Nov 172014
 
The Destroyer #5: Dr. Quake, by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy September, 1972  Pinnacle Books As I’ve mentioned many times, I have a sick fondness for female villains, the more evil and depraved the better. A frequent commenter named Grant shares my fondness for these pulpy characters, and has often stated that this fifth volume of The Destroyer features some of the best female villains
Jul 032014
 
Jason Striker #6: Curse Of The Ninja, by Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes December, 2001  Xlibris Books The Jason Striker series came to an ignoble end in April, 1976, and for the next few decades our judo-loving, book-narrating hero was cast into limbo. Then in 2001 Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes self-published the series as three trade paperbacks; in the third volume they included the
Jun 022014
 
Jason Striker #5: Amazon Slaughter, by Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes April, 1976  Berkley Medallion Books Taking place soon after the events of the previous volume, the fifth installment of Jason Striker continues the derailment of what was once a fun series. Our protagonist is still an idiot, coincidence still abounds, and unrelated subplots still spring up and go nowhere. Most
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.