”. Obviously, Carter delves into the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard and their impact on the Weird Tales publication. 

The second chapter of Blackmark continues in this issue. As I alluded to in my review of the first issue, this content was originally published in the 1971 Bantam paperback Blackmark. The smaller graphic novel pages have been formatted to magazine size and the book's contents were spread over the first four issues of Savage Sword of Conan

In this portion of the story, Blackmark looks to be about 10 years old and has began practicing swordplay in between working for his father Zeph. While Blackmark is away from the village, an armed group of horseback riders attack and begin slaughtering the citizens. When Blackmark sees the smoke he runs to the village to see his father fighting the men with a staff. After his father is murdered, Blackmark is forced to watch his mother being raped and killed. The men leave Blackmark as a survivor so he can tell others about their strength and dominance. Later, Blackmark is captured by slave raiders.

This was a real turning point in the story and sets up Blackmark's adolescent years and subsequent arena fights as a slave (featured in the next issue). Again, Gil Kane is a phenomenal artist and his storytelling skills propel the narrative in a smooth and unforced way. While a lot has happened to Blackmark, from birth to jaded young man, the narrative is spread enough to allow readers to imagine and fill in the gaps in these characters' lives off the page.

Up to Kull's appearance in this issue's story, “The Beast from the Abyss”, the character had appeared numerous times in comic format. The hero is seen in Conan's vision in the very first issue of Conan the Barbarian in July, 1970. He later appeared in Creatures on the Loose #10 (Mar1971),  Monsters on the Prowl #16 (Jan 1972), Conan the Barbarian #25 (Jan 1973) and #37 (Jan 1974), Tomb of Dracula #26 (Jul 1974). Of course he had his own short-lived title as well, Kull the Conqueror #1-10 (1971-1973) and Kull the Destroyer #11-28 (1973-1978) prior to “The Beast from the Abyss”. 

“The Beast from the Abyss” is adapted from the story “Black Abyss”. This work was left unfinished by Robert E. Howard with Lin Carter finishing the story (beginning with Chapter 3) and it was first published in the Lancer paperback King Kull in 1967. I enjoyed that story immensely and I was happy it was adapted into comic form by Steve Englehart (Batman, Daredevil, Doctor Strange) and drawn by Howard Chaykin (Star Wars, Batman, Punisher)

Kull is in Kamula on business and enjoying a dance routine with Baron Ergon. Kull's friend and confidant Brule, the Pictish Warrior, storms into the room and advises that his tribal brother Grogar has been captured from somewhere in the palace. The duo venture back to the place the man was last seen and discover another corpse. From inside the wall they hear a strange piping sound - “the sort of music dead men dance to on the scarlet floors of Hell!”

The two journey through the wall's secret passageway and descend stairs into a macabre scene of the Baron, half-naked women, a piper, and Grogar laid on an altar awaiting a ghoulish fate. These crazed people are worshiping a giant slug-like creature called Zugthuu the Slitherer. The creature isn't actually named by Chaykin in the story, but the name appears in the magazine's TOC. Kull and Brule get to work fighting Zugthuu, eventually killing the monstrosity and escape with Grogar. 

The adaptation stays true to the story and successfully visualizes the demonic scene of the piper on the altar. This story borders the horror genre closely (don't they all?) and Chaykin's drawings capture the creepy vibes so well. I was really pleased with how this turned out considering the strength of the original material. 

This was another fantastic issue and one that is often cited as a real highlight of the series. It is definitely worth your time to pursue it in whatever format you prefer – trade, digital, individual issues, hardcover. Recommended! 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, February 4, 2022

Brad Dolan #01 - Back Country

William Fuller worked on freighters and farms, served as a newspaper reporter, and was an infantryman during WWII. It was during the early 1940s through the 1950s that Fuller's short stories were purchased by the likes of Sky Aces, Adventure, and Argosy. Like Steve Fisher, Fuller found success in the slick magazines like Collier's, McCall's and even Esquire. With the onset of paperback publishing, Fuller began writing full-length novels in the 1950s, beginning with 1954's Back Country. It was an enormous success for Dell and Fuller. 

The novel, the first of six to star a vagabond hero named Brad Dolan, sold a half-million copies. Long out of print, Stark House Press has resurrected Back Country as part of their Black Gat Book imprint. The reprint features a comprehensive and insightful look at the series by esteemed scholar and author Bill Pronzini. As a fan of Fuller's Brad Dolan character and his only stand-alone novel, The Pace That Kills, I was excited to learn that Back Country was being reintroduced to modern readers.

Brad Dolan served in both WW2 and Korea, an experience that led to harsh imprisonment in a German camp as a prisoner-of-war. Banged up after the wars, Dolan is driving across inland Florida en route to the southern beaches of Miami. Along the way, his car gives out and he becomes stranded in a small, fictional Florida town called Cartersville. It is one of those map dots that features a war monument, a dusty park or two, the obligatory noisy railroad, and old men playing shuffleboard until they die. Dolan reminds readers and himself, “This is the Florida the tourists never see. This is small town anywhere.

In a sweltering bar, Dolan downs a cold brew and offers to buy a woman a drink. After a minor scuffle, Dolan is hit with a sap. He then finds himself crawling through a Japanese jungle and raking fire across huts. He then wakes up and realizes he's still in the one-horse town, only he now sees it on the wrong side of iron bars. The Cartersville police then beat him up and he spends days in a daze. Eventually, the one horse that owns the town shows up – Mr. Rand Ringo. 

Ringo reviews Dolan's past and realizes his operation could benefit from his talents. He pays Dolan a wad of cash, provides lodging, and tells him to just hang around until he needs him. The hanging around part just so happens to involve Ringo's wife in Dolan's new bed. If that isn't enough grief, Dolan befriends Ringo's sexy twenty-something daughter. But, eventually the rubber hits the road and Dolan is asked to bounce on an African-American named Sam Foster. Ringo lets Foster run some illegal gambling in the black section of town, but all the games are rigged. Sam has been tinkering with the scam and trying to earn an honest living. After Dolan talks with Sam, he realizes Ringo is a toxic influence on Cartersville. It's a criminal infestation that has to stop.

Fuller's novel is a product of the times and is filled with a lot of racist comments and attitudes. But, as Pronzini points out in the introduction, Dolan and the author aren't endorsing racism or that attitude.  Dolan's nemesis...Cartersville's the racist law-enforcement controlled and created by Ringo. In the book's furious finale, Dolan and Sam are forced into the street to face a mob of angry white people Hellbent on a hanging. Dolan's wits, determination, and cool factor win the day, but it's a memorable fight. 

Back Country's first half is cloudy with a lot of dialogue about God, the purpose of life and social philosophy. These conversations place Dolan on an intellectual plane that ran counter to what my beliefs and expectations were of the book. But, the price of admission is well worth it. The novel's second half is a whirlwind of emotion and violence, saturated in Fuller's scrappy storytelling. It isn't pretty, but it doesn't have to be. Back Country isn't a main street crime-noir. It lives up to its name. Back Country is a crossroads of dastardly villains, despicable authority, and a lot of lyin' and cheatin' no good son of a guns. Thankfully, Brad Dolan is back in the house.