Tuesday, December 05, 2017

MYSTERY OF THE HORNED MONSTER



MYSTERY OF THE HORNED MONSTER
A Hollywood Cowboy Detectives Mystery
By Darryle Purcell
A Buckskins Edition Western

If you are a devoted movie buff who knows William Pratt was Boris Karloff’s real name and Bela Lugois was originally Bela Blasko then you most likely will know in which Republic Serial Reed Hadley starred? Now if you are nodding your head with a giant smile on your face, then dear readers, you are absolutely going to love this book by Darryle Purcell. It is the 11th in his Hollywood Cowboy Detectives series and just unabashed fun from the first page to the last. Purcell knows his Hollywood history and weaves it through out his story via his three heroes; Sean “Curly” Woods, Nick Danby and Hoot Gibson. 

Curly, our narrator is a PR writer for Republic Studios specializing in their B-westerns while Nick is a studio chauffeur working for his older brother Nick Danby, a studio big-wig. And lastly there is silent western star Hoot Gibson, trying to keep his career going in the age of the “talkies.”  Whenever something strange or bizarre happens in the tightly knit film community, Nick calls on Curly and his pals to investigate. In this book, someone is trying to sabotage a newly reformed Monogram Pictures by causing accidents on the set. One invariably results in the death of a stage hand.

The three compadres begin their investigations and hook up with Karloff in the middle of doing a Mr. Wong short for the small studio. The dynamic actor offers to help and soon thereafter they find themselves protecting Bela Lugosi as clues indicate both actors are primary targets of the saboteurs. 

Honestly we could go on and on but that would be spoiling the fun. That Purcell has a genuine love for old classic movies is obvious. The adventure is fast paced, filled with equal amounts action and slapstick humor. Enough so, we wish someone would option this book and film it.  And as if that wasn’t enough goodness, this volume contains a bonus short which features both Ken Maynard and Lon Chaney Jr, who is apparently being haunted by the characters his dead father played in the movies.

Purcell also did the art illustrations in the book and the cover which is masterfully rendered. How much talent can one man have?  In the end, we are just sorry we hadn’t found this series a whole lot sooner.  If you love serials, historical monster movies and the pulps, we urge you to grab this one now. Trust me, once read, you’ll say you owe us one big time.

Monday, November 27, 2017

MURDER IN THE MIRACLE ROOM



MURDER IN THE MIRACLE ROOM
By Micah S. Harris
Minor Profit Press
256 pgs

Young April Gurley was a typical Southern young lady living in Tar Forks, North Carolina when she developed the stigmata; the bleeding of her palms resembling the wounds of the crucified Jesus. The news of this made her a celebrity among the religious fringe groups. Then before she can adjust to this new life in the stoplight, April and her father are in an automobile accident and she is left in a coma. Her father, one of the town’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, hires round the clock care for his only child to include nurses and health care providers. One of the latter is Twyla Chayne, one of April’s high school friends whose job it is to bathe her daily and see to her linens etc. while the nurses handle the respirator machine that keeps April breathing and the I.V. tubes that provide her sustenance.

The entire process soon becomes routine for this little group. Twyla, the book’s protagonist is comfortable with her position; though like everyone else, she prays for a day when April will awaken. Meanwhile a bit of a eccentric, Twyla lives in fear that she’ll die of spontaneous combustion, a fate that supposedly befell her Aunt Grusilla a few years earlier and resulted in sending her Uncle Tate to prison. Tate continues to claim that Groo actually came from a long line of people who died in this fiery manner and Twyla, though a rational person can’t completely shake the idea that it might all be true.

And then one day she arrives at the Gurley mansion to discover someone had unplugged the respirator and allowed April to die. Like the other members of the small staff, Twyla becomes a suspect in the murder; a fact she is unwilling to accept passively. She begins doing her own investigation.  Thus starts one of the most off-beat, original mystery novels we’ve ever read. As the gusty Twyla goes further with her own digging into the murder, she also begins to build a list of possible culprits.  Among these is her Uncle Tate, who she learns had been paroled only weeks before April’s death. Then there is her old beauty queen pal, Lorna who has become some kind of international thief traveling around the world stealing religious artifacts under the orders of the Virgin Mary who speaks to her through various mediums.

Believe us, writer Micah Harris has a knack for throwing in unexpected curves while at the same time bringing forth some of the most colorful characters ever to populate a mystery novel.  “Murder in the Miracle Room” is truly unlike any other story we’ve ever come across and we enjoyed it immensely. Oh, that other writers were this fresh and inventive.  The plot is a pretzel knot that when it begins to unravel will have you both scratching your head in wonder and smiling from ear to ear. If you love mysteries, then it’s time you met Twyla Chayne.  Once you done so, we swear you’ll never forget her.

Monday, October 09, 2017

ARCHIE IN THE CROSSHAIRS



ARCHIE IN THE CROSSHAIRS
A Nero Wolfe Mystery
By Robert Goldsborough
A Mysterious Press Original
215 pgs

Back in 1986 writer Robert Goldsborough took on the task of writing new Nero Wolfe mysteries based on the characters created by the late Rex Stout. Obviously these new pastiches were met with both joy and derision from devoted Stout readers. After reading the first of these seven, “Murder in E Minor,” we were clearly among the crowd happily applauding the return of the overweight, beer guzzling armchair sleuth.  After Bantam Books released the “The Missing Chapter” in 1994, Goldsborough took a hiatus to concentrate his efforst on his own series of mysteries starring a newspaper reporter named Steve Malek.

All well and good, but honestly, we still missed Wolfe. At one point we actually wrote Mr. Goldsborough urging him to return to that familiar brownstone on West 34th Street and he was most cordial in his reply that maybe one day he would so. In 2012 Otto Penzler of Mysterious Press added his voice to those many fans and Goldsborough relented and did so with a bang. His first new offering was the untold story fans had long clamored for, “Archie Meets Nero Wolfe.” If you haven’t read it yet, we urge to you do so immediately.

It was followed by four others including “Archie in the Crosshairs” which we recently enjoyed.  This one opens with a bang both figuratively and literally as Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe’s operative and confident, is shot at one night as he is returning home. Considering how bad the shooter’s aim was, the bullets missing him by a wide margin, Archie suspects they were actually intended to warn him rather than hit him. The following day, in Wolfe’s presence, he receives a threatening call from the supposed assassin claiming he is going to murder Archie in retribution for a harm done to him by Wolfe in the past.

Having accumulated a large number of antagonists during their years as successful private investigators, Wolfe and Archie begin a systematic search of their recent cases to pinpoint who among these villains would be most likely in a position to strike back at them. As if that puzzle wasn’t time consuming enough, the pair is approached by a perspective new client. A wealthy young socialite, Cordelia Hutuchinson, is being blackmailed for her romantic indiscretions while on a recent trip to Italy. Engaged to be married soon, the blackmailer threatens to expose her dalliances to her fiancĂ©e, her family and the public by releasing incriminating photos.

At Archie’s insistence, Wolfe takes the case and directs the young lady to comply with the extortionist’s demands with the stipulation that Archie be her agent in delivering the cash payout. Several nights later, while complying with the blackmailer’s specific directives to bring the money to an isolated spot in Central Park, Archie is shot. Luckily he’s accompanied by two of Wolfe’s other agents, Saul Panzer and Fred Durkin, who waste no time in getting him home and immediate medical attention. Still, the attack by their unknown nemesis occurring in the midst of the blackmail affair raises Wolfe’s suspicions that both matters may be connected. If such is the case, then it makes their efforts twice as complicated and deadly.

“Archie in the Crosshairs,” is a deliciously fun mystery that moves at a good but relaxed pace. In the footsteps of Rex Stout, Goldsborough plays fairs and peppers clues throughout the tale all culminating in a grand meeting of the suspects in Wolfe’s office. As ever, in any Nero Wolfe outing, the careful reader must examine the facts carefully and in the end see if they can beat the Master to the mystery’s solution. Of course, we’ve always maintained, much like the Sherlock Holmes tales of Arthur Conan Doyle, most fans read Nero Wolfe because he and Archie Goodwin are such colorful, amiable fictional characters, it is always a delight to be in their company; the actual mysteries secondary.  Here’s hoping Mr. Goldsborough has at least another dozen stories yet to tell.  Trust me, when they are this good, we never tire of them and neither will you.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

JUNGLE QUEENS & SPACE RANGERS The Complete Comic Book Covers Vol 1



JUNGLE QUEENS AND SPACE RANGERS
The Complete Comic Book Covers Vol 1
Edited and published by Todd Frye

Earlier in the year we had the extreme pleasure of reviewing super pulp & comics fan, Todd Frye’s book “Amazing! Astonishing! Weird Tales! Complete Pulp Magazine Covers Vol 2” and we ranted and raved at how much fun that treasure chest of visual delights truly was. Well, now comes this new huge collection of cover reprints and this time Frye is shining his spotlight on early comics whose theme was jungle queens and space rangers.

He starts the book focusing on three Fiction House titles; Fight Comics, Jumbo Comics and Jungle Comics in dealing with those series that dealt jungle adventures. It is important to note that all three titles where in fact anthologies and aside from their jungle heroes, who often hogged the covers, they also included strips of various genres that offered up fast, action paced yarns to keep young boys turning the pages. Among these pre-war titles that would continue into the early 1950s you’d find the art of such notable artists as Will Eisner, Matt Baker, George Tuska and Jack Kamen.

From its start in Jan 1940, Fight Comics featured a bunch of great, brawling heroes who easily lived up to that title. Each monthly issue offered up the exploits of Shark Brodie, Kayo Kirby and Chip Collins and others of the same mold. The October 1941 issue even introduced a new star-spangled, shield carrying hero named the Super American. By the war years a majority of the book was given over to combat stories featuring American GIs in both Europe and the South Pacific theaters of operation. Then in 1947 Tiger Girl appeared; a blond haired hellcat in a leopard print bikini whose jungle adventures would grace the covers from that point on until the books demise in 1954. Armed with either a knife or spear, Tiger Girl fought every imaginable jungle threat one could envision, from beasts to cannibal tribes, voodoo witch doctors etc.etc. It was heady stuff indeed.

Still, Tiger Girl would take a back seat to yet another jungle beauty with golden tresses, that being Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, whose comic home resided in Jumbo Comics. Appearing on the newsstands in 1938, Jumbo was a whopping anthology book that advertised 64 full pages in color all for a dime. It still boggles the mind. The first eight covers were a hodgepodge of cramped images giving the readers a tease of every single character that appeared in that particular issue. Sheena was most certainly among that gathering but it wouldn’t be until the March 1940 issue that she would grab the full cover spot and from that point on there was no looking back. The ultra sexy Sheena’s covers were dramatic and totally eye-catching. During the titles’ run, she battled monstrous lions, tigers, giant snakes, bizarre bug-creatures and even dinosaurs…while never looking at the least bit unglamorous. We should also note that all these jungle comics existed pre-code and so there was often lots of blood-letting on display. One cover has Sheena repeatedly stabling a gorilla and its chest is smeared with oozing blood.

Sheen would eventually cement her role as a cultural icon when she jump to television on the 1950s and many years later appeared in a full length feature motion picture. It is also interesting to note that the size of Jumbo, by the early 50s was already down to just 52 pages and would shrink even further as time went on.

Of course sexy blonde females weren’t the only larger than life heroes in the jungle comics lore. In Jan. 1940 Fiction House launched the appropriately titled, Jungle Comics and on its very first cover it feature a male Adonis with blond hair named Kaanga, Lord of the Jungle. This yellow haired Tarzan clone would be the book’s main feature throughout its entire life culminating with its final issue, # 163 appearing the summer of 1954. Whereas in this series it was the buffed Kaanga who was the blond, then it seemed natural that his own lovely vine-swinging mate in a leopard bikini sport long raven colored tresses ala Jane Russell. Like the other pre-code titles, violence ran rampant on the covers of Jungle Comics. One has an arrow piercing through the chest of a native warrior as shot by Kaanga in the background as the villain was about to stab the Jungle Lord’s mate. Not for the squeamish and faith of heart were these grand and glorious four color mags.

The second half of this volume is devoted to two of Fiction House’s most popular titles ever. Planet Comics was the first such ever devoted solely to sci-fi and from 1940 through to the winter of 1954, it published some truly amazing covers that are highly sought after by collectors today. Featured where many scantily clad ladies firing ray-blasters at all kinds of alien bug-eyed creatures. Some of the more popular ongoing series features within its pages were Space Rangers, Lost World and Mysta of the Moon. Along with the previously mentioned golden age artists, Planet Comics also showcased the early efforts of the great Murphy Anderson.

And finally, this amazing treasure trove ends with the complete covers of Wings, another Fiction House title that had begun its life as a popular aviation pulp and morphed into a very successful comic. It featured some truly dramatic air-combat scenarios and naturally during the war years, each pitted brave allied pilots against either German or Japanese fliers. Skull Squad was a recurring strip along with Captain Wings and Phantom Falcon. After the war, the antagonists battled by these stalwart heroes were mostly Commies. It’s also interesting to point out that during the war years, few females appeared on its covers but after 1946, more and more, in typical “good girl” cheesecake fashion were featured. Obviously with peace time, it was once again okay to ogle a shapely leg, even if the poor lass was falling through the sky at the time.

How Todd Frye manages to find and reproduce these hundreds of wonderful comic book covers is truly a wonder and we fans are the richer for his Herculean efforts. “Jungle Queens and Space Rangers : The Complete Comic Book Covers Vol. 1” should be in every serious collector’s library. Mine now rest on my shelves where we plan to pick it up again and again just to flip through those pages and soak in the fun that was the Golden Age.  You will too.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

TARZAN - The Greystoke Legacy Under Seige



TARZAN
The Greystoke Legacy Under Siege
By Ralph N. Laughlin & Ann E. Johnson
ERB Inc.
301 pages

Most fans of my generation will have first been introduced to Tarzan of the Apes via the movies beginning with arguably the most successful of them all, “Tarzan the Ape Man” starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan. It of course wasn’t the first cinematic portrayal of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ fantastic hero but again, clearly the most recognizable and economically successful up to that point in the character’s history. From that one movie would come many sequels to keep an ever growing audience entertained and such actors as Lex Barker, Gordon Scott, Jock Mahoney and Mike Henry would pick up the vine swinging action. This stretch extended from the mid 1940s through to the 1960s and culminated with a highly successful weekly TV series starring Ron Ely.

Having been born a post-war baby in 1946, this was most of the exposure we were given and actually enjoyed until the age thirteen when we discovered the original Burroughs’ novels in paperback. You can well imagine our surprise on discovering the “original” character was far removed from the monosyllabic wild man portrayed by Weissmuller. Rather we were introduced to a remarkable human being who not only survived being raised by apes in the mysterious jungles of an untamed Africa, but also a brilliant intellect who, along with physical prowess, was able to teach himself to read and ultimately master half a dozen languages. We learned he was heir to a vast British fortune; his real name was John Clayton and eventually, as the saga played out, would ultimately claim his title and the vast amount of wealth that accompanied.

We’ll also hazard that most of you reading this review will have read many of those classics plus other pastiches, some good, some not so good, offered up by various authors over the years. Which brings us to this current series being produced by ERB, Inc. under the umbrella title of “The Wild Adventures of Edgar Rices Burroughs” with this title kicking off Series # 4.

The story takes place in the 1980s and deftly mixes fiction with reality. Authors Laughlin and Johnson immediately establish the Clayton Clan as existing among four generations. There is Tarzan and Jane, their son Korak and his wife Meriem, their son Jackie and his wife Irene and their son Jonathan (Jon) Clayton. Jon is one of the primary plot drivers in the adventure, as it is his desire to follow in his great-grandather’s footsteps that leads us through his ordeals throughout the book. At the same time one of Tarzan’s oldest enemies reaches out from beyond the grave to attack his family both in Africa and in London where the estate’s billion dollar Trust is managed by Jackie. A physical assault is directed at the Claytons’ beautiful African plantation at the exact same time that spurious charges of treason and illegal financial dealings are leveled at the Trust.

And as if this double assault wasn’t vicious enough, Korak’s dear friend, gorilla specialist and advocate, Diane Fossey, is brutally murdered in her jungle home and the blame is directed at Korak.

This book is a brilliantly conceived extension of all that Burroughs created during his career, expanding on these marvelous characters in such a fresh and original way while maintining their authentic personalities throughout. Thus Jon Clayton, as the new generation, becomes the central lynchpin upon which the adventure barrel forwards and to its credit never once is muddled as its various subplots alternate taking center stage.
Each of the Claytons comes to life within these pages as never before and the central theme of family and loyalty to such is a powerful one skillfully employed.

“Tarzan – The Grestoke Legacy Under Siege,” is a terrific book and one every Tarzan fan, young and old, should pick up and add to their library.  As for this reviewer, all we can say is that we are eagerly awaiting the next chapter in this exciting new series.

Monday, September 18, 2017

ROUGH RIDERS Vol # 1



ROUGH RIDERS
A Graphic Novel
By Adam Glass - Writer
Patrick Olliffe - Artist
A Graphic Novel
Gabe Eltaeb - Colorist
Sal Cipriano - Letterer
Mike Harris – Editor
Collects the first 7 issue of regular series.

It has been a while since my subject was a graphic novel and as most of you readers know, that doesn’t happen often. We reserve only the best of the best such comics for this column. Meaning quite simply, this is one of the finest graphic novels we’ve ever enjoyed in a life time of reading comics.

For nearly ten years now we’ve argued that the finest comics work being produced in America today is coming from the independents. Both DC and Marvel long ago gave up the ghost in regards to doing comics for comics’ sake, becoming the tails of their corporate owners who keep them around (demanding no major changes ever) simply to maintain the copyrights on their characters for the purposes of movies, toys and whatever other merchandising potentials they can mine. Ergo, the comics reader surviving on the big two alone, is basically digesting the same old pablum over and over and over again. It’s baby-food, people. Nothing more.

Whereas when you have a writer like Adam Glass with a genuine love of history and allow him to make that the basis from which to create a fantastical adventure, then anything is possible. And that’s exactly the sense of wonder that permeates this series. What if Teddy Roosevelt was a bonafide action hero and was charged by the financial moguls of the time to go to Cuba and investigate the sinking of the U.S. Maine? And what if that sinking wasn’t perpetrated by Spanish terrorist looking to strike back at the U.S., but a third party with deeper, world shattering goals? Realizing this mission is beyond the scope of one man, Roosevelt proceeds to assemble his own special team consisting of four amazing individuals.

In this unit is the incredible new stage magician, Harry Houdini, the electrical Wizard of Menlo Park, Thomas Edison, soon-to-be champion prize fighter Jack Johnson and finally, adding a dash of feminine dazzle and energy, the one and only little Miss Sure Shot, Annie Oakley. Together, Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders” travel to Cuba with the military expeditionary forces and under the guise of being part of that military operation, seek out the real villainy at work on that tropical island.

Glass is a master of pacing and knows how to keep his tale moving forward while ingeniously injecting personal moments that reveal each hero’s torturous past and what has led them to this particular point in time…and history. It’s a terrific story from start to finish and deserved only the best in artwork.  Veteran craftsman Patrick Olliffe delivers that and then some. He elevates Glass tale to a higher level by delivering visuals so beautiful and dramatic, each page is a jewel of artwork that propels the reader at the same time entertaining them. His layouts and and compositions are old school, and we say that in the most reverential way. This is classic comics delivered with sequential grace and blends so effortlessly with the script it would be inconceivable to imagine this book without either element. And there’s the magic of comics.

And let’s not forget the deft colors of Gabe Elteab and expert lettering of Sal Capriano. The older we become, the more we’ve learned that great lettering is in fact what takes two vastly different sensibilities and brings them together flawlessly into something singular, i.e. the letterer makes it a comic book. Period.

In the end it’s been a long, long time since we’ve truly relished a comic adventure this much.  “Rough Riders” is brilliant, genius, fun…and every other positive adjective one can whip up. Please, if you truly love comics, pick it up a copy now. You can thank us later.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

RV



 
RV
By Keith Suek
Self-published
244 pgs.

Being a book reviewer can at times be a maddening challenge with absolutely no rhyme or reason. Keith Suek, who hails from Wyoming, sent us his book, RV, after meeting us at a comic convention in Cheyenne. In the accompanying letter, he mentioned not getting any response via Amazon and hoping a review from us would help shake things up. Well, we have no idea if that will happen, but then again we do know the damn book did in fact shake us up…radically.

It is almost impossible to accurately review because no matter how we approach it, there is the reality we’ll be leaving behind negative conations in what we are about to say. So, dear readers of good, solid action fiction take what we say with a huge grain of salt…and be wary. Keith Suek is not a bad writer at all. In fact, underneath the editorial mess this book is, we truly believe there exist a very talented storyteller. So, before going much further in this review, let’s talk story.

The American/Mexican border. An oilman named Ian D’eath teams up with a Border Patrolman named Hector Munoz to take on a deadly drug cartel called the Arana. These South of the Border thugs are merciless and have no qualms in killing whoever stands in the way of their making money; be it flooding the country with illegal drugs, kidnapping young teenage American girls and selling them to Arab millionaires or cutting up Mexican natives from the hills to sell their body parts. Again, as we said, these are really bad hombres that Ian and Hector have, through various life choices, found themselves opposing. When they learned of six recently snatched girls, they put together a posse of their own, cross over into Mexico and attempt to rescue them.

The bullets fly fast and furious as Suek obviously knows his firearms and is not the least be squeamish in describing what hot lead of various calibers will do to the human body. There are parts in this book that read like masochistic poetry, the violence is so in your face. On this front, as a pure, unadulterated actioner, RV is like a racing Grayhound that has broken its leash and escape. The pages almost turn themselves.

So what’s the problem? The problem is no page in this entire book ever saw the scrutiny of an editor, pro or amateur. The book is a grammatical nightmare filled with so many typos, and punctuation sins that they mimic the shells spitting from the weapons in the story. It’s as if Suek can’t be bothered with that bread of his sandwich and just wants to get to the slice bologna between it. All well and good for the author, but not so for the hapless reader who opens that cover.

We truly wish we could give this book nothing but high marks, but that wouldn’t be fair to our readers who expect a modicum of polish in a published book. Maybe RV is in itself what is good and what is bad about today’s self-publishing market. On one hand, Suek was able to get his manuscript in print…on the other hand, it got into print as a mess and that is unacceptable.  Final word here.  Kevin Suek, you know how to write…find an editor on-line and pay them to work with you. You have so much potential, don’t let it go to waste.