|THE SECRET LIVES OF MARRIED WOMEN by Elissa Wald was recently published by Hard Case Crime, one of my favorite publishers. It's clearly meant to cash in on the FIFTY SHADES OF GREY bandwagon. FIFTY SHADES, the mega-bestseller S&M trilogy by E.L. James dominated the book selling charts in 2012 and spawned many imitations. I haven't read FIFTY SHADES (and have no desire to do so) but I suspect that SECRET LIVES is the better crafted work.|
It barely qualifies as a crime novel however. There is a murder and an unrelated criminal trial but the story is really a psychological study of twin sisters and their "secret lives". The book is divided into two story lines. In the first, Leda, a married mother, is stalked by a construction worker from the work site next door. He recognizes her as having starred in a soft core S&M porn film from years earlier, a fact that Leda's husband, Russian immigrant Stas, is unaware of. When push comes to shove Leda reveals everything to Stas who says he'll take care of the situation. The worker, Jack, disappears which leads to a police investigation that causes Leda to suspect her husband may be a killer.
The second story focuses on Lillian, Leda's sister, who is a successful defense lawyer in New York City. Her latest client is a blind man accused of municipal fraud and corruption. His assistant, Nan, is a young lady with a checkered past having served in a convent before becoming a professional submissive at an S&M club. Lillian's husband, Darren, has a copy of Leda's porn film which causes Lillian to explore her own need to be in a sexually submissive relationship.
THE SECRET LIVES OF MARRIED WOMEN is more of a well-crafted character study of these two women and how their secrets intersect and change their respective lives and relationships with their husbands. There's one graphic sex scene near the end of the book but everything else is handled in a tasteful, matter-of-fact style. It's not a thriller by any stretch but it's an interesting read. If you have any curiosity about S&M skip FIFTY SHADES and read THE SECRET LIVES OF MARRIED WOMEN.
Friday, December 6, 2013
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
|Here's the brutal, unvarnished truth. The best thing about THE DOLL SQUAD (1973) is the poster pictured above. You know it. I know it. It's a great image that would have been right at home on the cover of a '70s era men's sweat magazine or paperback novel. If it had been a comic book,. Wally Wood would have been a great choice as artist.|
Instead, we got a film produced, directed and written by Ted V. Mikels, an auteur of low budget, exploitation films. Mr. Mikels has no one else to blame for how craptastic THE DOLL SQUAD is. And trust me, having just watched the film this afternoon (recorded off of TCM), I know whereof I speak.
An unknown master criminal blows up a U.S. space probe at the start of the film (lots of stock footage used here). He sends threatening messages to a U.S. Senator and a CIA agent Anthony Eisley. They turn to the computer(!) to determine the best way to fight this menace and the computer supplies the answer: The Doll Squad.
Cue psychedelic credits and the beginning of an incessant disco/spy film musical score (composed by Nicholas Carras) that literally never stops playing throughout the rest of the film. Luscious redhead Sabrina (Francine York) leads the squad which is composed of such beautiful babes as Leigh Christian and cult icon Tura Satana. They soon determine that the mastermind is one of their own, a former agent named Eamon (played by the late Michael Ansara). The squad invades his island fortress and thwarts his plan to release bubonic plague carrying rats throughout the world.
The wardrobe of DOLL SQUAD consists of low cut blouses, hot pants, go-go boots, bell bottoms and bikinis. And that's just for the men (ba-dum-bum). When the squad goes into action on the island, they all change to their signature uniforms: green jumpsuits with white piping and white boots.
The budget for the film (reportedly $256,000) clearly didn't allow for the use of real pyrotechnics. This is an action film in which all of the explosions (and there are several) are optically super-imposed over the action. The budget apparently didn't cover the construction of sets as all of the scenes, both interior and exterior, appear to have been shot entirely on locations and in real homes and businesses.
The editing is atrocious. The print I watched may have some missing footage as there were several abrupt jump cuts. During the climactic assault on the island fortress, time and space are repeatedly fractured as we go from day to night to day and so on. The camera work, framing and overall cinematography has all of the visual panache of a driver's ed film.
THE DOLL SQUAD was clearly targeted for undiscriminating audiences in rural drive-ins and urban grind houses. Mikels was far from a competent filmmaker but he sure knew how to sell the sizzle, not the steak. You bought your ticket to THE DOLL SQUAD for one reason and one reason only: to see a bunch of hot babes run around shooting bad guys and that's exactly what you get.
|I finished reading THE SILENT SEVEN last night. THE SILENT SEVEN was the seventh Shadow pulp novel published way back in February 1932. The edition I read (pictured above) is the Pyramid Books reprint from the early 1970s. It was the tenth Shadow novel reprinted by Pyramid and it sports a terrific cover by Jim Steranko (as you can see).|
This early Shadow adventure finds him battling a crime ring that calls itself The Silent Seven. All seven members wear hooded robes and their identities are unknown to each other. You can tell that Walter Gibson (aka Maxwell Grant) was still developing both the character of The Shadow and the mythos surrounding him at this early stage of the character's career. Early in the novel, The Shadow appears undisguised to a man (who is later murdered) and the two have a discussion of the clues left behind in a previous murder. It's almost like a conversation between Holmes and Watson!
There's plenty of action including rooftop gun battles, car chases and a battle to the death with a giant of a man. Harry Vincent, one of the Shadow's most trusted agents, is captured in what has to be the slowest death trap (it takes days for the ceiling to descend) ever in pulp fiction. And Gibson still doesn't know the difference between an automatic pistol and a revolver as he uses the terms interchangeably to describe the same weapon in the same paragraph!
THE SILENT SEVEN is a good, early Shadow adventure that's well worth your time if you're a pulp fan.
Monday, December 2, 2013
|While I was wandering the aisles of Wizard World Austin Comic Con I stumbled across the rather large booth of legendary comic book artist Neal Adams. There he sat, visiting with fans and simultaneously sketching. Surprisingly enough, there was not a large crowd around his booth and I took some time to look it over from one end to the other. Among the items for sale were a number of prints by Adams, some recreations of classic comic book and magazine covers, while others were portraits of the super-heroes (DC and Marvel) that he has drawn over the years. The prints were selling for twenty bucks and I knew that a signed Neal Adams art print was something I absolutely had to have.|
The first comic book with Neal Adams artwork (both cover and interior) that I bought was BRAVE AND THE BOLD #79. I was only vaguely aware of the Deadman character (I'd seen ads for his appearances in STRANGE ADVENTURES but I'd never sampled the series) but I sure knew who Batman was and this cover really reached out and grabbed me. I loved it and made a point to start buying B&B on a regular basis, especially if the same artist (I didn't know Adams name at the time) drew it.
I kept buying B&B on a regular basis and Adams work continued to knock me out. Then came BRAVE AND BOLD #85 with a new look and character redesign of Green Arrow and a political assassination story ripped from the headlines (as the saying goes). I absolutely freaking loved this comic and to this day, B&B #85 remains in my personal top ten comic books of all time.
And I vividly recall buying X-MEN #56 off of the stands and seeing on the splash page this blurb: "And introducing the penciling wizardry of Neal Adams". At last, I had a full name to go with this incredible artist. I was more hooked than ever before.
Neal Adams quickly became one of my all-time favorite comic book artists and the number of great books he drew are legion. I have many, many fond memories of buying and reading Adams illustrated books brand new off of the spinner racks and being completely spellbound and overwhelmed by the power of his art.
So there I stood in front of this man whose art meant so much to me. I purchased the Superman print that adorns this blog, an image from ACTION COMICS #419. I had him sign it and inscribe it to me. I shook hands with the gentleman and then I became a twelve-year old kid. I started babbling, literally babbling, about how great his art was and how much it meant to me and how it blew my mind the first time I saw it.
Adams, with great and deliberate patience (as I'm sure he's heard such rants many, many times over), simply smiled at me and said, in a conspiratorial tone, "it was my job to blow your mind."
You did your job well Mr. Adams. Very well. Many thanks for the memories and for an unforgettable encounter that brought out the exuberant fanboy in me.
Friday, November 29, 2013
|Time was running out last Friday evening for the first day of Wizard World Austin Comic Con. There was about thirty minutes to go before the doors to the convention hall were going to close for the night. My buddy Matt and I were in search of a dealer's booth that he had seen earlier in the day. He swore that this guy had a ton of trade paperbacks, hardcovers and graphic novels, all for half-price.|
After much searching and a few stops at some other dealers who also had half-price trades, we finally found the booth we were looking for. Remember the last shot in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK? This was almost like it as there were at least thirty (possibly more) long boxes full of trade paperbacks and hardcovers, all of them for sale at half the original cover price.
I knew I could get into big trouble mighty quick here. I'd already spent close to the entire amount that I had budgeted for the day and I didn't want to buying stuff like a drunken sailor in a woman's prison with a fistful of pardons (if that even makes any sense). I had paid cash for everything thus far and I didn't want to go the credit card route but geez, did this guy have the goods.
The very first book in the very first box in which I looked was the book you see pictured above. Regular readers of this blog know that I am a huge Doc Savage fan and this item was on my current want list. I knew I had to have this one so I pulled it out of the box and set it aside. And then I found something else I wanted, and something else, and oh, boy, does this look cool and hey, I've been looking for this one and so on and so on. I soon had a small stack of books that, even at half off cover price, were going to amount to more money than I wanted to spend. I slowly put everything back into the boxes where I'd found them and decided that there was only book that I absolutely HAD to have and providence, fate, kismet, destiny, whatever, I decreed which book that was.
I bought DOC SAVAGE: SKULL ISLAND by Will Murray and walked away knowing I had done the right thing. I don't know when I'll get around to reading it but it's on my shelf alongside DOC SAVAGE: THE DESERT DEMONS (which I've read), DOC SAVAGE: HORROR IN GOLD (purchased at Midtown Comics in New York City) and DOC SAVAGE: THE FORGOTTEN REALM (a gift from my sister last Christmas). These are all brand new Doc adventures written by pulp expert Will Murray. The books are based on notes, outlines and other materials left by the late Lester Dent, the creator and chief writer of the original Doc Savage series of pulp novels.
As I said, I've yet to read SKULL ISLAND and other than the fact that it involves Doc and King Kong, I have no idea how the actual story within plays out. I tell you that because in 1979, my buddy Bob Parker and I, had a similar idea. We were going to write our own original Doc Savage novel (I guess you'd call it fanfic nowadays) which would explain where Doc was when Kong was on his rampage in New York and why Doc wasn't involved in such an obvious 1930s New York City set adventure.
We decided to approach the story by declaring that everything that happened in the film, KING KONG (1933) and the early Doc Savage novels, was canonical and really happened exactly as depicted on screen and page. Our job was to fill in the blanks, answer some obvious questions and create an "untold" story of Doc's earliest days as an adventurer and crime fighter.
We decided that all of the equipment that Carl Denham used on his expedition to Skull Island had been purchased from a young Clark Savage Jr. who held the patent on the gas grenades and other gear used in the film. Doc didn't make the voyage to Skull Island because he was involved with two equally pressing matters in New York City: his first major super villain and his first (and to date, only) love interest.
That's right, Doc was going to be in love for the one and only time in his career in our tale. We pictured a young Clark operating entirely on his own without the aid of the Fabulous Five. He had his headquarters on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building and flush with cash from his sale to the Denham expedition, was busy developing new technology to use in his war on crime.
His on-going battle with his first super foe (a villain who had stolen some of Doc's devices) intersected with Clark's love affair with a beautiful young woman. Everything would come to a smashing climax on the night King Kong was on the loose in New York City. While Kong climbed the Empire State building, Doc and his foe were engaged in a literal fight to the death within Doc's headquarters on the 86th floor. In the process, Doc's love was murdered by the villain and Doc was forced to take the bad guy's life (again, for the first and only time in his career).
Devastated by the loss of his one true love, the blood on his hands from the killing of his foe and from his inability to stop the giant ape from wreaking havoc, Doc would shutter his headquarters and retire to his Fortress of Solitude. There he would re-dedicate himself to his campaign against crime, swearing to never again take a human life and to never allow himself to fall in love again. He would also realize that as supremely skilled as he was, Doc couldn't take on his lifelong crusade single handedly. He'd tried that once and failed. And so, he would decide to enlist the aide of his five best friends from the Great War and make them his team-mates in his adventures.
Bob and I were jazzed with what we had come up with. Remember, this was in 1979 and we were both young enough and foolish enough to believe that we could actually write such a book. Our working title was "Apocalypse Night" and we started writing it in a unique way. We decided to alternate chapters, Bob would write one, I'd write the next and so on with the goal of ending each chapter on a cliffhanger that would have to be resolved by whoever wrote the next chapter and that writer would then advance the narrative and end his chapter on another cliffhanger.
That was the plan. The execution was something entirely different. If I recall correctly we wrote a total of two chapters. Bob wrote the first one, I wrote the second (in which I had Ann Darrow working in one of Pat Savage's beauty salons) and that was it. We never wrote another word, collectively or individually.
I'm anxious to see what approach Will Murray takes with his story of Doc and Kong. I'm sure it'll be a good one and I know I'll enjoy reading it. But I can't help but wonder if it will in any way remotely resemble what Bob and I dreamed of doing thirty four years ago.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
|I scored a still shrink wrapped, hardcover copy of MARVEL MASTERWORKS: SGT. FURY VOLUME 3 for half-price at Wizard World Austin Comic Con last week. This handsome volume (love the military camouflage graphic) reprints SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS #24-32 and ANNUAL #2. The stories herein were written by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas (my all-time favorite comic book writer) and illustrated by Dick Ayers.|
I wasn't buying SGT. FURY on a regular basis when these comics were originally published in 1965 and 1966 (that habit started in September, 1966, when I started buying every issue of every Marvel comic I could find). These issues mark a turning point in the series as Stan Lee turned the scripting reins over to young Roy Thomas (who, in his introduction to the book, confesses that SGT. FURY was one of the few Marvel comics he did not read).
One of the key issues for me in this collection are #27 (Feb. 1966) featuring "Fury Fights Alone" in which the secret origin of Fury's later, post-war permanent eye-patch is revealed. I never bought this comic when I was a kid but I recall seeing it advertised in almost every Marvel comic that was published that month.
The other standout issue for me is #29 (April, 1996) with the story "Armageddon!" I remember reading this comic one afternoon at summer camp and wondering how in the world to pronounce this new, unknown word: Armageddon. I sounded it out as "Ar-Mage-Don" but somehow, I knew that wasn't correct cause I'd never heard anyone say such a word. I finally figured it out later and added a new, somewhat sophisticated word to my ten-year-old kid vocabulary.
Who says comics aren't educational?