Saturday, July 09, 2011

SUMMER OF ACTION! -- A Savage Beauty Holds the Key to World Survival

Sometimes the Trap Catches the Trapper

Nick Carter, Killmaster
AUTHOR: Manning Lee Stokes
PUBLISHER: Award Books
YEAR: 1968
OPENING LINES: London sweltered. It was the last week of July and for days now the thermometer had been bushing near to eighty. In Britain that is hot and it was only natural that the consumption of beer, mild and bitter, and nut brown ale should increase in direct ration to the degree Fahrenheit.
CLOSING LINES: He went back to the booth where Miss Benita Dawson, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, was waiting for him.

Nick Carter, Killmaster, was not the first American attempt to emulate the trademark spy adventures of Ian Fleming's creation James Bond 007, but if NICK CARTER, KILLMASTER #31: Macao is any indication, it may be one of the best. At least in terms of hitting all the right notes.

Carter – Agent N3 of AXE, a super secret and lethal spy agency of the United States – is a suave ladies man who is vacationing in London when he comes to the "rescue" of the out-of-control Princess de Gama, a Portugese beauty with a dark secret in her past that she medicates with drugs, booze and the attention of the opposite sex. Or, as AXE chief David Hawk puts it, "she is an international tramp with an appetite for booze and drugs and not much else". Meow!

Pretty soon Carter's act of chivalry finds him mixed up in a pornographic blackmail plot turned into a grisly murder scene, complete with a mutilated corpse whose mouth is stuffed with its own genitals. Seizing the opportunity to put the pretty princess to work for Uncle Sam, Hawk sends Carter and her to Macao on a mission to trap Colonel Chun Li, head of Chinese Counter-Intelligence.

Did I mention that Chun Li has set out a trap to capture Carter in order to put his own nefarious scheme into motion?

By the time Macao came out in 1968 the series most definitely out-Bonded James Bond to paraphrase a popular Killmaster series cover blurb of the day. Fleming was dead and any original Bond books from his pen were kaput. The film series had slowly but surely detoured away from the more espionage-oriented books into the somewhat cartoonish villainy of films like THUNDERBALL and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Fans of Fleming's original novels could take solace in the world of the Killmaster complete with its super secret government agency and a gruff but fatherly boss who looked upon his deadliest agent as more than just a government assassin. (Other books in the series would further complete the bizarro Bond comparison thanks to a flirty secretary for Hawk and a Q-ish tech expert named Poindexter of all things.)

If you've read even one of Fleming's 007 novels you'll probably find yourself enjoying Macao much like I did – as a cut-rate Bond effort, right down to the hilarious description of a disguised Carter (whose cover image looks like a young Robert Wagner as pointed out by card-carrying Man of Action John Grace) pretending to be a nose-picking, cross-eyed coolie who shouts "No sabby. Want Hong Kong dolla now!" at a clerk he's just about to karate chop into submission. (I couldn't help but recall a giant, paunchy Sean Connery trying to pass for a Japanese fisherman in the unintentionally hilarious YOLT.)

The storyline globe hops in typical Bond fashion, our hero and heroine find themselves chained naked in a basement dungeon awaiting a fate worse than death, the villain gladly shares his evil scheme with a chained Carter, and there's a shifty ally who were never quite sure we can trust.

Unlike SWAG and THE CHAMELEON, the KILLMASTER series would prove to be one of the most durable and long-running of the men's action series. Dragon Slay, the 261st (!) Nick Carter adventure was published in 1990. We'll be back with more Nick Carter coverage as the Summer of ACTION! continues.

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