Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Chato’s Land by Joe Millard

Joe Millard was quite a fine writer who published numerous film novelizations. His work is well known by collectors of vintage paperbacks, as they should be. Millard knew about knuckle-busting, guns, horses and women, and his masculine prose reflects these pursuits without apology. His approach is straight-forward and lacking in superfluous exposition. He gets right to it, usually, and each chapter canters along. I have never failed to find merit in any of his books. Chato’s Land was obviously the novelization of the 1972 film starring Charles Bronson. I recall seeing the film at a drive-in upon its release, and I can still taste the Old Style and I can still smell the marijuana as it drifted across the lot to mingle with the tinny sound of the speaker hung from the Ford’s window ledge. Bronson was awesome. He doesn’t have much dialogue in this movie, and he didn’t need any. His physical presence is powerful and fearsome. This is a tale of revenge, and Chato’s revenge is something viewers were not soon to forget. This Award Books novelization sold for 75 cents. It is exactly what I expected, although the film is a better medium for this story. Millard sets the pace and digs right down into the basic elements from the script. As I mentioned, this is told in a straight-forward manner, and I actually thought the novel lagged a bit. Possibly that’s because the film and Bronson’s screen image left such an indelible mark that any attempt to mimic that with prose was destined to fall a little flat. Still, it’s a good book, and I admire the way Millard keeps it all going. It’s gritty and very much a product of its time. The social issues of the culture-conscious 70s are mirrored by the references to the “redskin nigger” and certainly Chato represents the 70s era disenchantment with government authority. That is my impression, and probably not intended by either the filmmakers or Millard. I recommend any book that Joe Millard wrote, and if you haven’t seen it, Chato’s Land is still a pretty damn good movie.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Star King by Jack Vance

Star King originally appeared in a shorter form in Galaxy Magazine in 1964. I didn’t read it until it was expanded into the 1978 DAW paperback with cover artwork by Gino D’Achille. For DAW collectors Star King is DAW # 305. Author Jack Vance died in 2013. I don’t know how many books he wrote, but every book of his that I’ve read has been pretty damn good. I consider Star King one of the greatest science fiction novels, and the first of five great novels now referred to as “Demon Prince Novels” by fans and sci-fi aficionados. The only problem with my statement is the fact that Jack Vance wrote dozens of books that can be labeled the “greatest science fiction novels.” I guess that means if you haven’t read a Jack Vance book you’d better go to the library and start reading one today. Vance’s plot is complicated, wavering back and forth but never stalling. This is a characteristic of many of his novels, including the “Adventure Planet” series. Basically, the Demon Prince novels are all a tale of revenge. Keith Gersen begins his long revenge here, after one of the Demon Princes annihilate his family. The Star Kings are aliens who have adapted their genetic make-up and intentionally resemble humans. There are five Demon Princes, and in Star King the first one is Attel Malagate, a devious bastard. Vance possessed a fantastic imagination. The characters, worlds and wild imagery comes naturally to him. Star King is old school Space Opera. It begins in Smade’s Tavern and concludes on a faraway world. There is even a minor character appearing late in the book named Mr. Spock, but he bears zero resemblance to the now famous character from television and films. Star King pre-dates Star Trek, Star Wars and all of the similarly influenced material that followed. Jack Vance lead the way. Jack Vance was great at creating suspense and the action is effective. TOR books has published several compilation volumes, and there are numerous Kindle editions of his many titles. You can’t go wrong with anything you choose. The other Demon Prince novels are The Killing Machine, The Palace of Love, The Face, and The Book of Dreams

Monday, January 29, 2018

Captain America Annual # 6

When Captain America Annual # 6 hit the spinner racks in 1976 I bought it, loved it, and then bagged and boxed it. Edited, written and drawn by Jack Kirby, it’s one of those later era Marvel comics that slipped under the radar. I won’t pretend that it’s a classic, because it’s not. I wouldn’t rate it as Kirby’s best, either, but it’s still worth considering. After all, this is Jack Kirby we’re talking about, and Jack Kirby is a force to be reckoned with. Kirby had returned to drawing Captain America with issue # 193 (January, 1976), but with a difference. This time he was writing and editing the series himself. Most historians seem to downplay this period, which is a mistake. Yes, Kirby’s early work at Marvel is among the best anyone had ever produced, but he was still a creative powerhouse when he returned to the pages of Captain America, and Captain America Annual # 6 offers 47 pages of Jack Kirby’s amazing imagination. The story is called “The Thing from the Black Hole Star” and its Space Opera all the way. Cap comes to the aid of a farmer who witnessed a flying saucer crash in his field. The being, who looks human enough, is under attack from a Combatron, a killer monster sent by the aliens in the pursuit ship. Once the Combatron is defeated, Cap is besieged by the Magnoids. Meanwhile, the alien they’re protecting has a sinister secret, and Cap is put to the test just to stay alive. “The Thing from the Black Hole Star” is non-stop action, with a dash of Golden Age philosophizing as Cap wonders if all aliens are evil. The point being, in Cap’s words, “we’re not alone in the teeming firmament…look to the stars Earth! Look to the stars!!” Jack Kirby was a natural at creating fantastic science fiction stories, and “The Thing from the Black Hole Star” is wild and fun. All of Kirby’s Cap stories from this era were reprinted in several volumes, but I believe they are now out of print and command premium prices. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Slaves of Sleep by L. Ron Hubbard

Originally published in the July 1939 issue of Unknown magazine, I encountered this classic adventure tale when it was reprinted by Lancer Books in 1967. Hubbard’s name was not unknown to me, for I had already been exposed to him through various theatrical players, all friends of my mother who nurtured her acting career with a diverse group of Chicagoland actors and writers. I also met people in the neighborhood who collected Hubbard’s pulp stories, had written to Hubbard, and to my amazement they received letters back from him. Slaves of Sleep has never lost its allure. Hubbard was greatly influenced by Arabian Nights, and this influence is evident in Slaves of Sleep and other stories. Slaves of Sleep opens with Jan Palmer being solicited by Frobish whose goal is the sealed clay jar in Palmer’s collection which he believes contains a trapped Jinn, or genii.  One night Frobish breaks into Palmer’s home and unseals the jar, only to be slain by the angry Jinn, Zongri, who then curses Palmer with “Eternal Wakefulness.” This sets up the amazing plot wherein Palmer, accused of the murder of Frobish, finds himself transported aboard a full-rigged sailing ship in some distant past every time he begins to fall asleep. The story moves back and forth between Palmer’s two lives; that of the accused murderer and that where he takes on the persona of a brutish sailor named Tiger. Palmer is in dire straits in both worlds. Hubbard possessed a great ability to engage the reader with wild plots and believable characters. With characteristic vigor, he creates a world of Jinns and exotic people and lands, and takes the reader along on a breathless and satisfying visit into unknown worlds. Palmer’s plight as an accused murderer, his lingering romantic notions toward his secretary, Alice Hall, and his confusion at finding himself occupying the body of a swarthy seaman when “sleeping,” all set the narrative into brisk motion. The immediacy of Palmer’s plight and his subsequent tribulations help make the scenes jump from the page leaving one’s heart racing in wonder at how poor Palmer will survive his trials. Hubbard wrote a sequel, Masters of Sleep, about a decade later, and the current edition from Galaxy Press pairs both tales under a great cover by Gerry Grace. Masters of Sleep is a tad shorter, and relies exclusively on action and some satire to propel the story. Satire is, of course, a form of social commentary, and LRH lays it on pretty thick. Still, Masters of Sleep is a satisfying continuation of Palmer’s tale, with a few additional plot twists. I was struck at how deftly Hubbard could use the same raw material and spin it into a wholly original story of its own. 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

To Die in Italbar by Roger Zelazny

I’ve read that Zelazny himself didn’t much care for To Die in Italbar. There is little critical analysis on the book and it generally falls into that category of “forgotten” or “not too popular.” I suppose both labels have validity. I re-read it recently because I have a memory of enjoying it in 1974 while agreeing that it’s not Zelazny’s best. To Die in Italbar is a lukewarm book, like a much needed bowl of soup but perhaps lacking in any real flavor. It does what it’s supposed to do, and that’s enough. But because we are talking about Roger Zelazny it is still far better than a recently published science fiction best seller I tried to read. The point is that Zelazny is still good even if he only wrote this book to fulfill a contract. The plot is compelling. The man called “H” or Heidel von Hymack who holds the secret to curing any illness in his blood. Hymack has a following of devotees but unfortunately any prolonged proximity to him often results in death. The reason for Hymack’s condition is unknown until we learn he has been possessed by an alien witch whose moods dictate Hymack’s condition. Enter Francis Sandow, the main character from Zelazny’s Isle of the Dead, one of his best books. Sandow’s goal is to drive the witch from Hymack and aid Malacar Miles, one of the last men on a destroyed earth. The murky plot is the book’s weakness, salvaged only by the merits of Zelazny’s strong writing. Certain passages flow like poetry, only to get bogged down by the haphazard plot. Zelazny was a great prose stylist and I think To Die in Italbar might have been developed into a much better novel. Still, I recommend it for Zelazny fans. For DAW collectors this is DAW # 117.

Friday, January 26, 2018

My Lord Barbarian by Andrew J. Offutt

My Lord Barbarian was published in 1977 by Dell Rey-Ballantine with cover artwork by the ever popular Boris Vallejo. The book was intended as a homage of sorts to the old Planet Stories pulp magazine but it reads more like a Conan the Barbarian novel. In fact, Andrew J. Offutt would later write a few Conan novels, too. Offutt handles his material well, although the first chapter of My Lord Barbarian is cumbersome. The story involves Lord Valeron who is framed for murder by Darcus Cannu. Valeron is described as a barbarian, the Warlord of Branarius. At stake here is an alliance of planets. Thrown into prison, the middle section works the best. Valeron is intent on clearing his name, winning the love of the beautiful Alevsha and uniting the planets. There’s plenty of action and the added ingredient of spaceships hurtling between planets gives the narrative a Flash Gordon Space Opera feel. That makes My Lord Barbarian a little different than the normal sword and sorcery blend of adventure. Although author Andrew J. Offutt published over 400 books, few of them bear his real name. Most of his titles were pornography published under at least sixteen pseudonyms. I recently read an article from The New York Times written by his son which offered a fascinating look at Offutt’s literary career. His pornographic paperback career comprised most of his time and he could write a novel in three days. For those interested the article is titled “My Father the Pornographer” by Chris Offutt and it’s available on-line. Just google it. His primary pseudonym was John Cleve. Interestingly enough, Offutt’s Conan novels are published under his own name: Conan the Sorcerer (1978), Conan: Sword of Skelos (1979) and Conan the Mercenary (1980). As for My Lord Barbarian, I bought it, quite naturally, simply because I liked the saucy girl in the Boris Vallejo cover. Offutt might have appreciated that.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Avenger: Justice, Inc. by Kenneth Robeson

As most of you know, Kenneth Robeson was a Street & Smith Publishers pseudonym for several writers, including Lester Dent who wrote most of the Doc Savage novels. In this case, Robeson was Paul Ernst. I know next to nothing about Ernst. The Avenger is one of the late era (1939) pulp heroes. This first adventure was reprinted by Paperback Library in 1972 and coincided with the first pulp reprint craze that reintroduced such characters as Doc Savage and The Shadow to a new generation. I read about a dozen of these, and enjoyed them. New Avenger adventures were later written by Ron Goulart. In this first tale millionaire Dick Benson loses his wife and daughter on plane flight (they’re thrown out of the plane) as part of an evil plot to blackmail wealthy businessman from Buffalo, New York. Shocked, Benson loses control of his facial features and his hair turns white, a plot device that was eliminated in later stories. Forming a group called “Justice, Inc.,” Benson becomes a menacing figure of “ice and steel” intent on delivering unsympathetic justice to evildoers. It’s a great premise and the prose snaps, crackles and pops with adjectives and imagery. Well written and electric stories like this are a great example why pulp fiction is so highly regarded today. It’s the rare “best-selling” thriller today that can compete with The Avenger, Doc Savage or The Shadow for pure thrills. The later mid-70s Avenger stories by Ron Goulart (still under the Kenneth Robeson pseudonym) are equally entertaining. The first 24 Paperback Library books reprint the Paul Ernst pulps, and the Goulart stories begin with # 25. The Avenger: Justice, Inc. hails from those halcyon days when “crime’s greed turned millionaire adventurer Richard Benson into – The Avenger!”

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Faster We Live by Bill Brennan

In the seventh grade a teacher said to me, “There’s better things for you to be reading than these tawdry paperbacks.” I had developed the habit of bringing paperbacks to the study hall, usually stuff that I had found lying around the house, and that teacher didn’t like my choices. Webster defines tawdry as cheaply made and without quality. Well, I still love tawdry paperbacks, although I don’t think they’re tawdry at all. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I suppose a lot of people might consider The Faster We Live by Bill Brennan a tawdry paperback. Published in 1962 by Monarch Books, this lively tale of lust and greed sold for a whopping 35 cents. The cover painting by Harry Barton gets across the idea that the brunette is topless, but without being blatant. It’s a great tease cover. The Faster We Live is a short one, 141 pages, but with small print. Twelve chapters are all it takes, and you’re knee deep in bank robbery and sex. Four amateur bandits are after 200 grand in a local bank. With a plan to use the crowds at the Indianapolis Speedway as cover, they hatch a plan that’s crazy enough to work. One of the men, Ryan Kendall, gets involved with a hot dame named Vicki, but the real trouble happens when the ringleaders, the Thorbeck brothers, commit murder. Throw in a nymphomaniac named Faye and this really is a turgid and tawdry tale of deceit, murder, madness, and even love. I enjoyed the pulsating passion, the cigarette smoke in dingy bedrooms, and the martini hour chatter. The tag line on this one is: “She gave herself to the right man – at the wrong time.” Yep, she sure did.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart

Long before the late Mary Stewart became known for The Crystal Cave and her other novels in the Arthurian sequence, she wrote many suspense thrillers. These paperbacks were once as common as toothbrushes and you could pick them up in any retail outlet that had a spinning wire rack of paperbacks. My all-time favorite is My Brother Michael which I’ll talk about at a later date. Airs Above the Ground is good as well. Published in 1965 by Fawcett Crest, this book contains all of he elements that demonstrate Stewart’s creative abilities. Stewart was skilled at building suspense, setting the scene and in writing realistic dialogue. She also had a knack for turning her thrillers into exciting travel monologues. Her location descriptions have the ring of accuracy, and I always come away from the experience hoping to visit one of her locations, or a place like it. This idea of using actual locations as part of the story was something that Ian Fleming was also good at, but it’s something that is either missing or mishandled by thriller writers today. Mary Stewart’s novels are often part Gothic thriller and part travel essay. In Airs Above the Ground she takes us to Vienna. Vanessa March catches a glimpse of her husband in some newsreel footage about a mysterious circus fire and she wonders what is going on. Her husband is supposed to be in Stockholm on a business trip. And who is that pretty young woman with her husband in the newsreel footage? Catching a flight, she admires the view: “London fell away, the coast came up, receded, the hazy silver-blue of the Channel spread out like wrinkled silk...” Vienna and the surrounding Austrian countryside, the village and the castle where she eventually visits are all rendered with lush but not overdone language. March’s search for her missing husband will take some twists and turns and satisfy the reader. Airs Above the Ground and other titles by Stewart were marketed as “Romantic Thrillers.”

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Hunt for Atlantis by Andy McDermott

I picked up The Hunt for Atlantis on a whim. I had never read anything by Andy McDermott and knew nothing about him. I bought it because I enjoy stories about the fabled lost city of Atlantis, and the title intrigued me. I rarely purchase mass market paperbacks. Well, dang, if The Hunt for Atlantis didn’t turn out to be a fun book to read. The book’s only flaw being that it’s too long. That’s not unusual for any New York publishing industry traditional thriller; they are all too long. Everything that comes out of New York seems padded. On the plus side, this book is non-stop action, highly suspenseful, well-written and the perfect start to what I learned was an ongoing series. I got lucky and happened to pick up the first one. The story is about archeologist Nina Wade who sets out to solve the mystery of Atlantis, and also come to grips with the mysterious death of her parent’s years before. She teams up with Eddie Chase, an Australian man of action, and sparks fly. The action starts early, roller-coasters a bit, intersected by plot revealing dialogue, and then lots more action. Author Andy McDermott writes thrilling action scenes, and fans of classic pulp fiction and new pulp fiction will feel right at home as Wade and Chase dodge the bullets. Overall, a good book, just a tad long. I will undoubtedly pick up the next in the series at some point. That one is called The Tomb of Hercules. McDermott might be onto something, and if the quality holds up I’ll post more thumbnail reviews here.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Final Deduction by Rex Stout

I bought this paperback in 1968 because of the cover photograph of a briefcase and the Walther PPK. The image was intentionally meant to evoke a link to Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and the James Bond films. Every kid in 1968 knew that James Bond carried the Walther PPK, and the film From Russia With Love had popularized the idea of a gimmick-laden briefcase. Fortunately, I was a skilled reader and knew this wasn’t James Bond, but I wanted to read The Final Deduction anyway, and so this book became my introduction to Rex Stout. Published by Penguin, this paperback cost me fifty cents. I was hooked. Super-sleuth Nero Wolfe possessed the cerebral qualities of Sherlock Holmes, and his sidekick Archie Goodwin may not have been James Bond, but he was still a tough guy. I was already writing my own stories, and I had even sent a story proposal to film director Alfred Hitchcock, which his secretary kindly rejected. My disappointment was eased somewhat by the “autographed” photo she sent me. Anyway, I became immersed briefly in the paperbacks of Rex Stout. The Final Deduction had an opening that fascinated me. The first line is a piece of dialogue: “Your name, please?” This was followed by the line, “I asked her only as a matter of form.” I had read enough pulp fiction reprints to understand the opening with a girl entering a detective’s office was mandatory, and this terse variation was refreshing. Nero Wolfe himself became less interesting to me as I read additional novels. I viewed him as fat and lazy, and Archie Goodwin was the real hero of the series. The Final Deduction is a kidnapping mystery, made enjoyable by the clean prose. Rex Stout cut his teeth in the pulp magazine market in the 30s and 40s. The Final Deduction is one of the later Nero Wolfe mysteries, originally published in 1961. I have discovered the quality of these books varies, but I have yet to encounter one that is a true clunker. Rex Stout wrote over 30 Nero Wolfe stories between 1934 and his death in 1975.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Wanted by Robert Crais

I was fortunate to receive a signed copy of The Wanted via Barnes & Noble’s website. As a longtime Robert Crais fan, and owning every book he has published, finally landing a signed copy was nice. The Wanted is another Elvis Cole and Joe Pike thriller, although once again Joe Pike plays a third-string quarterback role which continues to baffle me. Cole and Pike together are what makes the series work, and as I noted in a previous post, the more Pike the better. Still, The Wanted is a solid book, and I read it straight through in a matter of hours. Robert Crais is such a fine writer that I recommend this book for anyone interested in creative writing. The characters, descriptions, pacing and dialogue all perfectly meld into a top-level entertainment. The Wanted highlights many of the elements that made the series popular to begin with; namely a wise-cracking private eye, a tight plot, fully-realized action scenes, and Joe Pike. Yeah, I wanted more Joe Pike in The Wanted. So I’m a crybaby. The plot is simple enough – Cole is hired to find a missing kid who turns out to be a burglar who stole something the owners want back so badly they will kill for it. Hardly original, but it’s Crais’ chutzpah and brass that propel the narrative. At times it does all seem formulaic, which the early novels did not. The spontaneity and hardcore violence of Crais’ early novels have been toned down. Yet, I still found The Wanted a pretty damn good book. The Elvis Cole and Joe Pike books are my favorite thriller series alongside the Pendergast series by Preston and Child.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Laugh and Live by Douglas Fairbanks

The world was at war when Laugh and Live was published on April 10,1917. Fairbanks was at the height of his popularity as a film star, but his best work was still to come. His reputation had been built on a series of romantic adventure comedies and some Westerns as a contract player for Triangle Studios. He was a household name. Fairbanks was among the first “Movie Stars” and the rise in popularity of silent films changed our culture. When Laugh and Live was published he was making at least half a million a year. He was about to embark upon a series of film projects that he felt strongly about, and in so doing he would change the film industry forever and leave a lasting impression on a generation of actors and writers. Fairbanks was a force to contend with. The historical importance of these facts is lost upon today’s digital audience, and none but the devoted film student might appreciate the enormity of his popularity. Fairbanks made a series of public appearances during World War I that drew incredible crowds. Streets were blocked off and he commanded his audience with motivational speeches delivered through a megaphone. He had become what is now referred to as an “acrobatic evangelist” similar to Billy Sunday, but without the hellfire and brimstone religious overtones. With Fairbanks you received a homespun philosophy, a grin and a bushel of enthusiasm. So popular was Laugh and Live that copies were sent to US Troops overseas to help with morale. The book sold briskly and a second printing was ordered within two weeks; an unprecedented literary success. Illustrated with publicity photos of Fairbanks or scenes from his films, Laugh and Live delivers a populist philosophy that is All-American, intelligent, logical and infused with the principals of hard work and fairness. Fairbanks begins with the dictum that laughter should be frequent on one’s life. He espouses the virtues of cleanliness, organization, being considerate of others, being frugal when necessary, and being physically and mentally fit. He concludes with the practical self-assessment – “Fresh air is my intoxicant – and it keeps me in high spirits. My system doesn’t crave artificial stimulation because my daily exercise quickens the blood sufficiently. Then, too, I manage to keep busy. That’s the real elixir – activity!” He goes on to promote reading, inner reflection, and honesty. There’s no question in my mind that Laugh and Live was the first best-selling self-help book for the literate, self-motivated individual. A year later, Fairbanks published a follow-up volume, Making Life Worthwhile, which was equally popular. Although, Making Life Worthwhile is likewise illustrated with photographs, it also includes custom drawings, artist unknown, one of which sums up the Fairbanks philosophy. Right after the first title page, there is a jarring illustration that gives one pause; It has a caricature of Fairbanks in the bottom right glancing up at a cigarette smoking skull, a vison of Death itself. The caricature doesn’t have Fairbanks laughing as you would expect, but rather looking bemused. In a crucial chapter, Fairbanks makes the point that half-baked knowledge is counter-productive to a self-determined individual. In other words, sow productive seeds in useful places. Be aware that failure and ignorance, and even death, are common enough, but since you’re here, strive on. Many years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (twice actually) and I suspect he was very much like his father. He possessed that same hearty goodwill and enthusiasm, and, in fact, called me up several times without solicitation and offered some advice on research I was attending to. After my biography on Errol Flynn was published, I intended on writing a duo-biography of Fairbanks Sr. and Jr., an effort I’ve abandoned. Yet the Fairbanks legacy is difficult to ignore. Soon after Making Life Worthwhile was published, Fairbanks embarked upon a series of minor films before jumping into The Mark of Zorro, The Three Musketeers, Robin Hood and The Thief of Bagdad. Of these marvelous silents, The Thief of Bagdad is an astonishing achievement; a film of visual splendor, wild imagination, high adventure, and abiding romance. I will never forget science fiction author Philip Jose Farmer telling me how important The Thief of Bagdad was to him. Having seen the film as a child, his imagination was sparked by the many incredible scenes, including the battle with the giant spider and the magic carpet ride. I rarely see copies of either Laugh and Live or Making Life Worthwhile during my constant inquisitive book hunting. The copies I own are low-grade, lacking the dust-jackets, but well-read and dog-eared. They are now both one hundred years old and they offer yet another glimpse into a lost world.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Managing & Shooting Under Ten Acres by Guy N. Smith

Although he is best known as a writer of supernatural thrillers, Guy N. Smith is also an avid outdoorsman, hunter, tobacco connoisseur, and conservationist. His latest book is a practical guide to managing a small gamekeeping property. Published this past December by Black Hill Books, Smith’s official publisher out of Shropshire, England, Managing and Shooting Under Ten Acres is a deluxe, embossed hardback with a fantastic photo of Smith on the cover. The overall design is excellent and easy to read. There are numerous photographs, and the chapters handle various aspects of managing a property that is intended as a conservationist site and selected shooting property. I have for some time collected certain titles related to hunting, and I’m quite pleased to add this volume to my library. My copy was signed by the author which makes it even better. Smith has published many other books and articles related to hunting and gamekeeping, and many are available from Black Hill Books. Smith handles the practical details of land management mingled with dashes of memoir and that includes guns, hunting, traps, and the handling of various problems including the undesired poacher. Another fine book from Guy, and easily recommended for those of you that manage properties with an interest in the outdoorsman’s life. I sat down and read this the day it arrived, with a steaming cup of coffee at my side, and a dog at my feet. Perfect!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Superman Smashes the Secret of the Mad Director by George S. Elrick

This 1966 paperback from Whitman is an oddity among Superman collectibles. It is unknown save for us die-hard Superman collectors, and although a few copies show up on e-bay, they are seldom found elsewhere. Printed in a slightly larger size than the traditional paperback, Superman Smashes the Secret of the Mad Director is a short prose novel for young readers. It sold for 29 cents. All 166 pages features an illustration. The artist is uncredited, but the interior illustrations resemble the Al Plastino and Curt Swan standard images. The cover artist is also unknown, and I’m guessing the artwork was handled by Plastino with some freelance assistance. Author George Elrick wrote extensively for Whitman, including handling characters such as Batman, Tarzan, The Lone Ranger, Lassie and books based upon the television series Bonanza and The Man from UNCLE. In Superman Smashes the Secret of the Mad Director, Perry White instructs Clark Kent to investigate the rumors that a film director named Max Malice uses real bullets in his pictures, often causing injury to the actors. Malice is in Metropolis to film an epic about the legendary King Arthur, so naturally Lois and Clark join the cast as extras. Malice is an unscrupulous director, and devious in his approach to filming a realistic action scene. In the end, Superman vows to discredit him after a series of contrived drama, including Lois Lane losing her memory. This is an odd book, with no obvious historical precedence for its existence other than to make money. In 1966, the Batman television program was immensely popular, and the juvenile storyline of Superman Smashes the Secret of the Mad Director mirrors that campy style. It’s also true that in the mid-1960s, Superman comics were the number # 1 best-selling comics worldwide. The impetus for the publication of Superman Smashes the Secret of the Mad Director might be as simple as DC Comics wanting to cash in on a brand name. No matter the reason for its publication, it makes a nice addition to any Superman collection.