Thursday, January 28, 2021

Quick Shots: Targitt by Richard S. Meyers

A while back after I could get out of the house during this whole pandemic I beelined to my favorite bookstore and loaded my arms up. Not that I was starving for reading material; I'm certain I will die under an avalanche of cool and unread paperback novels. But It was nice to freshen up the overstuffed shelves. Besides the books, I indulged myself in some of the kinds with pictures, getting my hands on some "Sable, Freelance," 'Power Man and Iron Fist," and accidentally completing the Atlas/Seaboard Targit series with issue #1 from the 70's. It wasn't hard (there's three issues, like a lot of Atlas comics) but it was a happy accident. Low and behold a couple days later a targeted (get it?) ad on Facebook led me to find out that there was a new series of novels based on the Atlas comics. The first one was "Targitt," life is funny sometimes. So, I immediately got on Amazon and a few Prime days later I had the book in my hand and it promptly got lost in the shuffle. But I didn't stay lost for too long which is a small miracle for me.

Richard S. Meyer wrote the first issue of the original "Targitt" comic, he may have wrote the last two but I don't remember and my comic long boxes are inaccessible after my move. The first issue of the comic sets up a familiar "mob-busting" plot line, much like "The Executioner," "The Punisher," "The Sharpshooter/Marksman," etc. etc. Badass guy's family is collateral damage in a mob killing and they go after them with vengeance on the brain. It's a nice full circle that Ric Meyers did the novel. He's an old pro at the Men's Adventure novel and it's a welcome return. His runs on "Dirty Harry," "Ninja Master," and "Mac Wingate" prove to be some of my favorites from those series. He's got a fun cinematic style of writing that makes everything feel like a solid little B-Actioner. 

"Targitt" is a lot of fun in general. Luckily Targitt himself doesn't wallow in the death of his wife and child too long and just starts busting heads. He's a fairly standard kind of hero for this type of story, Vietnam Vet, working for the FBI to bust the mob, that is before he goes revengin.' With the help of his resident "Q" Hunch he gets a bullet-proof suit and a special .357 called...wait for it...The Targitt Special. Noice. With the help of a female FBI agent with a secret and his dad's old buddy from the Korean war. There's super-human drug addicts that are seemingly unstoppable, old Nazi doctors, dangerous mobsters and by-the-book FBI men. It's a bucketful of over-the-top entertainment, hopefully Meyers can write a bunch more. If you're looking for anything "realistic" you may want to look else where but if you'd like to read the comic book version of a Men's Adventure novel pick it up because it's the novel version of a comic book take on the Men's Adventure novel. My wires might have got crossed in that, but anyway it I wholly recommend it.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Quick Shots: Diabolik: Fight Against Time

Diabolik is a world wide phenomenon...except for America, where if he's known at all it's for the awesome Mario Bava film, which is where I was first introduced to the utterly cool Diabolik and Eva Kant. Diabolik was created in 1962 by two sisters, Angela and Luciana Giussani in digest-size comics. Diabolik himself is a total anti-hero, a near ruthless criminal only out for the loot, pulling off daring heists and staying one step ahead of the law in a skin-tight back body suit and only his knives to protect him. A lot of source cite him as some sort of Italian Batman, but I don't buy it. Maybe in popularity, but other then a dark costume and cool gadgets there's not much in common. Diabolik is much cooler too. 

There hasn't been many English translations, a couple in the 80's from Pacific comic and six in the early 2000's by Scorpion comics. I have two of the Scorpion releases and wish I had hundreds more English translations to dive into, but alas life isn't fair. There are some original Italian issues on my shelves and I can get the gist of them from the artwork, but it's not quite as satisfying. The Scorpion comics are newer story's, probably fairly recent from when they were published, I would love to get my hands on the early issues where Diabolik is even nastier. With the waves of European comics making their way to the U.S. it boggles my mind why this and the also fantastic Dylan Dog and Martin Mystery comics haven't had a least more issue's translated.

In this issue, Inspector Ginko who's Diabolik's chief antagonist has his girlfriend kidnapped for revenge and it ties into a diamond heist Diabolik was on.  It's a comic issue, so there's not a mountain of story, Diabolik and Ginko work together in a tight spot, Eva Kant does a daring scuba rescue, there's baddies out for revenge and Diabolik's customary disguises and of course Diabolik gets away with it. It's all done professionally and cleanly, but I did prefer the other issue "Terror Aboard the Kamima," which was a lot more thrilling. Diabolik doesn't even wear his costume in this tale and kinda of takes a backseat to Ginko.

I'm a fan of Diabolik. Comics like this make me pine for a more and more. I was a big comic reader when I was a kid and teen but I'm fairly bored with superheroes and the like, it's nice an refreshing to have a nice crime tale but still told in the slightly fantastic comic-book-y way. I don't think Diabolik is for the majority of American comic readers though, they seem to like their men in tights to be a bit more grandiose and heroic. I'll take a couple of knives and a black suit any day.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Quick Shots: The Butcher 31: Death in Yellow by Stuart (Michael Avallone) Jason

Throughout the 31st volume of The Butcher phrases and names stick out, Fu Manchu, Tarzan, Shiwan Khan, "The Master of Men," this is Avallone wearing his pulp-love on his sleeve and acknowledging what kind of novel he's writing. Michael Avallone is one of my favorite writers, if not my favorite. His Ed Noon books spanning thirty-years is a towering work, an ever-evolving take on the generic private-eye tropes told in a incredibly unique, funny, thrilling and snappy manner. It's something few writers could have done, write that much about one dude and never make it stale. He was a one-of-a-kind writer. 

Avallone took over The Butcher series with number 27 and wrote all of the remaining books in the series. James Dockery wrote most of the rest of them and I've never made it through one of his entries. The inception of the series is interesting because it was originally offered to that utterly badass writer Ennis Willie to continue his Sand series. He didn't want to do it and passed it off to Dockery who made a very pale copy of Sand and left out all the tight-writing and excitement of Willie's writing. It's my recommendation to only bother with the Avallone Butchers but also buy Ennis Willie's Sand books too and cry to know that there could have been more Sand in the world. Basically Butcher is "the only man to walk out on the mob," who has a price on his head but now works for the government. He likes ladies, blasting baddies and his silenced Walther P-38, that's about all you need to know.

"Death in Yellow" is a yellow-peril book, a spin on Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu novels and the decedents of Fu Manchu. Those sensitive to racial issues might have a problem with it, but "Death in Yellow" is no where as bad as a actual Fu Manchu in terms of being VERY racist, the novels villain just happens to be Vietnamese who acts Chinese and enjoys the "evil mastermind" stereotypes. Avallone is playing in a sub-genre that could easily make a reader feel uncomfortable. I can read and enjoy things and look past the out-dated prejudices, though I do understand and acknowledge that parts of certain novels are problematic but not everyone can and that's okay. There's plenty of books in the world.

But this a corker of a book, straight-to-the-point and pedal down. Butcher barely has time to breath as he is assigned by "White Hat" a super-spy organization to go to Florida to check in on a super-gas that can kill swaths of people. As per usual with the series, it opens with a mafia hit-man trying to collect he price on Butcher's head and spoiler, failing. Then he gets wrapped up with Gorgeous Jean and he muscle-bound morons, gets laid, is attacked by rabid rats, gassed, knocked out, and trapped in Lo Te Tsang's Spanish Ruins complex of death in the Florida swamp to save a scientist and get some revenge then there's some more double-crosses and picking up pretty waitresses. It's a busy coupla days for Butcher.

This is pretty much what I look for in a Men's Adventure book, lots of adventure, ladies, comforting action tropes and a slight tongue-in-cheek approach. Avallone has a fun, loose way of telling an adventure story, you strap yourself down, let it roll and you'll have a good time.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Hitman #2: They Me Kill You, Sweetheart by Kirby (Kin Platt) Carr

Kin Platt was an interesting individual, a cartoonist and writer who produced work in a most mediums, comic books, YA novels, advertising, kids books, radio, film, adult novels, "adult" novels (wink) and TV. Most of the work I've read by him has a definite satirical bend to it. He's most well known for his children's novels, which tackled a lot of "mature" topics for kid's books, divorce, drugs, mental issues and such. He also wrote a pretty fun adult mystery series about Max Roper. While looking into Platt I stumbled upon his YA novel "The Blue Man," and had a long-forgotten memory of the book nudged out into the open in my brain. I think I read it many years ago, I'll have to track it down (cause I need more books?) to double check.

But his entry into the world of Men's Adventure fiction is what I'm talking about today (or whenever you read this) and that is Mike Ross a.k.a. The Hitman who packs heat and dresses in all black complete with cowl with "slit eye openings" to hunt down criminals. It's a series that's on one hand very much in the Pulp Hero mold, he operates very much like The Spider or The Shadow and on the other owing to Platt's comic book history. It's a world where spooky things, (vampires, witches etc. etc.) can exist? Maybe? Sometimes they seem to and it comes out of nowhere and then some are "Scooby-Doo" villains who get their rubber mask pulled off. It's probably owes more to the "one draft" novel approach of some of these lower-class publishers then a straight artistic choice. But who knows, I enjoy them for their seat-of-the-pants-kitchen-sink style. Platt was probably having fun writing them; just letting them pour out. 

SIDE- BAR: I often find myself on pdf's of archival material that authors have donated to universities. Their full of little tidbits of information and "lost" work type stuff. You have to get used to how their laid out but it's a interesting rabbit-hole to fall down into. I've done it with Michael Avallone and the Kansas author L.V. Roper. When this Covid-19 loosens it's death-grip on the U.S. (seriously where's The Spider to blast it into submission with his blazin' .45s?) I might make a pilgrimage to Roper's collection which seems to house unpublished novels in his "Renegade Roe" series.  Platt's is at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center and pouring through the stuff in the collection I've found the original titles to some in the series. As follows: 

1. "The Vampire People Eater Caper"

2. "The Big Blue Kill" or "Cop Killers"

3. "The Young Deceivers" 

4. "The Scorpion Contract"

5. "The Tough Kill" or "The Hard Kill" 

He seems like he might have given up on naming them once we figured out that Canyon Books was going to name them whatever the hell they wanted. But there's a nice little nugget of usless information for you.

Platt does seem to have a firmer grip on what he wants the character and the world to be in the second novel, the first is a bit looser and free-wheelin' but Platt has all his character stuff set it seems and the world built and is now just playing around. His mentor Lo doesn't play much of a part in this episode, but his other secondary characters i.e. his S&W Model 29 .44 Magnum, the Baby Erma .22 Luger, and his "burpgun" have a lot to do. The action comes often and nice a gory, but is over fairly quickly. There's obvious humor scenes and colorful character names which make the books really stand out among the rest of "The Executioner" clones. The plot is convoluted as hell and fantastic. Cops are being killed all over the country and The Hitman wants to stop it. The mob is involved, also a cult, also witches and a home-grown terrorist outfit. The final big-bad reveal is a bit of a stretch is wrapped up so quickly Platt must have know he was close to his word count. There's a lot of goofy stuff that will turn people off, odd scenes and asides about occult matters that really don't go anywhere. But if you in the right mind-set its a helluva ride. 

The books are too hard to get and pricey to boot, it'd be a fun series to see reprinted but I don't know if it'll happen. Platt's Max Roper books are available as ebooks so that's something. If you dig 30's-40's pulp heroes or their modern counterparts it's fun to see what the forefathers of the pulp-revival were doing in the 70s. Watch out on the blog for more Hitman reviews and even a review of "The Impossible Spy" by Kirby Carr, the only non-Hitman book Platt did as Carr which promises psychic spies.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Quick Shots: Big Brain #1: The Advark Affair by Gary Brandner

The Big Brain books are mostly known for their eye-popping (or brain-popping) covers than anything. Here's the deal, it's a bit of false advertising, "Big Brain" or Colin Garrett doesn't have a translucent skull where you can see his big 'ol brain, no apparently he looks pretty normal. Gary Brandner is best known as the author of "The Howling," which is like the best werewolf movie ever (sorry American Werewolf) but he had a long career, post-Howling mostly writing thick horror novels. Though he also appeared pretty regularly in the mystery digests of the 70's and 80's, having a few good private eye characters like D. Stonbreaker and Dukane. He clearly had a affinity for the mystery/thriller genre.

And there's the rub, the Big Brain books are mystery/thrillers for the most part, not crazy pulp science fiction as they appear. It was probably the reason the series didn't last longer. Mystery fans might have liked it but were turned off by the sci-fi covers and vise-versa. The whole set-up seems like a bit of cash-in on "The Six Million Dollar Man" with some Doc Savage thrown in for good measure. Colin had be raised from birth to be a mental giant who gets roped into working for a secret government agency as a trouble-shooter. It had TV-Pilot-Movie potential written all over it. I can see big Kenner action figures where you could pop the top off of Colin's head to see his gooey big brain. 

The novel operates a espionage mystery, scientists on the hush-hush Advark program are suddenly reduced to drooling, babbling nincompoops. Big Brain is pulled away from his lady-friend and whisked away to solve the problem. Colin's a likeable-character who dispite his vast knowledge is still an amateur in the spy game, he can't really shoot or fight. Maybe he'll memorize a karate pamphlet in one of the next adventures, but it's a pleasant change from some Men's Adventure heroes who are pretty perfect. There's Russian spies, home-grown mad-men, double-crosses, luscious women, getting hit on the back of the head, and LAZERS. It's fun for the whole family.It worked for me, I can see how it wouldn't work for everyone, but it's a nice set-up for a series as Garret can't seem to get the taste of cloak and daggers out of hi mouth by the final chapter. I'm glad I have the rest of the series to see where it goes, word on the street (internet) is that the final book "Energy Zero" is the best, but sadly it has the worst cover. Kinda fitting.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Men's Adventure in Digestable Form

I've been a book slump; what I pick off the shelves just hasn't been hitting me right or maybe the outside world is just keeping too much of my attention. Whenever I get like this I turn to short stories and novellas, punchier works that don't take anytime to devour usually screws my head on straight. When this strikes, I turn to my digest and anthology shelf. I'm a big fan of digests, but they can be a headache to collect, their scarcity and higher prices has made my collection modest, though I buy them whenever I can. I keep dreaming of the find of a full big box of Mike Shayne's, Hitchcock's and Ellery Queen's but it hasn't happened yet, dammit.  Anyway, here's a smattering of short reviews for short works.

"Seven from INTREX" by Michael Avallone in The Saint Mystery Magazine, September 1966

Michael Avallone is one of favorite authors and it had been a while since I dipped into his work. The David Seven series (four stories) all appeared in The Saint Mystery magazine over the course of 2 years. Seven (cool name) is an agent for a independent crime-fighting agency funded by rich people (if only) to work toward Peace, man. 

David Seven himself is a fairly standard secret agent-type, not surprising that Avallone wrote the first Nick Carter, Killmaster AND the first Man from U.N.C.L.E. tie-in novel. This is very much his own version the super-agent. Knowing Avallone's love of the pulps, it wouldn't surprise me if Operator 5 or Secret Agent X helped in the process. Seven's partner Miles Running Bear Farmer, who gets himself in trouble in this story and Seven has to work to get him out. It's a whole lot of fun, short and too the point with all the nice comforting 60's spy-fi tropes that make me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. I would have loved it if Avallone wrote expanded Seven's world to novel, but it seems like he was busy enough at the time. Though if David Avallone ever reads this, I'd be first in line with a handful of money for a collection of Michael Avallone's short works.

"A Fox on Broadway" by Gary Phillips in "Crime Square" edited by Robert Randisi

I've long been a fan of Gary Phillips, his Ivan Monk mysteries are some of the most unsung private eye novels of the 90's. Plus his stand-alone novel "The Perpetrators" is a stone-cold action novel classic, one of the most high-octane books I've ever read and one of the few I've read more then once. This story is set in the early 80's and stars Pete Atlas, a Men's Adventure private eye who's just plain cool. Not to mention that it name-drops Angela Harpe, star of the "Dark Angel" series by James Lawrence! (Which got me to spend WAY too much to pick up a entry in the series, god, I'm a sucker)

"A Fox on Broadway" is a hoot! Man, it doesn't seem like Phillips ever revisited the Atlas character and that's a bummer. It reads like a super-condensed paperback novel in one of the "Sweats." The opening grabs you (there's a hat-wearing man in a gorilla suit chasing a naked woman down the street) and then throws you on a wild, tight little escaped involving brain-washing and damned 'ol Nazis. The only problem is that its short, I could have read a lot more about Atlas and his adventures. 


"The Majorcan Assignment" by Bill Pronzini and "The Cinder Man" by Jeffery Wallermann in Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, October, 1972

It took me a while to realize that I was reading a "Nameless" detective story from Bill Pronzini, it dawned on me about the time I thought, "gee, did I miss this guys name?" then I felt dumb. I've read a big chunk of the Nameless series in my teens (I was that cool) and always enjoyed them, especially the early ones and the ones centered around pulp magazines. He's a little more hard-boiled in this early story then I remembered him, but it's been a while since I read one of the novels.

"The Majorcan Assignment," finds Nameless in Majorca to deliver some hurried cash to a rich man's son, he's looking at it like a nice vacation, but once there and after a smack in the face he knows trouble is brewing. This is a nice, clean and to-the-point private eye tale with a little more heart then you average tough-guy tale. I'm going to have to dig out one of the novels to read, as it's been too long since me and Nameless hung out.

Jeffrey M. Wallamann wrote with Bill Pronzini some so it was only fitting that I check out his tale, "The Cinder Man," starring insurance investigator Sam Culp. I had read another Culp story in the "Pure Pulp" anthology and enjoyed it. It's a bit by-the-numbers but Culp's a likeable character and it built to some nice tension. I must have liked it well enough because it got me to order Wallermann's novel "The Spiral Web." 

"The Busy Corpse" by Stephen Mertz in The Executioner Mystery Magazine August 1976

The Executioner Mystery Magazine was a short-venture, it probably didn't get a lot of traction because unlike other "stars" of mystery magazines, like Shell Scott, Mike Shayne or The Man from U.N.C.L.E. there is no novella staring Mack Bolan in the magazine, he just lent his nickname to the title. But there's good stuff in them, old stalwarts like Talmage Powell , Gil Brewer, and Richard Demming had stories in them, so you know it's got class.

Stephen Mertz has written a lot of books, including "Some Die Hard," which I reviewed a while ago. He's a fantastic old-school writer of tough-guy fiction who's work is clean, professional and most importantly very entertaining. "The Busy Corpse" is his first published work and it already showed that he was guy who had the goods. It's a clever and fun private eye story and maybe the secret inspiration for "Weekend and Bernie's." I need to pull his newer series about Kilroy, the 70's set Denver P.I. who's already had a few adventures, off the shelf and give the rest of them a spin and review them. "The Busy Corpse" is also easily available in "The King of Horror and Other Stories," a collection of Mertz's short work.

"A Trip to the Islands" by Edward Y. Breese in Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine February 1971

This issue of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine not only has one of favorite characters from MSMM Johnny Hawk, but it also as a Jules de Grandin reprint and the Mike Shayne story was a ghost-work by noted sci-fi and Lovecraftian author Frank Belknap Long, so it's got a lot going for it. But I'm in for the Johnny Hawk tale, so:

Johnny Hawk is a super-hard boiled trouble-shooter with a cut-down .45 Colt New Service and a penchant for getting into and out of jams. Hawk got a lot going for him, he's suitably tough and without a strict background his stories can be mysteries in the private eye mold or more of the secret agent type tale. He would have made a great paperback hero, but Breese kept busy ghost-writing Mike Shayne tales for MSMM and selling stories to other digest. "A Trip to the Islands," is a nice south of the border type adventure with dangerous dames and bad-baddies. I'm on a mission to collect all the Johnny Hawk tales.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Private I by Jimmy Sangster

Being a movie-guy I've long been a fan of the screenwriter Jimmy Sangster who not only wrote a lot of the best Hammer Horror films, he wrote one of my absolute favorite 60's Bond cash-in movies "Deadlier Than the Male." The classic British clubland adventurer Bulldog Drummond was dusted off for the 60's in that film and Sangster's supremely clever and cool script combined with slick production and Richard Johnson's 2nd-only-to-Connery-cool-guy makes the film a treasure.  Between film scripts Sangster found time to produce some novels, some of them are adaptations of his screenplays, others are wholly his invention. He did a swinging spy-caper type in the two novels that comprise the "Touchfeather" series, starring a stewardess turned secret agent. 

And then he did the John Smith double-series, starting with "Private I," which is a more downbeat espionage tale in the Len Deighton mold. Deighton is often overlooked for John le Carre when it comes their influence over the genre. The "Harry Palmer" novels had big influence on a lot of writers who wanted some of the Bond money, but just couldn't do the "spy-fi" thing and wanted to do something grounded. After Len a lot of books about broke, grubby, disobedient secret agents popped up. John Smith is in this mold, but Sangster puts a little American private eye into the soup and lets it boil. It seems like a personal book, whether its just me projecting or not, I think a lot of Sangster is John Smith, the little habits and personal observations.  It's a confident voice that compels you to turn pages. 

So, "Private I" has a cracking good narrative voice, does it have a clever plot to match up with? Yes, yes it does. John Smith is a former spy for the British government now working in the broke-private eye business. He's a unkempt, pudgy kind of man who's not above a dirty dollar who barely has his head above water at the start of the story and quickly sinks. His ex-wife wants pictures of her new government official husband in a compromising position with another man. This is the tip of the iceberg that involves the Chinese spying on the Americans, coded notebooks, the British wanting in on it, murder, blackmail, economy travel, Smith getting a nice new top coat, women, threats and gun fights. Smith is a guy who makes a lot of mistakes, but its stupid or weak; he simply has taken a knife to a gun fight and has to out-smart his opponents.  He'd be a lively guy to have a pint with, so reading about him was a pleasure.

It's a sublime story of a dirty cat-and-mouse game. It's currently very easily picked up in both print, ebook and audio from the stellar publisher Brash Books. Do yourself a favor and give it a try.  Also Sangster's later series about ex-Scotland Yard copper James Reed are novels worth reading, basically I'm saying is it says Jimmy Sangster on the cover you're in for a good time. 

SIDE-NOTE: My copy of "Private I" is a former library book, I usually shy away from ex-library book because of usually being hardbacks and in poor-shape. BUT before I went full-book-crazy I got most of my reading from the library. I got waves of nostalgia holding this re-bond old book. I went through most of my readings Donald Westlake (and Richard Stark) Mickey Spillane, and countless others with these plain covered books that were coffee stained (and god knows what else) and shabby, but shaped my reading love. I guess you can come home again.