Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Commando: Codename Warlord: Ship of Fools - Iain McLaughlin

Get ready for Lord Peter Flint like he's never been seen before -- with a beard! German Navy zealots are hell-bent on building a 'Fuhrer' class warship, the biggest warship of all time, and only Britain's top secret agent, Codename Warlord, can stop them!

(I find it kind of, um, odd that the sales copy for this issue of COMMANDO chooses to emphasize the fact that Lord Peter Flint disguises himself with a fake beard. It's really not a huge part of the plot. The story is very enjoyable overall, though, a good espionage yarn set in the very early days of the war. Iain McLaughlin's stories are almost non-stop action and quite entertaining. I don't talk much about the art in these, but that job is handled this time by Manuel Benet, and I like his work quite a bit. At times it reminds me of Joe Kubert, and at others of John Severin. When you're talking about war comics, you can't do much better than those two!)

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Overlooked Movies: Braven (2018)

I’d never heard of this 2018 action movie starring Jason Momoa, but I’ve found him to be a likable lug of a protagonist so I figured it might be worth watching. He plays the title character, Joe Braven, a logger and sawmill owner in Alaska (or maybe Canada, I’m not sure that’s ever made clear), who, through a set of unfortunate coincidences, winds up with a load of drugs belonging to some bad guys stashed in his hunting cabin in the remote woods. Braven is there with his father (played by Stephen Lang) who is suffering from dementia, and his adorably cute young daughter shows up as well. Then the bad guys (including the great character actor Zahn McLarnon) arrive on the scene to reclaim their drugs and kill everybody. Many action scenes ensue.

If this movie had been made ten years earlier, it probably would have starred Dwayne Johnson. Thirty years ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger. That right there ought to tell you what you’re getting in BRAVEN. However, Momoa is as likable as ever, and he’s not a superhuman hero, either. He takes a lot of punishment in this movie, although he deals out plenty, too. Lang is nearly always interesting, Momoa’s wife is played by Jill Wagner, who is pretty badass herself, and there’s a nice twist in the final showdown between Momoa and the head bad guy that I didn’t see coming, which is always a plus. Watching BRAVEN was a pretty enjoyable hour-and-a-half for me. If you’re an action movie fan, it might well be for you, too.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Son of Grendel: A Battle for the Wastelands Novella - Matthew W. Quinn

It’s been a while since I read a post-apocalyptic yarn. A while back, I bought the e-book edition of a novel called BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS by Matthew W. Quinn, mostly because of the great cover since I wasn’t familiar with the author. I hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet, though, so when Quinn recently published SON OF GRENDEL, a novella-length prequel to the novel, I decided to start with it instead.

Quinn doesn’t spend a lot of time on world-building. Instead, in an opening reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway’s FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, he drops the reader down in the middle of the action as a group of resistance fighters in some future America ambushes a column of soldiers from the army of a tyrant known as Grendel, who evidently has conquered most of North America.

Then Quinn cleverly switches the focus to the title character, a young army officer who’s the son of that tyrant, and how he handles the campaign of reprisal against those resistance fighters. There are also some unexpected elements to the story, such as a mention of pterodactyls, that lead me to believe this is either an alternate universe from ours, or else something really weird happened in that apocalypse.

I suspect I’ll find out in BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS, which I intend to read soon because Quinn is an excellent writer with a fine sense of pacing and some top-notch action scenes. I really want to discover more about the world he’s created in this series. I’ll add, too, that SON OF GRENDEL is very well edited and formatted, something you don’t always get in books these days, even from the big New York publishers. Overall, if you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic adventure tales, I think this one is well worth reading.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Planet Stories, Fall 1943

An excellent cover by George Rozen graces this issue of PLANET STORIES, and there's a really fine group of writers behind it: Leigh Brackett, Clifford D. Simak, Nelson S. Bond, Carl Jacobi, Wilbur S. Peacock, Charles R. Tanner, and Henry Hasse. I haven't read it, but you can read or download the entire issue here.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western, August 1933

I'm not sure that shade of red hair appears in nature, but it appears on several different DIME WESTERN covers in 1933 and it's certainly eye-catching. Equally eye-catching is the group of authors in this issue: Max Brand (Frederick Faust), T.T. Flynn, Harry F. Olmsted (twice, as himself and a Tensleep Maxon story as by Bart Cassidy), Stephen Payne, J.E. Grinstead, and John Colohan. That's a potent pack of pulpsters.

While I don't own a copy of this issue, I have read the Max Brand novella, "Guardian Guns". It was reprinted under the title "The Stage to Yellow Creek" in THE LOST VALLEY, one of the Max Brand collections published by Five Star and Leisure. It's an excellent, action-packed yarn about a stagecoach journey, a bag full of money, a gang of outlaws, and one of Faust's typical good badmen as the protagonist. I enjoyed it a lot. It's almost long enough to be considered a novel.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Forgotten Books: Barge Girl - Calvin Clements

With a Barye Phillips cover and a title like BARGE GIRL, from a publisher like Gold Medal, I expected a noirish crime novel with a regular guy protagonist falling for some beautiful but scheming dame who has an older husband who just needs to be gotten rid of so that she and the protagonist can live happily ever after. And as I started this 1953 novel by Calvin Clements, it looked like that was what I was going to get, as our narrator, tugboat captain Joe Baski, mets and falls for gorgeous young Stella Murk, whose much older, barge captain husband takes her for granted and makes her live in near-squalor on the barge.

The thing is, for the longest time Clements dances right up to the edge of giving us that plot but then pulls back, and as a result, the first three-fourths of BARGE GIRL never amounts to more than a well-written but slow-paced domestic drama that will tell you more about barges and tugboats operating on the Hudson River between New York City and New Jersey than you ever wanted to know.

Maybe Clements was trying to subvert his readers’ expectations, or maybe he just wasn’t comfortable spinning a truly noir crime yarn. I don’t know. But BARGE GIRL was a considerable disappointment to me up until a late twist that almost salvages the book. The last few chapters pack a lot more punch and are more fun to read, although even then he seems to be setting up a twist that never comes to fruition. That makes the pretty good climax not as effective as it could have been.

Calvin Clements wrote a few novels but is best remembered for his long career as a screenwriter for movies and TV. He wrote excellent episodes of a number of different Western series. Based on BARGE GIRL, the only one of his books I’ve read, he wasn’t as skillful a novelist. Overall, though, the final fourth of this one impressed me enough that I can say I’m glad I read it. Don’t rush right out to look for a copy, but if you ever run across one, you might want to learn more about tugboats and barges than I did.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Kid Colt: Kill the Kid! - Tom DeFalco

Some of the first Marvel comics I ever read, before I discovered their superheros on Christmas Day, 1963, were early issues of KID COLT, OUTLAW that had found their way to our house some way. Because of that, I've always had a soft spot for the character, even though now I realize he's a pretty generic "good guy outlaw framed for a crime he didn't commit".

I didn't realize Marvel had brought him back briefly in 2009 in a three-part story written by Tom DeFalco and drawn by Rick Burchett. "Kill the Kid!" is an origin story (comics, like movies, love origin stories) that goes in for a little bit of retconning. Kid Colt's real name is Blaine Cole, instead of Blaine Colt as in the original, and I think the details of the crime that leaves him an outlaw are a little different, but I didn't do any research to confirm that. Either way, this reads and looks like a genuine Kid Colt, Outlaw yarn, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. If you're an old fan of the character, like me, you might enjoy it, too, and the digital version is really inexpensive, if you read comics that way. I've come to prefer that method, which surprises me a little.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, January 13, 1940

It's been a while since I posted a Mountie cover, and this is a good one (not surprising since it's on an issue of ARGOSY) by Rudolph Belarski. There's an excellent group of authors inside this issue as well, including E. Hoffmann Price, Harry Sinclair Drago, Eustace L. Adams, Bennett Foster, William Gray Beyer, and Bruce Douglas. ARGOSY was always good, often great.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, June 7, 1941

Another excellent and effective cover by H.W. Scott on this issue of WESTERN STORY, and another prime example of why I never liked to go to the barber shop: yuh never know when some ranny's liable to bust in and commence to slingin' lead. There's an all-star line-up of authors in this issue, too: Walt Coburn, Peter Dawson, Norman A. Fox, Harry F. Olmsted, Frank Richardson Pierce, and Glenn H. Wichman. Looks like a great issue to me.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Forgotten Books: The Gate of Farewell - H. Bedford-Jones

Of the many, many series written for the pulps by H. Bedford-Jones, his longest-running featured a fat little Cockney named John Solomon, which ran from 1914 to 1936 and encompassed more than twenty novels and novellas. John Solomon may not seem very impressive at first glance, but he actually runs a far-flung intelligence network and makes a specialty of thwarting all sorts of criminal and espionage schemes around the world. I’ve been aware of this series for years but hadn’t read any of them until recently, when I started at the most logical place, the novel THE GATE OF FAREWELL, which was published originally as a serial in ARGOSY in 1914 and is Solomon’s first appearance. (It was later published as a novel under the pseudonym Allan Hawkwood.)

Solomon is a supporting character in this book and doesn’t play much of a part in the action until the late stages. The protagonist is an American businessman named Allen Tredgar, who is searching for his older brother who vanished in Arabia five years earlier. He hires a captain and a ship, gets a tip on where to look for his brother from John Solomon, goes through the Suez Canal, and then heads down the Red Sea to the area where his brother disappeared.

Unfortunately, there’s a sinister American working against Tredgar’s interests, and things are complicated even more when Tredgar and his companions rescue a beautiful young woman blown out to sea in a small boat during a storm. Ultimately, everybody winds up in a fortress on the coast of Arabia built by what today we would call an Islamic terrorist group. Torture, slavery, and epic battles ensue, along with a hunt for ancient relics that will give whoever possesses them great power in the Middle East.

For a novel written and published more than a hundred years ago, THE GATE OF FAREWELL is surprisingly modern. I can see this same basic plot being used by a number of today’s thriller writers (although the resulting book would be three or four times as long). This early in his career, Bedford-Jones’ prose is still a bit stodgy and old-fashioned and not as crisp and stream-lined as it would be later. Also, the plot is rather slow to develop, leading to the first half of the book just sort of meandering along.

The second half, though, has a lot of punch, building up a considerable amount of suspense that delivers an action-packed climax. The characters are interesting, including a suitably despicable villain. Bedford-Jones lays the groundwork for more adventures of John Solomon, which I’m sure I’ll be reading. THE GATE OF FAREWELL isn’t in the top rank of H. Bedford-Jones’ novels, as far as I’m concerned, but it’s an entertaining adventure yarn in the classic style and well worth reading, especially as an introduction to his longest-running character.