The First Review Is In…

Amazon user Wojtek has posted a lengthy review of our big crossover novel. He gives it 5 stars and posted the following – be warned: spoilers abound!

Being a huge fan of Pro-Se Press “Sovereign City Universe”, especially books by Barry Reese I eagerly waited for this book ever since it’s author announced it is being written in the early 2015.

I mean, a crossover novel bringing together Lazarus Gray, The Peregrine and The Gravedigger for the first time, uniting them against a common treat? For a fan of Mr. Reese’s books it was something akin to the news about Marvel filming “Avengers”…

Today, after long months of waiting I was finally able to buy “Götterdämmerung”, and read it. And I have one thing to say: Wow. Just… wow. 

It has all things I had expected, all things I wanted… and some stuff that I surely was not expecting. Spoiling it would be a heinous crime, but suffice to say, that events of this novel would send HUGE ripples around whole Sovereign Universe, and nothing would really be the same again.

But I am getting ahead of myself, let’s look at the plot:

It all starts in 1938.

After surprising events in the fifth volume of his adventures, enigmatic hero of Sovereign City, and leader of Assistance Unlimited, Lazarus Gray had finally admitted his feelings towards his on and off girlfriend, Kelly Emerson, finally ending their troubled whirlwind romance with marriage. Now the newlywed pair had returned from their honeymoon, only to discover that in his absence, Lazarus city had once again became a stage of bizarre and horrifying events. 

Sovereign is plagued with a string of bizarre suicides committed by people claiming to experience terrible visions of the future. They claim that something truly monstrous would happen, something that would lead to incredible amount of death and suffering, and thus not being able to live with that knowledge, and gladly ending their own lives. Suspecting that it has something to do with the occult roots of the city, Lazarus decides to bring the expert to the case, and enlists one of his allies, Andre Thierry.

Despite his age, the man is a very powerful mage, being the latest Catalyst, The High Mage of Earth tasked with protecting humanity from outwordly treats. Unfortunately he died before his work had been completed, but his magic, and unbreakable will enabled him to return to life, albeit with greatly reduced powers, until a suitable successor of his position could be found. Still, even weakened, he is still one of the most powerful mystics of the world, and an invaluable ally for Assistance Unlimited.

Together with Gray they realize, that recent events are connected with the powerful artifact called Unnervum, that was supposedly created by a mage named Merlinus Caledonensis, who was an inspiration for the legend of Merlin. In the mid-1800’s, the object was brought to Sovereign by a spiritualist by the name of Helmut Lowenstein, also known as The Ghost Finder, who had hidden it somewhere, which had an unforeseen effect of amplifying negative energy in the city, changing it from a gleaming urban wonder, to a crime-ridden, corrupt place it is now.

Our heroes want to find the Unnervum, and get rid of the root of the problem, but it would be harder, than they expect…

Charity Grace, the mystically powered vigilante known as Gravedigger also has her hands full, trying to punish the wicked of Sovereign City.

After defeating Hiroshi Tamaki, insane Japanese aristocrat trying to use mind-control technology to make himself Emperor of America, and fighting immortal warrior Pandora, her own dark counterpart, Gravedigger returned to fighting street-level crime, leaving bigger, weirder cases to others, like Assistance Unlimited, or Doc Daye. Recently she dealt with a serial killer and rapist preying on Sovereign City’s prostitutes, while also trying to expand her net of agents.

While both Charity and her crew are all talented people with varied, and useful skills, neither of them really is a detective, or has experience with investigative work. So, newest Gravedigger decided to ask one of the city’s other vigilantes, sharp-dressed Dark Gentleman to join her team, but he has serious reservations about the offer.

Dark Gentleman, also known as Michael Groseclose, the only son of the rich publisher Theodore Groseclose, who after seeing decay, rampaging crime, and corruption of the city, as well as people like his father turning blind eye to it, he decided to drop out of college, and try doing something about it. But while he oversteps the boundaries of the law to get the job done, he does not kill, even in self-defense, and despite his nocturnal activities still believes that the judicial system would do it’s job, even if it needs a little help from the men like him from time to time.

As such, Gravedigger making herself judge, jury and the executioner really clashes with his morals, in fact he considers her actions to be as criminal, as ones committed by those she kills. Not to mention his doubts about sanity of a person who claims she died, and was resurrected by a being that may, or may not be God…

But soon enough their differences would have to be set aside, as a great danger, too big to handle alone for both of them…

In the meantime an infamous vigilante Max Davies, better known as The Peregrine in the criminal underworld of Atlanta is faced with problems of his own.

Recently he emerged victorious from his clash with unnatural messenger of The Outer Gods known as Nyarlathotep, even fashioning a magical ring that burns the flesh of evildoers upon touching it, out of the monster’s hearth. Unfortunately, the immortal beast had promised Max that he would return, and placed a curse on our hero, claiming that The Peregrine would suffer, outliving all of his loved ones, which worries our hero, even if he tries to hide it.

Currently he has no time to ponder upon his uncertain future however, because his actions had caused the most powerful gangs of the city to unite themselves against the mercilessly efficient vigilante. But taking Max’s abilities into account, criminals decided not to take him on themselves, instead hiring a rather unusual mercenary to deal with their masked menace. 

The man calling himself Nimrod is a professional assassin, but he only targets superheroes, and after killing several he had earned himself a reputation of “Mask Killer”. The Peregrine soon learns, that Nimrod’s reputation is well-earned, making him a really dangerous opponent. But then, Max experiences a vision of the future that causes him to forgot about “Mask Killer”…

He sees death and destruction on the untold scale, monsters out of this world roaming free, and flags on Third Reich on the White House. And apparently only him, Lazarus Gray, and The Gravedigger can stop it all, because their seemingly unconnected cases have more in common than they know. 

As it turns out, German scientist Dieter Schneider, who works for Himmler’s top-secret Occult Forces Project, along with his daughter Sonya, and soldier tasked with defending them, Lars Hansel found something truly dangerous during their research trip. Profesor Schneider was a firm believer in the Norse mythology, believing that fabled Gates of Valhalla are hidden somewhere in the remote mountains, waiting for True Aryans to uncover them. Of course such a discovery would not only be a great propaganda success, but could also tip the favor in the upcoming war toward Third Reich.

As it turns out, Schneider was wrong, and the old documents he studied do not lead to Valhalla, and undefeated army of Odin’s greatest warriors. Oh, no… Accidentally he had found something infinitely more powerful than powers of Norse gods, something very different, and very, very dangerous. And now, those forces are allied with the Third Reich, endangering not only Europe, but whole world…

What can I say? A story that brings together three of Barry Reese’s most popular characters is just awesome in itself, and when coupled with fast-paced, action-filled plot it makes for a truly fantastic read, that I simply couldn’t put down before finishing it. And then started to read it again…

As I wrote above, the whole idea of those characters working together is really great, and Barry Reese uses this opportunity to showcase how different their methods, morals and ideas of justice are, despite being at the same side.

This informal alliance against the forces of evil had also lead to some unusual team-ups, for example pairing Gray and Eun Jiwon from Assistance Unlimited with Gravedigger’s teammates; Mitchell Williams and Li Yuchun, or The Peregrine and The Catalyst, with Samantha Grace and Morgan Watts, which is quite interesting for every fan of those characters to see them in such unusual situations. 

Barry Reese also continues several plot points from his previous books, like for example Lazarus adjusting to the married life, Morgan’s self-doubt after his then-girlfriend became a follower of immortal Princess Femi, troubled relationship between Li Yuchun and her teammate Cedric Hendry, former Gravedigger named Mortimer Quinn running for mayor of Sovereign City etc, which gives us really nice sense of continuity.

Aside from our main characters we also get a plenty of cameos from other heroes populating Sovereign City, like The Peregrine’s frequent ally and close friend, “The Russian Superman” Leonid Kaslov, former District Attorney turned superpowered vigilante Tony Quinn/Black Bat, Bob Benson/Black Terror; the fearless crime fighter with artificially enhanced body, or the mysterious and sinister anti-hero known as The Darkling.

Their roles are not really that big, as it’s a story primarily about the trinity of Barry Reese’s most popular characters, but it is nevertheless nice to see them once again.

Of course our heroes need worthy opponents to fight, and as always, Barry Reese gives us villains that are very easy to hate, but somehow remain interesting.

In “Götterdämmerung” we have several interesting bad guys, mainly the powerful followers of Dark Gods, some Nazis including Heinrich Himmler himself, and hero-hunter Nimrod mentioned before, but in my humble opinion, the one who steals the whole show is a OFP operative known as Mr. Death.

He is introduced as a Nazi scientist named Otto Luther, a cruel and bitter man, who raised through ranks of Occult Forces Project through stealing ideas of his rivals, and his unusual sadism in tortur… I mean, in experimenting on the enemies of the Reich.

Then, one day, when testing a powerful mutagen of supernatural origin, he decides to test it on himself, to “become special”. As a result he is transformed into a grotesque living skeleton with a nearly indestructible body, and a monstrous strength. The problem is, that his “rebirth” had shattered already dubious sanity of Mr. Luther, changing him into an unpredictable madman.

Newly christened Mr. Death really has no agenda aside from murder and chaos, seeing himself as an avatar of anarchy, and feeling nothing aside from bloodlust, and desire to fight someone strong, like Lazarus Gray, or The Peregrine. 

Yes, he works for Third Reich, but really only because they give him resources he needs, no longer feeling attachment to the ideals of Aryan superiority. He is an ultimate loose cannon, and because of that, as well as his power, even Himmler himself is a bit nervous around Mr. Death…

If I had to compare this villain to anyone, I would say, that he is quite similar to Batman’s arch-enemy Joker, particularly his interpretation by Heath Ledger from “The Dark Knight”, but with actual superpowers, which makes him even more dangerous.

Just like Clown Prince of Crime, Mr. Death erratic, childish behavior is also darkly humorous, despite his frightening visage, and violent methods, which coupled together gives us a character who practically steals every scene he is in.

“Götterdämmerung” is also a very strong book for another reason: Barry Reese is not afraid to not only shake the status quo of his universe, but outright shatter it. It’s no joke, the events we observe here would undoubtedly change Sovereign City, and it’s heroes in unexpected ways. 

It is quite unusual, as both Pulp and New Pulp are rather bound by status quo, and not that eager to change anything. Sure, our protagonists go on the new and exciting adventures, and defeat different villains, but at their core they remain unchanged.

Something like, Doc Savage getting crippled in the line of duty and giving the leadership of his Magnificent Seven to his cousin Pat, or Green Lama shunning his faith and hunting criminals with a gun would be not only impossible, but also unthinkable. 

But here, we get something of similar magnitude.

Of course Barry Reese was teasing his readers about planning to do something shocking in his then unnamed “crossover novel” for months, dropping little hints here and there, but I (And probably most of his fans…) did not believed that he would do something like… that. 

Yet, he did, and now we are left wondering “What now?”. And I am very eager to get answers… 

Because of the events I alluded to, this particular book is a lot darker in atmosphere, than most of Mr. Reese’s works. Granted it is not “Rabbit Heart”, and we saw many dark, and disturbing things during previous adventures of The Peregrine, Gravedigger, or Assistance Unlimited, but here those things somehow feel… heavier than before.

Don’t get me wrong, it reads great, as I mentioned before, but we kind of expect that something important, and terrible is going to happen because of it’s atmosphere.

It’s really hard to write why I think it is great without revealing some crucial parts of the plot, so I would end here, but believe me, it is really good, and leaves You yearning for more after flipping the last page.

So, if you are a fan of Barry Reese… Then You probably already bought that book, and enjoyed it as much, as I did. If not, do it now, you can thank me later 🙂

Thanks for the incredibly kind words! Trust me when I say that future books will pick up on this story’s aftermath and build upon it.

Glad you liked it!

2 thoughts on “The First Review Is In…

  1. Well, I wrote a review for “The Adventures of Lazarus Gray – The Omnibus Edition”, but found out, that once again I wrote something that is too long for Amazon 😦

    So, I’ll leave it here in it’s entirely… Or rather in parts, since it’s too long to be posted here too:

    “Prime quality New Pulp, and just for a penny!!”

    „Sovereign City Project” created by the joint forces of Tommy Hancock, Derrick Robertson and Barry Reese, under Pro Se Press brand is certainly one of the most interesting New Pulp ideas in years.

    A fictional city that blends the elements of most recognizable places in America, both existing and fictional, populated by the heroes created by best writers of the genre… How could it not be awesome?

    Aside from working together on shaping their city, each writer had also crafted a hero of their own to fight evildoers that might threaten it.

    From Mr. Hancock we get Doc Savage-like adventurer Doc Daye… who so far only exists in the background of the setting, which really is a shame, cause he seems quite interesting.

    Derrick Robertson, creator of fearless adventurer Dillon gave us enigmatic, but fabulously rich and charismatic casino owner, Fortune McCall, who turns out to be a lot more than he appears at first glance.

    Barry Reese, best known as the creator of The Peregrine (Formerly known as “The Rook”), one of the most popular New Pulp heroes, had given us mysterious Lazarus Gray.

    His story starts in 1933, when he wakes on the shore of Sovereign City, wounded and weak, dressed in tattered clothes, and realizes that he can’t remember what had happened to him, how he got there, or even who he really is.

    Only clue to his identity is a mysterious medallion he clutches in his hand, describing a naked man with lion’s head holding a sword, and words “Lazarus Gray” engraved on its back.

    Apparently someone had tried to kill him, as soon after regaining consciousness he is attacked by a hired killer pretending to be a policeman. Our nameless hero easily dispatches his assailant, showing considerable strength and agility despite his weakened body, and apparent skill in martial arts.

    Still confused, but determined amnesiac man decides to take the name Lazarus Gray for himself, hoping that it would draw attention of someone who knows his identity, and over the course of next eighteen months becomes one of most famous residents of Sovereign City.

    As it turned out, he is not only a seasoned martial artist, but also a real genius, proficient in many disciplines, from surgery, criminology, chemistry, engineering and many more. Using his talents he amasses a significant fortune, and establishes a rather unusual business, that made him even more famous.

    Gray created an agency called “Assistance Unlimited”, dedicated to helping all people in need, regardless of their fortune, only taking payments his clients can afford, quite often collecting goodwill and favors instead of money and becoming one of Sovereign’s many heroes.

    He is however still plagued by his lack of memories and past, feeling that some important part of him had been torn from him. His unease is increased by the things he something sees in the flashbacks from his former life, indicating that he wasn’t always on the side of angels.

    Actually, memories of cruel rituals, burning buildings , and dead bodies may indicate, that he not only has a lot of blood on his hands, but also that it might be the blood of innocents…

    Nevertheless, soon enough he gathers a group of companions around himself, extraordinary people sharing his views on justice, willing to lend him their considerable skills in his war on crime.

    First, we have Morgan Watts, former confidence man of various crime bosses, who used his abilities and courage as a tool for gaining more power in the underworld. But after meeting Gray our gangster realizes the futility, and emptiness of his life, and decides to atone for his sins by working with Lazarus, and becoming an ally of justice.

    Being an ex-criminal he is not only great with various firearms, and used to all kinds of danger, which gives him uncanny calm in all situations, no matter how dire, he also maintains friendly relations with many of his former… co-workers, which makes him extremely useful as Assistance Unlimited informant.

    Then there is Samantha Grace, a beautiful, young heiress of one of the Sovereign’s richest and most influential families. After meeting Gray during a blackmail scandal concerning her father, and becoming disillusioned by his hypocrisy, she leaves her
    comfortable, privileged live, and joins Assistance Unlimited.

    At first glance she looks like a delicate young woman, who would only be useful with contacting Gray with other rich and influential Sovereign City’s denizens, but it’s a very misleading impression. She is not only an accomplished martial artist, who can effortlessly defeat men twice her size, but is also competent with a pistol, and a great, if a bit reckless driver.

    Her mind is also not to be overlooked, as she is not only exceptionally intelligent, but also has a really vast knowledge on various topics, some of them rather exotic, making her even more extraordinary.

    Last but not least, we have young Korean Eun Jiwon who tried to resist, after some crooks started to demand money for “protection” of small grocery store owned by his family. He had been mildly successful, vandalizing their various operations, though being little more than nuisance for the gangsters…

    Until someone had figured out, who was behind all those acts.

    Criminals had retaliated with extreme ruthlessness, burning Eun’s parents shop to the ground after brutally murdering them. That caused the young man to swear brutal vengeance on the perpetrators, turning him into real, ruthless vigilante.

    Then he was found by Lazarus Gray, who channeled Eun’s anger and aggression in other, more healthy direction, as a member of Assistance Unlimited, and gave him new family, as well as goal.

    While Eun Jiwon is no less proficient with firearms than other two of Gray’s companions, his true skills lie in unarmed combat, in which he only has a few peers. As mentioned before, he is also a bit more ruthless than others, even jaded Morgan, and craves danger, welcoming it, instead of feeling fear.

    Together they became a force to be reckoned with, a bane of all evildoers, and one of Sovereign’s most famous vigilantes. But that is not all, as they also became a family to each other, willing to die for each other, even if distant, cold Gray has problems with expressing those feelings.

    Relationships between characters are definitely one of the strongest parts of the book, their easy camaraderie, playing each other’s quirks etc., not only makes them easier to like and root for, but also at the same time more realistic.

    For example Morgan is interested romantically with Samantha, despite their rather significant age difference (He is 42, and she is in her early 20’s), and different backgrounds, as he respects her courage, fighting skills and personality.

    Unfortunately for ex-gangster she isn’t interested in him in that way, seeing Morgan as a family member, not a potential lover… Or so she says, as Miss Grace can show a bit of jealousy when there is an attractive woman around Morgan, and is not all that adverse to his attempts on flirting…

    When on topic of her romantic pursuits, Samantha has a huge crush on Lazarus, which is obvious to everyone except for him, which lefts our heroine rather frustrated.

    Gray himself does not appear to be interested any relationship, but some time before he was engaged in a whirlwind romance with Kelly Emerson; daughter of Sovereign City’s Museum of Natural History, who also is a respected archaeologist and historian in her own right, as well as an accomplished adventurer.

    The pair had ended their relationship on amiable terms, remaining friends and working with each other, but Grey’s companions suspect that neither of the two is not really as over it as they claim, creating a bit of tension and unease between hero and archaeologist.

    As I mentioned before, Lazarus is also rather cold, and distant, his stoicism bordering on total lack of emotions, but it’s not really true. While he masterfully controls his feelings it does not mean he is immune to them, on the contrary, his friends sometimes wonder if he isn’t really the most sensitive of them all…

    Eun Jiwon also appears as disinterested in romance as his employer and mentor, instead preferring to elevate any tension he might feel by beating criminals to pulp, and risking his live while fighting a good fight.

    Despite his aggressive, reckless behavior he does care for his friends, considering them family, engaging in friendly bickering with Morgan, and polishing his martial arts skills during frequent sparring sessions with Samantha, but there are some things about himself that he is not ready to reveal, even for them…

    Barry Reese also managed to tie in his stories into the wider Sovereign City Universe, by inserting numerous callbacks, and nods to other characters, both his own, and those created by the others.

    For example, in one story Morgan tries to invite Samantha to the movies, to be precise, the newest production with the famous actress Evelyn Gould in the lead role. Those who had read Mr. Reese’s “The Peregrine” stories know, that Miss Gould would later become a lover, and wife of the (in)famous vigilante Max Davies/The Peregrine.

    In the several other stories, crew of Assistance Unlimited (Minus Lazarus himself) frequently visit Sovereign City’s most popular casino “Heart of Fortune”, which is owned by another famous vigilante, an enigmatic Fortune McCall I had mentioned before.

    Finding those little pieces of information is rather fun, not to mention it causes the reader to become interested in Sovereign City as a whole. Which is both good and bad, I guess, since buying all those books had really gutted my wallet… 😛

    But even if characters are the most important part of any Pulp, be it a classic one, or it’s modern descendants, without the possibility to show off their skills it would be rather boring. Fortunately for us, Barry Reese does not write boring books 🙂

    The Omnibus gives us a collection of first four books about Lazarus Gray and his companions, ranging from short stories to full-length novels, and each of them is really great.

    First story “The Girl With The Phantom Eyes” introduces us to our heroes, at the same time establishing several characters and plot points that would get rather important later.

    Assistance Unlimited is hired by an unassuming, middle-aged man named Peter Scanlon, who repairs typewriters for a living. Being a rather bland person, he also has problems with his weight and receding hairline, which is why he never had any particular luck with women…

    Until one evening, when he was sitting in his favorite pub, the most beautiful woman he has ever seen unexpectedly approached him. After some small talk they left the place together, and then, when Mr. Scanlon tried to kiss his mysterious companion, her eyes started to glow with an out-worldly light.

    Then, he blacked out, and awoken few moments later with a headache, seeing that the girl was being forced into a car by two men in suits. Despite her cries for help our typewriter repairman was too weak to do anything, and she vanished with her assailants.

    What is more afterwards, Mr. Scanlon had experienced a severe, nearly life threatening dehydration without any apparent reason, that led him to suspect, that it were the girls glowing eyes, that somehow caused it.

    Heartbroken and ashamed he had tried to get some help from the police, but his tales about the girl’s “phantom eyes”, and their weird effect on his body had made him sound like a lunatic. Having no other place to go, he went to Assistance Unlimited, begging them to find the missing girl, and if needed, save her from her kidnappers.

    The case gets even more interesting, when a short investigation by members of Assistance Unlimited reveals, that car used in the kidnapping belonged to Johnathan Nero; one of Sovereign City’s richest and most influential men, who has some definite ties to the criminal community.

    What is worse, Lazarus and his companions find out, that another prominent, if infamous figure is involved in this mysterious case: A brilliant, but disgraced, amoral surgeon and researcher, doctor Melvin Pemberley, better known as Doc Pemberley in the criminal underground.

    Once, he was considered an authority on both matters of science, and occult, but soon enough his inhuman, illegal experiments had caused him some serious problems with law enforcement, which in turn led to him being ostracized by the scientific community.

    Having nowhere else to turn, Doc Pemberley started to hire himself to criminals, using his skills to create poisons, explosives, highly corrosive acids, etc., soon enough establishing a well-deserved reputation of a dangerous man among the lawbreaker community.

    Due to his genius level intellect, incredible creativity, knowledge, and complete lack of morals he would be a very dangerous opponent even to Lazarus Gray…

    Aside from great introduction to Assistance Unlimited we also get some light shed on Gray’s past, not too much, but interesting nevertheless, even if it leads to more questions, than answers.

    Second story “The Devil’s Bible” has our heroes fight for possession of certain powerful artifact with forces both mundane, and
    supernatural.

    It all starts when a mysterious envelope is sent to the Assistance Unlimited headquarters. Inside of it there are pages torn out of some old book, written in Latin, so Samantha and Morgan take to Lazarus, who immediately recognizes what it is.

    Apparently those pages were torn out of a famous medieval document known as Codex Gigas, which according to legend was a sum of all knowledge that humanity possessed during the time of its creation.

    It was supposedly compiled by a disgraced Benedictine monk called Herman The Recluse, who was sentenced to being walled up alive in his monastery for breaking his vows. To save himself, he promised the members of his order a book that contained all knowledge of man, but was forced to write it in a single night.

    Having no chance of completing such an impossible task, he turned to Devil for help. Lord of Darkness claimed monk’s soul and finished the book for him, but as it turned out later, he added a few things to it, that were far beyond the knowledge of any human…

    Firstly, on the page 577 of Codex there is self-portrait of Satan, that causes unexplained dread in all who dare to look at it.

    Secondly, Devil had also scribed the knowledge of powerful spells inside of the book, that according to legend enable those who are brave, or stupid enough to summon and bind mighty supernatural entities to themselves.

    Of course scholars had claimed those tales as ridiculous, since the eight pages supposedly containing said forbidden knowledge were forever lost. At least to this day, since as it turns out, someone had sent those exact pages to Assistance Unlimited…

    What is more, someone has already used dark power contained there. This person is a rich gangster and an amateur occultist named Malcolm Goodwill.

    To gain more power he conducted a ritual, that brought a bloodthirsty demoness named Sazar to our world. Thanks to her supernatural powers she had proven to be an assassin and bodyguard with no equals, but it soon turned out, that controlling her thirst for human flesh, both in the literal, and carnal sense is extremely hard to control.

    Now, with the spells contained within the pages of Codex, Goodwill could bend even most powerful demons to his will, but unfortunately one of his employees, unassuming man named Harry Nance realized that his boss’s use of dark magic is wrong, and has stolen them, and then sent them to Lazarus Gray.

    And his hold on Sazar is slipping with every minute, which may cause her to become free to indulge in murder and mayhem…
    Aside from the fight for the pages of Codex between our occultist and Assistance Unlimited, we also get another peek into

    Gray’s past, meeting with his former love interest turned enemy, budding not-really-romance between Samantha and Morgan, as well as ninjas.

    Because ninjas instantly make everything more awesome 🙂

    Third story, “The Corpse Screams at Midnight” has another supernatural menace to handle for the members of Assistance Unlimited, as well as an introductions to a character who is arguably most popular of their enemies.

    A rich woman named Lorraine Mitchell, a widow of the Sovereign People’s Bank president hires our heroes to check on the mysterious phenomenon happening in her house, which also according to her was a direct cause of her husband’s death.

    The late Mr. Mitchell was apparently an admirer of European culture and history, especially England, which led to him frequently travelling there, and cultivating many friendships. Then he gets hooked onto a latest craze of the rich and idle, that is owning Egyptian mummies, and buys one of said ancient cadavers from his friend, Mr. James Garmont.

    According to the previous owner of the body, it once had been a princess named Femi, and according to the legends, she is not truly death, but rather in a deep, coma-like sleep. Tales claim, that she was a leader of anti-religious movement in ancient Egypt, convinced that gods are dead and powerless, which caused the priests to curse her with an eternal un-live of suffering.

    Spells that keep her unholy powers in check are held together by an enchanted seven-star pendant, and if it is kept near her, she would keep sleeping, but if it’s removed for too long, she would slowly return to life.

    Of course a rational person would consider such tales as superstitious humbug, but Ms. Mitchell claims that the corpse actually moves, and even screams at night. Not to mention the fact, that she is convinced, that princess Femi somehow caused her husband’s death…

    This story perfectly blends horror with a very “Lovecraftian” atmosphere, with action and adventure, as well as giving us arguably the most popular of Assistance Unlimited enemies, as it is not the last time our heroes would clash with the immortal Egyptian princess.

    Next story “The Burning Skull” has Assistance Unlimited pitted against a mysterious figure known as Mr. Skull, and gives us new pieces of information about Lazarus Gray’s past.

    It starts rather pleasantly, with Gray meeting with his former lover, Japanese-American member of the mysterious Illuminati, Miya Shimada in one of Sovereign top restaurants. Our mysterious protagonist hopes, that she would be able to shed some light on his real identity, even though he is aware that Miya undoubtedly has some kind of an agenda of herself.

    Unfortunately, before she is able to tell him anything really important, there is an incident needing immediate attention from our hero:

    A man entered the restaurant and then, abruptly collapsed, which probably wouldn’t be a cause for so much of concern, if not for the fact, that he died. And the manner of his death…

    As it turns out, something had completely burned off skin from his face, leaving only a horrifying mask of bloodied muscle and bone, emanating with the smell of almonds of all things.

    Quick investigation by Lazarus reveals, that the man was called Wallace J. Newton, and worked as a Private Eye, which may suggest that he found something he shouldn’t during his last investigation.

    But who could kill him with such a gruesome method? Well, only person both intelligent, and cruel enough to create a weapon capable of something like that in Sovereign City is an old enemy of Assistance Unlimited, Doc Pemberley, but he has disappeared after his last fight with our heroes.

    Soon, it is revealed, that his newest chemical dubbed “Bone Dust” was indeed responsible for Mr. Newton’s death, but it wasn’t our villainous scientist who had used it, because he had sold the formula to one of the newest players in the Sovereign’s criminal underground, someone calling himself Mr. Skull.

    According to the rumors he is trying to carve his own criminal empire, coming into conflict with the powerful mob boss only known as The Monster. Normally that would mean that the uppity newcomer would be brutally slaughtered by the kingpin’s men, but Mr. Skull is somehow different than others.

    For example, he is never seen without a terrifying mask modeled after a human skull, somehow permanently wreathed with yellow-orange flame, and react violently when anyone makes fun of it.

    Well, a love for theatrics is nothing new for villains working in Sovereign City, but people who whisper about enigmatic Mr. Skull got one crucial thing dead wrong.

    It’s not a mask, but his face. And he is a lot more than overly ambitious mobster he appears at first glance, as his real plans are lot darker than anyone, even his own men expect…

    Aside from a rather fun villain, “The Burning Skull” also gives us a deeper look into Lazarus Gray’s past, and his troubled relationship with Miya, as despite being enemies they still feel something for each other. Overall, a very solid story.

    Fifth story is “The Axeman of Sovereign City”, that has our heroes solving a series of gruesome murders, as well as stepping into a battle between supernatural forces.

    Citizens of Sovereign City are frightened by a series of brutal murders committed by a masked madman dubbed “Axeman” by the press. So far, he had killed six totally random people including a rich middle-aged couple, elderly woman, nine-year old boy, and a female basketball player.

    The fact that there is no visible motif, or anything connecting victims to each other baffles local police, and the fact that Axeman seems to strike completely at random makes capturing him an impossible task. Fortunately Lazarus Gray decides to look into this mysterious case, and impossible is the bread and butter of Assistance Unlimited.

    In the meantime, Morgan Watts gets a job offer from a rather unusual client, even considering usual cases he, and his companions take.

    Our former gangster is approached by an weird old man calling himself Mr. Dinkins, who is assisted by an enormous, muscular man called Mugsy, who for some reason hides his face behind a rather disturbing mask.

    Dinkins claims that he had been robbed by a woman called Monique, and came from New Orleans in pursuit, but somehow had lost her trail. So, he had decided that only Assistance Unlimited, and it’s famous founder can help him to regain his property.

    But one may ask “What’s so unusual in a simple robbery?”, I mean it’s not really a case for someone as high profile as our heroes.

    Well, the problem lays in the fact what was stolen from Mr. Dinkins. It turns out that Monique had stolen his heart, and I do not mean that metaphorically, as she had actually ripped his ribcage open, and cut out his still beating heart.

    Due to being a powerful sorcerer, Dinkins managed to survive even though a normal man would be dead long time ago, but it still weakened him greatly, and even his magic can sustain him for much longer.

    Heart of a sorcerer is also a powerful magical artifact, that could be used in various ways, which makes our thief even more dangerous.

    But it is soon revealed that Mr. Dinkins had omitted certain things from his story when hiring Morgan, and the whole situation is not really as black and white as he claimed…

    This particular story reminded me of “Rabbit Heart”, one of Barry Reese’s older works, particularly infamous among his fans because of its excessive violence and sex. Now, “Axeman” does not even come close to it, but it is rather brutal at times, and several ideas like so-called Slayers seem a bit familiar.

    Aside from the battle between two mages, we also get several sub-plots, like the one concerning Morgan’s attempts of getting over his infatuation with Samantha, or Illuminati’s latest plan of disposing of Gray, whom they consider their sworn enemy, as well a mention of Derrick Robertson’s “Fortune McCall” series, which is always nice.

    Next story, “The God of Hate” continues plot-points from the previous one, pitting Lazarus Gray and his companions against one of the classic comic-book villains known as The Claw.

    Mobius, an enigmatic leader of the powerful occult organization known as The Illuminati decides to get rid of Lazarus Gray, who is considered a real danger for their long-distance plans and operations. But after his own people had repeatedly fallen in their attempts to defeat Assistance Unlimited, he hires a rather unusual assassin for the job.

    Mobius had contacted a creature ruling a tiny island called Ricca somewhere in the Pacific, an inhuman tyrant called The Claw, also using the title of “The God of Hate”. No one really knows what he really is, aside from the fact that The Claw is clearly not human, but two things are clear: His power is matched only by his boundless cruelty.

    Also, aside from the payment Illuminati had promised him for killing Lazarus, The God of Hate also has an old grudge against other of Sovereign defenders, the famous Doc Daye, and would stop at nothing to exact his revenge…

    As his first act after arriving to Sovereign City is to burn down Doc Daye’s Home for Forgotten Children, an orphanage founded and financed by the hero, killing over fifty innocent, defenseless children just to wound his enemies, and get Gray’s attention.
    And it’s the least that The Claw could do if he wanted…

    When Lazarus, Samantha and Eun try to find the way to defeat an immortal, soulless monster, Morgan Watts has a mission of his own, that is no less important than his companions fight.

    Using the information gathered by his employer Morgan had found a high ranked member of Illuminati, a rich man called Joseph “Jack” Conrad currently living in Paris. Unlike the other members of the nefarious organization he was invited to join purely because of his fortune, despite being ignorant about occult, and supernatural, which makes him a perfect target for questioning.

    Mr. Watts had eagerly accepted this mission, hoping to break his recent string of bad luck, but as it soon turns out fate is not finished with him, and it would not be as easy, as he expected.

    Not to mention the fact, that the results of his investigation would shake him to his core… And would bring a big smile on the face of every H.P. Lovecraft fan reading this story 🙂

    But what really sets this particular story apart from the others, is it’s villain.

    At first glance The Claw is really silly, I mean the old Yellow Peril era grotesque Doctor Fu Manchu rip-off? Who would take something like that seriously in the XXI century?

    But let’s not forget, that Barry Reese really has a knack for writing great villains, and had really used those talents here.

    His take on The God of Hate is not silly at all, but instead a frightening, sickening monster, that reader wants to see punished for the atrocities he committed. But like the heroes we are aware of the fact, that he might be too powerful to be defeated…

    Morgan’s solo quest is also quite interesting, letting the author to expand on his character, showing the reader his doubts, personal quirks etc. Not to mention the fact, that things we get to know through his investigation are quite important in the future stories.

    Overall, a really great story, with a unusual villain.

    Seventh story in the omnibus, which is also the last one in the first volume of Gray’s adventures is “Darkness, Spreading it’s Wings of Black”, that shows us the first meeting between Assistance Unlimited, and Barry Reese’s most popular hero, Max Davies/The Peregrine.

    Horribly mutilated body of a young socialite named Claudia Schuller is found near Sovereign City’s police headquarters in an unusually bold, even brazen move. But it’s not all, because her murderer apparently decided to give the law enforcement some clues.

    A small packet was sewn to the skin between victim’s shoulder blades, containing not only her birth certificate, but also numerous business cards, photographs and pieces of paper with the names of city’s richest and most influential men.

    There is also an address book belonging to the infamous rich playboy, Max Davies, who just happens to be visiting Sovereign during the time of the murder.

    Mr. Davies also has somewhat tarnished reputation among the law enforcement, as he was accused of being connected with mysterious vigilante called The Peregrine, or even of being the masked crime fighter, but those accusations were never proven.

    Gray’s self-appointed adversary in the Sovereign PD, inspector Cord is convinced, that it was Davies who killed the girl, especially since they were seen together shortly before her death, but leader of Assistance Unlimited is not so sure about Max’s fault…

    What Lazarus doesn’t know, Max Davies really is The Peregrine, and decides to use his experience and skills to find the murderer by himself. Which would not be as big of a problem, as both of them had worked with other heroes in the past, if not for a slight difference in their modus operandi.

    While Gray and Assistance Unlimited try their hardest to work within boundaries of the law, and do not use lethal force unless absolutely necessary, while The Peregrine prefers to deal with his enemies permanently, usually through the use of his trusty firearms.

    Also, while Gray is acknowledged by the authorities, even if a bit grudgingly at times, The Peregrine is considered to be a murderer and criminal, who is constantly hunted by the police, so it is assured, that they would not be particularly friendly inclined to one another.

    In the meantime, new hero calling himself The Dark Gentleman appears, apparently interested in the case as much as two older heroes.

    In reality, he is Michael Groseclose, the only son of the rich publisher Theodore Groseclose, who among other things owns “The Sovereign Gazette”. Seeing the decay, rampaging crime, and corruption of the city, as well as people like his father turning blind eye to it, he decided to drop out of college, and try doing something about it.

    Now, hiding his face behind a mask he decides to make his debut on Sovereign City’s already crowded vigilante scene, by solving the case of Claudia Schuller. Problem is, he lacks real experience, and his determination can only get him so far, especially when it’s revealed that it is not an ordinary murder…

    This particular story has a very special place in my heart, since it had introduced me to The Peregrine, a character I am a die-hard fan now, rousing my interest enough, to buy the first omnibus about Max Davies exploits. And now I am addicted, eagerly waiting for the third omnibus about this character…

    The ideological clash between two vigilantes, as well as introduction of The Dark Gentleman also make this story stand out, and really, if You need any proof how good of a writer Barry Reese is, then read “Darkness, Spreading it’s Wings of Black”.

    If it’s not enough for You to fall in love in his writing, then You have no Pulp in Your soul.

    Next we have “Die Glocke”, the main story from the second volume of Assistance Unlimited adventures.

    Our heroes are contacted by a woman named Agnes Drake, who claims that only Gray and his team can save her sister, who is in grave danger.

    Said sister, Maggie, was engaged to the famous traveler and adventurer Whip Marshall, who had gained worldwide celebrity status by attempting to travel the whole world in just a year, while also visiting every country’s capital and climbing it’s tallest mountains.

    She had joined her fiance’s journey, and happily sent letters about her experiences to her sister, but then went silent after sending Agnes a mysterious package from Mongolia. Inside of it was the message warning Mrs. Drake about something called “Devil’s Circus” and “A German with the ruined face”, and weird egg-shaped rock that is warm to touch, and smells faintly of cinnamon.

    Gray deduces that mysterious German must be his old enemy, and a member of Illuminati, Walter Lunt, and he recognizes the words “Devil’s Circus” from his past studies of occult. According to old grimoires it’s a carnival of the damned run by the demons disguised as entertainers, who are powered by Satan himself to bring pain and suffering everywhere they appear.

    Additionally, Lazarus’s ex-girlfriend and ally, Kelly Emerson recognized weird egg-shaped stone as one of the fabled Soul Stones described in the old Chinese legends. According to those tales ancient wizards of China had devised a way to trap human souls inside those stones, which according to their beliefs was supposed to protect them from punishment for sins they had committed when alive.

    Soul Stones had been hidden somewhere, to protect spirits trapped inside them from gods and demons, that would like to claim it, but the appearance of one such artifact in Maggie’s letter may indicate, that she and her husband-to-be might have found their hiding place.

    Since the stones are not only priceless from the historical point of view, making them a real treasure for both museums and private collectors, but also a repository of untold magical energy, various parties would want to get their hands on them, including The Illuminati, and The Devil Circus itself.

    So, Lazarus and his team join forces with our hero’s ex-lover, famous archaeologist and historian Kelly Emerson, to mount an expedition in hopes of finding both the artifacts and unfortunate pair that had somehow discovered them.

    But it would soon prove to be rather hard because Assistance Unlimited would have to clash not only with some of their old enemies, but also find themselves involved into the feud between two powerful mob bosses of Shanghai, and many other dangers…

    As a whole, “Die Glocke” is not really a one, long story, but rather a collection of shorter adventures of Assistance Unlimited that could have work as a separate stories, but are instead joined together with certain plot points, like the sinister Devil Circus, the secret of a machine known as Die Glocke, or an obscure (pseudo)scientific theory of Antichton, claiming that there is an Earth’s twin planet hidden behind the sun.

    Thanks to that, the tale as a whole remains rather fast-paced, and varied, yet remaining a part of something bigger, despite being cut into parts.

    To add to the story’s appeal Barry Reese once again creates an assortment of interesting, multi-faceted characters both as our heroes allies, and enemies.

    For example in the first story we get to know Jacob Sporrenberg, and SS officer tasked with damage control after the failed experiment with the titular Die Glocke overseen by our heroes old enemy and a member of The Illuminati Walther Lunt.

    Due to the fact, that both Lunt and Illuminati turned their backs on Third Reich, he is as eager, as members of Assistance Unlimited to stop the scarred sorcerer from retrieving the artefact, which makes him a rather useful ally. But on the other hand he is still a Nazi, loyal to the Hitler’s regime which does not sit well with some of our heroes, like Eun.

    Jacob is a rather unusual character, since in most of Pulps, both classic and modern, Nazis are usually used as enemies for the heroes, not their allies. But somehow, Barry Reese not only makes this unusual team-up work, but also makes Sporrenberg an interesting, and likable character despite the ideology he follows.

    Firstly, Mr. Reese does something very rare, as he tries to show why a fundamentally good man like Jacob would follow such ideology as National Socialism, making him more believable, and multi-dimensional.

    Our SS-man sees Hitler as a man who reclaimed German people’s pride, helped them to survive The Great Crisis, and lifted their collective spirits after the defeat in World War I. On the other hand, he is aware that some of his Führer’s policies, as racism and anti-Semitism are harmful, but believes that they are needed at the moment.

    Yet, working with Assistance Unlimited opens his eyes to other atrocities committed by his government, which causes him to reconsider certain parts of Nazi ideology, while still remaining a staunch patriot.

    Then, in the second part of the story we get a character, that is probably my favorite secondary character among all of Barry Reese’s creations, that is Doctor Metropolis.

    Try to image an older, and a lot crankier version of Doc Savage with quite a superiority complex, and a need to show off his knowledge and physical prowess, as well as nasty temper, who goes on adventures with his daughter, who is no less brave and incredible as him, as well as his somewhat mundane if still courageous and resourceful son-in-law, who patiently, if grudgingly, endures his eccentricities, and patronizing attitude.

    Not to mention, that their adventures are narrated by said son-in-law, who peppers up his writing with a bit of biting humor, on expense of his wife’s father, as well as rather dry observations concerning his behavior…

    I personally find the idea quite brilliant, not to mention really entertaining, as while Doctor Metropolis uses well-known tropes borrowed from The Man of Bronze and his countless clones, Barry Reese made him stand out from the crowd, because of his originality.

    I would really pay to see more adventures of this intriguing family, but unfortunately Mr. Reese claims, that he has no plans for them at the moment…

    On the side of evil, aside from characters known from the previous stories, we also get new ones, for example brutal, yet brilliant Professor Murder.

    His real name is Bruno Murdera, and he is known as genius, yet completely amoral surgeon, and occultist in the vein of our old friend Doc Pemberley, but in some ways even more evil than him.

    After years of illegal experiments on both willing, and unwilling subject, ranging from animals to known felons he finally paid his dues, being shot to death by FBI agents chasing him. But unbeknownst to anyone save for a select group of people, his body dying was just a beginning.

    Murder’s loyal aides had recovered his brain from the crashed car, and transplanted it into the body of a modified silverback gorilla.

    Despite some setbacks, like inability to walk uptight for longer periods of time, or violent bursts of anger, our mad scientist had fell in love in his new body, finally having enormous physical strength, and an intimidating visage, to back up his superhuman intellect.

    Coupled with his numerous resources, and an army of loyal servants he makes for a really tough opponent, even for someone like Lazarus Gray…

    Finally, we get Jack-In-Irons, a mythical giant from the British folklore, who supposedly haunts Yorkshire nights during when the moon is full. Normally tales about a monster like that would be considered as nothing more than superstition, but our heroes are well aware, that there are things on this world that science would be hard pressed to explain…

    But spoilers are evil, so I would end here.

    As I said before “Die Glocke” is a really good story, with a lot of action and superbly written action scenes, but the author also took his time to introduce several new and interesting characters, as well as to deepen the relationships between our protagonists, which makes it even better.

    Next, we have “The Making of A Hero”, a story that has us observe a team-up between Assistance Unlimited, and a rather interesting re-imagining of a classic comic book hero.

    It all starts in 1936, when our heroes try to find a new, dangerous player that appeared in the Sovereign City’s underground lately. The man they are chasing is named David McIness, but he prefers to be called the Titan, and is supposedly responsible for the deaths of over forty people in the last three years alone.

    But if that wasn’t enough to consider him a serious treat, there is also a fact that the Titan is not really a mere mortal, but rather a result of a top-secret experiment by the US government, that was supposed to create an army of officially sanctioned superhumans, who would then be used as a counterpoint to the growing vigilante community of America.

    Unfortunately, the experiment was a failure, most of the empowered beings resulted from it going mad, and having to be euthanized, but McIness somehow managed to escape, and started a bloody career as a mercenary and hired killer.

    What is more, recently Titan had joined forces with a German named Maxwell Schmidt, a power-hungry mutant with the power of pyrokinesis, calling himself Prometheus. Together, they want to uncover a secret of making more people like McIness, which would give Schmidt an undefeated army…

    Those two superpowered menaces would be too much even to the members of Assistance Unlimited, but they get a rather unexpected help in form of a vigilante considered to be nothing more than urban legend by some, The Black Terror.

    He once was a humble pharmacist named Bob Benson, but after discovering so-called formic ethers and ingesting them, he gained superhuman strength and near-invincibility. Deciding to use his newfound powers to fight crime, he donned a costume and started to smash mob ring, defeat enemies of America etc, as The Black Terror.

    Only his girlfriend Jean Starr, and his teenage sidekick knew his secret, aiding him in his never ending quest for truth, justice, and the American Way… But it all turned out to be a lie.

    In reality Black Terror was a product of the same experiment that created David McIness/Titan, but unlike of him was a complete success, lacking any psychosis, or murderous intents. To create a marketable hero, US government created an identity for him, based on the popular comic books, and brainwashed him to believe it to be truth, to have the means of controlling him.

    Now, after the experiment was cancelled, Black Terror realized the truth, and started to investigate his true origins, finding out about Titan, and his quest to create more artificially enhanced superhumans like them.

    Even though he was manipulated to become a superhero, there is true sense of justice in the masked avenger, which makes him a perfect ally for Lazarus and his team, but would his help be enough, to stop Titan and Prometheus?

    In recent years Black Terror enjoyed a rather successful revival, as well as a surge of renewed popularity, for example starring in a Pulp-inspired comic book series “Tom Strong” and it’s spin-off “Terra Obscura” by the legendary Alan Moore, as well as “Project Superpowers”, “Masks” and his own solo series by Dynamite Entertaiment, not to mention numerous appearances in webcomics, like sadly discontinued “Heroes Inc”.

    So, one could think that nothing new and fresh could be added to the mythos of this classic hero, but Barry Reese manages do defy expectations once again, by adding his own spin on the character.

    His Bob Benson/Black Terror is a rather tragic character, finding out that his whole life was a lie engineered by his handlers, becoming a man without past, without family, and without any identity, besides the one that was forced onto him.

    True, he is a real hero, despite being forcefully made into one, fighting a good fight, protecting the weak and punishing the wicked, but it’s not clear how much of it comes from his convictions, and how much from the fact, that he really doesn’t have any skills, or aims besides fighting crime…

    Not to mention the fact, that Titan, the man who is the closest thing Bob has to a family is a bloodthirsty, murderous thug without any conscience, and thus became his enemy, which further enhances Black Terror’s suffering.

    Despite all that, the story does not wallow in darkness and depressive themes, retaining an atmosphere of adventure prevalent in other Lazarus Gray’s adventures, even giving us some kind of hope near the end, so all in all, it’s a very good story, that
    shows us, that even well-known and kind of used up characters can be interesting again.

    [Continued in Part 2]

  2. [Continued from Part 1]

    Next, we have stories from the third volume of Lazarus Gray Adventures “Eidolon”, which is, I have to admit, my favorite out of all books starring Assistance Unlimited.

    First we have a two-page comic “The Secrets of the Dead”, which is a really nice introduction to the character of Lazarus Gray, with great art by always awesome George Sellas. Despite being so short, the comic does its job, by giving it’s reader all necessary information about our protagonist, while also forever affecting our perceptions of them.

    I mean, before reaching this volume I had my own vision of how Lazarus Gray and his companions should look, but now all I can see are the products of Mr. Sellas imagination.

    It also helps, that his style is rather old-school, with sharp, angular designs, reminiscent both of the works of great John Romita, and Jack Kirby, and Bruce Timm’s cult-classic “Batman – The Animated Series”, which really fits with the Pulp atmosphere of the book.

    If only we could get a full-blown comic book by Barry Reese and George Sellas…

    Next we have, and I am not going to lie, my favorite story with Lazarus Gray ever, “Murder Unlimited!”.

    Everything starts with our good friend, doctor Melvin Pemberley, better known as Doc Pemberley, who serves his time in Sovereign City’s jail after his last encounter with Assistance Unlimited, which understandably only fuels his hatred for them, as well as his thirst for revenge.

    But what can he really do while being jailed? Well, not much, but that does not mean, that he is left without certain options.
    Using his knowledge of the occult, as well as certain items sneaked into his cell, by his lawyer, Doc Pemberley manages to use a rather dangerous ritual, that could free him.

    He succeeds with summoning a demonic entity, that promises to free him… for a price of course.

    Desperate, Pemberley agrees, and immediately finds himself on the streets of Sovereign City once again, but this time without any resources or backing of powerful criminals as he used to. But a man of his… talents, would always find someone willing to pay him for them.

    This time it’s a mysterious woman named Constance Majestros, who has her own grudge against Assistance Unlimited.

    Rich and powerful, she was once obsessed with youth and beauty, which led her to using a rather gruesome treatment discovered by her brilliant, but unhinged father. Using a special oil created from the bodies of dead virgins she was able to stop aging, and remain young and beautiful forever.

    At least, until Assistance Unlimited uncovered their heinous deeds, and stormed laboratory of Constance’s Father. During the fight Eun Jiwon had knocked the mad chemist into a shelf of chemicals, splashing both him and his daughter with corrosive acids, that killed doctor Majestros and changed Constance’s face into a scarred, frightening mess, forcing her to hide it behind a thick veil at all times.

    Now, she wants to regain her former beauty, but also to exact her revenge on Assistance Unlimited, and Doc Pemberley can help her with achieving both of those aims. But it’s not enough for Ms. Majestros, as she had used her fortune to hire others, who share her hatred for Lazarus Gray.

    First, we have a frequent enemy of the Assistance Unlimited, the immortal Princess Femi, cursed with an eternal unlife by Egyptian priests, whose attempts at regaining power she welded in life were thwarted by Gray, and led to her temporally deaths twice.

    Aside from being virtually unkillable due to her regenerative powers, she is also a powerful necromancer, able to raise dead as shambling monstrosities bound to her will, which makes her very useful ally for vengeful Constance.

    Next we have one of the best assassins in the business, a man named Abraham Klee.

    His father, brilliant but also mad surgeon, Dr. Adolphus Klee had used his own son as guinea pig in his amoral experiments, changing Abraham into something more than a mere man. Thanks to the operation Klee Jr. is able to use 90% of his brain capacity, which gives him no only process and analyze information at superhuman rate, but also has incredibly enhanced reflexes, which makes him extremely deadly.

    Last, but not least is average looking man called Stanley Davis.

    Despite not looking particularly impressive, he possesses psychic powers giving him a form of clairvoyance, that enables him to learn useful information about person, if he can get his hands on an item belonging to them, or describing them, like a photo.

    This not only help his allies to plan their actions against such people better, but also gives them opportunities for blackmail.
    Together with Constance and Doc Pemberley they form a rather unusual organization they call Murder Unlimited, as a mockery of Gray’s own group, due to being antithesis of Assistance Unlimited.

    Ms. Majestros is rather rich despite her criminal past, but even her resources are limited, and bankrolling her own team of supervillains is not cheap. So, she decided to hire themselves to other criminals, just like Lazarus Gray does for the law abiding citizens, thus earning resources and improving their own standing in the criminal underworld.

    Soon enough both organizations would clash with each other, but it is really hard to say which one would prevail…

    I have to admit that I fell in love with the idea of Ant-Assistance Unlimited, it’s dark mirror image, as well as rather twisted relationships between our villains, their quirks, and motivations. Not to mention the fact, that Barry Reese’s villains are always interesting, and here we get a whole sinister, murderous package of them…

    Actually, in my opinion this idea works a bit too well… I mean, Murder Unlimited could work very well in their own stories, because all of them are interesting, and have certain villainous charisma, that at times made me forget they were the bad guys here.

    We had so-called “Villain Pulps” before, best known of which were the tales of sinister, yet honorable Doctor Fu Manchu, and masked madman known as Doctor Satan, and Barry Reese used those characters numerous times in his works (Manchu is an ex-teacher and arch-enemy of The Peregrine, who also clashed with Doctor Satan several times), so I can really see stories about them…

    Here the whole idea of Murder Unlimited is rather underutilized, which does not mean they are not great, but ultimately they end up as just enemies for Assistance Unlimited to defeat, despite their tremendous potential.

    We also get some development on our protagonists part, and their relationships, due to significant changes Grey’s team had experienced due to events described in “Die Glocke”, trying to work out their roles in the group, and getting used to each other once more.

    Die-hard fans of Pulp would also be rather pleased with a surprising cameo by one of the most recognizable villains of the genre near the end of the story, which IMO improves on the original vision of the character, making him much more menacing, than he originally was.

    As a bonus, we also get great illustrations by George Sellas, that only improve the story, especially the one showing us the roster of Murder Unlimited.

    So, all in all, great story with incredible villains, and superb fight scenes, that is a must read for every Lazarus Gray fan.
    Next, we have “Eidolon”, a story that would change Assistance Unlimited forever.

    Lazarus Gray is contacted by the members of US military, who unexpectedly want to hire Assistance Unlimited services.

    Their agents had intercepted a message from Nazi Germany, concerning our heroes old enemy Walther Lunt, about something called “Temple of Pain” collapsing, and containing a request about access to sorcerer’s private papers to help with the search of the mysterious “Body”.

    As it tuns out Gray not only knows what the message is talking about, but is directly involved in the case… Or rather was, in his former life.

    According to legends Temple of Pain was a home to a bloodthirsty cult of demon-worshippers, hidden somewhere in the jungles of Peru. Tales claim, that their brutal and unnatural rituals had gained the interest of The Devil himself… who was then killed by the frenzied cultist.

    The man who had killed the demon had carved out its heart, that became an object of worship in the area, until all the cultists had died out, and it spent hundreds of years gathering dust in the crumbling temple.

    Until six years ago an expedition founded by The Illuminati, led by Walther Lunt and a man who would become Lazarus Gray had found The Temple of Pain, and claimed the artefact for themselves.

    But it’s not the only legend connected with the Temple.

    According to Lunt, The Devil’s body was somehow preserved, even retaining some form of consciousness that enabled it to answer the questions of those who possessed it, or even teaching them the forbidden secrets of Dark Arts, making it very useful for all adepts of occult.

    While the legend was discredited in the late 1800’s by a pair of investigators from Illuminati, named Caleb and Nancy Grace, apparently someone high ranked in Third Reich’s government believes in it, and considers Lunt’s private notes a key to finding Devil’s Body.

    Now, our heroes have to gather clues contained in Nazi sorcerer’s papers before Hitler’s agents, but it would not be easy, as their opponents would not be normal soldiers or SS-men, but rather superpowered agents of the mysterious Occult Forces Project overseen by Heinrich Himmler himself.

    If that wouldn’t hard enough, members of Assistance Unlimited soon realize they have another rival, who is no less dangerous than mystically powered soldiers of Hitler. That rival is mysterious and violent scourge of underworld known as The Darkling.

    According to the tales whispered in the dark corners by frightened criminals, The Darkling is not a human, but rather a vengeful spirit that acts as an executioner for the forces of the underworld, and as such is immortal, invincible, and unstoppable.

    Of course, more rational crooks considers those stories stupid, and absurd, but the fact is, that no one who had tried to fight the dark avenger had survived his wrath…

    The story is really fast-paced, and action packed, even by Mr. Reese’s standards, with situation changing completely every few pages, as the fight for demonic body parts gets even more heated with each page, leading to brief alliances, betrayals, and reveals of uncomfortable truths.

    Aside from deepening the characters of our protagonists even more, we also get several new characters, most striking among whom is certainly The Darkling.

    Now, at first glance he appears a yet another clone of The Shadow, but Barry Reese once again had taken the elements we know and love, and reshaped them into something new, and fascinating.

    As his famous predecessor The Darkling is a merciless vigilante taking out criminals with the help of his net of agents, as well as his trusty pistols, who cultivates a frightening reputation to unsettle his enemies, and has a fake identity of a vapid, rich playboy called Harold Grant, very reminiscent of Lamont Cranston, but his motivation, and sense of justice are drastically different than the ones connected with The Shadow.

    The Darkling sees the world as just a façade behind which the truth is hidden, and according to him only men like him, who learned to look into their own souls and accept the darkness within it can see the world as it is, instead of idealized illusion we are taught to perceive.

    Because of that he has no doubts, no fears or morals to chain him down, and prevent him from doing what he considers right.

    But some would say he is cruel and inhuman because of that, as he does not see causing others pain, or death as something bad.
    It is really hard to decide if The Darkling is a hero or the villain, because while he ultimately has good intentions, his methods, and mindset are rather extreme, even for a vigilante. Nevertheless he is an interesting opponent for Lazarus, especially since they are more alike, than it would appear at first glance.

    As I mentioned above, we also get appearance of the O.F.P members, an organization that had clashed with The Peregrine before, which creates a tighter sense of continuity for the stories, in addition of giving us rather fun villains.

    First, we get general Luther Strauss a.k.a Geist, who was gifted with ability to turn insubstantial after a fateful encounter with an ancient Tibetan artefact. Yet, despite his powers he remained a petty, power-hungry man who is not as strong as he likes to think he is. Nevertheless, his abilities had enabled Barry Reese to write interesting fight scenes with him, so I am sold.

    Next we have member of SS called Karl Raeder, nicknamed The Silver Wolf, due to the fact that he was artificially transformed into a being similar to a werewolf, but unlike his supernatural cousins totally in control while transformed, and not limited by the phases of the moon, which made him an incredible scout, and assassin.

    Unfortunately for him, he did not expect, that there are things much worse than mere werewolves…

    Additionally, we also get an appearance of the old enemy of Assistance Unlimited, who also has plans for The Devil’s Body, and is not very pleased with Gray and Darkling trying to claim the price for themselves…

    Aside from breakneck pace, great action scenes and characters, both old and new, we also get something rather unexpected, as Barry Reese significantly changes the status quo of Assistance Unlimited, which would have its own consequences in future instalments of the story.

    Finally, we get two stories from the fourth volume of The Adventures of Lazarus Gray, “Satan’s Circus”, first of which is “Leviathan Rising”.

    The story starts in 1937 and has members of Assistance Unlimited dealing with the aftermath of previous volume’s events, which shook even the stoic Lazarus, even though he tries to hide it.

    But, as it soon turns out, it’s not a time for reminiscing or doubting oneself, as our heroes headquarters on 6196 Robeson
    Avenue is attacked by unknown group of armed men led by an individual hiding his face behind a demonic mask calling himself Ronove.

    While Gray is able to deal with them rather easily, though not without being a bit wounded, his assailants appear to fight with a truly fanatic zeal, not caring for their own wellbeing, gladly committing suicide to avoid being questioned.

    Our hero manages to get some information from them however.

    It appears that Ronove and his underlings are working for someone called The Leviathan, a figure considered a bogeyman of the underworld, and occult society. Even such organizations as The Illuminati are not 100% sure he exists, but if he is, then he is ancient, very powerful, and might not even be human anymore.

    But what could The Leviathan, if those men really were his followers, want from Gray? And how he acquired such blind devotion from his followers, that borders on religious faith?

    When other members of Assistance Unlimited are ambushed by The Leviathan’s men, when returning home from a mission, Lazarus decides to take matters into his own hands, and track the mysterious cult leader.

    It soon turns out that Gray is not the only hero attacked by the followers of The Leviatan, nor is that person less capable than Sovereign City’s defender. Because that person is the famous Thunder Jim Wade.

    After his father, who was a famous explorer died during an expedition to Africa, our hero was raised by the descendants of Cretean colonists that settled there during the times of ancient Greece, and retained various wonders of their civilization lost to history.

    Due to his upbringing Jim is gifted not only with near-superhuman physical prowess, but also a brilliant mind, and knowledge decades beyond anything regular scientists could come up with, for example the secret of creating a special Cretean alloy that is practically indestructible, while being a lot lighter than it appears.

    After settling on the remote island hidden from prying eyes of the world, called Thunder Island, Jim Wade creates various incredible gadgets, most known of which is his unusual vehicle known as The Thunderbug, that can be only described as an amalgamation of a tank, plane and submarine, capable of performing the functions of all three, and starts fighting crime.

    Along the way he meets and befriends two individuals who would later become his constant companions, a burly brawler known as Red Argyle, who is lot smarter than he appears at, and a fashionable womanizer Dirk Mirat, who is also a master of all kinds of weapons ranging from knifes to guns.

    Together our heroic trio fights evil, rights wrong, and protects the innocents, making quite a reputation for themselves.

    But when a group of The Leviathan’s assassins invade Thunder Island to kill Thunder Jim, while the second group tries to treacherously murder his two friends, he decides to strike back at his unseen enemy.

    His sources lead him to Cairo, but it soon turns out, that The Leviathan may be a tougher enemy than Wade expected. Being a rational man, and an accomplished scientist, he quickly dismissed the notion of cult leader’s supernatural powers, but there may be a grain of truth to those tales…

    I initially thought that Thunder Jim Wade was another of Barry Reese’s creations, but then discovered that he is one of the classic Pulp heroes, even though lesser known than the greats as The Shadow or Doc Savage.

    After reading a bit about him I discovered that Jim is often dismissed as another half-baked Doc Savage clone, but even this story shows, that there is a bit more to that character than just transplanting Man of Bronze’s traits into another character.

    I mean, if anything Thunder Jim Wade seems to me as an archetype of a Pulp Hero, or at least a character exemplifying traits connected to a Pulp Hero in the eyes of most readers, who had not delved deeper into the genre.

    Let’s see…

    A hero raised by an ancient civilization, which gave him incredible physical and mental powers? Check. A two-fisted scientist using his incredible gadgets to fight crime? Check. Has a high-tech fortress hidden in some remote place? Check. Travels with companions mostly remembered for their particular skills? Check.

    I mean, those set of traits could be used to describe not only Thunder Jim Wade, but also Alan Moore’s Tom Strong, and countless others. For me it’s not a rip-off, but rather an evolution of a template that had started with Clark Savage Jr.

    And while Doc Savage had a lot of cool gadgets, he hadn’t got anything as awesome as The Thunderbug, so Jim has him beaten here 🙂 I mean a transforming atomic-powered tank/plane/submarine, how could You not like it?

    Not to mention the fact, that his companions Red and Dirk seem a lot more useful than Doc’s Magnificient Seven… Maybe I am alone in this but they always seemed to me as “That Group of People Worse Than Doc”…

    But getting back on topic, I do not know if Barry Reese’s version of Thunder Jim differs from the original much, but after reading this story I got really interested in this forgotten hero, and was really happy that Altuss Press had reprinted his adventures.

    The team-up between two heroes us also very well done, without one outshining the other, as for two-thirds of the story their story lines are separate from each other, focusing on the chase after The Leviathan from the perspective of each vigilante.

    Each of them plays to their own strengths, for example Thunder Jim initially has more successes that Assistance Unlimited when it comes to tracking The Leviathan down, due to his broad contacts around the world, while Gray and his crew mostly keep to Sovereign City, but on the other hand Mr. Wade is completely unprepared for an encounter with the supernatural, which is an area of expertise of the Sovereign’s defenders.

    Seeing the interaction between two groups of heroes is also rather fun, for example Red trying to flirt with Samantha, or Dirk and Eun unexpectedly bonding over their love for joking at expense of their friends, or the mutual respect between their leaders.

    We also get a surprise cameo by a certain character, that had crossed a line between ally and enemy of Assistance Unlimited, but there are still hints that it was not a complete change, which promises some conflict in the future.

    The Leviathan is also a rather interesting villain, remaining hidden in the shadows for most of the story, and sending his underlings to do his dirty work, but when he does start to act, he shows real charisma, and manipulation skills. Not to mention certain flair for theatrics…

    Later on he becomes even better antagonist when it is revealed, that his secret identity is someone we already know, and that there is more to him than just a distinct metal mask, and a penchant to grandiose gestures.

    But, spoilers are evil, so I’ll say no more.

    Overall, a really good story, that revives a classic hero for the modern readers, while also expanding our protagonists characters, relationships etc. As a cherry on the top we also get illustrations by George Sellas, which are as great as ever.

    Last but not least, we have “Satan’s Circus”, a story that directly ties into the events described in “Edolon”.

    Assistance Unlimited are forced to fight a group of old enemies, that unexpectedly returned, while also being confronted with the return of an ally they thought to be dead, now resurrected by sinister, demonic force, and bent on revenge for being “betrayed” by them.

    Additionally, we see a return of The Darkling who finds out about an apparently ages old prophecy… concerning Lazarus Gray and Assistance Unlimited, which is more than just suspicious.

    But would our heroes accept any help from the vigilante, despite all the suffering he caused for Lazarus and his team? Well, they might be forced to, as it turns out that their true enemy is someone, or something very powerful…

    It’s really hard to write about this particular story without spoiling the most important parts of “Eidolon”, but I can say that this time aside from battling demons, sorcerers and other supernatural treats Assistance Unlimited also face the consequences of their choices.

    It also shows very well that those characters are more than a team fighting crime together, what holds them together, etc, in face of being manipulated by an outside force.

    Also, we get a full appearance from the classic villain, that influenced several events in the previous volumes, but was on the sidelines for a long time. But now, as he walks out the shadows to cross blades with Lazarus… Well, it’s just epic.

    And then, the story ends on a very positive note, despite it’s earlier darkness, that promises also finishes certain plot-lines. And it’s really good overall, of course.

    Even if I can’t properly review it without spoiling a lot of things 😦

    As a whole “The Adventures of Lazarus Gray: The Omnibus Edition” is a must have for any New Pulp fan.

    I mean, a book that’s over 800 pages of prime quality Pulp, and not only introduces it’s readers to a really great group of characters, but also larger Sovereign City Universe, and of course Barry Reese’s writing for 0,99 $?

    How one could even wonder if to buy it? So stop wondering, and just do it 🙂

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