Wojtek is back with another lengthy review – this time he looks at the third book in the Lazarus Gray series, which he says is the best in the run. Let’s see what he says:
When reading a series consisting of several books we can sometimes spot a moment, when author runs out of ideas, gets bored with characters, or simply stops caring. Usually it comes around third book, so one could think that the third volume of “The Adventures of Lazarus Gray” would be another victim of this writer’s curse.
But no, no such thing happened to Barry Reese, heck it gets even better than before, and I have to admit that “Eidolon” is my personal favorite out of all books starring Assistance Unlimited… Which You probably got from the review title… 😛
But let’s get into the book itself.
First we have a two-page comic “The Secrets of the Dead”, which is a really nice re-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 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 an ability to 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 installments of the story…
But spoilers are evil, so I’ll write no more.
Must read for any fan of Assistance Unlimited, or just really well written New Pulp.
Thanks for the detailed look at the volume. I think that books 2-4 really fit together well so I’m pleased that you felt the series didn’t lose any steam as it moved forward.