Monday, January 24, 2022

Once More a Hero by William Overgard

"Pieces of a Hero" is one of my favorite books I've read in the last couple of years. I imagine it'll be an often thought of book for the rest of my life. One of the ones you compare other books too and debate if the new shiny one was a good. And I also imagine that they won't be. You might want to head back in the archives to read my review of the first one to get some background. William Overgard is more famous as a cartoonist working on newspaper comics like "Kerry Drake," "Steve Canyon" but most notably "Steve Roper" when it became "Steve Roper and Mike Nomad," Nomad was a creation of Overgard himself and became popular enough to usurp the strip from the stalwart Roper. Overgard also had a run of TV movies that he wrote and played a big hand in the "ThunderCats" cartoon in the 80's that was a childhood favorite of mine. He was a helluva writer and cartoonist. So, much so he's in that elite group of artists Roy Lichtenstein "borrowed" from for "I Can See the Whole Room." And besides doing all that he found time to write a few (not enough) books. 

During my on-going research of Overgard and adventure comic strips in general, I found myself pursuing the collection of papers for Allen Saunders ("Kerry Drake" and "Mary Worth") stored at Bolling Green State University. It's something I do often, just so you know how cool, exciting and action packed my life is. Anyway, I stumbled onto a record of "Hero Haggity comic strip typed story ideas; small black and white glossies of characters [by William Overgard]" that is from the "1960s?" Allen Saunders worked closely with Overgard on the Steve Roper strip. It's not surprising that Hero Haggity was devised as an adventure strip before he was a novel character. Overgard was devoted fan of Milton Canniff and "Terry and the Pirates," and vibe/tone is similar. "Terry and the Pirates" is one of those fairly forgotten pieces of media that permeated pop-culture hard for a while and soaked itself into a lot of books, comics, TV and movies with its influence but it's all but forgotten these days. I find it gets mentioned in Men's Adventure and thrillers (especially in the 70's) a lot. I'm sure a lot of writers grew up reading it. Robert Culp always maintained that "Terry and the Pirates" is what he had in mind he wrote his (the best) episodes of the series. 

So, what do you get when you mix "Terry and the Pirates" style high-flyin' adventure, the "Sweat" mags, loads of humor, a giant soldier of fortune named Hero who's missing a leg, an eye, and a hand, incredibly well-endowed strippers, the mafia, the CIA and an African revolution? A dynamite book. One of my only problems with "Pieces of a Hero" was that Hero wasn't front and center a lot of the time. "Once More a Hero" fixes this and you spend a lot of time with the rude and crude dude who smokes cigars and shoots his Broom-handle Mauser. On the run after wasting some mob-types who said some untoward things about his lady Happy. Happy was a major character in the previous book but takes to the wings for this one which is a shame cause she's a lot of fun. So, after killing some hoods Hero gets hooked up with Zafra, a librarian who represents a group who wants to go to Africa and perform coup d'etat and have Hero lead a squad of all African American soldiers (who pose as Harlem Globetrotters knockoff) to fight the war. Complications ensue including "the black Truman Capote" being Commander in Chief, a CIA killer named The Toyman who is drafted/taken hostage for the action, a little love, tons of tough-guy shenanigans, prostitutes, knife fights, a little war, the secret police, etc. etc. Plus, 'ol Hero being his gruff self and making trouble which is what he was built for. There're little nods throughout that tell you Overgard was a comic-man. Hero never misses "Dick Tracy" and "Gasoline Alley," and calls Zafra "The Dragon Lady," at one point. Overgard wears his inspirations on his sleeve. It's not surprising that he's a very visual writer, laying it all out like a comic panel of words. It's a fatter book then a lot of Men's Adventure novels and the action is spread out with fun banter, but when the action comes its fast, hard and cinematic.

"Once More a Hero" might not be quite up the high standards of the first one. It's certainly less complicated. "Pieces of a Hero" had a complicated double or triple-or more-cross aspects with slippery characters cutting throats. This one's more straight forward, which I think has more to do with Hero being all the way up front. He's too much of a straight shooter to pull any cloak-and-dagger bullshit. It's a small dig, I still enjoyed the book immensely. Some of the racial politics a laughably outdated but I got over it, it's no worse than most 70's novels that dip into the quasi-Black Panther stories of African American revolutionaries. It's just a fair warning. This is a bawdy book out to shock and awe full of gruff mercs, spies and revolutionaries it's going to be a little rough around the edges. One thing this one has got over the first one is a fantastic cover done by Overgard himself. Much better than the first. Sadly, all of Overgard's novels (and most of his comic work) are out of print. The books can get picked up cheap enough, I have them all and now I'll have to dive into his non-Hero books which sound just as good.

Friday, January 14, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: "Silent Murder: A Team Three Case" by Chet Cunningham

My recent discovery of Irwin Zacharia's books got me to buy a big stack of other novels put out by the low-rent and possible money-laundering scheme that was Carousel. Most of the authors that wrote for Carousel didn't have much of a career after their short stint (at least as far as I know, which isn't much) save writers like Mike Newton and Chet Cunningham. If you've been knocking around the world of Men's Adventure books for any length of time you've probably ran into a book by Chet Cunningham, whether or not it was under his name. He wrote about everything, from western series like Jim Steel and Brad Spear to YA post-apocalyptic series like Turbo Cowboys to more traditional M.A. stuff like writing Mack Bolan and The Avenger series. Plus, with Mark Roberts her wrote half of The Penetrator books which are really some of my favorite Men's Adventure books, having the right balance of craziness and action. So, when I came across Cunningham's name in the Carousel back pages, I eagerly bought up the two books that comprise the "Team Three Case" series. 

I accidently read the 2nd book before the 1st one by grabbing it for waiting to get a Covid test with nothing else to read I just dove in. The basic Mod Squad-esque setup is that there's a white private eye named Ted, a Latinx ex-cop named Carmen and a black ex-cop named Barry. All together they are Team Three, get it? Together they solve mysteries. That's about it, it's a nice, uncluttered set-up. In "Silent Murder" Barry is visiting an old buddy in a small California town to see him perform at an art show where he is bizarrely murdered in front of everyone i.e., the titular silent murder. So, Barry starts poking his nose and even gets deputized to track down the killer. Carmen and Ted come up to help otherwise it'd be a Team One Case. There are attempted murders, speargun attacks, orgies, blackmail, nude modeling, a KKK douchebag, .38s, pocket .22's, firebombs, CB radios, and weirdo artists. Barry gets the most screen-time here, but that's not to say they any of them are fleshed out characters. This is a seriously short book, big print at around 150 pages and it moves lightning fast. It's really more of a mystery (though the solution is kinda easy to spot if you're old-hat at these type of things) so don't expect Cunningham in action mode. 

I enjoyed the book; it had a sleazy Cinemax does an 80's detective show vibe and I like the set-up. I'm sure they didn't pay enough for Cunningham to flesh anything out past a nice first draft so that's what he seemed to lay down. The defects are easy enough to overlook and Cunningham's no-frills style makes for fast enjoyment. He's a total pro. I'm glad I have another Team Three Case to tackle, I wonder if one of the other of the Three take front stage. A rotating lead would make sense with the set up. The Carousel books are hard and kind of pricey, I got good deal on mine, but I don't know if I'd recommend dropping too much on them. After all the cover price is $1.75, its certainly more than that in terms of thrills but not upwards of $20.

Monday, January 10, 2022

SHORTS ROUNDUP - Hugh B. Cave, E. Hoffmann Price, Manly Wade Wellman, Robert E. Howard and John Jakes

"The Evil Flame" by Justin (Hugh B. Cave) Case -- Cave is mostly known these days from his stand-alone horror work and his "Weird Tales," uh, tales. From Robert Weinberg and Stefan R. Dziemianowicz's "Hard-Boiled: 23 Great Stories from Dime Detective Magazine" I discovered his wonderful Peter Kane mysteries which have been collected a couple of times. They're a lot of hard-boiled, booze-soaked fun. Cave tells us that the "Spicy" pulp racket offered him more money to write for them, so under the tongue in cheek name "Justin Case" he did just that. A number of them are about "The Eel" who is out "gentleman correspondent" who has loose morals and an eye for the scantily clad ladies that do seem to pop up in the spicy pulps. In "The Evil Flame" he's at least pretending to be a private eye in Florida when an odd, beautiful dame asks him to help find her sister. What follows is a weird, voodoo, snake lust tale with plenty of tough guy and horror shenanigans with tons of fist fights, creepy crawlies, and night trips into the Florida swamps. The Eel is fun guy to hang around with, you know nothing about him but that just adds to the charm. The horror element was a nice surprise and I'm looking forward to the rest of The Eel tales.

"The Peacock's Shadow" by E. Hoffmann Price -- Pierre d'Artois is a bit of a forgotten occult detective from the pulps. The characters debut was right about the same time Seabury Quinn's Jules de Gardin appeared and became popular. Not wanting to seem the copycat Price discontinued his swashbuckling French paranormal investigator. It's a shame, the more I read about d'Artois the more I like him better than Gardin. d'Artois is a master swordsman and spooky adventurer who with the help of his manservant and E. Hoffmann Price-stand-in Glenn Farrell get into all manner of supernatural escapades. Having read the first story in this collection and "The Peacock's Shadow" I realize that I am in the middle of a loose novel about d'Artois battle with the Peacock King or ya know Satan. There's a Sherlock Holmes/Watson dynamic going on between Farrell and d'Artois to give him the right amount of mystery, there's mysterious stolen mummies, there's women who look exactly like ancient paintings plus blackjacks, Lugers and battle axes. It's great fun, at some point the series works its way into the Spicy Pulps which are really becoming a guilty pleasure of mine, so I can't wait for that. Wildside Press 99 cent eBook is a treasure trove (like most of their collections) and for a buck you really can't go wrong. 

"Rouse Him Not" by Manly Wade Wellman - Wellman's a helluva writer. A lot of folks prefer his "Silver John" stories, the magical man who wanders with his silver string guitar and quells supernatural evils. For me it's a toss-up, cause the tales about John Thunstone, wealthy man-about-town and monster hunter are equally as entertaining. They all exist in Wellman's own universe along with evil sorcerers like Rowley Thorne, ancient creatures like the Shonokins, and kindly Judge Pursuivant who happens to be an occult scholar. Wellman is often a rural writer, spinning yarns about what lurks in the deep woods or innocent small towns of America. It really sets him apart. "Rouse Him Not" is the last Thunstone short story he wrote (he wrote two novels after the story) appearing like 30 years after the previous one. But 'ol Thunstone is up to his old tricks poking his nose into the death of a sorcerer in the 1700's, probing an evil sinkhole and dueling with what lies beneath with his trusty silver-sword cane. It's all wrapped up quickly and efficiently, it might could have used some more meat on its bones but it's a really fine example of an old pro tingling your spine.  

SIDE NOTE: In 1988 the TV series "Monsters" adapted "Rouse Him Not" starring Laraine Newman and Alex Cord as John Thunstone. It shrank the character list, upped the sitting around talking and upped the amount of guys in rubber suits. It's a "meh" adaption of Wellman's work. It compressed the wrong things and drew out the exposition over like 20 of the 22 minutes of run time. That being said Alex Cord makes a fine John Thunstone, he's who I picture in my head when I read him and Laraine Newman really tries to make her character something, but the writing and direction let her down which probably has a lot to do with the lack of time and money I'm sure working on "Monsters" had to deal with. It's available on Amazon Prime and on YouTube. 

"Rattle of Bones" and "The Castle of the Devil" by Robert E. Howard - Howard's obviously the man. You don't create Conan the Barbarian and not be THE man, but his other creations are often lost in the Barbarian blitz. I, like a lot of high school boys, went through a Conan-phase. Blood, guts, boobs, Franzetta covers, and unrelenting adventure is a spicy combination. As I got older, I grew to prefer his other characters like Kirby O'Donnell, Sailor Steve Costigan, John Kirowan, Steve Harrison and SOLOMON KANE! I set off to read just "Rattle of Bones", but it was so short that I just found myself halfway through "The Cast of the Devil" before I knew it. Reading Howard is like potato chips, I suppose. Anywho, I'm sure I've read these stories before, but I remembered nothing of "Castle" but remembered most of "Bones. Both the tales have old grumpy-gus Solomon Kane in The Black Forrest meeting a new friends, fiends, and enemies. Plus, skeletons, spooky happenings in castles, having copious sword fights and thwarting evil at every turn. "Rattle of Bones" is a very effective, very short horror tale while "The Castle of the Devil" is a bit sluggish even in a few short pages. But sluggish Howard is still going 50 miles an hour faster than most.  

"Ghoul's Garden" by John Jakes - Speaking of Robert E. Howard...John Jakes own barbarian hero Brak may be easy to dismiss as one of the dem Conan clones that popped up in the 60's and 70's but Brak is pretty powerful stuff. You might not want to discount him too soon. John Jakes is an interesting writer, before he was simply known as a "historical epic" kind of guy he wrote everything from sci-fi to mystery and crime. His short story collection "Crime Time" is chocked full of detectives, spies and the like. Plus, the books about his diminutive private eye Johnny Havoc are a hoot. "Ghoul's Garden" is a Brak full of asshole Frairs, squat and freakish wizards, a hot actress, monsters,
 portions, spells, gore, big robot terror-birds and a maze-like garden inside a silk handkerchief. It is so jam-packed that in a lot of ways it reminded me of an 80's cartoon episode, something like "Thundarr the Barbarian" or "He-Man" only R-Rated. I hadn't read a Brak tale in a while and now I'm going to have to keep up the pace.