Thursday, June 24, 2021

QUICK SHOTS: The World's Greatest Superheroes Present Superman by Martin Pasko, George Tuska and Vince Colletta

Mass Market Paperback-sized comics reprints are definitely a thing of the past. I have a fondness for the them based on a well-thumbed copy of "The Untold Legend of the Batman" which is a reprint of a Len Wein, Jim Aparo and John Byrne three-issue run that sorta retells bits of the Golden/Silver Age Batman stories. I LOVED IT. It was such a great entry-point for a Batman-obsessed kid like me, giving me a lot of the groundwork to figure stuff out when I picked up new issues of various Batman titles. Now I don't really search them out, but I pretty much buy whatever paperback-sized reprints I see. 

So, a while back I stumbled into this book, a Daredevil reprint, a Batman "Choose Your Own Adventure" style book, and one of the Denny O'Neill/Neal Adams Green Arrow/Green Lantern run. This Superman book caught my eye because the stories were from the newspaper strip which I have never seen anything from. Plus during the pandemic I showed my wife the 1978 "Superman" and have continued on to "Superman II." She's enjoyed both, but I have fears for showing her the next two in the series what with Nuclear Man and Richard Pryor. Back to the matter at hand. I would have loved a daily newspaper comic full of superheroes like Batman, Robin, Superman, Black Lightning, Aquaman, Flash and Wonder Woman. Sure would have beat "Kathy" and "Family Circus." The strip contained is written by Martin Pasko who I've only ever read work from his brief stint on "Swamp Thing." Plus I've always like Colletta and Tuska too. 

In this slim volume Superman pals around with Wonder Woman, The Flash and Aquaman. They hang out in their satellite HQ and save the world from the oldest living man Vandal Savage. Savage is a surprising villain for being in a newspaper. I'd have imagined they would have stuck with Lex Luthor or Brainiac but it was a pleasant surprise. There's natural disasters, hidden traps in icebergs, dumping on Aquaman, hypnotized Wonder Woman and Superman being the big-blue boy-scout he is. They whole story plays like a slightly more sophisticated episode of "The Super Friends." Newspaper Strips when collected sort of start and stop, obviously because they are designed to be read in spurts. It can be a little jarring at times. This one is a bit smoother than others though. If you go in expecting to spend a couple of minutes (seriously they can be read real quick) enjoying silly superhero hijinks then you'll enjoy it. But it's certainly not a "serious" superhero book. I really prefer my superhero comics to be a bit "lighter" I want to have fun with these characters, so this is just perfect. 

Monday, June 7, 2021

Quick Shots: "The Death Specialists" by Gary Paulsen

When I look back on my reading life there's several several authors that seemed to jump-start me onto my present reading path. In high school Joe R. Lansdale got horror-movie-obsessed me to read mysteries with Hap and Leonard which led me down many a dark and dangerous alley on the page, of course. Then Ralph Dennis got me interested in those numbered paperbacks from the 70's where guns were blazing and women were loosing their clothes on the page of course. But way before that in a reading lull in middle school I read Gary Paulsen's "The Hatchet" and books were cool to me suddenly. "The Hatchet" is a book a lot of people my age have a strong affection for, a lot of folks say that Paulsen really only connects with young dudes, but my wife read "The Hatchet" and everything else she could by Paulsen then too. I also own several actual hatchets because of the book, you know just in case. So, when I found out that earlier in his career he penned a Men's Adventure book called "The Death Specialists" I knew I had to read it being a sucker for mercenary tales and the early paperback originals of established authors. 

"The Death Specialists" is a Major book, the publisher, not a reflection of the novel itself. It's a solid, workman like novel with flashes of Paulsen's clean writing brilliance. He also had another Major book called "The Implosion Effect," it says so right on the cover, so that's on my radar now. I'd imagine Paulsen had read Frederick Forsyth's "The Dogs of War" a couple of years before; they both have a emphasis on the planning of the mission and a similar general feel, though "The Death Specialists" is definitely the B-movie version. Without Paulsen's nature talent the book would really be a third-rate version of Peter McCurtin's "Soldier of Fortune" novels but it was stronger then it should be coming out of a fairly small/bad publisher. 

I'm pretty sure the protagonist is unnamed throughout the book, I might have missed it at the beginning but it was half way though the book before I realized I didn't know his name. Glancing back through I didn't see it. So I could be wrong, but it would make sense because anonymity is a big deal to this Merc. No pictures, no witness, he'll kill to keep himself unknown. The Merc (as I'll call him) is really a hard-boiled character, quickly killing though he does worry about his conscious creeping in. He's a cipher of a lead and the rest of the characters are only roughly sketched out. One of the more intriguing characters is The Quiet Man of the group nicknamed Hatchet (shades of Paulsen's later fame) who specializes in infiltration and quiet kills. Hatchet likes to put himself in a trance and is a lousy shot, but uber-deadly with his name-suggesting hatchet. The mission is to destroy a oil refinery in Central America by the very company that owns it and that's heavily guarded. It's a general suicide mission with a ticking clock-deadline but the moneys too good to pass up. To accomplish his goal the Merc gathers a team ('natch) that's fairly colorful but standard i.e. pilot, heavy gunner, infiltration, grunts etc. etc. There's some well placed and researched (as far I know) tactics and gun talk and their plan to take out the refinery is nice a pulpy-paperback fun. Along the way they tango with the CIA, a little sex, parachuting, battle the CIA, endure some mild torture, fight it out with a nasty 'ol Nazi and his private army and kill a couple of folks in public toilets.  

"The Death Specialists" seems to have been the first in a proposed series, there's a nice tag for their next mission at the end but sadly it never came to fruition. Major Books was a fly-by-night kinda joint it seems so who knows what happened. Paulsen elevates the whole thing, but it does kind of drag in the middle with all the planning and then get wrapped up a bit too quick. Maybe he was getting close to his agreed upon word count, but it sorta feels lop-sided. All in all thought it's a solid-little piece of work, which has never been reprinted or anything to my knowledge but it deserves a look if you're into gritty 70's mercenary tales. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Operation Hang Ten #3: Too Mini Murders by Patrick (George Snyder) Morgan

The Operation Hang Ten books are one of those high-priced series that I'm sure most people have bought just for the covers or the novelty. They're nice covers and it's also got a surfing angle that appeals to the surfers out there, further adding to the scarcity. But it's a shame as they're pretty good. They were also a Lyle Kenyon Engle joint, a paperback "packager" who came up with Nick Carter's Killmaster make-over as well as Dracula Returns, The Baroness, Chopper Cop etc. etc. Engle hired writer George Snyder to flesh out what I assume was some sort of "Mod Squad" riff about a surfer/spy that was at least sort of based on Snyder's first novel "Surfside Sex" from Neva books, which is desperately want to own/read. It lasted for ten books, which is decent run. Hell Chopper Cop only got 3.

George Snyder wrote a lot of books, he provided seven Nick Carter Killmaster adventures, contributed for  two for the short-lived Grant Fowler spy novels for Award books, a stand-alone Manson cash-in "The Hippy Cult Murders" as Ray Stanley and a then later in life he had three series running with characters named Ray Rumble, Logan Sand and Mac Tuff. The Bay Rumble books seem like a modern riff on the Operation Hang Ten books, I have the first but haven't tackled it yet. I'm a fan, he kind of gets a bad rap on the internet which mostly stems (I think) from the price of the Hang Ten books and what a readers expectations are. Cause he's the rub: The adventures of Bill Cartwright agent of Operation Hang Ten aren't really the swinging spy novels they are packaged to be. No, they are hard-boiled detective yarns. So, if you spend a lot of money for a musty old spy paperback and get very little spying, you might be disappointed. Go into them thinking of them as Hi-Tech Detective novels and you'll have a good time. 

Bill Cartwright is a young "anti-establishment" type-via in a Frank Sinatra sorta way. He's a millionaire  because of the accidental death of his parents who spent his inheritance wisely on a Hemi-powered Woody station wagon and a swingers trailer complete with a "computer" that does everything from making ample amounts of scotch and sodas to watching TV. Also on a small custom built .22 Magnum semi-automatic pistol which he keeps nestled in the small of his back when he's (as he puts it) "manhunting." With all this cool stuff he gets set-up as a private eye by Operation Hang Ten a vague crime-fighting organization that's basically the light beer version of U.N.C.L.E. He's also kinda an arrogant jerk with a MAJOR eye for the ladies. He's a weird mix of the old-school version of tough guys and a modern (well, late 60's) "cool dude." But his young age does give the books a breath of fresh air and a different tone from the majority of the Men's Adventure of the time. He can talk hot rods, surfing, and other "youth" activities. I do think the name "Bill Cartwright" doesn't scream secret agent/spy, more like middle-aged rancher. It probably would have been cooler to switch the characters name and the pseudonym Patrick Morgan. At least you'd have a Morgan/pirate connection that would have tied into the surfing/ocean theme. Maybe its just because both my dad's and father-in-law is named Bill is why is a little hard to swallow.

In the third adventure "Too Mini Murders" Bill has to figure out why the pretty daughters of TOP GOVERNMENT MEN are dying. Psst. It's because of secrets. Bill gets tangled up with a few women, battles a Red China agent who acts more like a mob boss and his goons who act exactly like goons. There's some drag-racing, killing with a spear-gun (but not how you think) fights, shootings, grizzly murders and a lot of women getting beat-up, but not by Bill at least but it's a bit excessive. Bill goes around pissing off the cops and "the man," and bitching about the conforming culture that he's bucking against. It's a solid, tight little crime adventure novel, nothing fancy but it goes through the motions in a pleasant way, then rockets into a nice action-packed finale where grenades, hot rods, submarine sabotage and cliff-side crashes all play a part. 

I do have a question to yell out into the vastness of the internet. According the George Snyder himself he was only responsible for seven out of the ten Hang Ten novels:

1. "Hang Dead Hawaiian Style"

2. "Too Mini Murders"

3. "Deadly Group Down Under" 

4. "The Cute and Deadly Surf Twins" 

5. "Scarlet Surf at Makaha" 

7. "The Girl in the Telltale Bikini" 

8. "Beach Queen Blowout"

Which leaves these three unaccounted for:

6. "Topless Dancer Hangup"

9. "Death Car Surfside"

10. "Freaked Out Strangler"

Now, the book that got me hooked on the series was "Death Car Surfside," a non-Snyder penned on, it's been a while I don't really remember a striking difference between the ones that Snyder wrote and "Death Car Surfside," so I wonder who really wrote them. I doubt that Snyder wouldn't fess up to writing all of them if he actually did, but whoever wrote them must have read some of the Snyder's work. So, big mystery. Anyone have any leads? Drop me a line if you do. Inquiring minds (me) want to know. 

Anywho, the Operation Hang Ten books rank highly in my favorite Men's Adventure series list. Their a lot of fun non-sense in the best sense. They feel like novelizations for a favorite old TV show...wait....hold on....go to Google and search "Christopher Stone Operation Hang Ten" and marvel at some pictures. ABC commissioned a 30-minute pilot in 1973 (the same year the book series ended) and it looks pretty good. "Star Trek" vets Gene Coon and Herb Solow were behind the scenes and Stone looks like the guy on the paperback covers. From the pictures it looks like they swapped the Woody and camper for a groovy RV and the vague hints of plot gleaned from here and there makes it seem like Bill would have been more in the "undercover cop" variety. Still I'd love to see it, so few movies or TV were pulled from the paperback-racks of the era, it'd be interesting to see how it fared. Back to the books, if you find one snap it up but maybe don't pay a premium price cause if you're patient you can find them at a decent price, a handful of mine came from different eBay lots and don't be surprised to find water damage. Damn surfers. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Quick Shots: The White Cad Cross-Up by William F. Nolan

William F. Nolan is mostly known as the guy who wrote "Logan's Run," the book not the movie. He wrote a lot books. Including books where the real life "Black Mask Boys" i.e. Hammett, Chandler and Erle Stanley Gardner solve their own (fictional) mysteries. Then more "Logan's Run" books, a series of Sci-fi/P.I. books about a detective names Sam Space, lots of biographies, a good deal of work for film and TV (including a TV movie called "Sky Heist" that I now have to watch because Stephanie Powers is married to Frank Gorshin (!) and the they rob 10 million in gold with a helicopter) and the Challis series. The Challis series mostly involves a California private eye named Bart Challis, but there's some stories about his brother Nick too. In what is a cosmic blunder these pitch perfect paperback private eye novels only ever appeared in hardback and the odd chapbook. 

The plot is convoluted as all get out. It's a tale of double-cross, murder set-ups, astray Cadillacs, old gangsters complete with Molls, groovy 60's California sub-cultures, gun-fights and fisticuffs, no cliché is left unturned and it boils down to a HOOT! Hanging out with Challis is fun. He a wise-ass who gets more broken bits and head trauma that any man can take. He shoots his .38 straight and drives his Covair Sprint around with abandon, questioning, roughing up and bugging people until the plot is clear enough to see for miles ahead. The action comes at you fast and its well-told, the dialog bouncing pleasantly back and forth from wit to old welcome tough guy banter. Nolan's tongue has to be in his cheek with these yarns, he knew the format and style of the hardboiled school well and it's fairly obvious that Challis and all of his concussions aren't meant to be a gentle poke on the conventions. It's not an all-out parody or even a really comic novel, like say a Shell Scott, it just has a knowing "aren't we having fun" tone.

A nice surprise.
William Nolan is a pretty solid writer, I remember enjoying "Logan's Run" when I read it years ago, but I never sampled much more of his work, save his teleplay for "The Norliss Tapes"  the best "reporter hunting vampire" TV movie this side of "The Night Stalker." It's a shame that's there's only really two novels, this one and "Death is for Losers" the rest being novellas and short stories. Maybe if Challis made the leap to softcover because that's really where all this fun hokum is meant to be. Hardback mystery fans might not have taken too well to some light camp mixed with their tough-guy antics or be completely appalled at the sex and violence, instead going back to their softer Lew Archer novel. Paperback readers would have lapped it up, it would have set nicely on a shelf next to a Ron Goulart John Easy book, Mike Shayne or a Pete Chambers. To steal a line for Joe R. Lansdale, it's private eye action, as you like it.