A Review of Captain Action: Cry of the Jungle Lord!

img_9090Ray Johnson posted a review of Captain Action: Cry of the Jungle Lord over on audible.com and I thought that I’d share his comments here. He gave the book 5 stars out of 5! This review is, as you may have guessed from the audible reference, about the audiobook version.

 Action + Pulp= Good Readin’! 

You may not realize this, but Captain Action started out as an Action figure line, in which alternate costumes were made for him so that he could become different heroes. FOr example, there was a Superman costume as well as Lone Ranger one. He was made to kind of offset the domination of the market by the GI Joe action figure. While beloved by the few who got it, the line died, and was revived back in the 90’s. It died too. Then they made some comic books which didn’t last long, either. So the Capt. has had a rough time.

That’s why I’m glad They’ve somehow made it to a third installment of a series of novels, since CA has never really had any luck. I’m going to be honest, even though this is the third novel i the series, it is the first one I have read. I have the other two, but I got this one first, and it is narrated by Roberto Scarlato, one of my “MUST LISTEN TOO” narrators. So, I’ll start there, Scarlato, per usual, nails the narration like he were an electric hammer on overcharge. The man can do voices and drive home action like nobody’s business. He makes the book fun, and when the action starts he is the guy holding the guns. So, expect some amazing storytelling, and settle in for a long listen as he’ll suck you into the tale faster than a sinkhole in Florida.

The story itself is very pulpy, something I appreciate and hope you will too. Books like this are a rare thing nowadays, and listening to this I had the feel of a young kid laying on the floor before a giant radio listening to an Old Time Radio show for the first time. It is fun, nostalgic, and chock fulla action, but just one Captain Action. I really think Beard has a true feel for the Cap, and Reese balances him out. This is a great story that you will not want to miss. 

Even though I did receive a promo code for this review it in no way influenced my considerations of the material, and in fact, inspired me to be more honest. In fact, getting a code generally makes me harsher as a reviewer as I am more often concerned what someone like me will decide based on my review.

Thanks for the kind words, Ray! It was so much fun working with Jim on this project and I hope to be able to revisit that collaborative partnership someday in the future.

Recommended Reading: Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

As a writer that deals mainly in series work, I can tell you how hard it is to write a second book in a narrative. You have the pressure of not only living up to the original but not repeating yourself…without losing all the things that made readers love the first book. That’s why so many book and film sequels suck — because getting that mix right is a delicate thing.

I adored Scythe and genuinely feel it’s one of the best books I’ve read in years. It had a great climax, as well… so how do I feel that Shusterman did in terms of a follow-up?

Not bad. Not bad at all.

It’s not as clever as the first book… and some of the resurrections and reveals in this one strain credulity. But the main characters are once again written with panache and I continue to care greatly about them.

The ending of this one has a real The Empire Strikes Back feel to it in that things seem pretty dark but I’m sure that’s just setting things up for the third book. This continues to be a very vibrant world with tons of potential, not only for new stories to be told in prose but in television and even roleplaying games.

Highly recommended!

 

Yeah, I’d Like to Write That…

challengers-kirbyI was able to write one of my all-time favorite pulp heroes — The Avenger — for Moonstone. Twice!

I’ve also written The Green Hornet, G-8 and His Battle Aces, The Black Bat, The Black Terror and lots more. I’ve written sourcebooks that were all about Spider-Man, Marvel’s Avengers and a lot more…

But there are still some dream projects out there that I’d like to tackle:

Batman. I’ve read some good Batman prose novels but I’d love to handle Bruce Wayne and company just once. I think it would be a blast.

The Shadow. Taking on Walter Gibson’s signature character would be intimidating as hell but I’d jump at the opportunity.

Conan. I’m not sure I’d ever be able to live up to the passion of Robert E. Howard’s writing but I’d give it my best shot.

Airboy. I’m not too big on aerial pulp, despite having written both Richard Knight and G-8… but Airboy’s appearances in the Chuck Dixon comic book series made me a fan.

Challengers of the Unknown. I didn’t much care for the Ron Goulart novel that came out way back when… I like to think I could do better. The themes and characters are right up my alley.

Seekay. One of the greatest obscure pulp characters ever!

Norgil the Magician. Walter Gibson’s *other* great hero. I have a ton of ideas for this crime-solving magician.

The Phantom. Lee Falk’s classic hero would be a blast to write!

There are other projects that I’d love to tackle, too, but those are the ones that keep popping up in my heart and mind. Someday, maybe…

The Black Terror

The Black Terror is a character that dates all the way back to Exciting Comics # 9, published in January 1941 by Nedor Comics. His secret identity was pharmacist Bob Benton, who formulated a chemical he called “formic ethers”, which gave him various superpowers. He used these powers to fight crime with his sidekick, Tim Roland, together known as the “Terror Twins”. The character proved popular enough to survive until 1949 and his distinctive costume made for some truly memorable covers. After the Golden Age, the character eventually fell into the public domain – which led to a whole host of publishers reviving him for various projects. Over the years, he’s appeared in books published by AC, Eclipse, Wild Cat, Image, Moonstone and, of course, the Reese Unlimited imprint of Pro Se Press. I first wrote the character for Wild Cat back in 2008 as part of a book called Legends of the Golden Age and later used him in a couple of stories for The Peregrine. More recently, I’ve gone further back into his continuity to incorporate him into my Lazarus Gray stuff. Because his “later” appearances were written first there are a few discrepancies in how he’s portrayed.

In my universe, we first see The Black Terror in 1934 and learn that he’s the creation of a United States military operation overseen by General Arbogast and a scientist named Kenneth Butler. The Black Terror was, in fact, a plant-human hybrid — he had literally been grown in a tube. His memories (all the “facts” from the Golden Age comics) were implants designed to create a backstory that would make him a better soldier for the United States government — Jean Starr was there to give him a woman to fight to get back to and Tim gave him a sense of family. Neither actually existed, except in his own mind. When Bob found out the truth, he broke free and went rogue — but his programming was strong enough that he decided to continue fighting as The Black Terror. In 1936, this led him to Sovereign City in search of a man named Maxwell Schmidt. The German was running Omega Solutions. In conjunction with another product of the same government program that created The Black Terror — a man named McIness that was codenamed Titan – Schmidt hoped to transform himself into an entity dubbed Prometheus. In the end, Schmidt died for his hubris and The Black Terror was forced to kill Titan, the only other entity like him in the world. When all was said and done, The Black Terror used the technology that had created him to grow versions of Jean and Tim — he implanted similar memories into their minds and gave them life. All of this was recounted in “Making of a Hero” from Lazarus Gray Volume Two.

The next time we see Bob is in 1938, nearly two years after the previous story. The Black Terror was now well-known as a scourge of the underworld and this brought him into conflict with two superhuman criminals: The White Worm and Cassandra, the witch. During the events dubbed Gotterdammerung, The Black Terror confronted these two and learned that something greater — and more dangerous — was at play. Bob didn’t have much of a role in the affair beyond that. This was shown in the Gotterdammerung novel.

black_terror_01_smallThree months after this (still in 1938), Bob is approached by Assistance Unlimited and offered a spot with the team. With Tim’s encouragement, he accepts and begins splitting his time between an apartment he shares with his young ward and a bedroom at 6196 Robeson Avenue. Jean gets a job as secretary to the new Sovereign mayor, Mortimer Quinn. Bob becomes the team’s scientific expert and also serves as the muscle in most battles. He forms close friendships with the team though he struggles with Eun’s homosexuality. Over the course of 1938 and 1939, The Black Terror aids Assistance Unlimited in battles against Princess Femi, The Librarian, Nemesis, Mr. Death, The Torch, Heidi Von Sinn and El Demonio. These stories are told in Lazarus Gray Volumes 6 & 7.

The Black Terror’s growing penchant for violence leads to him spending more and more time with his teammate, Eidolon. The duo begin sneaking away throughout 1939 and 1940, conducting their own crime–busting exploits. This eventually leads to Lazarus Gray drawing a line in the sand and demanding that they follow his rules about violence — The Black Terror agrees but Eidolon quits the team at this point. Later in 1940, The Black Terror encounters a woman known as The Golden Amazon and the two are highly attracted to one another but when push comes to shove, Bob remains faithful to Jean.

During all of this, Tim often accompanies his mentor on adventures and the two (dubbed “The Terror Twins” by the press) develop a reputation beyond Assistance Unlimited.

The events of the next few years are still to be told. We do know that in 1943, Tim is approached by The Flame and Madame Masque – they say they need his help with some sort of emergency and he departs with them (“The Ivory Machine,” The Peregrine Omnibus Volume Two). While this is happening, The Black Terror is working for the United States government overseas – he confronts a Nazi scientist that is trying to recreate the Formic Ethers (“Terrors,” The Peregrine Omnibus Volume Two). Once Bob finds out that Tim has gone missing, he becomes more violent in his dealings with criminals and is briefly wanted by the authorities for his actions. He is finally reunited with Tim in 1946 and aids The Claws of the Peregrine team (along with The Flame and Madame Masque) in defeating the threat of Rainman and Dr. Gottlieb Hochmuller (“The Ivory Machine, The Peregrine Omnibus Volume Two). In the aftermath, Bob and Tim are offered a place with the Peregrine’s Claws team and they agree to aid them when possible. During these 1943-onward appearances, Bob doesn’t mention Assistance Unlimited so we’re not sure if he’s still associated with them during these years.

Bob next appears in 1964 where he’s serving as chief chemist for the now global version of Assistance Unlimited – so if he had left their ranks during that 1943-1946 period, they’ve reconciled in the years since. We learn that The Black Terror adventured throughout the late Forties and most of the Fifties. It’s revealed that Tim has recently become the new Black Terror though it’s also stated that Bob occasionally still dons the costume to get in some action. No mention of Jean is given at this time.

I really like my version of Bob — he’s a solid, steadfast hero that occasionally gives in to his baser instincts. He’s sometimes troubled by his non-human origins but he’s too well-adjusted to dwell upon them.

Outstanding mysteries – Did he ever have any follow-up encounters with the agency that created him? What becomes of Jean after 1946? It should be noted that the Tim of 1946 doesn’t look much different than the Tim of 1936, implying that these plant-human hybrids may not age the same as normal humans – indeed, the Bob Benton of 1964 is described as still being quite youthful looking but it is suggested that Tim has finally moved into what appears to be adulthood. Also, The Black Terror of 1946 doesn’t seem very familiar with The Peregrine, despite the fact that Assistance Unlimited and The Peregrine were allies. Is it possible that The Black Terror we saw in the 1946 story (and possibly the 1943 one) is actually a second version, grown at a later point? Or is it simply a case of an author writing stories out of sequence and screwing up?

Only time will tell!

Our artwork today is by Anthony Castrillo and George Sellas.

Murder Unlimited

lg_v3_murder_unlimited_smallOne of the great tropes of modern heroic fiction is the “dark reflection,” where we get to see a villain that’s very similar to our hero – so much so, that they’re practically two sides of the same coin. Lazarus Gray has clashed several times with a man known as Nemesis, whose very existence is due to a spell to turn him into Gray’s equal.

But what about Assistance Unlimited, the group that Lazarus leads? Do they  have an opposite number?

Actually, the answer is yes – and they’re known as Murder Unlimited!

Be warned if you read further, however… because spoilers lie ahead.

The first version of Murder Unlimited made their debut in 1936 when a scarred woman named Constance Majestros brought together a team based out of 666 Holder Way – a brownstone located in one of Sovereign City’s worst neighborhoods (“Murder Unlimited,” Lazarus Gray Volume 3). Despite its surroundings, the interior was quite lush and well-suited to its evil membership. The initial members were:

  • Dr. Melvin Pemberley – A doctor that had been discredited for his awful experiments and a frequent foe of Assistance Unlimited in its early days.
  • Prince Femi – The resurrected Egyptian sorceress that has fought Assistance Unlimited more than any other villain has.
  • Abraham Klee – The son of the notorious Adolphus Klee, this madman has a bald head and a terrible scar around it — surgeries have allowed him to utilize 90% of his brain capability.
  • Stanley Davis – A heavyset man gifted with clairvoyance.
  • Constance Majestros – Scarred after a battle with Lazarus Gray, she was fixated on gaining revenge.

The team was defeated and for several years, the Murder Unlimited name was unused. It was revived in 1940 when a new version was formed (“As Above, So Below” – Lazarus Gray Volume 8). This team consisted of:

  • Nemesis – Agent of both The Illuminati and the Occult Forces Project, Nemesis was magically enhanced to be Lazarus Gray’s equal.
  • Bushido – A Japanese warrior, she is a female samurai and is fiercely loyal to Nemesis. The two are lovers and partners.
  • Vixen – Caroline Berber wears a black catsuit and is skilled at seducing men — in fact, she managed to trick Morgan Watts into marrying her.
  • Brick — Larry Carter was Caroline’s boyfriend and a thug of the highest order.
  • Alloy – Mario Gallo had suffered a terrible injury but was repaired by Italian doctors that used an experimental substance called Material-X to strengthen his shattered bones.

A third incarnation was formed in 1941 (Lazarus Gray Volume 9). This time, the group was once again led by Nemesis and Bushido but its final two members were quite surprising and featured betrayals of trust for Assistance Unlimited… that’s right: for the first time, a former member of Assistance Unlimited was now a member of Murder Unlimited!

 

Pulp Fiction #2: The Man of Steel Turns 80!

cracked rear viewer

On April 18, 1938, National Publications presented Action Comics #1, showcasing typical comic book fare of the era like master magician Zatara, sports hero Pep Morgan, and adventurer Tex Thompson. And then there was the red-and-blue suited guy on the cover…

Yes, it’s Superman, strange visitor from another planet with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men… who can change the course of mighty rivers… bend steel in his bare hands… and so on and so forth! Eighty years ago tomorrow, Superman made his debut and changed the course of mighty comic book publishers forever. An immediate hit with youthful readers, Superman headlined his own comic a year later, spawned a slew of superhero imitators, became a super-merchandising machine, and conquered all media like no other before him!

Wayne Boring’s Superman

And to think he came from humble beginnings. No, not the planet Krypton, but from the fertile…

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Recommended Reading: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Just finished reading this one and I have to say that I loved it! Set in a future where death has been eradicated, the world’s population is kept at a safe level by the workings of a group of men and women known as Scythes. In this story, we get to know two young people – Rowan and Citra — as they are taken on a journey of apprenticeship to Scythe Faraday. There are intrigues aplenty, with some Scythes feeling that the old ways have become too stagnant… they desire change and it’s a change that might put the world’s utopian status at grave risk.

The action is top-notch but it’s the characters and concepts that make the story one that I’ll remember for a long time. It’s so good that I’m not sure that I’d want to see a movie made of it — they’d simply have to leave too much great stuff out! I could see it making one hell of a television miniseries, though. Give this thing about 8-10 hours to breathe and I think it could be captivating.

I highly recommend that you seek this one out!

The sleep of reason generates monsters

This game sounds absolutely BRILLIANT. They’re not sure if it will be available in English but still, the concept is a lot of fun.

Karavansara

il-sonno-della-ragione-2-1And now something special.
My cellmate Alex Girola is expanding into the world of indie gaming, and I just got my copy of Il Sonno della Ragione (The Sleep of Reason), a neat little game that’s so cool, I blackmailed Alex into allowing me to contribute material.
And while the Mana Brothers are hard-at-work already on a set of scenarios, we are also discussing an English edition of the game.
It would be cool.
So consider the following a sort of preview.

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Spring!

the_black_terrorWe just wrapped up Spring Break around here so we’re in the stretch run of the school year – summer’s gonna be super busy but I’m still looking forward to sunny days, warm weather and lots of family time.

Writing-wise, I’m over 20% through the writing of Lazarus Gray Volume 9. This one is off to a great start and I’m thinking it will be a novel-length tale, like volume 7 was. I’m tapping into some stuff from Norse mythology, which I haven’t dealt with very much outside of two sword & sorcery tales i wrote featuring Grimarr. It’s been fun so far.

Not sure when Gravedigger 3 will be out — hopefully it will be along soon.

Apparently Dynamite is going to be bringing back Project Superpowers – I’m looking forward to that. While the comics have been hit or miss in quality, I’m a big fan of many of those public domain heroes (look how often I’ve used The Black Terror… and expect to see a surprise face when the Assistance Unlimited: The Silver Age book comes out). Looking forward to seeing new adventures with them.

On the Air, the roleplaying game

Karavansara

radio-graphicIf you’ve been reading Karavansara before, you know that among my (too many) interests both old time radio and roleplaying games can be found.
One is strictly an hobby, the other is also a sometimes paying job.
And we’ve talked quite often, with my friend Clare, about throwing our fears to the wind and trying to do a radio drama. Because it would be fun.
Then, today, I discovered On the Air.

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