Every Friday I focus on a New Pulp work that I think merits your attention. Sometimes it will be something that’s brand new, other times I’ll look at something that’s a few years old. This week, I’m encouraging you to check out Captain Action – Riddle of the Glowing Men by Jim Beard. This is how the publisher describes the book:
One of the most popular heroes of the 1960s returns in his first ever full-length novel. Super-spy and master of disguises, Miles Drake, aka Captain Action investigates the “Riddle of the Glowing Men,” by writer Jim Beard. Foreign assassins are sent to kill Captain Action and though he manages to defeat them, it is their lifeless bodies that pose the greater mystery as they give off a green, glowing radiation. Teamed with a beautiful and seductive Russian Agent, Captain Action travels to the barren, frozen wastelands of Siberia where the secret behind the glowing men lies buried in a fantastic, lost underground world. It is a secret also pursued by his most dangerous nemesis, the alien-born Dr. Evil. What is this strange power hidden beneath the earth that could destroy all of mankind and who will unlock its mysteries first? “Riddle of the Glowing Men” is a classic pulp thriller packed with enough intrigue, daring escapes and breakneck adventure to fill a dozen books. Featuring a stunning cover by artist Nick Runge and interior illustrations by award winning artist, Rob Davis, it presents a well loved hero to a new audience eager to experience his special brand of two-fisted battling, Captain Action style! Airship 27 Productions – Pulp Fiction For A New Generation.
Let me preface this review by saying that I have never seen a Captain Action toy in real life. I have no particular affection for him as a concept and my only real exposure to him was a trade paperback put out by Moonstone Books that reprinted some of their comics. So going into this, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of “connection” to the material. Licensed properties that I don’t have a pre-existing interest in are difficult for me to get into.
Jim Beard is an author whose work I enjoy and that was the main reason I gave this a shot. Billed as “What if James Bond went on a Doc Savage adventure,” it mostly succeeds in its aims. The story is fluid and moves at breakneck speed, though never too fast to ignore characterization. Our hero is of the rugged, manly type that this sort of fiction loves so well. He’s a hero, through and through, having taken in a young boy who was orphaned by his enemy, Dr. Evil. In this story, the central plot revolves around a group of glowing men and the Siberian Explosion of 1908 (always a good subject to deal with!). Captain Action is teamed with a beautiful brunette who has recently defected from Russia.
Being a period piece, the entire affair plays with elements of the Cold War very effectively.
I really enjoyed the descriptions of the Captain’s lair and equipment and thought the author did a good job of utilizing Action Boy (who is not dubbed that in this story but that’s who he is) in a way that avoided the usual Wesley Crusher syndrome. There’s no sign of Lady Action in this book.
The core concept is a bit silly — our hero wears a yachting cap, is called Captain Action, battles Dr. Evil and works for Advanced Command for Telluric Interdiction Observation and Nullification (A.C.T.I.O.N.). The author plays the material straight but does seem to realize that this is not meant to be Shakespeare. It’s pure escapism and isn’t ashamed to be so.
Interior illustrations are by Rob Davis and accurately depict the scenes from the book. The cover art by Nick Runge is eye-catching but it feels like three different images that have been Photoshopped together. Captain Action is staring off at… something. The girl who is tied up is also looking off at… something. No one seems completely aware of each other. And the woman on the cover is blonde — I would have preferred to have seen a brunette to match Uliana Ulanova’s initial description from the story. Uliana does have a blonde “turn” in the book but for the most part, she is described as having dark hair and I think that would have made more of an impact as the reader was going through the tale. As it is, the cover actually spoils a major reveal that occurs in the book.
Overall, if you’re looking for a fun book to spend a few hours with, this fits the bill. It’s fun, breezy and entertaining. It made me curious about a sequel despite not being a fan of the core concept, which is an impressive feat.