Sunday, May 03, 2020

Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer: Lords of Destruction by James Silke

(pb; 1989: second book in James Silke’s Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer quadrilogy)

From the back cover

“In the mists of time, before Atlantis rose. . .

“Gath of Baal was imprisoned by the Horned Helmet, the Death Dealer. Only the innocent touch of the maiden Robin Lakehair could free him from its murderous power, even for a time.

“Now Tivvy, Nymph Queen of Pyram, seeks the godlike powers that she can gain only from Robin Lakehair’s death. To save Robin’s life, Gath must don the helmet again and confront the demons Tivvy has summoned from the primordial depths─demons that emerge from mankind’s deepest fears.

“For his own freedom and the life of his beloved, Gath of Baal, the Death Dealer, must face the Lords of Destruction.”


Review

Lords picks up shortly after the events of Prisoner of the Horned Helmet. Like its source novel and the artwork that inspired Prisoner, it is hypermasculine and cinematic-vivid, with genre-puncturing humor baked into the bloody, often-too-sexist storyline and characters (lots of women-wallowing-in-bathetic-naked-distress scenes). Because of these last bits of excess, there are occasional passages that are more filler than thriller, but, because of Silke’s ability to balance engaging characters, effective twists, intriguing action and storylines, clever wordplay and a hurly burly tone, it works for the most part. While not as good as Prisoner, it is a worthwhile continuation and expansion of the characters, themes and storyline from the first book.

Followed by Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer: Tooth and Claw.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer: Prisoner of the Horned Helmet by James Silke

(pb; 1988: first book in James Silke’s Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer quadrilogy)


From the back cover

“In an age before Atlantis rose, an age rife with sorcery and violence, the earth trembled beneath the all-conquering hooves of the Kitzaak Horde, and only one man, Gath of Baal, dares to confront the Kitzaak lances, to stand between the never-defeated armies and the lush valley that will, long millennia in the future, be known as the Mediterranean Sea. To save the peace People of the Forest, Gath must dice with the gods, and the price he must pay is to become death made flesh, the Prisoner of the Horned Helmet.”


Review

Fans of Robert E. Howard’s Conan and other hypermasculine “men’s adventures” may find Prisoner to be a worthwhile purchase. Silke’s lusty, sometimes bordering-on-poetic writing highlights this brutal, basic and adjective-rich storyline and its well-written genre trope characters (sly magicians and intellectuals; wan, ripe-for-sex, scantily clad maidens/seductresses; cannon fodder soldiers; and, most important, steel-wielding, burly mega-warriors, who live mostly to tear men limb from limb). 

This is a work that embraces the magic-sex-hack-and-slash pathos of near-primordial humanity, one that predates─and would likely repudiate─our culture’s current P.C.-overdrive awareness, so if you’re looking for gender equality and nuance, do not read this book.

Prisoner is a great B-movie read for those who do not mind fantastic, Conan-raw, dark and violent takes on human nature and everything that stems from it. Followed by Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer: Lords of Destruction.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

(pb; 2015: sixth graphic novel in the Criminal series, collecting Criminal: The Last of the Innocent issues 1-4)

From the back cover

“Riley Richards got it all. . . The hottest girl in school and a ticket to the big time, so why isn’t he happy now? Why his he getting involved in gambling and drugs and shady characters in the city? Why can’t he forget the life he left behind in small town Brookview? And why is he suddenly plotting murder?”


Review

Innocent is a familiar, seemingly-nice-guy-with-nasty-secrets work, made excellent by great artwork and writing, which imbues this pulpy graphic novel with a few fresh twists in a tired genre. Worth owning, this.

Star Trek: The New Voyages edited by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath

(pb; 1976: story anthology)

Overall review

Voyages is a fan-fiction anthology, published by Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and his company. As anthologies go, it is worthwhile purchase─mostly because of its first four tales. The rest of the works are not terrible, but they are typical, nothing to get excited about. Largely entertaining read, this, followed by another anthology, Star Trek: The New Voyages 2.


Stories

Ni Var” – Claire Gabriel: Spock’s personality aspects─human and Vulcan─are divided into two physical-twin versions, a situation that affects the fate of the Enterprise as well.

This story strikes a good, Trek-true tone, with its characterization, events and pacing─its dilemma is character-based, personal yet universal. 



Intersection Point” – Juanita Coulson: A strange, amorphous energy field─sentient?─attaches itself to the Enterprise, starting a short countdown-to-death for the entire crew. “Intersection” reads like an unaired episode of the show, gripping with its life-or-death situation, and its characters’ interactions, down to William Shatner’s over-the-top portrayal of James Kirk.



The Enchanted Pool” – Marcia Ericson: On the planet of Mevinna, a nymph-like woman (Phyllida) attempts to distract Spock─sans crewmen─away from tracking down a Federation device hijacked by the Andorans. This is a delightful tale, with a mini-twist or two, and one of my favorite entries in this collection.



Visit to a Weird Planet Revisited” – Ruth Berman: While shooting on the set of the show Star Trek, William Shatner, Forrest Kelley and Leonard Nimoy find themselves in another reality, where they have replaced their Trek characters, who are real people─and who have replaced the actors on the Trek set.

This is a funny, insider’s-view and spot-on alternate take on Trek ideas and characters, easily one of the best tales in this anthology.



The Face on the Barroom Floor” – Eleanor Arnason and Ruth Berman: During shore leave on the planet Krasni, Kirk gets in a bar fight and goes to jail. A skeleton crew on the Enterprise, led by Spock, tries to find him so they can depart for an important mission.

This was an okay story. It feels padded out with clichés, nothing exciting nor anything that expands the Trek mythos.



The Hunting” – Doris Beetem: McCoy accompanies Spock during a Vulcan ritual (mok farr: “time of remembrance”), where Vulcans mind meld with a wild animal in order to, among other things, expand their mindset. After Spock does this with an owltiger on the plant Rhinegelt, McCoy is stalked by the now-animalistic Vulcan.

Hunting“ is another okay, padded-out story, this one loaded-with-Edgar-Rice-Burrough-esque adjectives during Spock’s mental transformation. Its cheesy end-line, uttered by McCoy, reads like something Kirk would say─not McCoy.



The Winged Dreamers” – Jennifer Guttridge: Many of the Enterprise‘s crew members, while on shore leave, begin hallucinating and refuse to leave the paradisal planet they are visiting.

Winged” is a solid work, with its well-written (if oft-used) Trek setup: nothing special, but not egregious either.



Mind-Sifter” – Shirley S. Maiewski: Kirk disappears for two years while the crew of the Enterprise searches for him.

This is a chatty, okay story that would benefit from ruthless editing. It would also benefit from an editor trimming Maiewski’s overly emotional and also-chatty dialogue (especially in the case of Spock, who comes off like a trauma counselor instead of, well, Spock). Its plot is interesting, would’ve been great, had it not been hobbled by the above concerns.



Sonnet from the Vulcan: Omicron Ceti Three” – Shirley Meech: Reads like a solid Vulcan sonnet. (Not a poetry fan.)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind by Steven Spielberg

(1977; movie tie-in novel)

From the back cover

“Earth’s greatest adventure had begun. The world was being readied for. . . Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

“To Claude LeCombe, director of an international silence group, it meant the culmination of a search that drove him to the globe’s farthest corners.

“To Julian Guiler, it meant the last shred of hope for the recovery of her little son who disappeared on the most extraordinary night of her life.

“To Roy Neary, it meant an answer to the startling mystery that had increasingly driven him to the emotional edge.

“And to the rest of humanity, it meant the beginning of the most dramatic event in the history of the world.

“It will lead to the inescapable conclusion: we are not alone.”


Review

The book version of Close is a solid read. It doesn’t add anything new for those familiar with the film, but it’s an entertaining distraction if you’re bored at work (where I read it), waiting at the DMV or someplace like that. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

(hb; 1929)

From the inside flap

“Blackmail runs rampant in a town policed by badged bootleggers in blue who turn a blind eye to protect the Old Man who runs the town.”


Review

Harvest’s narrator/protagonist (an unnamed Continental Op, who also appears in other Hammett works) goes to Personville─nicknamed Poisonville, because of its shady denizens─to investigate a murder, but ends up getting hired to “clean up” the dangerous, lots-of-crime town. He then utilizes some questionable setups to pit some of the big players against each other to achieve said cleansing.

This is a masterful, complex, immediately gripping and fast-moving work, one of the best novels in the pulp genre. Lots of gunplay, clever twists, dead bodies, quotable dialogue and colorful characters─i.e., elements that Hammett excels at─make this one of my all-time favorite crime reads, one worth reading. This one really packs a punch.

#

Several films have resulted from this novel, only one of them a Hammett-credited work.

The first, La ciudad maldita, was released in Italy on November 29, 1978. Juan Borsch directed the film, from a screenplay by him and Alberto de Stefanis.

Chet Bakon played OP. Diana Lorys played Dinah. Roberto Camardiel played Sheriff Noonan. Daniel Martin played Max Thaler.

#

Other films, which do not credit Red as a source, include:

Yojimbo (1961; director/co-screenwriter: Akira Kurosawa)



 For a Few Dollars More (1965; director/co-screenwriter: Sergio Leone)



The Last Round (1976, director: Stelvio Massi)




When the Raven Flies (1984, a.k.a. Revenge of the Barbarians)



 Miller’s Crossing (1990; directors: Joel and an uncredited Ethan Coen)





Waldo's Hawaiian Holiday by Alex Cox, Chris Bones and Justin Randall


(pb; 2007: graphic novel. “Quasi-sequel” to Cox’s 1984 film Repo Man)

From the inside flap

“Ten years after Repo Man I became interested in the idea of a sequel. . .

“Specifically─what had happened to Otto, during his ten-year absence from Earth? And what would he make of the changes which had taken place in his absence? Otto, it would appear, had been held prisoner, in great luxury, on the planet Mars. Now he has returned to Earth, and changed his name─to Waldo. – Alex Cox, Writer/Director of Repo Man


Review

When reading this offbeat “quasi-sequel” to the 1984 film Repo Man, it is best to not expect a straight-ahead storyline. True, there are returning characters (Otto/Waldo’s parents; Beatrice Joanna, his mohawk-sporting acquaintance), but they are included largely to keep a Repo-like feel to this spiral of a follow-up tale, which also keeps with themes and elements from its source film: predatory, soulless capitalism and religion; car-based jobs; unease and ennui; familial/generational disconnection─although, as in Repo, Otto/Waldo has some allies who are reliable guides for his journey toward reintegration/healthy wholeness. . . if only he accepts what they’re offering. 

Is Waldo as good as Repo? It’s hard for me to judge, because Repo is burned into my brain while Waldo─its own spin-off creature─bears a faint resemblance to the 1984 film that spawned it, in terms of Otto/Waldo’s trajectory, and how it’s framed. I can safely say it’s character-progressive and different.

In terms of giving readers a lot to think about (beyond its loopy L.A. feels like a broke prison vibe), Waldo succeeds.

If read with the above awareness, Waldo has a shot of not disappointing its film-based readers. It’s as sharp as, and tone-true to, Repo and its characters, but it feels like a less angry, yearning work (Otto/Waldo wants to belong to something less destructive. . . y’know, settle down). I don’t re-read most books (unless it’s a decade or three later)─I plan to re-read Waldo sooner than that, and that’s a good thing.


Friday, March 27, 2020

The Last Boy Scout by Dan Becker

(pb; 1992: movie tie-in novel, based on Shane Black’s screenplay)

From the back cover

“Joe Hallenbeck was one of the country’s top Secret Service agents. Unfortunately, Joe had a run-in with a dirty politician. One frame-up later, and Hallenbeck had lost his job, his pension, everything but his gun.

“James Alexander Dix was a star quarterback for the L.A. Stallions, considered by many to have the best arm in the league. Unfortunately, Jimmy was barred from football when he was caught gambling on the games and was accused of shaving points.

“What Hallenbeck and Dix have in common is that their lives have reached an all-time low. But when Hallenbeck’s client and Dix’s girlfriend turn out to be one and the same─and when she is murdered in front of their eyes─they have something else in common. An investigation into that murder which uncovers a plot involving blackmail, corruption and a threat to the future of professional football.

“When the participants in this scheme haven’t counted on is the emergence of a new team in the league─a team which doesn’t need eleven men to take on the competition.

“Just two. . .”


Review

Boy Scout is a fun, well-written novel-based-on-a-B-screenplay work. If you’ve seen the movie, the book doesn’t add any new wrinkles, but it is worthwhile entertainment (at least for this reader), a good-writer-slumming way to enjoy a neo-pulpy, nostalgic distraction while the world (often stupidly) rages and burns down necessary structures. Worth owning, for those with the above mindset.

#

The film version was released on December 13, 1991. Tony Scott directed it, from a screenplay by Shane Black.

Bruce Willis played Joe Hallenbeck. Damon Wayans played James Dix. Chelsea Field played Sarah Hallenbeck. Danielle Harris played Darian Hallenbeck. Halle Berry played Cory. Joe Santos played Bessalo.

Bruce McGill played Mike Matthews. Noble Willingham played Sheldon Marcone. Taylor Negron played Milo. Kim Coates played Chet. Badja Djola played “Alley Thug.” Chelcie Ross played Senator Baynard.

Morris Chestnut played “Locker Room Kid.” An uncredited James Gandolfini played “Marcone’s Henchman.”

Criminal: The Sinners by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

(pb; 2015: fifth graphic novel in the Criminal series, collecting Criminal: The Sinners issues 1-5)

From the back cover

Criminal’s most popular character, Tracy Lawless, returns in The Sinners. It’s been a year since Tracy was forced into working for the bad guys, and now made men are turning up dead all over the city, in what appears to be mob-style hits. But since criminals don’t go to the cops for justice, only Tracy can solve this crime.”


Review

Sinners is one of my favorite entries in the Criminal series, along with Bad Night. Sinners picks up shortly after the events of Lawless, with cameos by other previous-story characters─part of Criminal’s creative M.O.─and seamlessly continues Tracy Lawless’s journey through his personal heart of bleak f##ked-upness and sense of honor. The ending is excellent, character- and tone-true, not the usual downward-spiral finish, elevating Sinners to a new creative height, even for the already superb Criminal series.

Followed by the Criminal: The Last of the Innocent.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Night of the Living Dead by John Russo

(pb; 1974: movie tie-in novel, based on John Russo and George A. Romero’s screenplay)

From the back cover

“They are coming, rising rotten from their graves, filling the night with a furious howl, and staining the earth bloody red. . .

“They are growing, their powers are swelling, from feasting on flesh and gnawing on bone, now they are drunk on the sweet taste of blood. . .

“Now they are here, and they march to the rhythm of death. Now they will crash down the gates, take all that is theirs, and wipe the blood from their lips. . .”


Review

Night is an excellent, stripped-to-the-bone undead (as in: zombie, a word that’s not mentioned in Night) novel. Even if you’ve seen the original 1968 film like many people, this is a taut, chilling and burn-through book, with enough gore to satisfy many viscera-appreciative readers, but not so much it distracts from the deftly sketched characters and urgent happenings within the story. Many of the characters, e.g. Ben, are given more backstories than they are in the film, and there are at least two additional scenes that add to said backstories and further the minor differences between Night‘s book and original film version.

The book likely won’t alter anyone’s outlook on either book or the film versions, along with their sequels and offshoots, but Russo’s Night is a gripping, lean, no-bulls**t and short companion piece to the original film.

If you are a fan of Night like I am, this is worth owning for a quick-thrill, iconic, hour-or-so read, and an acknowledgment of what a milestone the original film is: it completely altered how filmmakers and viewers saw the zombie genre─a media-quaking switch from voodoo-based undead to modern-day-neuroses undead.

#

There are too many film versions─remakes, sequels, spin-offs, rip-offs and the occasional worthwhile homages─to list here. Suffice to say, the original film, on which this book is based, was released stateside on October 4, 1968. George A. Romero, who co-wrote the screenplay, directed the film.


Friday, March 20, 2020

Edith’s Diary by Patricia Highsmith

(pb; 1977)

From the back cover

“Edith’s Howland’s diary provided a reflective interlude in her busy day. This  ‘fine and chilling character study’ (Newsweek), though, charts a diary gone wrong: as Edith’s life turns sour, her diary entries only grow brighter. While her life plunges into chaos─her husband abandons her for a younger woman, leaving her with their delinquent son and his senile uncle─a tale of success and happiness blooms in her notebook.”


Review

Diary is an exceptional novel. Its setup, with its suburban unease, the characters’ festering-slivers-under-the-skin grievances, and other unsettling elements, is reminiscent of her 1983 novel People Who Knock on the Door. Unlike People, however, Diary lacks the religious criticism and violence that of the similar, pressure-build-up book. (I think of Diary as an earlier, notably different version of People, one that stands on its own merits.)  

Diary, which runs from the early sixties to the early seventies, tracks Edith’s further spiral into delusion and real-world danger, even as her emotionally distant husband leaves her and her lazy, angry and murderous son sinks deeper into alcoholism and futility. The sense of urgency surrounding her situation grows more intense as the story progresses, leading to a finish that─if it seems quiet or underwhelming─matches Edith’s quiet desperation and increasingly fierce blurring of delusion and reality.

Whenever I hear the phrase “character study” I usually translate it to mean self-indulgent, pointless and meandering work. Thankfully master writers like Highsmith belie that translation, make character studies worthwhile and exciting for readers like myself. Worth reading, even owning, this.

<em>Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer: Lords of Destruction</em> by James Silke

(pb; 1989: second book in James Silke’s Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer quadrilogy) From the back cover “In the mists of time, before...