Happy 4th of July from Exploitation Retrospect. Here at the journal of junk culture and fringe media I try and steer clear of topics like religion and politics but let me just say that I love this country and the fact that it's okay for me to watch, talk and write about sleazy trash from around the globe.
You know who else loves this country? Mack Bolan (aka The Executioner). Mack Bolan seems really American. Maybe not as American as, say, Ron Swanson, but pretty damn American. And so, for America's birthday, here's a look at My First Executioner...
THE EXECUTIONER #70: Ice Cold Kill (Gold Eagle/1984) by Peter Leslie
Don Pendleton's THE EXECUTIONER was the first men's adventure series that caught my eye way back in the 1970s. When we'd go to the Moorestown Mall to shop, my Mom would drop me off at the little indie bookstore near the mall's entrance and I'd wile away the hours perusing the shelves. And though I was supposed to be looking at things like STAR WARS tie-ins and other kid-friendly fare I couldn't help but be drawn to the covers for books like THE EXECUTIONER and the adult western series LONGARM (whose covers would evoke Beavis-like titters even then).
I clearly remember looking at the covers for early, Pendleton-penned Mack Bolan adventures that took place in Philly (#15: Panic in Philly) and New Jersey (#17: Jersey Guns) and being amazed that these were books that were set where I lived, not the international hot spots that attracted the likes of 007 (whose adventures I was already knee-deep in). "The Executoner? In Philly?! Well, I'll be."
With that history I can't really explain how or why it took me another 30 years to pick up my first Bolan, but Ice Cold Kill – grabbed last spring at a used book sale here in Maryland – certainly set the ball rolling on my reignited fascination with Bolan, Remo and their ilk.
No longer a vigilante obsessed with taking down the Mafia (we'll get to that later), Bolan is now part of a government-sponsored team that battles terrorists and enemy agents. Ice Cold Kill finds him tasked with assuming the guise of an Albanian contact man in order to locate a brilliant Soviet scientist, destroy their super-computer, smuggle them out of the country and convince them to cast off their Commie ways and defect to the good old West. All the while avoiding Russian enemies from his past. Whew!
Actually, I found Ice Cold Kill to be far more fun and a better read than the lone Pendleton Bolan (#32: Tennessee Smash, review to come) I've encountered. While nobody is going to confuse Leslie's plotting and dialogue for Fleming's 007 (Bolan has a tendency to plug, pulverize and/or detonate a grenade whenever his identity is exposed or threatened) and what constitutes a "twist" in the Bolanverse is easily guessed, the story moves along at a brisk pace with tense scenes of Bolan avoiding detection followed by midnight border crossings gone wrong and aerial battles with Russian fighters.
The fetishizing of the weaponry gets a bit much at times, but that seems to be the direction the books had taken at this point in the run. (And, in case you needed to brush up on it, the back cover features a review of the Soviet AK-47 Assault Rifle with its 710 meters/second muzzle velocity.) And after reading Tennessee Smash, I'm pretty sure I'd take fetishized weaponry over Pendleton's cold, clumsy prose any day.