Apr 142014

Tracker #7: Shock Treatment, by Ron Stillman
April, 1992  Charter-Diamond Books

According to Brad Mengel’s Serial Vigilantes of Paperback Fiction, Don Bendell wrote the first six volumes of the awful Tracker series, but was fired by publisher Charter-Diamond when he requested to be credited under his own name, rather than the “Ron Stillman” house name. Why anyone would want to put their

Tracker #4: Black Phantom

 book reviews, Charter Books, Men's Adventure Novels, Tracker  Comments Off on Tracker #4: Black Phantom
Apr 042013

Tracker #4: Black Phantom, by Ron Stillman
June, 1991  Charter Books

The Tracker series continues to be the most painful read a men’s adventure fan can endure, once again delivering a boring story in which its asshole protagonist blithely overcomes all obstacles, defeats all enemies, and romances all women with the casual ease of a demigod. Plus the writing sucks. It’s almost as if this series was contrived by some anti-men’s adventure league and then fostered upon the reading public to sow disinterest and spite – seriously, that crap this terrible was getting published was almost a sign that anything could get published in the men’s adventure genre.

Like the previous volume, Black Phantom is basically just about Natty “Asshole” Tracker setting his sights on some non-PC villain and then spending the entire narrative fucking with him. In this case it’s Frederick Ebert, a neo-Nazi redneck who has created his own empire in the south and has entire armies of Nazi-like racists at his disposal. Despite these gun-toting goons and the murders they sow, the US government is trying to build a regular case against him instead of just taking him out, so Tracker, after assisting the Feds a bit, decides to take matters into his own hands and kill the bastard. It just takes him the entire novel to do so.

Previous volumes have also had such barebone plots and then padded them up with extraneous detail, but this one goes way overboard – I knew I was in for a shitstorm when in the very first action sequence Ron Stillman (aka Don Bendell) spent several pages providing useless backstories for a group of bikers as they raped a woman alongside the road, and then all of the bikers were blown away by Tracker within the next few pages. It goes like that throughout Black Phantom — every character introduced into the tale is given pages of backstory filler, sometimes even including how their goddamn parents met!

Oh, and as for the title…the first page excerpt implied that “the Black Phantom” would be this new character, possibly evil, a black-armored scion of sci-fi death, but damn it all the “Phantom” is none other than asshole Tracker himself! Ebert, as we learn via incredibly elongated backstory, sends out teams of goons to kill Mexicans as they attempt to sneak across the US border, and Tracker starts showing up in the nick of time to save them, blowing away goons in his “Robocop”-style armor. Soon he becomes infamous as “the Phantom.”

But that’s just one of Tracker’s disguises here. He is also fond of showing up like an Indian “brave” in warpaint and on a horse, running commando raids on Ebert’s stooges. This is all just so stupid and monotonous, let alone unbelieveable, but Tracker as we’ll recall is a god among men and can do whatever he wants. This especially makes him seem like a dick, as it’s clear he could settle Ebert’s account straight away, but instead he takes his time about it.

Bendell fills pages with abandon, serving up useless backstory and dumbass sequences that have no bearing on anything. Most egregious is an extended sequence where we learn that one of Ebert’s goons is a professional wrestler (complete once again with elaborately detailed backstory on the guy), and Tracker trains to become a wrestler so he can take the guy on…all of it bullshit because it all ends the same as all the other extended sequences where Tracker takes on one of Ebert’s top guys, with Tracker dropping off the wrestler’s corpse as he flies over Ebert’s mansion in a C-10 – a recurring “joke” Bendell graces us with.

In fact there’s all kinds of “comedy” here, or at least the attempt at it. There is nothing more painful than a person who is not funny but thinks he is, and I fear Bendell must be of the type because he graces us with all sorts of “jokes” courtesy Tracker, and each and every one of them falls flat. It seems to me the author was going for a summer blockbuster sort of feel, with one-liners and whatnot, but boy it’s not funny.

And as we’ll recall Tracker isn’t just perfect in warfare, he also can get any woman he wants. He’s still got Dee, who has been with him since #2: Green Lightning, but we learn here that Dee’s really a secret agent and her chance meeting with Tracker in that second volume was actually part of a staged mission. To this I say “bullshit,” and it appears Bendell has merely introduced this concept so he can keep Dee around, and thus goes about majorly transforming her character in the pages of Black Phantom. He does though at least attempt to explain away Dee’s actions in previous volumes, all of which now ring false given the revelation that she is in fact a kick-ass commando herself.

Tracker also scores with Ebony Blanca, a CIA agent who conveniently moves in with Tracker as part of the mission against Ebert; she’s instantly horny as soon as she sees Tracker. And hell, Dee’s such a trouper she just leaves the two of them alone so they can get to know each other better! Of course we learn all about Ebony and etc, etc, all of which implies that she’s going to become Tracker’s “new” girlfriend, but then it just turns out to be another instance of page-filling as Ebony’s removed from the narrative posthaste.

The action scenes are also subpar, with Tracker so inhuman that he could probably take on a few Terminators at once without chipping a fingernail. And of course he’s even better than ever thanks to his continued cybernetic enhancements. But still, when the bullets begin to fly there’s no tension or excitement, mainly due to Tracker’s godlike abilities, but also because the scenes themselves are just so flat and lifeless.  Joseph Rosenberger’s action scenes are even more exciting.

Good gravy but this series sucks. I looked up Bendell and it appears he has lived quite a life, serving in the special forces, teaching martial arts, writing poetry, etc. So for all I know he could be a great guy, and he at least deserves some respect for serving his country. But still, I think I’m going to save myself some pain and just skip ahead to the last two volumes, which were written by some unknown person. They have to be better…I mean, even that Twilight shit has to be better than this!!

Tracker #3: Blood Money

 book reviews, Charter Books, Men's Adventure Novels, Tracker  Comments Off on Tracker #3: Blood Money
May 102012

Tracker #3: Blood Money, by Ron Stillman
March, 1991 Charter Books

At this point, my reading of the Tracker series borders on the sadomasochistic. Without question the dumbest damn bunch of books I’ve ever read, this series proves that with the advent of the Politically Correct era in the early 1990s, the men’s adventure genre was doomed. But even though Blood Money is in its own way just as stupid as its predecessors, there are actually parts of it where it isn’t too bad. It’s still just hamstrung by its too-perfect protagonist, its coloring book mentality, and its overbearing PC-minded vibe.

What’s funny is that the back-cover copy does little to provide the plot of the actual novel. It would have you think that Blood Money is about Natty Tracker taking on a billionaire supervillain who is involved in all sorts of nefarious schemes, even using inner-city kids as his personal army. (We do of course learn that these kids are being taken advantage of and, due to the savage, squalid nature of their lives, don’t realize that it’s wrong when they kill people for drug money and etc. I mean, they’re not to be blamed at all, society is!) And though the novel starts off in that direction, what it really turns out to be is the tale of how Tracker is stranded on a tropical isle, nearly dies, is finally rescued, and, after taking a year to recuperate, wages a one-man war of vengeance upon the billionaire.

The gimmick with this series is Tracker’s blindness, but this is now a moot point. In Six Million Dollar Man style Tracker now has regular-looking eyes which allow him to zoom in on things and also record them. This creates an annoying fail-safe sort of deal where Natty, with a bit of pressure to a spot behind his ear, can instantly patch in to the monitor of his government contact Wally Rampart. So then, no matter what sort of trouble Tracker gets himself into, with a touch behind his ear he can alert Rampart, who will prompty send Apache helicopters or whatever to save him. And hell, Tracker’s such a superstar that even the President is a fan, sometimes watching the events on Rampart’s monitor.

There are a lot of action setpieces at the start of Blood Money, as Tracker sets in on billionaire villain James Earl Smith. Along for this portion of the novel is Dee, the knockout gal Tracker picked up in the previous volume; she’s still in love with Tracker, but oddly drops out of the book toward the end. (Even odder is a bit late in the tale, unrelated to anything, where we learn that Dee’s father has died, and so Tracker consoles her — I say this is odd because it just comes out of nowhere and then is passed over.)

Everything proceeds as in past books; namely, Tracker taking on tons of adversaries and always emerging victorious, no matter the odds. Then things change midway through as the novel appropriates the vibe of survivalist fiction. Soon after setting his sights on James Earl Smith, Tracker is caught and taken to a remote isle, where after a huge battle he of course overcomes his would-be killers, but as a result is stranded. However his eye gear is ruined and he is blind. So now he is alone, unsure where in the world he is, surrounded by ocean and sharks, and unable to see. Any other character would understandably be scared, but Tracker instead starts forcing himself to eat raw shark meat and paddles around blindly.

It’s to Stillman’s credit that he doesn’t have Tracker miraculously save himself. Indeed he takes a lot of damage here, even getting the lower part of his leg eaten by a shark. (Of course, the lost limb is later replaced by another fancy cybertech piece of equipment.) Eventually though he is saved by Rampart’s men, who are finally able to pinpoint Tracker’s location — turns out he is somewhere in the Philipines.

Here Blood Money becomes the tale of Tracker’s recovery. After six months (!) in a coma, he returns to his roots and hangs out with his “Native American” grandfather who blusters all of the expected wiseman stuff. After lots of horseriding and meditating, Tracker then finally declares vengeance upon Smith — initiated in a lame and goofy scene where Tracker, on a horse and painted in traditional Indian warpaint, crashes a public event James Earl Smith is hosting and screams a war cry at the man, then somehow is able to evade the police and security men who chase after him.

It’s odd though because for the rest of the novel Tracker does not operate in the interests of the people Smith is screwing over. He’s out solely for his own vengeance. And, rather than quickly killing Smith, he instead just fucks with him. Stupid stuff like sneaking into Smith’s penthouse in the middle of the night and scrawling warnings all over the place, including on Smith’s own body. It’s all just very stupid and juvenile, and again makes you wish that someone would just shoot Tracker dead.

Finally though Tracker launches a climatic assault on Smith — even though he could’ve killed the guy five times over by this time — and the novel ends on the lamest note possible, with Smith getting the drop on Tracker and trying to shoot him, but missing with each damn shot, even though Tracker is standing right in front of him. All of this so Stillman can deliver an ending where Tracker, true to his pledge, can kill Smith with a traditional weapon of his forefathers, ie a Bowie knife.

Overall the novel is written in the same rough style as the previous volumes, jumping back and forth between various characters and situations with little rhyme or reason. Dialog falls flat over and over. And the characters lack even the barest of human qualities — there’s even a scene where Dee discovers that Tracker’s eyes can broadcast everything he’s doing back to Wally Rampart’s monitor, and she discovers this right after she and Tracker have had sex, and even though she throws a tantrum, she basically just brushes it off.

But Tracker himself is the biggest problem. One of the biggest stumbling blocks of men’s adventure fiction is the too-perfect heroes, guys who excel no matter the situation or the odds. Tracker is the epitome of the type, so omniscient and omnipotent that he only succeeds in making the reader root for the bad guys.