Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Men's Action Roundup: Journal Entry 7/4/12

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.

1 comment:

Brian Drake said...

Pendleton's clumsy prose??????

And you call yourself an American!

Well, OK, Pendleton will never win an award, in this life or the next, for being a great stylist. His dialogue and exposition was clunky--most of the time, especially when he needed to pad out the end of a chapter (which was often). But what he did well, and why the Bolan series is worth reading and has survived to this day, was bring a real philosophical point of view to action fiction.

The Pendleton books were a heck of a lot more than blood and guts and red, white and blue, which the Gold Eagle editions mostly are. There was a reason why Bolan did what he did in the Mafia Wars, and while Pendleton may have babbled too long in some spots (particularly "Monday's Mob", by which time the point had been made and he was beating a dead horse) such commentary set Bolan apart from the rip-offs.

Pendleton seemed to say that something important was happening on this planet and we participants could not sit idly by and watch it happen, especially when corrupt men were taking advantage of others. Somebody had to stand and fight.

The ideas certainly inspired me as a teenager and continue to do so as I enter my 40s, and I hope some of those ideas have found their way into my own books.

Gold Eagle's elimination of the philosophy may have streamlined the adventures and turned them into pure pulp (nothing wrong with that!) but I also think they lost something along the way.