Mar 242014
 
Mace #4: The Year Of The Dragon, by Lee Chang No month stated, 1974  Manor Books Joseph Rosenberger turns in another installment of the Mace series, and thank god there’s only one more Rosenberger volume to go. Seriously, The Year Of The Dragon is a straight-up beating of a novel, mercilessly pounding the reader into a lethargic stupor of boredom. Now let me tell you all about it! Once
Mar 102014
 
Jason Striker #4: Ninja's Revenge, by Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes May, 1975  Berkley Medallion Books The fourth installment of Jason Striker takes place “a few months” after the previous volume, but opens a few centuries in the past, with a detailed and entertaining battle between ninjas and samurai in 16th century Japan. The protagonist/villain here is Fu Antos, that immortal ninja
Feb 202014
 
Mondo #3: A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die, by Anthony DeStefano No month stated, 1977 Manor Books It took me four years, but I’ve finally finished the Mondo trilogy. And I’m happy to report that this concluding installment is a big improvement over the previous volume, and is almost as good as Mondo #1. The main reason for this is that Mondo himself is once again a cold-blooded bastard,
Jan 202014
 
Jason Striker #3: The Bamboo Bloodbath, by Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes December, 1974  Berkley Medallion Books For once sticking to just one plot (for the most part at least), this third volume of the Jason Striker series is another fun and lurid blast of bell-bottom fury. As expected though it jumps all over the place, featuring a hyena-masked villain, kung-fu fights apleny, an
Dec 162013
 
The Destroyer #14: Judgment Day, by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy February, 1974  Pinnacle Books I enjoyed this volume of The Destroyer a lot more than the previous one I read. This time Sapir and Murphy make no attempt to write an actual men’s adventure novel, thus there are no unwieldy or arbitrary moments in which they must insert an action scene. Instead Judgment Day works as a
Oct 242013
 

Jason Striker #2: Mistress Of Death, by Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes
July, 1974  Berkley Medallion Books

The first volume of the Jason Striker series was a clunky Enter the Dragon sort of riff with a few bizarre moments, but this second one is full-on lurid pulp...already within the first several pages we have hero/narrator Striker brutally kicked in the crotch by a towering black Amazon; he wakes up in the hospital after groin surgery to find himself being seduced by an already-nude 16 year-old girl named Amalita, but they’re attacked by orange-eyed, drug-fueled "demons" who raid the hospital room; a fight which sees a bedpan used as a weapon (complete with gross descriptions of urine and feces splatting all over people), after which our hero screws the 16 year-old girl! Did I mention he took her virginity in the previous volume, back when she was only 15?? Man these '70s men's adventure series knew no limits, and that’s just how I like them.

One thing Mistress of Death shares with its predecessor is a shall we say loose approach to plotting. This book jumps all over the damn place, so that it comes off like a series of unrelated snapshots. The grounding theme is a new drug called Kill-13 which is basically like speed for martial arts fighters. Addiction comes quick and users are turned into orange-eyed “demons” who will fight to the death; currently they are carving out their own brutal kingdom in Striker’s still-unspecified home town, all of this occurring “a little over a year” after the first volume.

As for any pick-up from that previous book, there’s hardly any. Amalita is the only recurring character, and as we’ll recall she’s the niece of Vincente Pedro, Striker’s nemesis-turned comrade. Oddly enough, Pedro apparently died on the last page of the previous volume, but we are informed here that not only is he still alive but he’s married Amalita, and they now have a child – though Amalita makes it pretty clear that the boy is actually Striker’s. She also says that Pedro would have Striker killed if he ever found out.

Amalita has a fatal attraction for our boy, though, which turns out pretty badly for Chiyako, a cute Chinese kung-fu lady Striker meets soon after getting out of the hospital – and yes, Chiyako is Chinese despite having a Japanese name! Same for her father, Choji Kija; Amalita has come to the US with the man’s name, as a possible contact Striker could look up to help fight the Kill-13 menace. But this is actually a cheap narrative trick to tie together these various plots, as the old man turns out to have no knowledge of Kill-13 other than the easily-grasped understanding of how destructive it is, both to the user and to society.

Meanwhile we have a long flashback to Striker’s days in Vietnam, where he planted electronic homing signals for bombers…he was captured by VC and tosed in a camp…but he escaped by murdering a girl who turned out to have been there to rescue him…he ends up with monks who train him in kung-fu (suspiciously enough, none of this was mentioned in the previous volume during Striker’s long digressions on kung-fu)…the monks send him on his way and only later does dumbass Striker realize he left his bombing beacon with them! Sure enough the monks get bombed and all of them die, something which Striker rightfully blames himself for to this very day…but damned if I didn’t find it all pretty hilarious. I mean, isn’t that part of everyone’s standard checklist before leaving the house? Wallet? Check. Keys? Check. Electronic bomb-homing device? Check.

Anyway, Striker and Chiyako hit it off while the old man’s out tracking down Kill-13 leads. They end up making it on the dojo’s floor, Striker discovering after the fact that the girl was a virgin, thus bringing his score up to two. But soon it all becomes like a kung-fu soap opera as Amalita comes out of nowhere, engages Chiyako in some verbal sparring, and then the two go at it in a full-bore catfight! This whole sequence is bizarre, but nonetheless entertaining, as the two women fight, Amalita mercilessly so; she smashes a bottle and carves up Chiyako’s left breast, after which Striker finally does something about the whole mess and trounces Amalita, demanding that she return to her husband.

The snapshot storytelling continues as next we go into the long, third-person storyline of Ilunga, the black kung-fu “mistress of death” who nearly unmanned Striker in the opening pages. Her sob story has it that, having been raped so many times as a teen during her walks through a notorious park, she took up kung-fu as a means to get vengeance. Soon she became notorious herself, for hiding in the park and kicking would-be rapists in the crotch, destroying their manhoods!! Getting wind of the hot new Kill-13 drug, Ilunga checks it out as a means to give her more combat power. Soon she’s not only an addict but high in the city’s demon network.

Choji Kija implores Striker to not just consider Ilunga a villain, due to her sad tale, but when Striker confronts her it leads to the inevitable fight. And the fight leads to the inevitable seduction scene, as Ilunga, despite hating men in general, tells Striker as he pins her that she lusts for his “white prick!” I should mention at this point Chiyako’s been captured by the demons, who hold her for ransom, demanding that Striker join them or else. So Striker accepts Ilunga’s offer…sex for info: Ilunga knows where Chiyako might be held, but she wants some quality time with Striker in exchange. (The authors by the way never write any actual sex scenes, always prudishly cutting to the next scene.)

The next plot-jump has Striker venturing back down to Honduras, where he reunites with Vincente Pedro, who understands how nuts his wife Amalita can be, and also ensures Striker that Pedro’s son is not really Striker’s son. Together these two try to track down the Kali cult behind Kill-13, Striker finding out about the worship of the goddess after fighting Ilunga’s superior to the death back in the US.

One thing that becomes more clear with each page is that, when it comes to anything but the martial arts, Jason Striker is a complete idiot. The guy just bumbles around, making countless mistakes, and is even an idiot about things he should know about – when launching a raid on the demons’s Kill-13 factory (which is located inside a lost Mayan pyramid), Striker wonders if they can use grenades to blow the place up. Pedro has to inform him that grenades are solely “man-killing devices,” and would be no use in blowing up the facility. Remember, Striker was a Green Beret in Vietnam.

After this Striker breaks off on his own again, still searching for Chiyako. There follows this arbitrary, pages-filling sequence where an earthquake hits this part of South America and Striker holes up in an abandoned building, biding his time. This whole part is just a head-scratcher in how unecessary it is. Finally Striker gets the lockdown on the mysterious leader of the Kill-13 sect, a well-muscled Shaw Brothers type named Kan-Sen, who has Chiyako captive in his villa.

The action goes through the roof as Stryker attempts to sneak into the place (including yet another gross and arbitrary bit involving feces where Striker, ever the dumbass, trips while sneaking through the sewer lines and ends up swallowing some of the filth!!) but is promptly discovered. He takes on a plethora of demons, and after an induced whiff of Kill-13 he becomes a killing machine. The authors give this sequence almost a psychedelic edge, as a deranged and hallucinating Striker kills with abandon. The gore factor is also quite high, with Striker even ripping out intestines and hurling the viscera at his opponents.

However it all leads to a depressing finale, with our hero half-dead and saved by Ilunga, who has come down here to help him – she fights alongside Striker during the climax and to his Kill-13 addled eyes appears like Kali. Ilunga is now set up to be an important character in the series, which is cool because she’s definitely a Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu type of character. She’s also smarter than our narrator, given that she figures out how to destroy her competitors in the Kill-13 cult and corner the drug’s market for herself.

Anyway, this series, while goofy and haphazardly plotted, is still a lot of fun, mostly due to its heaping helpings of bell bottom fury.
Sep 022013
 

Jason Striker #1: Kiai!, by Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes
February, 1974  Berkley Medallion Books

I first learned about this five-volume* series in the early 1990s, when I scored a few issues of the awesome ‘70s Marvel magazine Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. One of the issues featured an article by Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes, talking about how they created the Jason Striker series (“Kiai! – How It Began,” Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, June 1975). I thought about tracking down one of the novels (a daunting task in those pre-internet days), but then read that hero Striker was a judo master…I mean, I wanted to read a series about a kung-fu master or something, anything but a judo master! I’d never been the least bit interested in judo, so I never bothered looking for any volumes.

Eventually however I discovered that the Jason Striker series was brimming with what I like to call “bell bottom fury,” ie that funky ‘70s kung fu vibe of Bruce Li (not Lee) and Jim Kelly (RIP!) films and especially Deadly Hands of Kung Fu itself. But this initial volume is a bit more “real world” than the series would eventually become, playing out more along the lines of Enter the Dragon. That’s not to say there isn’t a pulpish, fantasy element at play, but not as much as in future installments; tellingly though the last few pages of Kiai! do venture into outright fantasy, as a sign of things to come.

Anyway Jason Striker is both our hero and our narrator – later volumes feature third-person narrative for the scenes without Striker, but this one maintains the first-person style throughout. You’ll seldom find a bigger bump in the log for an action hero. Striker is a total square, so devoted to martial arts in general and judo in particular that he comes off like a bore; vast sections of Kiai! are devoted to detailing the merits of judo and the martial way and etc, etc. Striker doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke…hell, when at one point he takes an aspirin for a headache that won’t go away, Striker informs us that along with it he also takes a bunch of vitamin C “against side-effects!”

Striker, a 30 year-old ‘Nam vet, runs a judo dojo in some unspecified city. His small school is mostly made up of 18-21 year-olds, and his assistant instructor is a young hothead named Jim. Apparently it’s a cutthroat world, running judo schools; Striker informs us that a handful of other teachers are in his city, running their own schools, and they all vie with one another for dominance. But anyway as Kiai! opens a judo master named Diago comes to Striker for help – a while back Diago took a life while defending himself during a mugging, but the cops saw it as murder, and now Diago’s on the run.

But our hero Striker is a snivelling loser, and is reluctant to help Diago…because he doesn’t want to run afoul of the law himself! Striker regales us with all of his reasons behind this, filled with “martial honor” bluster and etc, but it all smacks of bullshit, and instantly puts you at odds with him. Instead Striker invites Diago to a match, with the unsaid understanding that if Diago wins, Striker will help him, but if Striker wins then Diago will leave. Striker, at great cost, wins, mostly because Diago does not use his infamous kiai yell – a nigh-supernatural martial scream that can unnerve even the stoutest of warriors.

Striker further proves himself a square when next he’s contacted by mega-wealthy entrepreneur Johnson Drummond; the man wants Striker to teach judo to his daughter. This turns out to be the gorgeous young Thera Drummond, a headstrong 17 year-old who is soon to leave for college; Drummond wants to ensure the girl will be able to protect herself against possible rapists. Thera meanwhile is game for any kind of sexual action, with Striker at least – she taunts him constantly, attempting to seduce him, even appearing for their private lessons nude.

Striker is not to be deterred, though – the honor of judo is at stake!! He’ll have none of this chicanery. Quickly he puts Thera in place; he has been hired to teach her judo, and teach her he will. And the young woman does learn quickly, to the point where she can easily defend herself. She also apparently falls in love with Striker, and says she’ll wait for him so that they can one day marry(?), and other such things that sort of come out of nowhere. But anyway this sequence soon ends and next Striker, due to a fighting match against an old student that goes wrong, ends up as the American judo rep in the Martial Open, to be held down in Nicaragua!

This proves to take up the majority of the novel. The Martial Open will see each martial sport go up against one another: karate, kung-fu, Thai kickboxing, regular boxing, and of course judo. Helming the Open is Vincente Pedro, so wealthy that he rules this portion of Nicaragua, and thus the Match will play out with no government interference. Also Pedro is confined to a wheelchair (thanks to an old judo injury, wouldn’t you know – and guess what, he now hates all judo practicioners!).

To be honest, this Martial Open stuff is a bit trying. Anthony and Fuentes do their best to make it all exciting, but it all comes off like an extended sports magazine feature, with blow-by-blow recaps of say karate versus kung-fu or whatever. In addition to Striker’s fights we read about all the other fights, which Striker either watches from the audience or later views on film. The fights aren’t to the death, though some fighters do die, but ultimately the contests lack the fight-or-die spirit more expected in the men’s adventure genre; they just come off like slightly more brutal karate tournaments. (Or, better yet, a less trashy UFC.)

Now, Striker might not want to harbor fugitives or take advantage of nubile young women who throw themselves at him, but he has absolutely no problems with screwing 15 year-old girls!! Seriously. As a way to destress, each night Striker skinny dips in the opulent pool on Pedro’s massive estate. And each night he runs into a similarly-nude young woman (girl, really) who makes it clear she is interested in him, though the two just swim and look at one another. Turns out this is Amalita, Pedro’s 15 year-old niece…a virgin Pedro is keeping for himself! Well, now we are really venturing into lurid territory.

It gets more lurid when Striker, due to Pedro’s command to all of the fighters, must take advantage of one of the many whores Pedro has made available. Striker, wouldn’t you guess, is not into the whole thing, and thus merely “puts in an order” for any girl, no concern for age or race or whatever – he’s just doing it because it’s an order from Pedro. A masked girl comes to him, and as they have sex Striker first realizes the girl is a virgin (well, not any more…), and secondly he realizes it is, of course, Amalita. Turns out she insinuated herself into Striker’s nighttime swims because she realized he was a “good man” who could free her from her bondage here on Pedro’s estate. But once again Striker turns away a person who comes to him for help; indeed, he’s more concerned about himself, now that he’s deflowered Pedro’s girl!

Complications ensue; word gets out and Pedro wants Striker dead. More belabored matches go down until it gets to the expected end: Striker fighting against the last man for the top honors. He’s up against Makato, iron-handed karate master, and the fight is a good one, made even better by the presence of Pedro as a judge. But, thanks to his skills as well as the ki powers of a kindly old karate sensei, Striker not only fights to an honorable draw but also wins Pedro over to his side – and plus, thanks to the ki, Pedro can now walk again.

The last half of Kiai! is a taste of the pulpier material that will follow. Striker is ambushed by Dato, an insane rival judo instructor who has mastered the delayed death blow. Dato dies in the attack, but now Striker is sure he has just a few weeks left to live. He decides to go to Japan to look up the ki master who gave Pedro the ability to walk again. Oh, and meanwhile he discovers that Jim and Thera are having an affair, and Striker sulks, but then Jim pleads to come along with him, so as to make it up to Striker. (But remember, Striker continuously spurned Thera’s advances in the first place…)

Striker and a few other martial warriors head up into Hokkaido, where they have been informed that only one man can save Striker: the legendary Fu Antos, a ninja warrior who is apparently immortal. Tracking through the snow they meet Ainu natives and later have a massive fight with ninjas, who burst from the snow bearing exotic weapons. (I spent a semester of college in Japan and can attest that shit like this really does happen there.) The fight here is better than any that came before, with lots of blood and ninja corpses…and poor old Jim buys it, too.

Fu Antos (in the "Kiai!" article the authors state this his name is a play on their own – “Fu” from Fuentes and “Antos” from Anthony) lives in an ancient castle deep in the frozen depths; he’s a withered old husk of a man, surrounded by ninja. Through supernatural sign language he instructs each member of Striker’s team to attempt to kill him. Each fails, usually ending up dead himself. Striker however succeeds, using the old man’s ki against him in a scene which I admit lost me; long story short, it ends with Santos gutted, decapitated…and his soul now residing in the body of a young boy!

Anyway here it ends, the reborn Fu Antos informing Striker that he has in fact saved himself, and he no longer need worry about the delayed death blow. Meanwhile Jim’s still dead, and so is most of the rest of Striker’s team, so we’ll have to see what happens next time. Sorry for the longwinded rundown, but there were so many plot changes in Kiai! that I wanted to ensure I had them all right.

Overall I enjoyed Kiai!, mostly because it captured that old-school kung fu vibe I’ve always loved, but I suspect I’ll enjoy future volumes even more. I’ve already started in on #2: Mistress of Death, and can confirm it’s definitely in the pulpier realm, with orange-eyed, drug-fueled street gangs, a black Amazonian kung-fu warrior, and a greater lurid quotient.

*Five volumes were published by Berkley Medallion; Anthony and Fuentes were halfway through writing the sixth (and planned final) installment when word came down that the series was cancelled. In 2001 Anthony self-published via Xlibris the completed section of volume 6 along with a summary of what was planned to happen in the unfinished half of the novel, with the unwieldy title Jason Striker Martial Arts Series Volume 3: Amazon Slaughter and Curse of the Ninja. The trade paperback also contains the “Kiai! – How It Began” article as well as other odds and ends.
Jul 042013
 

Ninja Master #3: Borderland Of Hell, by Wade Barker
February, 1982  Warner Books

This third volume of the Ninja Master series comes off more like a sequel to the first volume than the previous one did, with hero Brett Wallace still getting his start as a mob-busting ninja, whereas in the previous novel he was already a one-man army. But then, that superior volume was courtesy Ric Meyers, and this one was written by some unknown author; it certainly doesn’t appear to be the same person who wrote #1: Vengeance Is His, as this writer is sure to keep the acton moving and definitely has a knack for delivering some full-bore sleaze and sadism.

In fact the author displays this posthaste, introducing us to Meiko, a pretty young Japanese-American stewardess who has been kidnapped by the depraved General Estrada and is now imprisoned in his barracks-style villa in Mexico. The opening chapter is particularly unsettling as Meiko is summarily humiliated in front of Estrada’s guests (including having her pubic hair shaved off), forced to go around to each man so he can feel her up, after which they take turns raping her!

Brett Wallace comes into it because Meiko is a friend of a friend…Rhea, the lady who runs the restaurant Brett owns, is friends with one of Meiko’s co-stewardesses. When the stewardess claims that Meiko has been missing for a month, she goes to Rhea for help, having heard about her American Ninja friend. (The airline meanwhile chalks it all off, figuring Meiko just ran off with one of the stewards!) Brett here is not the inhuman cipher of Meyers’s previous volume; he still enjoys the finer things in life, including a bit of goodbye casual sex with Rhea before heading out on the job. (The author by the way leaves the actual sex scenes vague for the most part, but he’s all over the buildup and lurid quotient.)

Borderland Of Hell is also more slow-going than the previous book (though not the tepid crawl that was volume #1). For the first half of the book Brett is in investigator mode, going around and talking to Meiko’s friends before heading to Mexico…where he proceeds to continue poking his nose around. He brings along Jeff, Brett’s young student who came into the fold in the first volume (before being pretty much ignored in the second one). The two have a bit of banter going on, with Jeff serving up the laughs as he hits on various women and Brett playing the straight man.

Occasionally the pair get in scuffles, and the author, like the nameless writer of the first volume, treats ninjutsu basically like karate; Brett will pull off fancy moves to take down his opponents, and seems very excited about using common everyday objects as weapons, such as a pair of shoelaces. But there are no ninja weapons or ninja costumes as in the previous book.

The author also fills up more pages with arbitrary flashbacks to Brett’s training back in Japan, where his sensei doles out the expected “wise man” philosophy. In between the investigation pieces and quick action scenes, the author will flash over to Meiko, serving up more lurid stuff as she’s further raped and degraded -- including an XXX-rated bit where she's forced into a lesbian act with a fellow kidnapee as Estrada and his men watch.

But as usual with these books that are overly padded, Borderland Of Hell delivers an anticlimatic finale. It all seems to be building up to something; Brett and Jeff discover that Estrada has an army of fifty goons, and that others have tried to break in and save his imprisoned women but all have failed. In fact Brett is overly concerned and fears he and Jeff might die – another big difference from the previous volume, where Brett had no fear (or hardly any other emotions). And meanwhile Meiko proves to be a stronger character than you’d think, planning her own escape, even if it means certain death if she’s captured again.

However when it all goes down, the author handles the climax in just a few unsatisfying pages. The goons, so built up as heavy oppostion, are perfunctorily dealt with by Brett and Jeff – the former once again using his damn shoelace! Forget about the weapons-and-ninja-armor kickass finale of the previous book. And on that same note, Brett here clearly needs assistance from Jeff, though the younger man isn’t anywhere near the fighter Brett is. Yet for all that, the way the author handles this finale you get the idea Brett didn’t need much help, after all. Even Estrada’s comeuppance is a let-down, Brett merely kicking him into a spear.

The author isn’t that bad, all told, and actually reminds me very much of Len Levinson. This person has the same handle on character, and also provides the same sort of goofy humor as well as some blood, guts, and sleaze. It appears that this person also wrote two more volumes of the Ninja Master series (volumes #5 and #7), trading off with Ric Meyers (who wrote volumes #2, 4, 6, and 8).
Dec 202012
 

The Destroyer #10: Terror Squad, by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy
June, 1973  Pinnacle Books

I haven’t read a Destroyer novel since I was a kid, back when the now-forgotten film version came out in 1985. I know I had the novelization of the film, which I read, but I also had a few of the then-current volumes in the series, but I don’t remember which ones. At any rate, I know they weren’t my cup of tea, given that I was more into Phoenix Force and The Executioner at the time; I wanted to read about terrorists getting blasted to bits, not a warped spoof featuring a disinterested protagonist and his soap opera-addicted mentor.

But the other week I lucked into about twenty volumes of the series, ranging from this tenth volume on through to #73, which should give me a good indication of the series’s evolution over the years. What’s most staggering is the Destroyer series is still around; though it hasn’t been published since 2008, series co-creator Warren Murphy is still out there and supposedly trying to find the series a new home. It also appears that he’s made the majority of the installments available as eBooks.

Terror Squad though comes early in the series run, back when it was published by Pinnacle and series creators Murphy and Sapir were still writing the books together. By this point they’ve figured out the series vibe, which is a mix of satire, spoof, and action. My feeling though is that the comedy outweighs the action here; in fact the very few action scenes are barely described, and there’s little tension or suspense because the heroes are presented as such invincible fighters.

Remo Williams is the titular “Destroyer,” a former New Jersey cop whose death was faked so he could be reborn as the sole enforcer for CURE, a super-secret US agency which is overseen by Dr. Harold Smith. Remo’s mentor is Chiun, without question the highlight of this series, a wizened and world-weary Korean martial arts guru; the master of Sinanju, which apparently is the ultimate form of martial arts, though only known to a handful. By this tenth volume, Chiun feels that he has so properly trained his pupil that Remo is nearly “perfect,” and is grooming him to become the eventual master of Sinanju.

The novel is more comedy than action, which makes the brutality somewhat unexpected, lending Terror Squad an uncertain tone. The threat this time is an international army of terrorists which has abruptly sprouted up, hijaking planes and murdering people around the world. The novel opens with one cell hijacking a plane, during which they repeatedly rape a woman and then murder her baby.

After this horrific scene the novel settles down into extended bouts of banter between Remo and Chiun as they go off on a low-key search for the terrorists. Strangely, the terrorists in the opening scene are never mentioned again, so there’s no retribution. Instead Remo and Chiun head over to a college campus in New York from which this new terrorist army either trained or gathered new members.

In a coed-frequented bar Remo encounters Joan Hacker, a pretty blond who turns out to not only be filled with revolutionary fervor but also knows members of this terrorist army. This plot turns out to bear the brunt of the narrative; rather than traipsing around the world, taking on this international terrorist army, Remo instead hangs out here in New York, following Joan Hacker around and taking out the few assassins she sends after him.

Because, coincidentally enough, Joan also just happens to be working with the number one man behind the terrorist army, an “Oriental” whom the authors keep a mystery until the surprise reveal at the end. Following the man’s advice, Joan gets specific assassins to try to kill Remo – an old man, a thin man, etc – all as part of the mystery villain’s attempt to send Chiun a message.

The action scenes are brief and sparsely described. In fact they’re over in a few sentences, and usually relayed from the point of view of Remo’s victims; we’ll read that Remo rips off a guy’s fingers or something. Don’t expect much “true” action stuff, save for the finale, where Remo engages in a martial arts battle with the mystery man. (Spoiler warning: It’s Nuihc, Chiun’s nephew, who apparently has fought with Remo and Chiun in a previous installment, and who considers himself the true master of Sinanju.)

But really, the entire novel plays out on a humdrum level…Remo following Joan (after sleeping with her, of course, though don’t expect much from the sex scenes either), hastily dispatching the latest assassin (one of whom is an elderly German who once was an SS sadist), and then going back to his hotel to trade banter with Chiun.

Readers of this series know that it’s the banter that’s the true star, though. Remo and Chiun have a great rapport, with Chiun’s acidic whit fairly dripping off the page, and Remo’s lame attempts at comebacks always drawing a laugh. Without question the two leads of the Destroyer are more memorable and entertaining than the average men’s adventure protagonist, but at the same time the series is separate from the genre in that it operates on an entirely different vibe.

Also worth mentioning is that our heroes are friggin’ vicious. Remo doesn’t just kill his opponents, he pulls them apart. One brutal scene has Remo board a plane that’s been hijacked, and after questioning the terrorists he hurls each of them off of the plane! Also there is a nasty undertone in that anyone who finds out about CURE must end up dead. It gets to be that you feel sorry for the villains, in particular Joan Hacker, whom the authors portray as a good-natured fool who has gone astray.

Anyway, I wasn’t blown away by Terror Squad, but I enjoyed it enough that I’m happy I have several more volumes of the series to read.
Oct 082012
 

Ninja Master #2: Mountain Of Fear, by Wade Barker
November, 1981 Warner Books

The Ninja Master series improves in a major way with this installment. After the tepid bore that was Vengeance Is His, Mountain Of Fear comes as a definite jolt and is great throughout. We have Ric Meyers to thank, making his debut here as “Wade Barker;” who knows whatever happened to the first dude who used the house name, but thankfully he’s gone, and he isn’t missed. Warner Books should’ve hired Meyers from the start.

As mentioned in my review of Vengeance Is His, Meyers was brought in after the original guy had already penned his second volume, but the publisher felt it wasn’t fit to print. The title and cover were already done, and it shows, as the cover for Mountain Of Fear doesn’t have much to do with the actual manuscript Meyers turned in. Which isn’t a complaint; take a look at that cover and you expect a tale of some bare-chested guy beating the shit out of pitchfork-wielding hicks in some mine shaft.

Instead, Meyers delivers a super lurid tale about a former Nazi concentration camp doctor who has bought out a town in rural Virginia, where he and his perverted son rule with complete control; wayward females and orphans are captured and brought here, where, after being raped by the town’s “police” (who are really just convicts in uniform), they are sent up the mountain which looms in the center of town, where they are further raped and tortured by the Nazi’s son…before moving on down the line to the doctor himself, who experiments on them.

So we have here, obviously, the making of some truly sick and warped stuff. Meyers doesn’t fail when it comes to making the villains thoroughly evil and deserving of grisly deaths, and then he sets our series hero, Brett Wallace, upon them, so that we actually cheer as he eviscerates cops and slices out their brains…even torturing some in such a fashion that they know they are dying, and who their killer is.

Brett is also changed to drastic effect. Meyers must’ve read Vengeance Is His and tossed it aside in anger (like I almost did), as he spends the first quarter of the novel quickly disposing of all of the characterizations and series set-up that the previous author introduced. For one, young martial artist Jeff Archer, who was geared toward being Brett’s acolyte in the final pages of Vengeance Is His, is basically removed from the narrative, as is Rhea, the Japanese-American beauty who served as Brett’s occasional girlfriend. They’re still there to aid Brett in his vow to protect the innocent, but in much reduced roles than what a reader of the previous volume might have expected.

Brett has no time for such niceties, given that Meyers has remolded him into a grim sort of killing machine who almost makes Richard Camellion look like Mister Rogers. In the opening of Mountain Of Fear, after Brett is already on the scene in Virginia, he flashes back to his recent re-training in the art of ninjutsu. Meyers obviously realized that the carefree Brett of Vengeance Is His was not suitable material for an action protagonist, and thus has Brett’s former ninja trainers realize the same thing. After calling him out on his apparent “desire for death,” they return him to Japan where Brett dives back into ninja training, emerging more deadly than ever.

But in addition to his new and refined deadliness he’s also cast aside any sort of humanity. Gone is the David Sanborn-listening, Absolut vodka-drinking rake of the previous book, always seen around town with the latest popular bimbo on his arm. Now Brett goes to extreme lengths to be “no man,” as he often refers to himself. A human shadow, melding into crowds, only seen when he wants to be seen.

All of which serves to recreate Brett Wallace into the most devestating and deadly protagonist I’ve yet encountered in a men’s adventure series. Anything he touches he can turn into a weapon, and his skill is such that he can even gain mental holds over his opponents. I guess the only problem then is the villains he fights throughout Mountain Of Fear are no match for him. Sure, they’re brawny thugs who have gone to prison for murders and rapes and etc, and they come bearing down on Brett with shotguns and Uzis, but still. It’s kind of like in Airwolf when that “high-tech helicopter” would go up against twenty year-old Hueys or whatever.

Meyers weaves in the lurid stuff by opening the novel from the perspectives of two young black ladies from New York who run into a roving patrol of “cops” here in Tylerville, Virginia. This is just the start of the degredations women endure throughout the novel…one of them is insantly raped and the other manages to run away, only to find the locals are just as sadistic as the police. The whole town is guilty, something Brett quicky deduces – he’s come here, by the way, after studying various data reports of rapes on the east coast, stumbling over the apparent fact that something strange is going on in Tylerville.

Mountain Of Fear is yet more proof that the shorter these books are, the better. At 156 pages, it moves at a steady clip, never once falling into repetition or dullness. This is the first Meyers novel I’ve read and I have to say I’m impressed. He has a definite knack for creating sordid atmospheres, warped villains, and gory action scenes; this book is more violent than most others of its ilk, up there with GH Frosts’s legendary Army Of Devils.

Meyers certainly knows his martial arts stuff. He namedrops various ninja moves and weapons with abandon, but unlike the execrable Mace series by Joseph Rosenberger, he actually bothers to explain each term. Brett is a living weapon, but he also uses a host of weaponry, ancient and modern; unlike the characters in most ninja pulp, Brett has no problem with picking up a dropped firearm and blowing away some thugs, but mostly he uses his katana sword and other exotic weaponry. There’s also a cool scene at the climax where he straps armor over his ninja costume.

Where Meyers really excels is the inventiveness of Brett’s many kills. In this novel he kills people with shards of an ice cube (!), a drumkit cymbal, and even the tripod that held up the cymbals. But he sows the most damage with his traditional weaponry, particularly in the climax, with an armored Brett infiltrating the Nazi’s mountain fortress and chopping the shit out of legions of armed goons -- another scene reminiscent of Army Of Darnkess, even complete with ankle-deep pools of blood and gore. It comes off like Die Hard if it had starred Sho Kosugi and been directed by Paul Verhoeven. (Now that would’ve been a movie…)

The action scenes, as mentioned, are plentiful and gory, but it bugged me a bit that Meyers would write a lot of them from the perspective of the cops as Brett was killing them. In other words, we're in the perspectives of these convict cops as they go about their latest atrocity, then suddenly they're being hit by something and not knowing what’s happening, and then they're seeing Brett’s masked face a second before they die. I prefer action scenes to be relayed from the protagonists’s point of view, so we see what he’s doing and to whom. To be fair, though, Meyers moves away from the thug-perspective as the novel continues, and the majority of the thrilling climax is solely from Brett’s point of view.

I really enjoyed the book, and it makes me happy that Meyers eventually became “the” Wade Barker, though there are a few more volumes in this initial series that he did not write. Meyers wrote the entirety of the ensuing Year of the Ninja Master and War of the Ninja Master series, but as for the Ninja Master series, he only wrote this volume, #4: Million Dollar Massacre, #6: Death’s Door, and #8: Only The Good Die. (Million Dollar Massacre was apparently another case where the author of the first volume had turned in a manuscript that was rejected, and Meyers had to fill in, catering to the title and the already-completed cover.)

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